Christians have debated for centuries over whether a truly saved person can lose their salvation. Probably the strongest Biblical passage for that position is Hebrews 6:4-6. This is what the text says,
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Now, exactly what does this passage mean? It seems to indicate that a saved person who has experienced all the blessings in vs.4-5 can in the end fall away and be lost. In this blog I want to refer you to two principles of Biblical interpretation:
1) Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture; and
2) Remember that context rules
Scripture Will Never Contradict Scripture:
That first rule of interpretation about Scripture not contradicting Scripture comes into play because there are other passages in Hebrews which seem to teach the opposite position. Let’s take a look at a few other passages which seem to teach that a born again Christian can’t lose their salvation, because they will persevere in faith to the end.
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:14)
This text speaks about something that has already taken place (have become partakers of Christ) if the following condition is met (we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end). The text is not saying that we will become a partaker of Christ if we go on to hold fast the assurance of our faith until the end. Rather, we have already become partakers of Christ if we go on to persevere in faith. Thus, a person who does not hold fast their assurance firm until the end never became a partaker of Christ. Thus Hebrews 3:14 seems to be saying the exact opposite of Hebrews 6:4-6. Now, two mutually exclusive positions can not both be true. Either one of them is wrong, or both are wrong, but both can’t be true. Either it is possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, or it is not possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, but it is one or the other.
Furthermore, Hebrews 10:14 says, For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (ESV).
If it is true that Jesus’ offering up of Himself on the cross has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified, then it is not possible for those same persons to fall away and lose their salvation. For those who are indwelt, regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit, they possess a perfect standing before God based on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it is “for all time”! They were not perfected until they fall away, but for all time.
Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us,
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen
This text mentions the “eternal covenant.” Well, in Jeremiah 32:40 we also read of the “everlasting covenant”, which I would presume refers to the same thing. What is the nature of the everlasting covenant?
I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
This covenant includes two things:
1) God will not turn away from them to do them good; and
2) Those with whom this everlasting covenant is made will not turn away from God because God will put the fear of Him in their hearts.
Now, if God promises that He will never turn away from them, and that they will never turn away from Him, what is our only conclusion? That these people will never fall away and be lost.
I’ve said all of this to highlight our first principle of Biblical interpretation – “remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.” It appears that Scripture is contradicting Scripture. But that’s just it. It must be only an appearance of a contradiction. Our understanding of one or more of these texts must be wrong, because God who inspired all of these texts is a God of truth, and doesn’t contradict Himself. So what are we to do? We need to go back to the drawing room, and decide if we have understood Hebrews 6:4-6 correctly.
In order to do that, let’s utilize our second rule of Biblical interpretation – “remember that context rules.” So, let’s go back and look at the context of this passage to see if we can uncover any clues as to its proper interpretation.
Hebrews 5:11-14 – in this section we discover several things about the recipients of this letter.
1) they were dull of hearing
2) they should have advanced to teachers by then
3) instead they needed someone to teach them the elementary principles of the Word of God
4) they were spiritual infants and unable to consume anything except for milk
5) they were spiritually immature.
Now, remember the whole situation in which this letter was written. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were being tempted to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism. That’s why all the way through the author keeps emphasizing the word “better.” Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than the Aaronic priesthood, He brings in a better covenant, a better hope, better promises, and is a better sacrifice. The author of this letter is urging these new Jewish believers not to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism, for that would mean their spiritual destruction.
Hebrews 6:1-3 – Here the author exhorts his readers to press on to maturity (vs. 1). In other words, they must make progress in their faith. They should have been at the point where they could be teaching others, but were still spiritual babies. They needed to mature.
Hebrews 6:4-6 – Notice that vs. 4 begins with the word “for”, which tells us that the author is giving us a reason why the readers must press on to maturity. It is because if they have received great and precious privileges and blessings, and then have fallen away, they are lost forever. This is a very serious and solemn passage. The author of Hebrews is urgently exhorting his readers to mature in their faith and bear fruit of their salvation, because it is possible that some of them who do not do this may “fall away” and prove that they were never truly saved to begin with.
But you might be thinking, “Brian, how in the world can verses 4-5 be speaking of a person who is not truly saved? Well, let’s look at them. What are these great blessings they had experienced?
2) Tasted of the heavenly gift (probably the gift of the Holy Spirit- Acts 2:38)
3) Partakers of the Holy Spirit
4) Tasted the good word of God
5) Tasted the powers of the age to come
Notice that these readers had “tasted” several of these blessings. Is it possible for someone to taste something, swish it around in their mouth for a while, and then spit it out? Of course it is. No doubt these readers were participating in a Christian church in which the gospel was preached (enlightened, tasted the good word of God), and the power of the Holy Spirit was manifest (tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the powers of the age to come). So, if we were to boil down these blessings we could reduce them to two – the gospel was proclaimed and the Spirit was working. And these professing Christians had continually heard the Word and seen the Spirit work. Yet, there was still the possibility that they could “fall away” and find it impossible to be renewed again to repentance.
Many find the expression “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” to be ironclad proof that these people were truly saved. After all, they had already repented. However, in 2 Cor. 7:10 Paul says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Evidently there are two kinds of sorrow – one leading to salvation and the other leading to death. Just as there is a saving faith which ushers in a life of good works, and a non-saving faith which does not usher in good works, so there is a true repentance which leads to salvation and a worldly repentance which is merely regret for the misery their sin has caused them.
The author goes on to say, “since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Note the little word “and.” These people had once put the Son of God to open shame by valuing other things of the world more than Him. Then they professed faith in Christ and conversion. If they fell away after that, they would be doing the same thing they had done originally, by showing that they valued the rituals and laws of Judaism more than Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 6:7-8 – Notice again that vs. 7 begins with the word “for.” That tells us that he is going to explain what he meant in verses 4-6. Here he gives a little parable of two different kinds of fields. Both of these fields received abundant rains. However, only one field brought forth useful vegetation, while the other brought forth only worthless thorns and thistles. The first kind of field receives a blessing from God, while the latter is close to being cursed and ends up being burned. The author is explaining the person in vs. 4-6 who received the abundant rains of hearing the Word of God, and seeing the works of the Spirit. However, if he did not produce fruit in his life his end would be that of being “cursed” and “burned” (Mt.25:41). This brings us to the final piece of context which we need to examine.
Hebrews 6:9-12 – The author says in vs. 9, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” The author believed that his readers were the fruitful and blessed field, not the barren and cursed field. Notice how he puts it – “we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” Now, what are the “better things” he’s referring to? Fruitfulness and persevering faith! And, notice that these are the things that “accompany salvation.” When an individual receives salvation, he will produce fruit, and he will persevere to the end, which is exactly what Hebrews 3:14; 10:14; 13:20-21 and Jer. 32:40 all teach.
So, to sum up, I believe that Hebrews 6:4-6 is a strong, sobering, warning for any professing Christian who seems to remain in a spiritually immature condition, rather than pressing on to maturity, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and persevering in faith to the end. To any professing Christian who has heard the Word of God continually, and seen the powers of the Holy Spirit, and then falls away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Why? Because they have already received all the light they can receive, and then they have turned their backs on it, and deserted Christ to go back from where they came. They have proven that the things of the world are more valuable to them than Jesus. Thus, repentance becomes impossible for them. [ The author seems to outline an unpardonable sin of falling away which seems to contradict the teaching of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-31 ]
I hope this blog is more than an exercise in Biblical Hermeneutics for you. I hope it gives us all a needed and sobering reminder that true saving faith always results in a transformed life, and that we “must show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb.6:11).” None of us want to hear those terrifying words out of the mouth of our Lord, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”!
I. Opening Video Information. A Testimony. An Outspoken Jew for Jesus. Dec 3, 2007. The 700 Club. Bob Siegel was a Jew whose mind was poisoned against Jesus at an early age. Then, in college, two strangers shared a message that changed his heart.
II. Subject scripture. Rev 17:5. There are many opinions of this verse. We will discuss the factors of the verse, as well as those of the total 17th Chapter of Revelation. We will consider the worldwide ecumenical religion that is driven by the forces of the antichrist, that will be responsible for the persecution and murder of Jews and Gentiles which choose not to become a follower of this worldwide religion, and will not worship the image of the beast (Rev 13:4-17), but whom come to saving faith in Christ during the tribulation.
A. Revelation 17:5 (NKJV)
5 And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
B. Revelation 17:5 (NAS77)
5. and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
III. Consider “mystery.”
A. Text. Matthew 13:11 (NAS95)
11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
B. Note. MacArthur Study Bible. the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. “Mysteries” are those truths which have been hidden from all ages in the past and revealed in the NT.
1. Consider “kingdom.” The following verses relate to mysteries being revealed during the time of the Gospels and following times. The Kingdom Of God had been taught to Jews by Old Testament writers. Christ began teaching on the Kingdom Age, which was a mystery to those whom were in His audience of Jews. It was the Gospel of the Kingdom that Christ directed His disciples to teach to Jews (Matt 10:1-8). It is the Gospel of the Kingdom Age that must be taught to all during the tribulation, and will precede the return of Christ to earth at the end of the tribulation (Matt 24:14). It is important to know that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was taught to Jews prior to his ascension to Heaven (Acts 1:3-7). It is the context of Isa 2:2 (below) that tells of the Kingdom Age (the Kingdom of God). The Gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, with evidence of His being seen (1 Cor 15:1-8), is the “good news” (Gospel) that the apostles and their disciples began to teach to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, in obedience to Christ’s “great commission” (Acts 1:8, Matt 28:18-20).
2. Consider the “Kingdom Age” mystery, which is also known as the “thousand year” Millennial Reign Of Christ.
a. Isaiah 2:2. (NAS77)
2 In the last days, The mountain of the house of the Lord Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.
b. Note. MacArthur Study Bible. 2:2 in the latter days. The “latter (or last) days” is a time designation looking forward to the messianic era (Ezek. 38:16; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).
c. Other Mystery Texts. Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Rom 11:25, 16:25. 1 Cor 2:7, 15:51; Eph 1:9, 3:3-4, 3:9, 5:32, 6:19; Col 1:26-27, 2:2, 4:3; 2 Thes 2:7; 1 Tim 3:9, 16; Rev 1:20, 10:7, 17:5, 17:7.
d. Note. 4:11 mystery…parables. A “mystery” in the NT refers to something previously hidden and unknown but revealed in the NT
3. Consider scripture translation of Rev 17:5. “a mystery, Babylon” and “MYSTERY, BABYLON.”
a. Greek Interlinear states, “a mystery” Babylon https://biblehub.com/interlinear/revelation/17-5.htm
b. NIV, NASB, CSB, NET translations state, “a mystery, Babylon.” (The NIV 2011 translation).
c. NKJV, KJV, KJV 2000, American KJV, ASV, ERV translations state, “MYSTERY, BABYLON.”
d. Necessary conclusions.
(1) What is the correct Bible translation that relates to Rev 17:5?
(2) What is the mystery of Babylon?
4. Location Considerations.
a. The city of Babylon.
b. There are 259 OT scriptures that identify the literal place of Babylon. In the NT, the following verses clearly identify the literal location of Babylon (Matt 1:11, 12, 17; Acts 7:43; 1 Pet 5:13; Rev 18:10).
(1) 1 Peter 5:13 (NASB) “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.”
(2) Rev 18:10, “Babylon, the strong city!” 18:21, “Babylon, the great city.”
IV. Full Text. Revelation 17 (NASB) (Notes taken from MacArthur Study Bible).
A. The Doom of Babylon. Chapters 17, 18 focus on one aspect of those bowl judgments, the judgment of Babylon.
1. Verses 1-7.
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7 And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
2. Notes: 17:1-7.
vs 1: “great harlot.” Prostitution frequently symbolizes idolatry or religious apostasy. “sits on many waters.” This picture emphasizes the sovereign power of the harlot. The picture is of a ruler seated on a throne, ruling the waters, which symbolize the nations of the world (see v. 15)
vs 2. “committed fornication.” The harlot will ally herself with the world’s political leaders. Fornication here does not refer to sexual sin, but to idolatry. All the world rulers will be absorbed into the empire of Satan’s false christ. “wine of her fornication.” The harlot’s influence will extend beyond the world’s rulers to the rest of mankind. The imagery does not describe actual wine and sexual sin, but pictures the world’s people being swept up into the intoxication and sin of a false system of religion.
vs 3. “a woman.” The harlot of v. 1, Babylon. “scarlet beast.” The Antichrist, who for a time will support and use the false religious system to effect world unity. Then he will assume political control (cf. v. 16). “having seven heads and ten horns.” This pictures the extent of Antichrist’s political alliances.
vs 5. “forehead.” It was customary for Roman prostitutes to wear a headband with their name on it. The harlot’s forehead is emblazoned with a 3-fold title descriptive of the world’s final false religious system. “MYSTERY.” A NT mystery is truth once hidden, but in the NT revealed. Spiritual Babylon’s true identity is yet to be revealed. Thus, the precise details of how it will be manifested in the world are not yet known. “BABYLON THE GREAT.” This Babylon is distinct from the historical, geographical city of Babylon (which still existed in John’s day). “MOTHER OF HARLOTS.” All false religion stems ultimately from Babel, or Babylon (cf. Gen. 11; see note on 14:8).
vs 6. “the blood of the saints…martyrs of Jesus.” Some see the first group as OT saints, and the second as NT saints—an unimportant distinction since this pictures the martyrs of the Tribulation. John’s point is that the harlot is a murderer. False religion has killed millions of believers over the centuries, and the final false system will be far more deadly than any that preceded it.
vs 7. “mystery.” Not that Babylon is a false system of religion, because that is already known, but that the beast will fully support the harlot and together exert vast influence over the whole earth.
3. Verses 8-13.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. 9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
4. Notes: Verses 8-13.
vs 8. “The beast.” Both a king and kingdom are referred to by this term. was, and is not, and will ascend. A reference to the Antichrist’s false resurrection (13:3, 4, 12–14). “out of the bottomless pit.” After his “resurrection,” the Antichrist will become possessed by a great demon from the abyss. “perdition.” “Eternal destruction. “This is the lake of fire, the place of Antichrist’s destruction (19:20). “Book of Life.” Written in eternity past by God.
vs 9. “seven mountains.” The Gr. word is often used of hills. the final worldwide system of false religion includes. the 7 mountains in context likely symbolize the 7 kingdoms and their kings of v. 10.
vs 10. “seven kings.” Representatives of the 7 great world empires (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and that of the Antichrist). Cf. Daniel’s image in Dan. 2:37–45. Five have fallen, one is, and the other. When John wrote, the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires had gone out of existence; Rome still existed; and the Antichrist’s empire had not yet come. When it does, it will be brief (12:12; 13:5) and he will end in perdition.
vs 11. “and is not…the eighth.” The Antichrist’s kingdom is said to be both the seventh and eighth kingdoms because of his supposed demise and resurrection. He is the seventh king before and the eighth king after his “resurrection” when he destroys the harlot’s religious empire and demands exclusive worship of himself (v. 16).
vs 12. “ten kings.” (cf. Dan. 2:41, 42). These kings are sub-rulers under the Antichrist, whose empire will apparently be divided into 10 administrative districts. “no kingdom as yet.” Thus, the kings cannot be identified with any historical figures. “one hour.” Symbolic of the brief 3½ year period of time (cf. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 12, 14; 13:5; 18:10, 17, 19).
B. Victory for the Lamb.
1. Verses 14-18.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” 15 And he *said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
2. Notes. Verses 14-18.
vs 14. “make war.” A reference to the battle of Armageddon (16:14–16), where the Lamb will utterly destroy the kings (19:17–21). “Lord of lords and King of kings.” A title for God (19:16) that emphasizes His sovereignty over all other rulers to whom He has delegated authority.
vs 16. “these will hate the harlot.” After using the false religious system to unify the world kingdoms and gain control of all, the Antichrist—with the help of his 10 sub-rulers—will turn against the system, plunder and destroy it, and seize all power and worship for himself. They will be carrying out God’s will (v. 17). Cf. Gen. 50:20.
vs 18. “great city.” Here is another identification of the capital city of Babylon, centerpiece of Antichrist’s empire.
A. Conclusion 1. “Babylon means Babylon.” The NIV (2011 Translation), NASB, CSB, and NET are correct in their translation of Rev 17:5, “a mystery, Babylon.” The closing video, that is provided by Dr. Andy Woods, provides a clarifying discussion of this subject. Check out my Equipping Site Page, “About Sources,” to see Andy’s credentials, “degrees and linked experiences.”
B. Conclusion 2. The MacArthur note on verse 7 provides the answer to the question about the mystery of the text: “mystery.” Not that Babylon is a false system of religion, because that is already known, but that the beast will fully support the harlot and together exert vast influence over the whole earth.
VI. Closing Video.
A. This video digs deep into the facts that reveal the location of Rev 17 Babylon.
B. Closing Video. This video has a duration of 29:31.
Andy Woods – Revelation (Crash Course) Part IX: Chapter 17-19. Oct 11, 2019. 29:31.
Unravelations. Dr. Andy Woods teaches 10 sessions of 30 minutes covering the entire Book of Revelation. These presentations were featured on the College of Biblical Studies’ TV program entitled “Up With the Son.”
In their book, What If the Bible Had Never Been Written, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe write:
“The impact of the Bible on our culture, on our nation, on world history has been enormous. Author and former Yale professor Williams Lyons Phelps observed, ‘Our civilization is founded upon the Bible. More of our ideas, our wisdom, our philosophy, our literature, our art, and our ideals come from the Bible than from all the other books combined.’
“But what if the Bible had never been written? That’s a frightening thought! And yet, with Christian-bashing the only safe form of bigotry in practice today, it seems that many people wish that were the case.”
Indeed, many do wish that were the case. Last week, various news media carried the shocking story of Portland protesters burning stacks of Bibles and the American flag.
Twitter user Ian Cheong, who posted a video of the Bible burning, asked, “I don’t know what burning the Bible has to do with protesting against police brutality. Do not be under the illusion that these protests and riots are anything but an attempt to dismantle all of Western Civilization and upend centuries of tradition and freedom of religion.”
Amidst the destruction of the sacred Scriptures, there were silent voices which weren’t that way a decade ago when the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, Terry Jones, announced his plan to burn copies of the Koran.
Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the plan, saying that it was “outrageous and distressful,” and a “disgraceful plan.”
Then-President Barack Obama said of Jones, “I just hope he understands that what he is proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”
Crickets. Crickets. Where are these voices today on the burning of Bibles? What does it say about the Democratic Party when its flag bearers are mute on an issue of such significance? Seems the Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, is silent too. Does silence equal violence in this case?
No book in human history has suffered more from suppression and the attempt to destroy it than the Bible. Evil men hate it because of its essential goodness. It advocates the rights of the individual, claiming that even the humblest and lowest of society is of the utmost value to God. Its content has always been, and will forever remain, a rebuke and irritant to the tyrannical.
Over and again, throughout the centuries, there have been efforts to get rid of the Bible.
Roman emperors decreed that along with the early church and its sacred writings, the Scriptures should be hunted down and torched.
Later came the nefarious forces inside the church itself that bitterly opposed every effort to translate the Bible into the common language and make it readily available to the masses. The worst of this opposition, unfortunately, came from the religious authorities. Thank God for courageous men like John Wycliffe, the English scholar and theologian, whose purpose was to translate the Bible and get it into the hands of everyone possible. He was so despised for his work and love of the Bible, after his death his body was exhumed and burned.
William Tyndale, who was also well-known for his translation of the Bible from its original languages, was the object of much disdain. He was tied to a stake, strangled with a rope, and then burned. The bishop of London had ordered that every copy of Tyndale’s translation be collected and burned. Nevertheless, the Scriptures and Tyndale’s translation for the commoners survived and would later be immortalized in the King James Version.
Foxes Book of Martyrs tells the stories of a seemingly exhaustive number of people who gave their lives at a time when even the possession of Holy Writ was a crime. Yet despite the persecutions, and the Bible burning that went on in those days, the sacred book lives on.
In more recent years, at least until Portland, the attack on the Bible was less direct, and more of an effort to discredit its content. There have been assaults on its historicity, claims that it is anti-science and full of myths and fables. But repeatedly, contrary to the claims of the so-called experts, the sciences have proven the Bible’s claims, and never successfully disproven any of them.
John Clifford’s poem, The Anvil of God’s Word, has a pointed message for the current generation of Bible haters:
Last eve I paused beside a blacksmith’s door, And I heard the anvil ring the vesper chime; Then looking in, I saw upon the floor, Old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I, “To wear and batter all these hammers so?” “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye, “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
“And so,” I thought, “The Anvil of God’s Word, For ages skeptic blows have beat upon, Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, “The Anvil is unchanged, the hammers gone.”
The Bible burners in Portland have no concept of the futility to which they set their hands when they literally and symbolically struck a match to its pages.
“What if the Bible had never been written? Consider the implications of such a scenario,” concluded Kennedy and Newcombe. All of these things came about because of the Bible:
“There would be no salvation, no Salvation Army, no YMCA, virtually no charity, no modern science, no Red Cross. There would likely be no hospitals, for hospitals as we know them were born in the Christian era, and Christians have built hundreds of hospitals all over the globe. There would be no universities; they were created in the Middle Ages in order to reconcile Christian theology with the writings of Aristotle. There would probably be no capitalism, no accounting, no free enterprise. Millions of people would have been killed off by STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) – without any kind of inhibition against sexual promiscuity. Literacy and education might well be the exclusive domain of the elite. Many of the languages around the globe would never have been written down because there would have been no motive to do so. Many of the barbarians the world over would have never been civilized. Cannibalism and human sacrifice and the abandonment of children would still be widespread, even as abortion and infanticide plague us as we continue to move away from the Bible. Slavery might still be practiced, as it is in pockets of the world where the Bible is forbidden. And we might not even be in the New World – as Columbus clearly stated, it was the Lord who inspired him to make his historic voyage. If the Bible had never been written, there would be no Wilberforces, no George Washingtons, no Lincolns, no Dantes, no Miltons, no Shakespeare’s, no Dickenses. [We might also add no Frederick Douglas’, no Booker T. Washingtons, no Martin Luther King, Jrs.] Above all, if the Bible had never been written, we would be cut off from God, groping in the darkness and without hope.”
Burning Bibles is not just wishing away its incomparable message on vast subject matter fundamental to human happiness; its not only wishing away what made Americans the most liberated people on record, its the same as wishing away hope!
God forbid that these foolish people would be allowed to deprive us of our hope. The Bible will survive their assaults, but we won’t survive without the Bible.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.
National policy of religious tolerance facing headwinds
A decision to prevent citizens of Indonesia from being able to access a Bible application for cell phones and mobile devices is sparking arguments amid that nation’s openly tolerant campaign to allow people to choose their own faith and practice it.
The worldwide Christian ministry Barnabas Fund is reporting that the Bible application for the Minangkabau people was removed from the Google Play Store for residents of Indonesia following a demand from Irwan Prayitno, the governor of West Sumatra.
He claimed it was causing discomfort in the Minangkabau people who are living in his province, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Only about 1.43% of the people there, about 69,000, are Christian.
The Indonesian Ulema Council supported the censorship by the nation’s Communication and Information Ministry, with a statement of secretary general Anwar Abbas that said, “The guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible. Hopefully there will not be a Bible [published] in the Minangkabau language.”
“The decision to ban the Minangkabau Bible App failed to take into account the rights of Minangkabau Christians,” the Barnabas Fund reported.
And the decision was criticized by the chief of the nation’s longtime Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, which advocates for tolerance.
That agency’s opinion is that holy books could be translated into any language as long as they were not misinterpreted.
The chief of the agency said, “Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public. And, of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief.”
Pancasila is a formal doctrine instituted in Indonesia to encourage tolerance for religions – and discourage extremism. It prevailed for many years, with Christians and Muslims living as equals. That started changing only a few years ago.
Then, Barnabas Fund reported, the nation saw “a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology in recent years. A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with Pancasila.”
“In 2019, the government took several steps to counter the spread of fundamentalism by urging members of the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material.”
That battle against “hard-line Islamist ideology” includes requests to the public to “report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material,” Barnabas Fund said.
Indonesian Communications Minister Johnny G. Plate said the intention was “to bring together and improve the performance of our civil servants, as well as to foster higher levels of nationalism.”
Indonesia has the world’s biggest population of Muslims, and reports suggest that 19% of civil servants and 3% of military personnel favor an Indonesia under Islamic rule. About 18% of private employees and 23% of students share the view.
For this morning, we come we come to the 21st chapter of John, and this morning we’re going to finish our study of this incredibly important gospel. Somebody asked me if I’m always kind of glad when you come to the end of a book and have the satisfaction that it’s completed, and the truth is I have the very opposite reaction. I hate to let it go, because it’s likely that I’ll never be back again to do this; and this is such an incredibly powerful life-transforming experience, especially for me, because of the intensity that I apply to it in order to bring a message to you on the Lord’s Day. So it’s with a measure of sadness that we come to the end of the gospel of John, but it’s going to be, I trust, a wonderfully helpful consummation as we look at the final section. That final section of chapter 21 looks like a lot of verses, and maybe it could be stretched out a little bit. But it is really faithful to the intent of John not to get bogged down here and wander off into all the world and preach the gospel everywhere, but to stick with the emphasis here. This section is really driven right at Peter. Peter, of course, has already been high-profile in the first half of chapter 21. Again, Peter had acted disobediently; and because he was a leader, he led the other apostles who were with him into disobedience.
You remember I told you, they were supposed to be in a mountain waiting for the Lord, but Peter decided that he was going to abandon his call to ministry, if you will, and go back to fishing. There were reasons for that. He had denied the Lord on three separate occasions. I think he felt inadequate. I think he felt guilty. I think he felt weak. He also was a man who didn’t have a lot of patience. He had not yet, along with the apostles, received the Holy Spirit. They were doubtful of their own power, their own ability, to sustain a ministry he knew that he had failed so many times.
The Lord had rebuked him so many times; the others were unsure about the future even though they had seen the risen Christ for the third time in chapter 21 when He met them for breakfast on the shore of the lake in Galilee. So we understand that Peter was really vacillating in his commitment to ministry. If the gospel ended there we wouldn’t really know whether Peter had an official recommissioning, so we’re grateful for verses 15 and following, because this is the restoration, the recalling of Peter, the reassignment of the ministry that God had given him through Christ at the very beginning of the ministry of our Lord.
Back in Matthew 4:19 Jesus met these fishermen, including Peter; told them to drop their nets, leave it all behind and He would make them fishers of men. You remember they all dropped everything, followed Him. This is three years-plus later, and Peter has led his fishermen friends back to fishing in the first part of the chapter. That’s not the Lord’s plan for them. Peter is the leader; he needs to be restored, and behind him will come the others. God has very significant plans for this denying, impatient, impulsive leader by the name of Peter. And as we look at this final section we’re going to see what is essentially a call to faithfulness for any believer, any disciple of Christ, anyone who is going to serve the Lord. This is what a committed Christian looks like. This is a characteristic of committed Christians. To see what our Lord elicits out of Peter is what He wants out of all of us. This is a wonderful model.
Let me begin in verse 15: “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ And He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs’ – or – ‘feed My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because he said him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend’ – or feed – ‘My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’
“Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom” – or chest – “at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’ Therefore this saying wen tout among the brethren that the disciple would not die; yet Jesus didn’t say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” Just a fascinating portion of Scripture directed at Peter.
Peter is beloved by all of us because he is like us. He has all the failures that we are so familiar with in our own lives. He overestimates himself and underestimates temptation. He think he’s more committed than he is. He thinks he loves the Lord more than he does. He thinks he can face any trial triumphantly; finds out he can’t. By the time we get to this point, even though he has seen the risen Christ, he is really a broken man.
The disciples have not yet received the Holy Spirit, so they have not yet been infused with power, and they are very familiar with their own impotence. It’s very easy for them, as we come to the epilogue in the gospel of John, to just kind of drift back to life the way it used to be, to go back to fishing, which this particular group had been engaged in, with the exception of Thomas. But the Lord is going to call him back, and with him the rest of them, back into significant ministry. They will subsequently be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they will turn the world upside-down. But it requires a certain commitment for them to be that useful, so here you have a call to follow Christ. It has three components. It is a call to love Christ; it is a call to sacrifice for Christ; it is a call to follow Christ no matter what. That is universally the case.
For every believer, for every follower of Jesus Christ, there is the necessity of a call to love, a call to sacrifice, and a call to obey. That is the stuff of discipleship. So this is a very straightforward, somewhat simple – not simplistic, but simple in the sense that it’s very clear, “Look at what it means to be a disciple.” What comes out of those three things that are very easily articulated – love, sacrifice, and obedience – is still the fact that following Christ is not easy. To love that way is not easy, to sacrifice that way is not easy, and to obey that way is not easy. Salvation is not cheap, it is not easy, it costs everything, everything. We are told by our Lord Himself in His gospel calls that sinners are to submit completely to the Lord Jesus Christ, to find their lives by losing them, to fulfill their lives by emptying them, to live their lives by dying to self.
Salvation is not cheap, it is not easy. Our Lord repeatedly said, “It might require you to hate your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your own life. It might require you to turn from everything you possess, all your desires, all your ambitions.” “If you want to follow Me,” – Jesus said – “you must deny yourself, take up your cross,” – which means it may mean death – “and follow Me.” You need to count the cost, and the cost could be your life. The cost will be your life, and maybe your death. This is a very, very extreme call to follow a man.
Why would people do this? Jesus was actually calling for people to become His slave, to abandon their own ambition, desire, control; become slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is extreme. What would motivate that? Why would someone do that? What is the compelling desire that is going to cause me or you or anybody else to sacrifice my life for Christ, to spend my life obeying Him? What’s the motive? Well, that’s where we begin.
The motive is love. That is the only power that can motivate this kind of devotion. I think we understand that even on a human level that people who love greatly, sacrifice greatly. People who love greatly give up things. Love is a powerful, powerful emotion, powerful motivation.
Even earthly love is so powerful it can draw the best out of people, and it can also draw the worst. It is love that makes people sacrifice everything to live with one person the rest of their life. It is love that is so powerful it can destroy a family. It can destroy a marriage; it does all the time. It can destroy a life. It can lead to alcoholism, drugs, suicide, murder.
Love is a powerful emotion on a human level. It is so powerful that people sacrifice their own lives for it on the positive side, giving up their life for the one they love, giving up their life, if need be, for the children. Some have such great love for causes that are even beyond personal causes, that they will give their lives for their nation, for their neighbors.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his philn, the ones He loves.” People die for love. It is a powerful, powerful motivation. And as far as Christians are concerned, according to 2 Corinthians 5:14, it is the love that we have for the Lord that controls us, that’s what Paul said. It is that love that controls us. Some of the translations of 2 Corinthians 5:14 say: constrains us, motivates us, drives us. Really you follow your love, you follow your love, the things you love; you follow those things in life, whatever they be, even objects that you love, experiences that you love, as well as people that you love.
Love is a powerful, powerful motivator, more powerful than any other. And when you move it into the spiritual dimension and the divine world, love is what causes us to serve the Lord in an extreme act of dedication. In fact, we go to the Old Testament, what do we hear our responsibility is? It is this, reiterated in Matthew 22:37 by our Lord Himself: “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That in itself sums up the law. You can have the law of God.
All His laws in the Old Testament directed toward how we respond to Him. You can condense them into the first half of the Decalogue, which relates to how we treat God, or you can condense them once more into one statement: “You love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That is how you are to live, you are to live a life of love. The Bible never calls for a life of legalism, a life of law, a life of dread, a life of fear; it always calls for us to love God.
And then the second part of that great command like it is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That fulfills the second half of the Decalogue and all the other laws that God gave that deal with human relationships. Love is the driving power in life. It is the driving power in the kingdom as well.
Back in Deuteronomy, when our Lord was reiterating His requirements for His people as they were on the brink of going into the Promised Land, chapter 6, verse 4, He says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons, talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and on the front of your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” What are you writing? “The Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.” That’s what you teach your children. That is the summation of all that should be said about our relationship to God.
Listen to the 10th chapter of Deuteronomy, verse 12: “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul.” Do you see the totality of that commitment? Every faculty, every aspect of your being is to be loving God. And then as a result, “If you love God with all your heart and all your soul, you will keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes which I am commanding you today for good.”
Again, in chapter 11, “You shall” – verse 1 – “therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.” That’s Old Testament. It’s about loving God. That’s what God called the world to do, to love Him, to love Him.
Our Lord makes it clear in the 14th chapter of John. As you remember, on the night before His crucifixion in the upper room, verse 15, John 14, He says to the disciples and to all of us, “If you love Me, you’ll keep My commandments.” Verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and disclose Myself to him.” Verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he’ll keep My word. My Father will love him; We will come to him and Our abode with him.” Verse 28, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoice because I go to the Father.”
It’s all about love. From the beginning, from the Mosaic revelation to the very New Testament and all through the New Testament, and the summation of all that the apostles write, we are called to love God with all our faculties. It’s about loving Him.
John makes obviously a major point of this when he writes his epistles. His epistles are about loving God in the same way, and John extends them from not only loving God, but loving brothers. He does that in chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5 of 1 John. So when we talk about what characterizes believers, dedicated believers, it begins by saying they are driven by compelling love for Christ, compelling love for Christ.
Love is the power of obedience. Love is the power of duty. Love is the power of service. Love is the power of sacrifice. Love is the power of worship. Love is the power of fellowship. Love is everything. So you see that in the opening verses, verses 15 to 17, and our Lord’s dialogue with the apostle Peter. Here is a man who needs a total restoration.
Now somebody might say, “You know, he’s going to have to have six weeks of therapy to get him back to where he needs to be. There’s got to be a process here. There’s got to be some kind of path. There’s got to be some kind of course he needs to run. There have to be things he needs to learn. Sanctification is a very complicated thing to get him back on track. We’ve got to have him deal with a lot of his past, and plow through and figure things out, and assess things, and find a way forward.”
No. The Lord asks him one question three times: “Do you love Me? Do you love Me?” because you will follow what you love. You will serve what you love. You will sacrifice for what you love, who you love. That’s the question.
So for us to understand dedication commitment in the way that our Lord explains it here in the illustration with Peter, we start by understanding that a committed Christian lives a life compelled by love for Christ. This is very practical. It’s a wonderful way to end this glorious gospel of John. It almost seems, I suppose, like we’ve come down off this incredible high of the resurrection, post resurrection appearances, and now we’re down with the stumbling and bumbling people in the final chapter. But you have to understand that the glory of Christ is going to be placed in the hands of these stumbling, bumbling people; that this treasure, as Paul says, is in earthen vessels. And so we need to learn at the very end of this the kind of people that God is depending on to proclaim the glory of this gospel.
Now look, Peter overestimated himself a lot. But even in the upper room on Thursday night before the crucifixion, Jesus was talking about the fact that He was going to be leaving, verse 33: “Little children,” – John 13 – “I’m with you a little while longer. You’ll seek Me. As I said to the Jews, I also say to you, ‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’ A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you’re My disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is not only the essence of our relationship with God, it’s the essence of our relationship with each other.
“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.’” And he did.
Three separate occasions, and in each of the three occasions, there were multiple denials. All of them happened that one night at the trial of Jesus in the house of the high priest. Peter had already seen Christ twice, and a third time on the shore of Galilee, so he knew He was alive. But he still had serious doubts about himself, and our Lord had to go to the core of the issue. He had been told to go to Galilee and wait for the Lord. Instead, he went up there for a little while and then went back to his old career, and took all his friends with him.
“Let’s go back to fishing.” That’s what they did before it all began. “We know how to do that; let’s go back and do that.” That wasn’t God’s plan for them. That wasn’t the Lord’s will. So Peter needed to be restored, and we need to know what happens to Peter at the end of the story.
This is a public restoration, by the way, because he’s not alone here. Back in verse 2 you have a list of all of the other disciples who were with him: Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, Philip and Andrew most likely – the crew, for the most part, that were the fishermen, with the addition of Thomas. And our Lord has prepared breakfast for them after the wonderful, miraculous catch of fish, and it’s now time to set the standard for discipleship and He’s going to start with Peter. They’ve all been disobedient; Peter’s going to be the example.
Verse 15: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,” – by the way, John always refers to him as Simon Peter, which kind of gives us the whole picture before and after. I think there may be one exception to that in John’s gospel. But he chooses to call him Simon Peter. “But Jesus says to him, ‘Simon, son of John.’”
Now that must have gotten his attention. That was his name before he met the Lord, and the Lord had given him another name. “You used to be Simon, now you’re Peter.” Peter was the Lord’s name for him. But Peter had fallen so far that the Lord is using his old name, because he’s acting like his old self. This is like when you did something wrong and your mother called you by your entire name.
This must have been a shock. Peter didn’t necessarily want to be pointed out, he would like to have blended into the group. But he is pointed out, the Lord calls him out, and three times asked him if he loves Him, one for each occasion of denial. For each time that he denied Him, he gets an opportunity to be restored. And here is the restoration, it’s as simple as this: “Simon, son of John,” – or Jonas – “do you love Me?” That’s the question. That’s always the question to ask a disobedient believer, because what is being manifest in any act of disobedience is love. And when you act disobediently, you’re declaring love for something other than Christ, and Peter had done that.
So He says, “Do you love Me more than these?” These what, these men? No, because they had all done the same thing. They were all guilty of a loveless disobedience. He means nets, boats, fish. “Do you love Me more than these things that go with your former life? Are you prepared to give this up, to abandon all your successes, your chosen career? Are you willing to give it all up? Do you love Me enough to do that?”
And the word He uses is agapaó. That’s that high love – the noblest, purest, best; the love of the will. We talk about agape love; that’s a noun form of it. It is love in its fullest sense, love in its deepest sense, love in its greatest sense, love, I guess you could say, in its purest form – divine love.
“Do you really love Me, Peter, at the highest level?” That is the critical question. And that is the key to commitment. It was John Calvin who said, “No man will steadily persevere in the discharge of his ministry unless the love of Christ shall reign in his heart.”
“Do you love Me enough to live for Me? Do you love Me enough to walk away from this? Are you constrained by loving Me? Do you have a love for Me” – in the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:24 – “that is incorruptible love? Do you really love Me in the fullest sense?”
So Peter replies, “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’” But he changed the word. Jesus used the word agapaó, Peter used the word phileó, he dropped down a notch. Phileó is a kind of brotherly love, kind of warm affection, a friendship love.
Look, Peter couldn’t say, “Yes, You know that I love You at the highest level of love.” That just wouldn’t fly. I mean he had denied Him, and now He had disobeyed Him, and He had enough sense not to be an absolute hypocrite and say, “Of course, I love You at the highest level.” So he says, “Lord, I have great affection for You.” He dared not claim agapaó, but he did claim phileó. But even with that, he has to lean on omniscience: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
Now some people think omniscience is frightening; I think it’s a blessing. You say, “Well, that means the Lord knows everything you’re thinking, the Lord knows all about you.” Absolutely. What a blessing that is, because even when we don’t demonstrate it, He knows we love Him.
I’m happy to allow Him to know the things that I wish He wouldn’t know if He can also know the things that I desperately want Him to know, that I love Him. And he had to appeal to the omniscience of the Lord. In a broken and a contrite spirit he refuses to acknowledge the love at the level our Lord put it. But he says, “I have a great affection for You. It’s not what it should be, but it’s real.”
This is amazing. He said to him, “Tend” – or – “feed” – boskó is the verb – “pasture My lambs, pasture My lambs.” Amazing. With a less than perfect love, with a less than ideal love, with a less than noble love, with a less than elevated love, the Lord accepts him and says, “Pasture My lambs. Feed My lambs.”
And I just want to call to your attention that personal pronoun is very important, because whoever we shepherd doesn’t belong to us. This is a calling that Peter reminds all of us about in 1 Peter 5 when he writes and he says, “We are all under-shepherds and Christ is the Chief Shepherd.”
If you’re in ministry, if you’re caring for any other believers in any way, you are shepherding His sheep, not yours. No congregation belongs to a pastor or an elder. No Sunday School class belongs to a teacher. No believers in a family belong, in a spiritual sense, to parents. They’re His. It’s a stewardship that in some ways is really frightening. That’s why in Matthew the Lord tells us to be careful how we treat each other, because not only do they belong to Christ, but Christ is in them. So many people don’t understand pastoral ministry as caring for His sheep.
“Peter, pasture My lambs. The most vulnerable, the most weak, the most prone to wander, the most delicate – I turn them over to you. Care for them.” That’s what pastoral ministry is. It’s not about the world, it’s not about how you handle a culture, it’s how you handle His sheep. “If you love Me, then give your life to shepherding My lambs – the most vulnerable, the most dangerous, the weakest.”
You say, “Well that’s wonderful that the Lord would settle for that.” It is, but He’s not done. Verse 16: “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’” Same word agapaó. “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ ‘Okay,’ He said to Him, ‘Shepherd My sheep, not just the little ones, but all the rest.’ In other words, ‘No more fishing; shepherd My sheep. This is your calling.’”
And then in verse 17, “He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of John,’ – again, painfully repeated three times – ‘do you love Me?’ – and with that word, He dropped down to Peter’s word – ‘Do you really phileó Me?’ – in other words, He’s questioning even that – ‘Do you really have strong affection for Me? Do you really?’” Peter’s deeds didn’t even support that.
Jesus probes deep into Peter. This is corrective surgery. It cuts deep, it’s painful, but it can be healed. “He says,” – says John – “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time.” He’s not grieved because He said it three times; there were three denials. He’s grieved, because the third time He says, “Do you phileó Me?” and even questions that love. “And, again, he says, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep, tend My sheep, pasture My sheep. No more fishing. No more fishing. Your job is My little lambs, My sheep.’”
Back in chapter 10 He talked about how He loved the sheep, how He gave His life for the sheep, how the sheep knew Him and He knew them. And now He’s handing them over to Peter. “I’m entrusting you with them, and I need to know that you love Me more than you love this, so that you’re going to be faithful to give your life for them.” So three times Peter had the opportunity to tell the Lord he loved Him. You might have thought that the Lord would have discarded Peter at this point since Peter really couldn’t even defend, by his behavior, that lower level of love. But the Lord accepted him and said, “Pasture My sheep.”
We are truly clay pots. The Lord has to use those of us who have an inferior love. First Thessalonians 4 talks about how we’re taught of God to love in verse 9. And then verse 10 it says, “But you need to excel even more.” We’re told that our love should abound.
But this is where all Christian commitment starts: “Do you love Christ more than” – fill in the blank, whatever it is. “Do you love Him more? Then serve Him.” I can tell what you love by what you serve, what you do, what the priorities of your life are. A committed Christian is compelled, driven by love for Christ, and that shows up in his or her life, a life given to His flock.
Secondly – and this is equally important and builds on the first – a committed lives a life compelled by love for Christ, and secondly, characterized by sacrifice for Christ. This is costly love. I already quoted Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross” – it could mean you’re going to die.
And that’s exactly what Peter hears in verse 18: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” – that’s been repeated many times in the gospel of John: truly, truly, a formula for something that is absolutely true – “I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished. You put on your own belt, you lived your life the way you wanted to. You had freedom, you called the shots, you did whatever you wanted to do. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”
He’s saying to Peter, “In the future, Peter, you’re going to be taken prisoner. You’re going to be bound and hauled off to a place you don’t want to go. Then” – He says – “you’re going to stretch out your hands” – that is a euphemism for crucifixion. That’s how people were crucified. He’s telling Peter, “When you get old, Peter, you’re going to be crucified. You’re going to be taken prisoner and you’re going to be crucified.”
How do I know that? Verse 19 says it: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” Peter finds out here he’s going to be a martyr. He’s going to be a crucified martyr. And you remember the story that tradition gives us, that when it came time for him to be crucified, he didn’t feel he was worthy to be crucified as the Lord was, so he asked to be crucified upside-down. “So, Peter, welcome back to the ministry. Go feed My sheep, go feed My lambs, and know this, that sometime in the future when you’re old, you’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be crucified.”
You might stop and say, “Well that is really bad news. Why would You tell him that? Why would you tell Him that? Better not to know, right, let it be a surprise.” No, it’s important to tell him that. He needed to know what? He needed to know that the next time he got in a life and death situation he would not deny his Lord. He needed to know that. He needed to know that when they took him and captured him, and tied him up, and stretched out his hands, and nailed him to a cross, he would glorify God.
I think he lived the rest of his life with a newfound confidence that overcame his self-doubt, because he had been such a failure at the trial of Christ. I think this put power into his life. I think this put hope into his heart. I think this added confidence to him and boldness. I think he may have otherwise feared that, “If I ever get into that situation again, what am I going to do?” and that would have sucked all of his confidence out. This is a great gift to this man: “You’re going to be arrested, crucified. You’re going to die, but in it, you’re going to glorify God.” Good news.
This is the ultimate sacrifice, and that’s how believers live. This is the extreme requirement for a committed life. Peter had said, Luke 22, “I’m ready to go with you to prison and death.” Didn’t work out that way first time; it would work out that way the last time. In the end, he will die for his Lord. This is a beautiful life-changing promise. Peter has to be ecstatic, thrilled. His heart has to be soaring. His hopes are flying. His boldness is being elevated as he heads toward a triumphant encounter with those who will kill him for his faithfulness to Christ. That’s what dedication is.
The third thing: a life that is truly dedicated to the Lord is compelled by love for Christ, characterized by sacrifice for Christ, and content with following Christ. The end of verse 19: “When Jesus had spoken the words about Peter’s death, He said this to him, ‘Follow Me! Follow Me!’” So important: “Follow Me!” Simple enough.
In a wonderful gesture, I think the Lord turned and started walking away, and Peter’s going to follow Him, at least for two steps, because in verse 20 it says, “Peter turning around.” What? This guy is incorrigible. “What are you turning around for?”
Well, he saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, you know, the one who leaned on Jesus at the supper, that’s John. He sees John, you know, John, the one who asked the question, “Lord, who’s the one at the table who’s going to betray You?” And verse 21, “Peter seeing John said to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord, what about him? So I’m going to be crucified. What about him?’” Peter is a project. “What about him?”
I love the answer. “Jesus says to him” – in verse 22, it’s really hyperbole and sarcasm – ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me! Look, if I decide he’s going to live till the second coming, it’s none of your business. Follow Me!’”
I mean this is the kind of focus that our Lord wants: “Follow Me! Don’t compare yourself with somebody else. Don’t ask what God has for somebody else, you just follow Me wherever that leads” – and for him, it’s going to lead to death. “What about John; it’s irrelevant. If I want him to live till the second coming, what is that to you?”
That would be interesting, wouldn’t it, if he were still here. Well, that’s what some people thought, verse 23: “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die.” That’s gossip for you; they never get it right. It’s ridiculous, “John’s going to live till the second coming.”
The Lord has to straighten that out. Jesus didn’t say to him that he wouldn’t die, He just said, “If I want him to remain to come, what is that to you?” He had to correct a rumor, because if people actually believed Jesus said he wasn’t going to die and he died, then Jesus didn’t know, and they got it wrong. We’ve got to protect His integrity. “Peter, please, just follow Me. Don’t worry about John. Don’t worry about anybody else.” Like Paul, we’re not comparing ourselves with others, “Just follow Me.” First Timothy 4:16, “Take heed to yourself.” You’ve got plenty to work on right there.
Peter would be faithful, he would be focused. And, oh, by the way, John didn’t live till the second coming, he died on the Isle of Patmos at the end of the first century in exile. But he also was Peter’s companion, right? From the Day of Pentecost on to the first part of the book of Acts, it was Peter and John together.
So the Lord wasn’t saying, “You’re not going to have anything to do with John.” The Lord was saying to him, “You follow My plan for you, not My plan for him.” Peter was crucified upside-down; John lived much longer than Peter. God had a different plan; Christ had a different plan for John.
Peter is restored. And, oh, by the way, John, who is being referred to here, adds his own little final note in verse 24: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” There is John saying, “The one that he was talking about, that’s me, and I’m the one who wrote all of this and it’s the truth.” The apostle authenticates his own gospel. The apostle authenticates his own gospel: “It’s the truth.” What a touching personal end.
And, again, why does it end this way? You know, we’ve been to the heights. We’ve been through the cross, through the resurrection. The glory of Christ has been demonstrated, verse 31, that culminating statement: “These things have been written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name,” – this great gospel reality.
And in the final chapter, we just come back down to earth and we meet these two guys. That is such a fitting ending, because the glory of the gospel eventually ends up with us, right, ends up with us and whether or not we’re going to love Christ, sacrifice for Him, and be content to follow Him.
And then a final word. There’s just one other question to ask: “Why didn’t John say more about Jesus?” Well, he says, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself wouldn’t contain the books that would be written.”
Now that may seem like hyperbole to you, but we live in a fascinating technological world. Just your life alone and all the words you’ve ever said, ever written, have ever been sent to you, written about you; all the interaction you’ve ever had in this world; I read by the time you’re done with your life could fill 320 libraries; and that just you, and who cares, right?
And you understand that there are so many bits of data in the world that they’re literally uncountable. It’s amazing how one person with one mouth and one pen can generate the volume of experiences that could be written about, conversations that could be recorded, letters that could be repeated, copied. Oh, by the way, it’s all copied, it’s in the cloud; not God’s cloud, it’s in Google’s cloud. But it’s also in God’s cloud. And you would be amazed to know that even though you probably have a maximum of, oh, maybe 20,000 words in your vocabulary, that stretches into an almost infinite number of bits just to represent your one life.
John didn’t know all about that, but he did know that if everything Jesus ever did was written out in full, and everything He ever said was recorded, the world wouldn’t be able to contain it; it would have to be up in the cloud. Someday we’ll have access to that. When we get into God’s cloud and go to heaven, I think we’ll know the full story.
Father, we thank You again this morning for a wonderful opportunity to have our lives examined by Your Word, because that’s what it does, it shines a light on us. It discloses us. It is the revealer of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We thank You for the searchlight of Your precious Word. We thank You for the joy that it brings, the comfort, the encouragement, the counsel, the wisdom, the knowledge, the conviction, the correction. And we would all want to be like You wished Peter to be, motivated by love for You over love for anything and everything else, not loving the world or the things that are in the world, because then the Love of the Father’s not in us. But loving You, we want to be willing to sacrifice for You in life, and even in death if need be. And just in that simple way, we want to follow You, not asking about somebody else or what you have for them, but what You have for us.
Lord, we want to be used by You with all of our frailty. We feel like Peter. We want to say we love You. We can’t climb a mountain of that highest love and say we’ve reached the peak. It’s a lesser love that we claim, and that might even be questionable. But You know our hearts, You know we love You, and we want to serve You. We want to shepherd Your sheep and tend Your lambs. So, Lord, would You count us faithful, know our hearts, and know that we do love You. We are willing to sacrifice for You. We do desire to follow; and in so doing, may You find us useful to Your glory. This is our prayer.
Thank You for all that this wonderful gospel has meant to us and will continue to mean. And as the messages go out around the world in years to come, may they always accomplish Your purpose. And may it be that the testimony that John has written, as he said, will be seen as true, as true. And may the truth enlighten many, many souls to salvation, for Your glory. Amen.
Forgive others without fail. It is the best way to live.
Forgiveness is not possible for those who haven’t realised they have been forgiven by God. Those who truly believe in the forgiveness they received from God alone can forgive others.
It’s a supernatural trait, heavens character. Jesus’ journey from birth to the cross is God forgiving us, on behalf of us. When He did no sin, He took on all our sins so we could once again enjoy Him through the power of His resurrection.
This first requires an understanding of the damage of sin in our lives. Which comes to us when we are born again, drawn into a marvellous light in Christ. The selfless God, in Jesus, forgave us so we could be with Him for eternity.
Who can forgive others without fail?
The standard of forgiveness is revealed in Stephen, when he forgave those who stoned him and attacked him violently.
Paul was stoned and left for dead, yet he forgave all those who went against him. (Acts 14:19)
All the apostles went through great persecution for the sake of Christ. They were fruitful in their ministry because of living out the lifestyle of Jesus. Loving and forgiving one and all. The Thessalonian church amidst much persecution lived out their faith, in humility and lowliness of heart.
To be faithful and to minister, we need to forgive others. The Heavenly Father forgave us and so should we forgive all. The Father’s dwelling place has no room for bitterness, anger or hatred. It is a home full of love everlasting.
When our hearts are full of love for God, we will be quick to forgive and serve people for the Glory of God. Obedience to God’s word and being led by the Holy Spirit is the answer to staying focused, doing the will of God. God gives us the ability to forgive and move on in love.
Jesus is coming to take us home. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen.
Your Depression. The first time Jesus shed His blood was in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was praying and saw the agony of the cross that He would suffer for your sins and mine. He asked God, the Father, to take this cup from Him. At that time He bagan to sweat blood from his forehead and said, “Not my will but thine be done.” Jesus was in a great state of depression. When He shed His blood from the forehead (Luke 22:42-44 NKJV), it was for your depression and mine. So, if we trust in Him and he results of his blood, we will not suffer depression. Most of the world, today, is suffering from one form or another of worry. Depression and worry are not the same but exemplify similar manifestations. Worry causes stress on the heart. The number one killer in the world today is heart failure or heart attacks! If we only had faith in the blood Jesus shed!
Ugliness. The second time Jesus shed His blood for you and I, was when the Roman soldiers beat His face and plucked out His beard. The Bible teaches us that the soldiers boxed Jesus’ face and with their hands pulled out His beard until you could no longer recognize Him. (Isaiah 51 and Isaiah 53 NKJV) His own people, the religious world at that time, took part in beating Him—by their accusations. For God so loved the world He sent His Son and called Hime Jehovah Macca, meaning the smitten God.(Isaiah 53 NKJV) His precious face had to be beaten because of our ugliness. Without salvation through Jesus Christ, you and I are ugly to God. But when we accept the results of the shed blood, God no longer sees our ugliness, but now sees the beauty of Christ in our faces.(Luke 22:63-64 KJV)
For Our Physical Healing. The third time Jesus shed His blood was when the soldier carried Jesus into a courtyard and tied Him to a whiping post. His hands were tied over His head and the rope ran through an iron rung about twelve feet above the ground. Then the rope was pulled until His whole body was stretched and He was upon His tiptoes like a ballet dancer, and stripped of all His clothing. The Roman soldier proceeded with a whip that had many leather strips. He would dip the whip into goat’s blood, which caused it to be very stickey. Then he would roll the whip in pieces of pottery and metal, so that when you were whipped it would cut you very badly! (Matthew 27:26)
“By His stripes we are healed.”
The Bible teaches that Jesus was struck with that awful whip. His back and sides were like raw meat. Isaiah 53:4-5, and 1 Peter 2:24 tell us with His stripes we are healed. If we only had faith in Jesus’ shed blood. He paid for our sicknesses upon His back.”By His stripes we are healed” uses the word rapha, widely used in the Bible to mean “healing,” most of the time physical healing. That passage was quoted in the gospel when Peter healed his mother of a fever, a physical illness. So as I am typing this; do believe it refers to all diseases (mental, physical and spiritual) The author, himself, has witnessed many people who were dying of cancer, aids, and other horrible diseases come to the knowledg of the results of Jesus’ shed blood and be healed. I have, in my body, experienced many healings through the stripes on the bakc of Jesus Christ.
Curse Over Our Lives. The fourth time Jesus shed His blood was when they crowned His head with thorns. In Genesis, because of Adam’s rebellion, God put a curse upon he earth in the form of thorns and thistles. We have all at one time, rebelled agains God’s laws and commandments. The Bible teaches in Galatians 3:13, Colossians 1:13-14 that through the shed blood God has redeemed us from the curse of the law. The word ‘Redeemed’ means to be bought back tor to be purchased from. Because of the blood Jesus shed, you and I have been redeemed from the curse. If only you will believe it!
God gave His Son because He loves you.
For Our Sorrows. The fifth time Jesus shed His blood was when they place a heavy patibulum on His already whipped and bleeding back. Then made Him walk up the pathway to Calvary Hill. This pathway is called, even today, the Via Dela Rosa or “The Way of Sorrows.” This heavy pantibulum caused the blood to flow more from the back of Jesus. His blood was shed for mine and your sorrows or burdens.(Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV) If you are burdened downs with dadness and grief, Jesus will lighten your load and give you joy and peace. (John 16:3-24 and John 16:33 NKJV) You are probably thinking you are not worthy of this Man’s suffering, I did. But the truth is no one is worthy. God gave His Son because He loves you. Just have faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
To The Cross. The sixth time Jesus shed His blood, was on top of Calvary when they drove spikes, or nails into His hands and feet. The bible teaches us in Colossians 1:17-23, Colossians 2:6-14 when they nailed Jesus to the cross. If we have faith in the blood He shed, then we would understand our sins were also nailed to that cross. Praise God forever!
Born Again. The seventh time Jesus shed His blood was, again on the cross, when the Roman soldier took a spear and pierced His side. Blood and water came forth. To me, this is the most beautiful part. The picture of this is in Genesis, when God took Adam, put him to sleep, took a rib from his side to make woman, or a bride for Adam. Yes, you can see it now! Jesus was put to sleep and pierced in His side so the church could be born out of His death, burial and resurrection. The Bible calls Jesus the last Adam (a quickening spirit) or the second man, being the Lord from Heaven. (I Corinthians 15:45-49) Because of our faith in the shed blood of Jesus we are born Again! The Bible says you must be born again to enter Heaven’s gates. (John 3:5-6 NKJV) Accept what Jesus’ blood has done for you and be born again.
It Is Finished. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30 NKJV) Jesus took His blood to heaven (Hebrews 10) and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat of God, so that you and I can enter heaven’s gates boldly and with confidence (Hebrews 10:19 NKJV), knowing that we are the sons and daughters of the Living God and His blood is forever working on mine and your behalf.
I found this in a book on my shelf entitled Words Are Seeds by Richard Owens. I hope you find a blessing in this. Happy Resurrection Sunday! Until next week…Blessings and Peace.
Open your Bible now to the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. It has been a profound blessing in my own life to be preparing these messages in the Gospel of John and spend time in this truth, and at the same time, it is a challenge to articulate for you what has been embedded in my own heart. So I always ask for the Lord’s help in delivering the truth. We come in coming to chapter 8 to a familiar story. The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. And the very familiar line, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And at this particular point, I face a decision, which I’ve already made, and I’ll explain. This familiar story, which actually embraces the last verse in chapter 7, the one that says everyone went to his home, this familiar story does not appear in the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament. It does not appear in any of them at all. Manuscript study is very important to guaranteeing the truthfulness of the text. There are about 25,000 New Testament manuscripts, ancient manuscripts.
The oldest of those uniformly do not contain this story. And so you will find in your Bible probably a note in the margin that says, “Later manuscripts added this,” and that is correct. Because we have so many manuscripts, there’s really little doubt that this was added later. If something isn’t in the oldest and shows up later, obviously it was added.
There’s nothing in this story that is un-Christ like or unlike the behavior of Jesus. There’s really nothing in the story that’s unlike the behavior of the religious leaders. It’s a wonderful story of forgiveness. Very likely, something like this happened and was passed down orally from person to person to person, and eventually, someone decided that the story ought to find its way into the New Testament, even though it wasn’t in the original.
And so they put it there. In most old manuscripts, it is placed here. But sometimes in Old Manuscripts, we find it somewhere else in the Gospel of John, and we even find it sometimes in the Gospel of Luke. So apparently, it was a story that floated around that somebody decided should find its way into the New Testament.
The problem with that is the church from its earliest years has known it didn’t belong there. In fact, if you’re looking for ancient commentaries on this story written by church fathers and leaders, you won’t find one until the 12th century. And even when you start to find the commentary in the 12th century, the notation is made that this doesn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts. Why is it here? Because somebody put it in. Why is it in your Bible now?
Because once it found its way in, it became traditionally a part of Scripture, and apparently, Bible translators are unwilling to remove it, so they just put a notation. I’m happy to tell you that when this does happen, and it happens here, and it happened also at the end of Mark, there is a similar addition to the Gospel of Mark in the 16th chapter from verse 9 on. I’m happy to tell you we know they are additions because we have those ancient manuscripts.
Consequently, we know that the Holy Spirit has then enabled us to preserve the true text. I have written some notes about this story in the study Bible footnotes. I’ve written something about this in the commentary on John in deference to people who would be interested in some kind of an interpretation, but the problem is if it didn’t appear in the original text, then it is not inerrant. There’s no guarantee that it’s accurate. There’s no guarantee that it’s without error, like every other part of Scripture.
Furthermore, it interrupts the story that’s going on here. I guess you could call this internal evidence. It interrupts the story. We are at this point starting in chapter 7 with Jesus at the feast of tabernacles. It lasted a week in the fall of his final year, six months from the cross. We have been going through the events when he arrived in the middle of the week, went to the temple and began to teach. What follows this story in verse 12 is part of the ministry that Jesus had during the feast of tabernacles.
So this interrupts those events and the obvious sequence. It should go from verse 52 to chapter 7 immediately to verse 12 of chapter 8. So that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Let me begin reading in verse 12. By the way, for a more extensive explanation of that, you can check the McArthur commentary on John or any other commentary for that matter. Let’s begin at verse 12.
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.’ So the Pharisee said to Him, ‘You’re testifying about yourself. Your testimony is not true.’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I cam going. You judge according to the flesh. I’m not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone in it, but I am the Father who sent me. Even in your law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am he who testifies about myself and the father who sent me testifies about me.’”
“So they were saying to Him, ‘Where is your father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my father. If you knew me, you would know my father also.’ These words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple, and no one seized Him because His hour had not yet come. Then He said again to them, ‘I go away, and you will seek me and will die in your sins. Where I am going, you cannot come.’” We’ve already seen this conflict escalating, and it will escalate fiercely through this chapter in John and through the final six months of Jesus’ life until it reaches the full flame in passion week and takes him to the cross in God’s perfect time. But the things that Jesus said were the things that kept escalating the animosity of the religious leaders. And one of those statements is found here in verse 12.
When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” they knew exactly what He was claiming, exactly. This is one of the I am statements in the Gospel of John, of which there are seven. This is a notable one and a memorable one and one with which we’re all familiar. But I don’t think we may fully understand the essence of this and the way those Jewish leaders received it. I’m going to help you with that, I hope, but let’s break the little narrative down into some subsection so we can kind of track our way.
Let’s start with the area. The area, that would be the first point to consider, and for that, I want to take you to verse 20. When I say the area, I mean the exact location where these words were uttered. These words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple. I want to start there because that sets up absolutely everything. These are remarkable words, but Jesus doesn’t just speak these words out of nowhere. There is a compelling scenario that He captures, and we saw that already back in chapter 7, verses 37 to 39 when He talked about being the living water, and He said that at a moment when they were going through a ritual remembering the provision of water in the wilderness, which was a daily part of the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, which was designed to commemorate the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. And Jesus, when He said that He was the living water and if anybody drank of that water they would never thirst was contrasting that spiritual water with the water being poured out in the ritual.
He had a way of capturing the moment, turning it to himself, and He does it again here. So it’s really critical to know exactly where He is. He’s in the temple, and a section of the temple where the treasury existed. Now one of the things that people did when they came to the temple was give money, and there was a massive courtyard in the temple that had 13 receptacles around the entire area. Thirteen of them. It was in the courtyard called The Court of the Women.
There was a courtyard beyond that, and that would be the Court of the Gentiles where anybody could come and traffic. But once you left the Court of the Gentiles and came in, it was for Jews or duly processed proselytes, men and women. But women could go no further. They couldn’t go into the next court. They could go into the Court of the Women. So naturally, they put all the places to give an offering where both the men and women could come. It was in that very place that the widow gave her last two coins. The first court, again, is the Court of the Gentiles. The second is the Court of the Women where the women are allowed to go. The next would be the Court of the Priests, and that’s restricted.
Restricted even to men who went in to offer sacrifices with the priest. And around the porch of this massive Court of the Women where there would be tens of thousands of people at this particular time in the feast of tabernacles because they came from everywhere, there were 13 allocated places to give money, and according to historians, they were trumpet shaped, which means probably they had a larger opening and funneled down, and the money went into some kind of container.
They were very specific as to their connection. Number one and number two trumpet receptacle was designed for the half shackle temple tax that everyone had to pay. Number three and number four were where women put money to purchase the two pigeons that they needed to offer to purify themselves from childbearing.
Number five was where the money went to purchase the wood for the fire on the alter. Number six also for the incense in the alter. Five and six then for things related to the sacrifices. Number seven was designated as the receptacle to keep up the golden vessels of the temple. To hire the people to clean them and have money to replace them. Then you have eight through 13. Those were for the general fund. Anything and everything else. There’s where Jesus is. He’s in this Court of the Women. It would be the most packed court in the temple. Just keep that in mind.
At some opportune moment, go back to verse 12. “He spoke to them again, as He had been speaking. ‘I am the light of the world,’ he said. ‘He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.’” He didn’t say, “I am a light in the world,” which some rabbi or some teacher might say that He was a light in the darkness. He said, “I am the light.” He didn’t say, “I am a light in Jerusalem.” He didn’t say, “I am a light in Judah.” Some teacher might say that. He said, “I am the light of the world.”
This is exclusive. This is all encompassing. More importantly, this is a direct claim to be the Messiah, and they knew it. They were very, very familiar with the Messianic promises that came through the Prophet Isaiah, and in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 53, you have Messianic chapters of Isaiah in which the Messiah is called the slave of Yahweh or the servant of Jehovah. And in chapter 42, you have this prophecy about Messiah. You will be familiar with it where the Father speaks of Messiah, His servant, His slave. “Behold my slave, whom I uphold my chosen one, in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him.” There is a prophecy of the Messiah’s coming and His empowering by the Holy Spirit.
It goes on to speak of things concerning Him. All of this, verse 5, “Thus says God the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it. I am the Lord,” and He’s speaking now to His Messiah. “I have called you in righteousness. I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people as a –” what? Light to the world.
“As a light to the nations. To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison. I am the Lord. That is my name.” He says that the servant of Jehovah, the Messiah, will be the light of the world. Again, in Isaiah 49, here again this servant of Jehovah is presented. Verse 5, “And now says the Lord who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob or Israel back to Him so that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the site of the Lord and my God as my strength,” he says, “Is it too small a thing that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel? And not just Israel. I will also make you a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” thus says the Lord, “The redeemer of Israel and its holy one.” This is from God. Messiah will be the light of the world. When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” he is making the claim to be the prophesied Messiah. To be, in the words of Malachi, the son of righteousness who is now rising with healing in his beams.
John even begins his gospel with reference to this. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was that true light, which coming into the world enlightens every man.” So right at the very outset of his gospel, he identifies the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the light. The light and the life.
The light, of course, is a magnificent metaphor. Light is the active power that dispels darkness. And Jesus Christ is the light of truth that dispels the darkness of falsehood. Jesus Christ is the light of wisdom that dispels the darkness of ignorance. Jesus Christ is the light of holiness that dispels the darkness of impurity. Jesus Christ is the light of joy that dispels the darkness of sorrow.
Jesus Christ is the light of life that dispels the darkness of death. When He says, “I am the light of the world,” He even uses the tetragrammaton, the I am. The claim to be God, and the claim to be Messiah. To say, “I am the light of the world,” is to identify yourself as God. Psalm 27:1. The psalm has said, “The Lord is might light and my salvation.” First John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” They understood what he was saying. He was claiming to be God. He was claiming to be the Messiah, the light.
But the question comes up why here, why now? Why does he say that? Now we learned back in our last message, chapter 7, verse 37, when He said, “If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink,” and then spoke about the rivers of living water that would flow from the innermost being of those who came to Him.
We know why He said that there because He was capturing that moment of the pouring out of the water, and He turned it to himself. Well He does the same thing here, and so in order to grasp this amazing moment, it’s really important to understand another ritual at the feast of tabernacles, another very important ritual. He could have said, “I am the light,” just out of nowhere, and of course, it would have made sense in the world of darkness. We all understand that. All of us are characterizing Ephesians 5:11 as doing the unfruitful works of darkness. “We walk in darkness. The way of the wicked is darkness,” the Scripture says. “The foolish heart is darkened. We are darkened in our understanding and excluded from the life of God.” Scripture talks about that frequently. It’s a common description.
We have been delivered out of the domain of darkness, so there was certainly theological understanding of the notion of darkness. Even Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament said, “The fool walks in darkness.” Isaiah said, “Men substitute darkness for light.” So I suppose Jesus could have just popped up and said, “I am the light of the world,” and it would have had some impact because people use the metaphor of darkness for the disastrous reality of the human condition even then.
But there’s far more going on here than that. Far more. And let me help you with that. When the feast of tabernacles began, candelabras were set up all through the Court of the Women. Candelabras really all around the Court of the Women. As far as historians say, they literally filled the Court of the Women with the capability of light. Every night, they would go around, and they would light these large candles, and they would burn all night.
This was actually called by the Jews the illumination of the temple. And the reason they did was because remember now, the feast of tabernacle is they’re celebrating what? They’re celebrating the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. And how did they know where to go in the wilderness? They were led by light. They were led by a pillar of fire at night and a lighted cloud in the daytime. This was the light that led them in the wilderness. To commemorate that, they had this illumination of the temple, and they lit all these candles and let them burn all night.
There’s some interesting descriptions of it by historians, ancient historians who describe it as a stunning vision, like a diamond in the midst of the city of Jerusalem was the temple ground with like floodlights coming up across its perimeter walls. Every night they were lit, the temple became a flashing diamond, a symbol of the pillar of fiery light and cloud that led them in the wilderness. Some have said they actually quoted Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6. “I will be a light to the nations.”
I can visualize Jesus standing there. “Maybe they’re just lighting them.” We don’t have the exact moment. “Maybe they’re just lighting them.” Or maybe He’s there earlier in the day, and they’ve been extinguished. And maybe He looks at those extinguished Candelabras and says, “I’m the light of the world, and I never go out. If you follow me, the light will never go out. You will never walk in the darkness. But you will have the light of life.” It’s a profound moment. “I’m the light that never is extinguished. And as the pillar of light in the day and the night led Israel to the promised land, I am the light that will lead you to the kingdom. I will lead you to God, to heaven, to everlasting life. It’s not a light to be looked at. Not a light to be admired. It’s a light to be followed. It moves. It’s to be followed.”
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let me deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He said to His disciples, “Follow me.” They followed the cloud, they followed the pillar, and they were led to the promised land. That whole generation died, of course, and only the next were able to go in. Jesus said, “If you follow me, you will go in. You follow me, this will light you all the way to – you receive the full promise of eternal life.” So rather dramatically and beautifully and powerfully and effectively does Jesus capture the crowd and the stunning temple ritual turns to Him.
“I know the way out of darkness,” He says. “I know the way out of the darkness of ignorance. I know the way out of the darkness of sin. I know the way out of the darkness of sadness and sorrow. I know the way out of the darkness of death. Follow me, and I will lead you to life, eternal life.” What does it mean to follow? Just the word itself. Follow me. The way it’s used in ancient usage, it’s used of a soldier following his commander as the believer follows Christ as his sole commander. It’s used of a slave following his master as the believer is to do the same.
It’s used of someone following a wise counselor. It’s used of someone following the law obediently. It’s used of a student following the teacher’s line of argument. That’s what it means to follow all of those things, to follow Christ as a soldier follows his commander, as a slave follows his master, as a person in ignorance follows a wise counselor. As a disobedient sinner turns to follow the law obediently. As a student follows the teacher’s line of reasoning and argument.
To be a follower is to give yourself totally to Christ. To say with the psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Where as it also says in the Old Testament, “The Lord shall be an everlasting light.” “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I’ll lead you to the heavenly promised land. I’ll be the light, the true light.” It might interest you to know that the rabbis even declared that Messiah’s name is light. They knew what Isaiah was saying. So Jesus is claiming not only to be the I am, not only to be God who is the true light, but to be the Messiah prophesied. So we go from the area to the assertion. That’s what he asserts. It’s a powerful, dramatic moment. Captivating the people, and they understand.
Certainly the leaders understood because you see the antagonism that rises immediately. The antagonism appears in verse 13. So the Pharisee said to him, “You’re testifying about yourself. Your testimony is not true,” which is to say you can’t do that. That’s not how it works. They accused Jesus of an invalid claim because He’s making it for Himself. You’re just boasting. Why should we believe you? There are no witnesses to confirm this.
This is another calculated attack, and of course, they’re saying essentially this is an illegal claim because you cannot claim anything, and we cannot confirm it to be true unless it is confirmed by at least what, two witnesses. And that’s exactly what Jesus refers to later in the discussion. Verse 17. “Even in your law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.” So they go onto that legal aspect, this calculated attack. It’s biblical law. You have to have at least two witnesses. You can’t possibly think that just because you say it, it’s true. In fact, it’s invalidated because there are no confirming witnesses.
This is how unbelief operates, by the way. Unbelief never has enough proof. His words alone should have been convincing enough. They had enough hearing of His words to know that He spoke like no other person ever spoke, and that’s exactly what was reported to them by the soldiers they sent to arrest Him in the last chapter. His works, ubiquitous works of healing, power over disease, demons, death, and nature. His effect. But unbelief never has enough proof.
Go back to chapter 7 verse 17. “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak for myself.” If you’re willing to know the truth, you’ll know the truth. If you’re willing, you will know the teaching. They weren’t willing. Their unbelief begat ignorance. Now you can be an unbeliever because you’re ignorant. That’s a better situation. Because if we can just remove the ignorance, perhaps you’ll believe.
But the worst possible scenario is to be ignorant because you’re an unbeliever so that when you’re given the proof, your unbelief locks you into your ignorance. That was then. They weren’t unbelievers because of ignorance. They were ignorance because of unbelief. They didn’t process anything He said. They didn’t connect any of the evidences, which were replete. They just wanted Him trapped and dead. And I would just say, generally speaking, that you want to be very careful if you’re rejecting Jesus Christ in unbelief. You’re in a safer condition if your unbelief is because you’re ignorant than you are if your ignorance is because of your unbelief.
That’s terminal. Because if ignorance has been met with truth and you’re unwilling to see it, you are locked into the kind of ignorance that is hopeless. John 7:17, “If you’re willing, the truth is there.” The truth is there. Are you willing? When somebody says, “I don’t believe the gospel. I don’t believe Jesus is the son of God. I don’t believe in Him as the Savior,” there’s usually two things to say. Number one, “That’s such an amazing and such an astute conclusion. You must have studied the Bible intensely for years to come to that conclusion.”
Because the world is full of people and has been for centuries who have studied it deeply their whole lives and are convinced He is who He said He was. So for you to overturn that, you must have made some kind of an extensive and erudite effort to understand everything in Scripture. That’s not true. That’s a very humiliating thing to say to someone who probably hasn’t even read the New Testament. The second thing you’d want to say is, “Are you willing? Are you willing? Is your unbelief because of ignorance so that if ignorance is removed, you’re willing?” These weren’t. There Pharisees, these leaders, they weren’t.
So you go from the antagonism to the answer in verse 14. Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true.” You know, Deuteronomy 19:15, another passage in Deuteronomy, talk about two or three witnesses. That’s for people who are liars. That works for us because we’re all liars. We all live in a world of lies and deception. We’ve got to confirm things with several people hoping to get the truth.
But that doesn’t apply to God. Jesus said, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true. I’m not subject to those laws that are meant for a world of liars. I know where I came from, and I know where I’m going,” and He’s saying there, “I’m eternal. I’m transcendent.” “The law was made for man, not for God. The Sabbath was made for man, not for God. I speak the truth because of who I am.” So His answer is, “First of all, my claim is valid because of who I am and where I’m from and where I am going.”
We know where he’s from. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, but it was the eternal Word who was with God. And I know where I’m going, John 17. “Father, restore me to the glory I had with you before the world began. I came from the Father. I’m going back to the Father, but you don’t know where I come from or where I’m going.” In fact, they didn’t even know what town He was from. They thought He was from Nazareth. They never bothered to check. Why would they?
Their unbelief confined them to a willful ignorance. They never looked at the records to see that He was born in Bethlehem where Messiah is to be born, and He was of the line of David, both father and mother. And you remember that discussion from our last message. So first of all, He says, “You don’t know anything about me, even temporally. You don’t even know what town I’m from.” Back in chapter 7, verse 28, He cried out on the temple teaching saying, “You both know me and know where I’m from.” He’s saying that sarcastically.
We know where you’re from. You’re from Galilee. You’re from Nazareth. The Messiah doesn’t come from there. He says, “You think you know me and where I’m from? I’ve not come of myself, but He who sent me is true whom you do not know. I know Him because I am from Him and He sent me.” And they were trying to seize Him, kill Him. He’s saying it again. When He says, “I know where I came from,” they know He means God. And I know where I’m going. Back to God. I’m transcendent. I’m eternal. I am God.
Their denial of His testimony is willful ignorance. Ignorance is cheap. Ignorance is common, and ignorance in the face of evidence is terminally deadly. Jesus says, “You judge according to the flesh.” Verse 15. You judge according to the flesh. Your judgment is superficial. By the way, they judged everyone. That’s what Jesus referred to in Matthew 7. A sermon on the mount when He said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Stop the judgment. The final judgment is at your rendering. That’s what the leaders were doing on everybody, but they judge according to the flesh.
You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all, and yet you sit in judgment on me and judgment on my testimony. All you know is external. All you know is physical, and you don’t even know the town I came from. You haven’t even checked the temple records. You don’t even know what you could know. And you’re the judge of my like you’re the judge of everybody else.
Verse 15, He then says, “I’m not judging anyone,” in that way he means. “I don’t judge in the flesh.” Apostle Paul, you know, in 2 Corinthians 5:16 said, “I judge no man in the flesh.” What did he mean by that? He meant I don’t judge people superficially. If you’re a Christian, you judge people spiritually. You don’t judge people superficially. You judge them spiritually.
Pharisees judge superficially, behavior. Jesus said, “I don’t judge that way.” But, verse 16, “Even if I do judge, my judgment is true.” And by the way, He will judge. Back to chapter 5, verse 22, “And following all judgment is given to Him, and one day, He will raise all the dead to a judgment of life and a judgment of condemnation, and the Father has given all judgment into His hand, and He will judge.
But according to verse 30 of that fifth chapter, “He will judge in perfect harmony with the Father. Next time He comes, He will come as the judge.” Back in chapter 3, He said He didn’t come to judge, but to save the first time. “I’m not here to judge, but if I do judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone in it, but I and the father who sent me. I judge in accord with the Father.” John 5:30. He says exactly the same thing.
And then He goes to the second point. Not only because of who I am from heaven going back to heaven, sent by God going back to God in perfect coordination and harmony with God. Then there’s a second reason, and at this point, He exceeds to their expectation. Okay, even in your own law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I’ll give you that. I am He who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me testifies about me. There’s two. You want two? You have two. Myself and the Father. Myself and the Father. This again is an infuriating claim, very much like the claim he made back in chapter 5. My Father is working until now and I am working, and they wanted to kill Him because He was making himself equal with God.
Here He says, “I judge and my father Judges. I testify and the Father testifies. Two reasons that my claim is valid. Number one, who I am, and number two, the testimony that my Father corroborates.” And of course, their response is predictable. Verse 19, they were saying to Him, “Where is your father?” Scorn, ridicule, sarcasm, mockery. I don’t know whether they were throwing some slur at Him as an illegitimate child, which of course appears in ancient times. I don’t know whether they were mocking the fact that no one knew His father because His father was long dead by the time He was in ministry. I don’t know really what they were saying, but it was intended as scornful mockery. “Where is your father?”
Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also. You don’t know me. You don’t know my Father. You wouldn’t know God if he came up to you. You don’t know Him. You don’t know me.” Back in chapter 5, he said similar words. In verse 23, “If you don’t honor me, you don’t honor the Father.” Later, he will say to the disciples, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” But this is the final insult. They prided themselves on knowing God. They knew God better than anyone. He says, “You don’t know Him at all.”
Matthew 11:27 says, “The son reveals the father.” You don’t know God. You don’t know Him at all. This is a devastating statement. This is a characterization of the leadership of Judaism in the time of Christ. They didn’t know God at all. Still true of those who reject the Savior. So that was the answer, devastating answer. Verse 20 then, we already looked at these words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple.
They are now so infuriated that again, again, they want to seize Him to kill Him. But they can’t. They tried three times in chapter 7 unsuccessfully. They can’t because His hour had not yet come. He’s on a divine schedule. They can’t do a thing. Final statement is the avenging. The avenging, verse 21. Then He said to them again, “I go away. You’ll seek me. You’ll die in your sin. Where I’m going, you cannot come.” That’s final. Earlier, He said, “I’m not going to be around long. I’m just going to be here a little while,” as if there’s still some time. Here we are only hours later, at the most, days. “Your ignorance is confirmed. It’s willful, and it’s the product of your unbelief in the face of the revelation.” We know how extreme their rejection was because they attributed what He did to Satan.
So He said, “I’ll go away.” Not six months from then, but as far as they were concerned, He was gone. “You will seek me.” You know, that’s the horror of lostness. And I told you that last time. Hell is where you now know finally who you need and you seek but never find. That’s why there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where I go, you cannot come. You will die in your sin.
I want to close with just a look at chapter 12 because I think it ties this together, and I won’t take long because time is up. Chapter 12, and we’ll obviously get to it, but for now, verse 35. Verse 35 is a good concluding portion. So Jesus said to them this just before His last supper with the disciples in John 13 at the end. “For a little while longer, the light is among you. Walk while you have the light so the darkness will not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness doesn’t know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.”
That’s the cry, isn’t it? It’s the same thing He says in chapter 8. But what’s so stunning is immediately in verse 36, it says, “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid himself from them. They didn’t have much time. “Believe now, or I’m gone.’ And He hid himself.” Verse 37 explains why. “Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” Was that a shock to God? No, it was a fulfillment of prophecy. It fulfilled the word of Isaiah who said, “Lord who has believed our report, to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
For this reason, they couldn’t believe. They wouldn’t believe, and now what? They couldn’t believe. For Isaiah said He is – this is from Isaiah 6, the first one from Isaiah 53. “He has blinded their eyes, hardened their hearts so they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and he spoke of Him.
Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 6 is a prophecy of Jesus being rejected, and then God rejecting the rejecters. But thankfully, verse 42, many even of the rulers believed in Him, say, “That’s good.” Not so good, but because of the Pharisees, they were not confessing him for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. What a sad reality. He is the light of the world, the only light. Walk in the light or experience darkness forever. Lord, thank you again for the truth, the compelling and powerful word of Scripture comes through to us as always.
And we bow beneath its glory, its urgency. Help us to understand how serious these truths are. Believe while you can, come to the light while the light is available before it is hidden, and the one who would not believe cannot ever believe. Willful blindness becomes judicial blindness. Lord, may the light shine on hearts today. May Christ be the light of life. May many follow Him. Not walk in darkness, but follow Him all the way to that glorious light of heaven.
Father, now we ask that you would use these things that we have learned today to enlighten us and to open the hearts of some who perhaps have been and still are in the darkness and to make us all aware of how important it is to be lights in the world, for this terrible darkness that binds men’s hearts. Use us, Lord, to be the light. We thank you for that great privilege. Do it by your power, we pray. In Christ’s name.