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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Preface to John
John, the writer of this Gospel, was the son of Zebedee and Salome; compare Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40-41. His father was a fisherman of Galilee, though it would appear that he was not destitute of property, and was not in the lowest condition of life. He had hired men in his employ, Mark 1:20. Salome is described as one who attended our Saviour in his travels, and ministered to his needs, Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:41. Also, John was known to Caiaphas, the high priest John 18:15. On the cross, Jesus commended his own mother (Mary) to John, and he took her into his own home John 19:26-27, with whom, history informs us, she lived until her death, about 15 years after the crucifixion of Christ. From all this it would seem not improbable that John had some property, and was better known than any of the other apostles.
John was the youngest of the apostles when called by Jesus, and John 54ed to the greatest age; he is the only one who is supposed to have died a peaceful death. He was called to be a follower of Jesus while engaged with his father and his older brother James mending their nets at Lake Tiberias, Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19; Luke 5:10.
John was admitted by our Saviour to special favor and friendship. One of the ancient fathers (Theophylact) says that he was related to him. "Joseph," he says, "had seven children by a former wife, four sons and three daughters, Martha, Esther, and Salome, whose son was John. Therefore, Salome was reckoned our Lord's sister, and John was his nephew." If this was the case, it may explain the reason why James and John sought and expected the first places in his kingdom, Matthew 20:20-21. These may also possibly be the persons who were called our Lord's "brethren" and "sisters," Matthew 13:55-56. This may also explain the reason why our Saviour committed his mother to the care of John on the cross, John 19:27.
The two brothers, James and John, with Peter, were admitted to peculiar favors by our Lord several times. They were the only disciples who were permitted to be present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51. Only they were permitted to attend the Saviour to the mount where he was transfigured, Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2. The same three were permitted to be present at his sufferings in the garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36-45; Mark 14:32-42. And, it was to these disciples, together with Andrew, to whom the Saviour specially addressed himself when he made known the desolations that were coming upon Jerusalem and Judea; compare Matthew 24:12; Mark 13:3-4. John was also admitted to special friendship with the Lord Jesus. Hence, he is mentioned as "that disciple whom Jesus loved" John 19:26, and he is represented John 13:23 as leaning upon his bosom at the institution of the Lord's Supper an evidence of unusual friendship. See the notes on that. Though the Redeemer was attached to all his disciples, yet there is no improbability in supposing that his disposition was congenial with that of the meek and amiable John - thus authorizing and settling the example of special friendships among Christians.
To John was committed the care of Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the ascension of Christ he remained some time at Jerusalem, Acts 1:14; Acts 3:1; Acts 4:13. John is also mentioned as having been sent down to Samaria to preach the gospel there with Peter Acts 8:14-25; and from Acts 15 it appears that he was present at the council at Jerusalem in 49 or 50 a.d. All this agrees with what is said by Eusebius, that he lived at Jerusalem until the death of Mary, 15 years after the crucifixion of Christ. Until this time it is probable that he had not been engaged in preaching the gospel among the Gentiles.
At what time he first went among the Gentiles to preach the gospel is not certainly known. It has been commonly supposed that he resided in Judea and the neighborhood until the war broke out with the Romans, and that he came into Asia Minor about the year 69 or 70 a.d. It is clear that he was not at Ephesus at the time that Paul visited those regions, since in all the travels of Paul and Luke there is no mention made of John.
Ecclesiastical history informs us that he spent the latter part of his life in Asia Minor, and that he resided chiefly at Ephesus, the chief city of that country. Of his residence in Ephesus little is known with certainty. In the latter part of his life he was banished to Patmos, a small desolate island in the Aegean Sea, about 20 miles in circumference. This is commonly supposed to have been during the persecution of Domitian, in the latter part of his reign. Domitian died 96 a.d. It is probable that he returned soon after that, in the reign of the Emperor Trajan. On that island he wrote the Book of Revelation. See the notes at Revelation 1:9. After his return from Patmos he lived peaceably at Ephesus until his death, which is supposed to have occurred not long afterward. He was buried at Ephesus; and it has been commonly thought that he was the only one of the apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. It is evident that he lived to a very advanced period of life. Indeed we do not know his age when Christ called him to follow him, but we cannot suppose that it was less than 25 or 30. If so, he must have been not far from 100 years old when he died.
Many anecdotes are related of him while he remained at Ephesus, but there is no sufficient evidence of their truth. Some have said that he was taken to Rome in a time of persecution and thrown into a caldron of boiling oil, and came out uninjured. It has been said also that, going into a bath one day at Ephesus, he perceived the presence of Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of the Saviour, and that he fled from him hastily, to express his disapproval of Cerinthus' doctrine. It is also said, and of this there can be no doubt, that during his latter years he was not able to make a long discourse. He was carried to the assembly, and was accustomed to say nothing but this: "Little children, love one another." At length his disciples asked him why he always dwelt upon the same thing. He replied, "Because it is the Lord's command; and if this is done, it is sufficient"
Learned men have been much divided about the time when this Gospel was written. Wetstein supposed that it was written just after our Saviour's ascension; Mill and LeClerc, that it was written in 97 a.d.; Dr. Lardner, that it was about the year 68 a.d., just before the destruction of Jerusalem. The common opinion is that it was written at Ephesus after his return from Patmos, and of course as late as the year 97 or 98 a.d. Nothing can be determined with certainty on the subject, and it is a matter of very little consequence.
There is no doubt that it was written by John. This is abundantly confirmed by the ancient fathers, and was not questioned by Celsus, Porphyry, or Julian, the most acute enemies of revelation in the early ages. It has never been extensively questioned to have been the work of John, and is one of the books of the New Testament whose canonical authority was never disputed. See Lardner, or Paley's "Evidences."
The design of writing it is stated by John himself in John 20:31. It was to show that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that those who believed might have life through his name. "This design is kept in view through the whole Gospel, and should be remembered in our attempts to explain it." Various attempts have been made to show that he wrote it to confute the followers of Cerinthus and the Gnostics, but no satisfactory evidence of such a design has been furnished.
As John wrote after the other evangelists, he has recorded many things which they omitted. He dwells much more fully than they do on the divine character of Jesus. John relates many things pertaining to the early part of Jesus' ministry which they had omitted. He records many more of Christ's discourses than they have done, and particularly the interesting discourse at the institution of the Supper. See John 14-17.
It has been remarked that there are evidences in this Gospel that it was not written for the Jews. The author explains words and customs which to a Jew would have needed no explanation. See John 1:38, John 1:41; John 5:1-2; John 7:2; John 4:9. The style in the Greek indicates that he was an unlearned man. It is simple, plain, unpolished, such as we should suppose would be used by one in his circumstances. At the same time, it is dignified, containing pure and profound sentiments, and is on many accounts the most difficult of all the books of the New Testament to interpret. It contains more about Christ, his person, design, and work, than any of the other Gospels. The other evangelists were employed more in recording the miracles, and giving external evidence of the divine mission of Jesus. John is employed chiefly in telling us what Christ was, and what his unique doctrine was. His aim was to show:
1. that Jesus was the Messiah.
2. to show, "from the words of Jesus himself," what the Messiah was.
The other evangelists only record Jesus' parables, his miracles, his debates with the Scribes and Pharisees; John records chiefly Jesus' discourses about himself. If anyone wishes to learn the true. doctrine respecting the "Messiah, the Son of God," expressed in simple language, but with most sublime conceptions; to learn the true nature and character of God, and the way of approach to his mercy-seat; to see the true nature of Christian piety, or the source and character of religious consolation; to have perpetually before him the purest model of character the world has seen, and to contemplate the purest precepts that have ever been delivered to man, he cannot do it better than by a prayerful study of the Gospel by John. It may be added that this Gospel is of itself proof that cannot be overthrown of the truth of revelation. John was a fisherman, unhonored and unlearned, Acts 4:13. What man in that rank of life now could compose a book like this? Can it be conceived that any man of that rank, unless under the influence of inspiration, could conceive notions of God so sublime, could present views of morals so pure and could draw a character so inimitably lovely and pure as that of Jesus Christ? To ask these questions is to answer them. And this Gospel will stand to the end of time as an unanswerable demonstration that the fisherman who wrote it was under a superhuman guidance, and was, according to the promise that he has recorded (John 16:13; compare John 14:26), "guided into all truth." It will also remain as an unanswerable proof that the character which he has described the character of the Lord Jesus - was real. It is a perfect character. It does not have one flaw.
How has this happened? The attempt has often been made to draw a perfect character - and as often, in every other instance, failed. How is it, when Homer and Virgil, and the ancient historians, have all failed to describe a perfect character, with the purest models before them, and with all the aid of imagination, that in every instance they have failed? How is it that this has at last been accomplished only by a Jewish fisherman? The difficulty is vastly increased if another idea is borne in mind. John describes one whom he believed to have a divine nature, John 1:1. It is an attempt to describe "God in human nature," or to show how the Divine Being acts when united with man, or when appearing in human form. And the description is complete. There is not a word expressed by the Lord Jesus, or an emotion ascribed to him that is inconsistent with such a supposition. But this same attempt was often made, and as often failed. Homer and Virgil, and all the ancient poets, have undertaken to show what the gods would be if they came down and conversed with man. And what were they? What were Jupiter, and Juno, and Venus, and Mars, and Vulcan? Beings of lust, and envy, and contention, and blood. How has it happened that the only successful account which has been given of the divine nature united with the human, and of living and acting as became such a union, has been given by a Jewish fisherman? How, unless the character was real, and the writer under a guidance far superior to the genius of Homer and the imagination of Virgil - the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the beginning - This expression is used also in Genesis 1:1. John evidently has allusion here to that place, and he means to apply to "the Word" an expression which is there applied "to God." In both places it clearly means before creation, before the world was made, when as yet there was nothing. The meaning is: that the "Word" had an existence before the world was created. This is not spoken of the man Jesus, but of that which "became" a man, or was incarnate, John 1:14. The Hebrews, by expressions like this, commonly denoted eternity. Thus. the eternity of God is described Psalm 90:2; "Before the mountains were brought forth, etc.;" and eternity is commonly expressed by the phrase, before the foundation of the world." Whatever is meant by the term "Word," it is clear that it had an existence before "creation." It is not, then, a "creature" or created being, and must be, therefore, uncreated and eternal. There is only one Being that is uncreated, and Jesus must be therefore divine. Compare the Saviour's own declarations respecting himself in the following places: John 8:58; John 17:5; John 6:62; John 3:13; John 6:46; John 8:14; John 16:28.
Was the Word - Greek, "was the λόγος Logos." This name is given to him who afterward became "flesh," or was incarnate (John 1:14 - that is, to the Messiah. Whatever is meant by it, therefore, is applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ. There have been many opinions about the reason why this name was given to the Son of God. It is unnecessary to repeat those opinions. The opinion which seems most plausible may be expressed as follows:
1. A "word" is that by which we communicate our will; by which we convey our thoughts; or by which we issue commands the medium of communication with others.
2. The Son of God may be called "the Word," because he is the medium by which God promulgates His will and issues His commandments. See Hebrews 1:1-3.
3. This term was in use before the time of John.
(a) It was used in the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament, as, "e. g.," Isaiah 45:12; "I have made the earth, and created man upon it." In the Aramaic it is, "I, 'by my word,' have made," etc. Isaiah 48:13; "mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth." In the Aramaic, "'By my word' I have founded the earth." And so in many other places.
(b) This term was used by the Jews as applicable to the Messiah. In their writings he was commonly known by the term "Mimra" - that is, "Word;" and no small part of the interpositions of God in defense of the Jewish nation were declared to be by "the Word of God." Thus, in their Targum on Deuteronomy 26:17-18, it is said, "Ye have appointed the word of God a king over you this day, that he may be your God."
(c) The term was used by the Jews who were scattered among the Gentiles, and especially those who were conversant with the Greek philosophy.
(d) The term was used by the followers of Plato among the Greeks, to denote the Second Person of the Trinity. The Greek term νοῦς nous or "mind," was commonly given to this second person, but it was said that this nous was "the word" or "reason" of the First Person of the Trinity. The term was therefore extensively in use among the Jews and Gentiles before John wrote his Gospel, and it was certain that it would be applied to the Second Person of the Trinity by Christians. whether converted from Judaism or Paganism. It was important, therefore, that the meaning of the term should be settled by an inspired man, and accordingly John, in the commencement of his Gospel, is at much pains to state clearly what is the true doctrine respecting the λόγος Logos, or Word. It is possible, also, that the doctrines of the Gnostics had begun to spread in the time of John. They were an Oriental sect, and held that the λόγος Logos or "Word" was one of the "Aeones" that had been created, and that this one had been united to the man Jesus. If that doctrine had begun then to prevail, it was of the more importance for John to settle the truth in regard to the rank of the Logos or Word. This he has done in such a way that there need be no doubt about its meaning.
Was with God - This expression denotes friendship or intimacy. Compare Mark 9:19. John affirms that he was "with God" in the beginning - that is, before the world was made. It implies, therefore, that he was partaker of the divine glory; that he was blessed and happy with God. It proves that he was intimately united with the Father, so as to partake of his glory and to be appropriately called by the name God. He has himself explained it. See John 17:5; "And now, O Father, glorify thou we with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." See also John 1:18; "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." See also John 3:13; "The Son of man, which is in heaven." Compare Philippians 2:6-7.
Was God - In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was "with God." Lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being, here John states that "he was God." There is no more unequivocal declaration in the Bible than this, and there could be no stronger proof that the sacred writer meant to affirm that the Son of God was equal with the Father; because:
1. There is no doubt that by the λόγος Logos is meant Jesus Christ.
2. This is not an "attribute" or quality of God, but is a real subsistence, for it is said that the λόγος Logos was made flesh σάρξ sarx - that is, became a human being.
3. There is no variation here in the manuscripts, and critics have observed that the Greek will bear no other construction than what is expressed in our translation - that the Word "was God."
4. There is no evidence that John intended to use the word "God" in an inferior sense. It is not "the Word was a god," or "the Word was 'like God,'" but the Word "was God." He had just used the word "God" as evidently applicable to Yahweh, the true God; and it is absurd to suppose that he would in the same verse, and without any indication that he was using the word in an inferior sense, employ it to denote a being altogether inferior to the true God.
5. The name "God" is elsewhere given to him, showing that he is the supreme God. See Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:10, Hebrews 1:12; 1 John 5:20; John 20:28.
The meaning of this important verse may then be thus summed up:
1. The name λόγος Logos, or Word, is given to Christ in reference to his becoming the Teacher or Instructor of mankind; the medium of communication between God and man.
2. The name was in use at the time of John, and it was his design to state the correct doctrine respecting the λόγος Logos.
3. The "Word," or λόγος Logos, existed "before creation" - of course was not a "creature," and must have been, therefore, from eternity.
4. He was "with God" - that is, he was united to him in a most intimate and close union before the creation; and, as it could not be said that God was "with himself," it follows that the λόγος Logos was in some sense distinct from God, or that there was a distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say that one is "with another," we imply that there is some sort of distinction between them.
5. Yet, lest it should be supposed that he was a "different" and "inferior" being - a creature - he affirms that he was God - that is, was equal with the Father.
This is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity:
1. that the second person is in some sense "distinct" from the first.
2. that he is intimately united with the first person in essence, so that there are not two or more Gods.
3. that the second person may be called by the same name; has the same attributes; performs the same works; and is entitled to the same honors with the first, and that therefore he is "the same in substance, and equal in power and glory," with God.
2The same was in the beginning with God.
The same - The Word, or the λόγος Logos.
Was in the beginning with God - This seems to be a repetition of what was said in the first verse; but it is stated over again to "guard the doctrine," and to prevent the possibility of a mistake. John had said that he existed before the creation, and that he was "with God;" but he had not said in the first verse "that the union with God existed in the beginning." He now expresses that idea, and assures us that that union was not one which was commenced in time, and which might be, therefore, a mere union of feeling, or a compact, like that between any other beings, but was one which existed in eternity, and which was therefore a union of nature or essence.
3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
All things - The universe. The expression cannot be limited to any part of the universe. It appropriately expresses everything which exists - all the vast masses of material worlds, and all the animals and things, great or small, that compose those worlds. See Revelation 4:11; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16.
Were made - The original word is from the verb "to be," and signifies "were" by him; but it expresses the idea of creation here. It does not alter the sense whether it is said "'were' by him," or "were 'created' by him." The word is often used in the sense of "creating," or forming from nothing. See James 3:9; and Genesis 2:4; Isaiah 48:7; in the Septuagint.
By him - In this place it is affirmed that "creation" was effected by "the Word," or the Son of God. In Genesis 1:1, it is said that the Being who created the heavens and the earth was God. In Psalm 102:25-28, this work is ascribed to Yahweh. The "Word," or the Son of God, is therefore appropriately called "God." The work of "creation" is uniformly ascribed in the Scriptures to the Second Person of the Trinity. See Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:10. By this is meant, evidently, that he was the agent, or the efficient cause, by which the universe was made. There is no higher proof of omnipotence than the work of creation; and, hence, God often appeals to that work to prove that he is the true God, in opposition to idols. See Isaiah 40:18-28; Jeremiah 10:3-16; Psalm 24:2; Psalm 39:11; Proverbs 3:19. It is absurd to say that God can invest a creature with omnipotence. If He can make a creature omnipotent, He can make him omniscient, and can in the same way make him omnipresent, and infinitely wise and good; that is, He can invest a creature with all His own attributes, or make another being like Himself, or, which is the same thing, there could be two Gods, or as many Gods as He should choose to make. But this is absurd! The Being, therefore, that "created" all things must be divine; and, since this work is ascribed to Jesus Christ, and as it is uniformly in the Scriptures declared to be the work of God, Jesus Christ is therefore equal with the Father.
Without him - Without his agency; his notice; the exertion of his power. Compare Matthew 10:29. This is a strong way of speaking, designed to confirm, beyond the possibility of doubt, what he had just said. He says, therefore, in general, that all things were made by Christ. In this part of the verse he shuts out all doubt, and affirms that there was "no exception;" that there was not a single thing, however minute or unimportant, which was not made by him. In this way, he confirms what he said in the first verse. Christ was not merely called God, but he did the works of God, and therefore the name is used in its proper sense as implying supreme divinity. To this same test Jesus himself appealed as proving that he was divine. John 10:37, "if I do not the works of my Father, believe me not." John 5:17, "my Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
In him was life - The evangelist had just affirmed John 5:3 that by the λόγος Logos or "Word" the world was originally created. One part of that creation consisted "in breathing into man the breath of life," Genesis 2:7. God is declared to be "life," or the "living" God, because he is the source or fountain of life. This attribute is here ascribed to Jesus Christ. He not merely made the material worlds, but he also gave "life." He was the agent by which the vegetable world became animated; by which brutes live; and by which man became a living soul, or was endowed with immortality. This was a "higher" proof that the "Word was God," than the creation of the material worlds; but there is another sense in which he was "life." The "new creation," or the renovation of man and his restoration from a state of sin, is often compared with the "first creation;" and as the λόγος Logos was the source of "life" then, so, in a similar but higher sense, he is the source of "life" to the soul dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. And it is probably in reference to this that he is so often called "life" in the writings of John. "For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in him self," John 5:26; "He giveth life unto the world," John 6:33; "I am the resurrection and the life," John 11:25; "This is the true God and eternal life," John 5:20. See also 1 John 1:1-2; 1 John 5:11; Acts 3:15; Colossians 3:4. The meaning is: that he is the source or the fountain of both natural and spiritual life. Of course he has the attributes of God.
The life was the light of men - "Light" is that by which we see objects distinctly. The light of the sun enables us to discern the form, the distance, the magnitude, and the relation of objects, and prevents the perplexities and dangers which result from a state of darkness. Light is in all languages, therefore, put for "knowledge" - for whatever enables us to discern our duty, and that saves us from the evils of ignorance and error. "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light," Ephesians 5:13. See Isaiah 8:20; Isaiah 9:2. The Messiah was predicted as the "light" of the world, Isaiah 9:2, compared with Matthew 4:15-16; Isaiah 60:1. See John 8:12; "I am the light of the world;" John 12:35-36, John 12:46; "I am come a light into the world." The meaning is, that the λόγος Logos or Word of God is the "instructor or teacher" of mankind. This was done before his advent by his direct agency in giving man reason or understanding, and in giving his law, for the "law was ordained by angels 'in the hand of a mediator'" Galatians 3:19; after his advent by his personal ministry when on earth, by his Spirit John 14:16, John 14:26, and by his ministers since, Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28.
5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The light shineth in darkness - Darkness, in the Bible, commonly denotes ignorance, guilt, or misery. See Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:16; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8, Ephesians 5:11; Romans 13:12. It refers here to a wicked and ignorant people. When it is said that "the light shineth in darkness," it is meant that the Lord Jesus came to teach an ignorant, benighted, and wicked world. This has always been the case. It was so when he sent his prophets; so during his own ministry; and so in every age since. His efforts to enlighten and save men have been like light struggling to penetrate a thick, dense cloud; and though a few rays may pierce the gloom, yet the great mass is still an impenetrable shade.
Comprehended it not - This word means "admitted" it not, or "received" it not. The word "comprehend," with us, means to "understand." This is not the meaning of the original. The darkness did not "receive" or "admit" the rays of light; the shades were so thick that the light could not penetrate them; or, to drop the figure, men were so ignorant, so guilty, so debased, that they did not appreciate the value of his instructions; they despised and rejected him. And so it is still. The great mass of men, sunk in sin, will not receive his teachings, and be enlightened and saved by him. Sin always blinds the mind to the beauty and excellency of the character of the Lord Jesus. It indisposes the mind to receive his instructions, just as "darkness" has no affinity for "light;" and if the one exists, the other must be displaced.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
A man sent from God - See Matthew 3. The evangelist proceeds now to show that John the Baptist was not the Messiah and to state the true nature of his office. Many had supposed that he was the Christ, but this opinion he corrects; yet he admits that he was "sent from God" - that he was divinely commissioned. Though he denied that he was "the Messiah," yet he did not deny that he was sent from or by heaven on an important errand to human beings. Some have supposed that the sole design of this gospel was to show that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. Though there is no foundation for this opinion, yet there is no doubt that one object was to show this. The main design was to show that "Jesus was the Christ," John 20:31. To do this, it was proper, in the beginning, to prove that "John" was not the Messiah; and this might have been at that time an important object. John made many disciples, Matthew 3:5. Many persons supposed that he might be the Messiah, Luke 3:15; John 1:19. "Many of these disciples of John remained" at Ephesus, "the very place where John is supposed to have written this gospel, long after the ascension of Jesus," Acts 19:1-3. It is not improbable that there might have been many others who adhered to John, and perhaps many who supposed that he was the Messiah. On these accounts it was important for the evangelist to show that John "was not the Christ," and to show, also, that he, who was extensively admitted to be a prophet, was an important "witness" to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. The evangelist in the first four verses stated that "the Word" was divine; he now proceeds to state the proof that he was a "man," and was the Messiah. The first evidence adduced is the testimony of John the Baptist.
7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
For a witness - To give testimony. He came to prepare the minds of the people to receive him Matthew 3; Luke 3; to lead them by repentance to God; and to point out the Messiah to Israel when he came, John 1:31.
Of the Light - That is, of the Messiah. Compare Isaiah 60:1.
That all men ... - It was the object of John's testimony that all people might believe. He designed to prepare them for it; to announce that the Messiah was about to come, to direct the minds of men to him, and thus to prepare them to believe on him when he came. Thus, he baptized them, saying "That they should believe on him who should come after him" Acts 19:4, and thus he produced a very general expectation that the Messiah was about to come. The testimony of John was especially valuable on the following accounts:
1. It was made when he had no personal acquaintance with Jesus of Nazareth, and of course there could have been no collusion or agreement to deceive them, John 1:31.
2. It was sufficiently long before he came to excite general attention, and to fix the mind on it.
3. It was that of a man acknowledged by all to be a prophet of God - "for all men held John to be a prophet," Matthew 21:26.
4. It was "for the express purpose" of declaring beforehand that he was about to appear.
5. It was "disinterested."
He was himself extremely popular. Many were disposed to receive him as the Messiah. It was evidently in his "power" to form a large party, and to be regarded extensively as the Christ. This was the highest honor to which a Jew could aspire; and it shows the value of John's testimony, that he was willing to lay all his honors at the feet of Jesus, and to acknowledge that he was unworthy to perform for him the office of the humblest servant, Matthew 3:11.
Through him - Through John, or by means of his testimony.
Was not that Light - Was not "the Messiah." This is an explicit declaration designed to satisfy the disciples of John. The evidence that he was not the Messiah he states in the following verses.
From the conduct of John here we may learn,
1. The duty of laying all our honors at the feet of Jesus.
2. As John came that all might believe, so it is no less true of the ministry of Jesus himself. He came for a similar purpose, and we may all, therefore, trust in him for salvation.
3. We should not rely too much on ministers of the gospel. They cannot save us any more than John could; and their office, as his was, is simply to direct people "to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."
8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
That was the true Light - Not John, but the Messiah. He was not a false, uncertain, dangerous guide, but was one that was true, real, steady, and worthy of confidence. A false light is one that leads to danger or error, as a false beacon on the shores of the ocean may lead ships to quicksands or rocks; or an "ignis fatuus" to fens, and precipices, and death. A true light is one that does not deceive us, as the true beacon may guide us into port or warn us of danger. Christ does not lead astray. All false teachers do.
That lighteth - That enlightens. He removes darkness, error, ignorance, from the mind.
Every man - This is an expression denoting, in general, the whole human race - Jews and Gentiles. John preached to the Jews. Jesus came "to be a light to lighten the Gentiles," as well as to be the "glory of the people of Israel," Luke 2:32.
That cometh into the world - The phrase in the original is ambiguous. The word translated "that cometh" may either refer to the "light," or to the word "man;" so that it may mean either "this 'true light that cometh' into the world enlightens all," or "it enlightens every 'man that cometh' into the world." Many critics, and, among the fathers, Cyril and Augustine, have preferred the former, and translated it, "The true light was he who, coming into the world, enlightened every man." The principal reasons for this are:
1. That the Messiah is often spoken of as he that cometh into the world. See John 6:14; John 18:37.
2. He is often distinguished as "the light that cometh into the world." John 3:19; "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world." John 12:46; "I am come a light into the world."
Christ may be said to do what is accomplished by his command or appointment. This passage means, therefore, that by his own personal ministry, and by his Spirit and apostles, light or teaching is afforded to all. It does not mean that every individual of the human family is enlightened with the knowledge "of the gospel," for this never yet has been; but it means:
1. That this light is not confined to the "Jews," but is extended to all - Jews and Gentiles.
2. That it is provided for all and offered to all.
3. It is not affirmed that at the time that John wrote all "were actually enlightened," but the word "lighteth" has the form of the "future." "This is that light so long expected and predicted, which as the result of its coming into the world, will ultimately enlighten all nations."
10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He was in the world - This refers, probably, not to his pre-existence, but to the fact that he became incarnate; that he dwelt among human beings.
And the world was made by him - This is a repetition of what is said in John 1:3. Not only "men," but all material things, were made by him. These facts are mentioned here to make what is said immediately after more striking, to wit, that men did not receive him. The proofs which he furnished that they ought to receive him were:
1. Those given while he was "in the world" - the miracles that he performed and his instructions; and,
2. The fact that the "world was made by him." It was remarkable that the world did not know or approve its own Maker.
The world knew him not - The word "knew" is sometimes used in the sense of "approving" or "loving," Psalm 1:6; Matthew 7:23. In this sense it may be used here. The world did not love or approve him, but rejected him and put him to death. Or it may mean that they did not understand or know that he was the Messiah; for had the Jews known and believed that he was the Messiah, they would not have put him to death, 1 Corinthians 2:8; "Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Yet they might have known it, and therefore they were not the less to blame.
11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
He came unto his own - His own "land" or "country." It was called his land because it was the place of his birth, and also because it was the chosen land where God delighted to dwell and to manifest his favor. See Isaiah 5:1-7. Over that land the laws of God had been extended, and that land had been regarded as especially his, Psalm 147:19-20.
His own - His own "people." There is a distinction here in the original words which is not preserved in the translation. It may be thus expressed: "He came to his own land, and his own people received him not." They were his people, because God had chosen them to be his above all other nations; had given to them his laws; and had signally protected and favored them, Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2.
Received him not - Did not acknowledge him to be the Messiah. They rejected him and put him to death, agreeably to the prophecy, Isaiah 53:3-4. From this we learn,
1. That it is reasonable to expect that those who have been especially favored should welcome the message of God. God had a right to expect, after all that had been done for the Jews, that they would receive the message of eternal life. So he has a right to expect that we should embrace him and be saved.
2. Yet, it is not the abundance of mercies that incline men to seek God. The Jews had been signally favored, but they rejected him. So, many in Christian lands live and die rejecting the Lord Jesus.
3. People are alike in every age. All would reject the Saviour if left to themselves. All people are by nature wicked. There is no more certain and universal proof of this than the universal rejection of the Lord Jesus.
12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
To as many as received him - The great mass; the people; the scribes and Pharisees rejected him. A few in his lifetime received him, and many more after his death. "To receive him," here, means to "believe" on him. This is expressed at the end of the verse.
Gave he power - This is more appropriately rendered in the margin by the word "right" or "privilege." Compare Acts 1:7; Acts 5:4; Romans 9:21; 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 9:4-5.
Sons of God - Children of God by adoption. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. Christians are called sons of God:
1. Because they are "adopted" by Him, 1 John 3:1.
2. Because they are "like Him;" they resemble Him and have His spirit.
3. They are united to the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, are regarded by Him as his brethren Matthew 25:40, and are therefore regarded as the children of the Most High.
On his name - This is another way of saying believeth in "him." The "name" of a person is often put for the person himself, John 2:23; John 3:18; 1 John 5:13. From this verse we learn:
1. That to be a child of God is a privilege - far more so than to be the child of any human being, though in the highest degree rich, or learned, or honored. Christians are therefore more honored than any other persons.
2. God gave them this privilege. It is not by their own works or deserts; it is because God chose to impart this blessing to them, Ephesians 2:8; John 15:16.
3. This favor is given only to those who believe on him. All others are the children of the wicked one, and no one who has not "confidence in God" can be regarded as his child. No parent would acknowledge one for his child, or approve of him, who had no confidence in him, who doubted or denied all he said, and who despised his character. Yet the sinner constantly does this toward God, and he cannot, therefore, be called his Son.
13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Which were born - This doubtless refers to the "new birth," or to the great change in the sinner's mind called regeneration or conversion. It means that they did not become the children of God in virtue of their natural birth, or because they were the children of "Jews," or because they were descended from pious parents. The term "to be born" is often used to denote this change. Compare John 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29. It illustrates clearly and beautifully this great change. The natural birth introduces us to life. The new birth is the beginning of spiritual life. Before, the sinner is "dead" in sins Ephesians 2:1; now he begins truly to live. And as the natural birth is the beginning of life, so to be born of God is to be introduced to real life, to light, to happiness, and to the favor of God. The term expresses at once the "greatness" and the "nature" of the change.
Not of blood - The Greek word is plural; not of "bloods" - that is, not of "man." Compare Matthew 27:4. The Jews prided themselves on being the descendants of Abraham, Matthew 3:9. They supposed that it was proof of the favor of God to be descended from such an illustrious ancestry. In this passage this notion is corrected. It is not because men are descended from an illustrious or pious parentage that they are entitled to the favor of God; or perhaps the meaning may be, not because there is a union of illustrious lines of ancestry or "bloods" in them. The law of Christ's kingdom is different from what the Jews supposed. Compare 1 Peter 1:23. It was necessary to be "born of God" by regeneration. Possibly, however, it may mean that they did not become children of God by the bloody rite of "circumcision," as many of the Jews supposed they did. This is agreeable to the declaration of Paul in Romans 2:28-29.Nor of the will of the flesh - Not by natural generation.
Nor of the will of man - This may refer, perhaps, to the will of man in adopting a child, as the former phrases do to the natural birth; and the design of using these three phrases may have been to say that they became the children of God neither in virtue of their descent from illustrious parents like Abraham, nor by their natural birth, nor by being "adopted" by a pious man. None of the ways by which we become entitled to the privileges of "children" among people can give us a title to be called the sons of God. It is not by human power or agency that men become children of the Most High.
But of God - That is, God produces the change, and confers the privilege of being cawed his children. The heart is changed by his power. No unaided effort of man, no works of ours, can produce this change. At the same time, it is true that no man is renewed who does not himself "desire" and "will" to be a believer; for the effect of the change is on his "will" Psalm 110:3, and no one is changed who does not strive to enter in at the strait gate, Philippians 2:12. This important verse, therefore, teaches us:
1. that if men are saved they must be born again.
2. that their salvation is not the result of their birth, or of any honorable or pious parentage.
3. that the children of the rich and the noble, as well as of the poor, must be born of God if they will be saved.
4. that the children of pious parents must be born again; or they cannot be saved. None will go to heaven simply because their "parents" are Christians.
5. that this work is the work of God, and "no man" can do it for us.
6. that we should forsake all human dependence, east off all confidence in the flesh, and go at once to the throne of grace, and beseech of God to adopt us into his family and save our souls from death.
14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
And the Word was made flesh - The word "flesh," here, is evidently used to denote "human nature" or "man." See Matthew 16:17; Matthew 19:5; Matthew 24:22; Luke 3:6; Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5. The "Word" was made "man." This is commonly expressed by saying that he became "incarnate." When we say that a being becomes "incarnate," we mean that one of a higher order than man, and of a different nature, assumes the appearance of man or becomes a man. Here it is meant that "the Word," or the second person of the Trinity, whom John had just proved to be equal with God, became a man, or was united with the man Jesus of Nazareth, so that it might be said that he "was made flesh."
Was made - This is the same word that is used in John 1:3; "All things were made by him." It is not simply affirmed that he was flesh, but that he was made flesh, implying that he had pre-existence, agreeably to John 1:1. This is in accordance with the doctrine of the Scriptures elsewhere. Hebrews 10:5; "a 'body' hast thou prepared me." Hebrews 2:14; "as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." 1 John 4:2; "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." See also 1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Luke 1:35. The expression, then, means that he became a man, and that he became such by the power of God providing for him a body. It cannot mean that the divine nature was "changed" into the human, for that could not be; but it means that the λόγος Logos, or "Word," became so intimately united to Jesus that it might be said that the Logos, or "Word" "became" or "was" a man, as the soul becomes so united to the body that we may say that it is one person or a man.
And dwell among us - The word in the original denotes "dwelt as in a tabernacle or tent;" and some have supposed that John means to say that the human body was a tabernacle or tent for the λόγος Logos to abide in, in allusion to the tabernacle among the Jews, in which the Shechinah, or visible symbol of God, dwelt; but it is not necessary to suppose this. The object of John was to prove that "the Word" became "incarnate." To do this he appeals to various evidences. One was that he "dwelt" among them; sojourned with them; ate, drank, slept, and was with them for years, so that they "saw him with their eyes, they looked upon him, and their hands handled him," 1 John 1:1. To "dwell in a tent with one" is the same as to be in his family; and when John says he "tabernacled" with them, he means that he was with them as a friend and as one of a family, so that they had full opportunity of becoming familiarly acquainted with him, and could not be mistaken in supposing that "he was really a man."
We beheld his glory - This is a new proof of what he was affirming - "that the word of God became man." The first was, that they had seen him as a man. He now adds that they had seen him in his proper glory "as God and man united in one person," constituting him the unequalled Son of the Father. There is no doubt that there is reference here to the transfiguration on the holy mount. See Matthew 17:1-9. To this same evidence Peter also appeals, 2 Peter 1:16-18. John was one of the witnesses of that scene, and hence he says, "we beheld his glory," Mark 9:2. The word "glory" here means majesty, dignity, splendor.
The glory as of the only-begotten of the Father - The dignity which was appropriate to the only-begotten Son of God; such glory or splendor as could belong to no other. and as properly expressed his rank and character. This glory was seen eminently on the mount of transfiguration. It was also seen in his miracles, his doctrine, his resurrection, his ascension; all of which were such as to illustrate the perfections, and manifest the glory that belongs only to the Son of God.
Only-begotten - This term is never applied by John to any but Jesus Christ. It is applied by him five times to the Saviour, John 1:14, John 1:18; John 3:16, John 3:18; 1 John 4:9. It means literally an only child. Then, as an only child is especially dear to a parent, it means one that is especially beloved. Compare Genesis 22:2, Genesis 22:12, Genesis 22:16; Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10. On both these accounts it is bestowed on the Saviour.
1. As he was eminently the Son of God, sustaining a special relation to Him in His divine nature, exalted above all human beings and angels, and thus worthy to be called, by way of eminence, His only Son. Saints are called His "sons" or children, because they are born of His Spirit, or are like Him; but the Lord Jesus is exalted far above all, and deserves eminently to be called His only-begotten Son.
2. He was especially dear to God, and therefore this appellation, implying tender affection, is bestowed upon him.
Full of grace and truth - The word "full" here refers to the "Word made flesh," which is declared to be full of grace and truth. The word "grace" means "favors," gifts, acts of beneficence. He was kind, merciful, gracious, doing good to all, and seeking man's welfare by great sacrifices and love; so much so, that it might be said to be characteristic of him, or he "abounded" in favors to mankind. He was also "full of truth." He declared the truth. In him was no falsehood. He was not like the false prophets and false Messiahs, who were wholly impostors; nor was he like the emblems and shadows of the old dispensation, which were only types of the true; but he was truth itself. He represented things as they are, and thus became the "truth" as well as "the way and the life."
15John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
John bare witness of him - The evangelist now returns to the testimony of John the Baptist. He had stated that the Word became incarnate, and he now appeals to the testimony of John to show that, thus incarnate, he was the Messiah.
He that cometh after me - He of whom I am the forerunner, or whose way I am come to prepare. See the notes at Matthew 3:3.
Is preferred before me - Is superior to me. Most critics have supposed that the words translated "is preferred" relate to "time," and not to "dignity;" meaning that though he came after him publicly, being six months younger than John, as well as entering on his work after John, yet that he had existed long before him. Most, however, have understood it more correctly, as our translators seem to have done, as meaning, He was worthy of more honor than Iam.
He was before me - This can refer to nothing but his pre-existence, and can be explained only on the supposition that he existed before John, or, as the evangelist had before shown, from the beginning. He came "after" John in his public ministry and in his human nature, but in his divine nature he had existed long before John had a being - from eternity. We may learn here that it is one mark of the true spirit of a minister of Christ to desire and feel that Christ is always to be preferred to ourselves. We should keep ourselves out of view. The great object is to hold up the Saviour; and however much ministers may be honored or blessed, yet they should lay all at the feet of Jesus, and direct all men to him as the undivided object of affection and honor. It is the business of every Christian, as well as of every Christian minister, to be a witness for Christ, and to endeavor to convince the world that he is worthy of confidence and love.
16And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
Of his fulness - In John 1:14 the evangelist has said that Christ was "full of grace and truth." Of that "fullness" he now says that all the disciples had received; that is, they derived from his abundant truth and mercy grace to understand the plan of salvation, to preach the gospel, to live lives of holiness; they "partook" of the numerous blessings which he came to impart by his instructions and his death. These are undoubtedly not the words of John the Baptist, but of the evangelist John, the writer of this gospel. They are a continuation of what he was saying in John 1:14, John 1:15 being evidently thrown in as a parenthesis. The declaration had not exclusive reference, probably, to the apostles, but it is extended to all Christians, for all believers have received of the "fulness of grace and truth" that is in Christ. Compare Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9. In all these places our Saviour is represented as the fulness of God - as "abounding" in mercy, as exhibiting the divine attributes, and as possessing in himself all that is necessary to fill his people with truth, and grace, and love.
Grace for grace - Many interpretations of this phrase have been proposed. The chief are briefly the following:
1. "We have received under the gospel, grace or favor, 'instead of' those granted under the law; and God has added by the gospel important favors to those which he gave under the law." This was first proposed by Chrysostom.
2. "We, Christians, have received grace 'answering to,' or corresponding to that which is in Jesus Christ. We are 'like' him in meekness, humility," etc.
3. "We have received grace 'as grace' - that is, freely. We have not purchased it nor deserved it, but God has conferred it on us 'freely'" (Grotius).
4. The meaning is, probably, simply that we have received through him "abundance" of grace or favor. The Hebrews, in expressing the superlative degree of comparison, used simply to repeat the word - thus, "pits, pits," meaning many pits (Hebrew in Genesis 14:10). So here grace for grace may mean "much" grace; superlative favors bestowed on man; favors superior to all that had been under the law - superior to all other things that God can confer on men. These favors consist in pardon, redemption, protection, sanctification, peace here, and heaven hereafter.
17For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
The law was given - The Old Testament economy. The institutions under which the Jews lived.
By Moses - By Moses, as the servant of God. He was the great legislator of the Jews, by whom, under God, their polity was formed. The law worketh wrath Romans 4:15; it was attended with many burdensome rites and ceremonies Acts 15:10; it was preparatory to another state of things. The gospel succeeded that and took its place, and thus showed the greatness of the gospel economy, as well as its grace and truth.
Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ - A system of religion full of favors, and the "true" system, was revealed by him. The old system was one of "law," and "shadows," and "burdensome rites;" "this" was full of mercy to mankind, and was true in all things. We may learn from these verses:
1. that all our mercies come from Jesus Christ.
2. "All true believers receive from Christ's fulness; the best and greatest saints cannot live without him, the meanest and weakest may live by him. This excludes proud boasting that we have nothing but 'we have received it,' and silenceth perplexing fears that we want nothing but 'we may receive it.'"
18No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
No man hath seen God at any time - This declaration is probably made to show the superiority of the revelation of Jesus above that of any previous dispensation. It is said, therefore, that Jesus "had an intimate knowledge of God," which neither Moses nor any of the ancient prophets had possessed. God is invisible: no human eyes have seen him; but Christ had a knowledge of God which might be expressed to our apprehension by saying that he saw him. He knew him intimately and completely, and was therefore fitted to make a fuller manifestation of him. See John 5:37; John 6:46; 1 John 4:12; Exodus 33:20; John 14:9. This passage is not meant to deny that men had witnessed "manifestations" of God, as when he appeared to Moses and the prophets (compare Numbers 12:8; Isaiah 6:1-13); but it is meant that no one has seen the essence of God, or has "fully known God." The prophets delivered what they "heard" God speak; Jesus what he knew of God as his equal, and as understanding fully nature.
The only-begotten Son - See the notes at John 1:14. This verse shows John's sense of the meaning of that phrase, as denoting an intimate and full knowledge of God.
In the bosom of the Father - This expression is taken from the custom among the Orientals of reclining at their meals. See the notes at Matthew 23:6. It denotes intimacy, friendship, affection. Here it means that Jesus had a knowledge of God such as one friend has of another - knowledge of his character, designs, and nature which no other one possesses, and which renders him, therefore, qualified above all others to make him known.
Hath declared him - Hath fully revealed him or made him known. Compare Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 1:4. This verse proves that Jesus had a knowledge of God above that which any of the ancient prophets had, and that the fullest revelations of his character are to be expected in the gospel. By his Word and Spirit he can enlighten and guide us, and lead us to the true knowledge of God; and there is no true and full knowledge of God which is not obtained through his Son. Compare John 14:6; 1 John 2:22-23.
19And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
This is the record - The word "record" here means "testimony," in whatever way given. The word "record" now commonly refers to "written" evidence. This is not its meaning here. John's testimony was given without writing.
When the Jews sent - John's fame was great. See Matthew 3:5. It spread from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem, and the nation seemed to suppose, from the character of his preaching, that he was the Messiah, Luke 3:15. The great council of the nation, or the Sanhedrin, had, among other things, the charge of religion. They felt it to be their duty, therefore, to inquire into the character and claims of John, and to learn whether he was the Messiah. It is not improbable that they wished that he might be the long-expected Christ, and were prepared to regard him as such.
When the Jews sent priests and Levites - See the notes at Luke 10:31-32. These were probably members of the Sanhedrin.
20And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
I am not the Christ - This confession proves that John was not an impostor. He had a wide reputation. The nation was expecting that the Messiah was about to come, and multitudes were ready to believe that John was he, Luke 3:15. If John had been an impostor he would have taken advantage of this excited state of public feeling, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, and formed a large party in his favor. The fact that he did not do it is full proof that he did not intend to impose on people, but came only as the forerunner of Christ; and his example shows that all Christians, and especially all Christian ministers, however much they may be honored and blessed, should be willing to lay all their honors at the feet of Jesus; to keep themselves back and to hold up before the world only the Son of God. To do this is one eminent mark of the true spirit of a minister of the gospel.
21And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
Art thou Elias? - This is the Greek way of writing Elijah. The Jews expected that Elijah would appear before the Messiah came. See the notes at Matthew 11:14. They supposed that it would be the real Elijah returned from heaven. In this sense John denied that he was Elijah; but he did not deny that he was the Elias or Elijah which the prophet intended Matthew 3:3, for he immediately proceeds to state John 1:23 that he was sent, as it was predicted that Elijah would be, to prepare the way of the Lord; so that, while he corrected their false notions about Elijah, he so clearly stated to them his true character that they might understand that he was really the one predicted as Elijah.
That prophet - It is possible that the Jews supposed that not only "Elijah" would reappear before the coming of the Messiah, but also "Jeremiah." See the notes at Matthew 16:14. Some have supposed, however, that this question has reference to the prediction of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15.
22Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
I am the voice ... - See the notes at Matthew 3:3.
24And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
Were of the Pharisees - For an account of this sect, see the notes at Matthew 3:7. Why they are particularly mentioned is not certainly known. Many of the "Sadducees" came to his baptism Matthew 3:7, but it seems that they did not join in sending to him to know what was the design of John. This circumstance is one of those incidental and delicate allusions which would occur to no impostor in forging a book, and which show that the writers of the New Testament were honest men and knew what they affirmed. Because:
1. The Pharisees composed a great part of the Sanhedrin, Acts 23:6. It is probable that a deputation from the Sanhedrin would be of that party.
2. The Pharisees were very tenacious of rites and customs, of traditions and ceremonies. They observed many. They believed that they were lawful, Mark 7:3-4. Of course, they believed that those rites might be increased, but they did not suppose that it could be done except by the authority of a prophet or of the Messiah. When, therefore, John came "baptizing" - adding a rite to be observed by his followers - baptizing not only Gentiles, but also Jews - the question was whether he had authority to institute a new rite; whether it was to be received among the ceremonies of religion. In this question the Sadducees felt no interest, for they rejected all such rites at once; but the Pharisees thought it was worth inquiry, and it was a question on which they felt themselves specially called on to act as the guardians of the ceremonies of religion.
25And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
Why baptizest thou then ... - Baptism on receiving a proselyte from "paganism" was common before the time of John, but it was not customary to baptize a "Jew." John had changed the custom. He baptized "all," and they were desirous of knowing by what authority he made such a change in the religious customs of the nation. They presumed, from the fact that he introduced that change, that he claimed to be a prophet or the Christ. They supposed that no one would attempt it without "pretending," at least, authority from heaven. As he disclaimed the character of Christ and of the prophet Elijah, they asked whence he derived his authority. As he had just before applied to himself a prediction that they all considered as belonging to the fore runner of Christ, they "might" have understood "why" he did it; but they were blind, and manifested, as all sinners do, a remarkable slowness in understanding the plainest truths in religion.
26John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
I baptize - He did not deny it; nor did he condescend to state his authority. That he had given. He "admitted" that he had introduced an important "change" in the rites of religion, and he goes on to tell them that this was not all. Greater and more important changes would soon take place without their authority. The Messiah was about to come, and the "power" was about to depart from "their" hands.
There standeth one - There is one.
Among you - In the midst of you. He is undistinguished among the multitude. The Messiah had already come, and was about to be manifested to the people. It was not until the next day John 1:29 that Jesus was manifested or proclaimed as the Messiah; but it is not improbable that he was then among the people that were assembled near the Jordan, and mingled with them, though he was undistinguished. He had gone there, probably, with the multitudes that had been drawn thither by the fame of John, and had gone without attracting attention, though his real object was go receive baptism in this public manner, and to be exhibited and proclaimed as the Messiah.
Whom ye know not - Jesus was not yet declared publicly to be the Christ. Though it is probable that he was then among the multitude, yet he was not known as the Messiah. We may hence learn:
1. That there is often great excellency in the world that is obscure, undistinguished, and unknown. Jesus was near to all that people, but they were not conscious of his presence, for he was retired and obscure. Though the greatest personage ever in the world, yet he was not externally distinguished from others.
2. Jesus may be near to men of the world, and yet they know him not. He is everywhere by his Spirit, yet few know it, and few are desirous of knowing it.
27He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Whose shoe's latchet - See the notes at Matthew 3:11. The "latchet" of sandals was the string or thong by which they were fastened to the feet. To unloose them was the office of a servant, and John means, therefore, that he was unworthy to perform the lowest office for the Messiah. This was remarkable humility. John was well known; he was highly honored; thousands came to hear him. Jesus was at that time unknown; but John says that he was unworthy to perform the humblest office for Jesus. So we all should be willing to lay all that we have at the feet of Christ, and feel that we are unworthy to be his lowest servants.
28These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
In Bethabara - Almost all the ancient manuscripts and versions, instead of "Bethabara" here, have "Bethany," and this is doubtless the true reading. There was a Bethany about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, but there is said also to have been another in the tribe of Reuben, on the east side of the river Jordan, and in this place, probably, John was baptizing. It is about 12 miles above Jericho. The word "Bethabara" means "house or place of a ford." The reading "Bethabara," instead of "Bethany," seems to have arisen from the conjecture of Origen, who found in his day no such place as "Bethany," but saw a town called "Bethabara," where John was said to have baptized, and therefore took the liberty of changing the former reading - Robinson, Lexicon.
Beyond Jordan - On the east side of the Jordan River.
29The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
The next day - The day after the Jews made inquiry whether he was the Christ.
Behold the Lamb of God - A "lamb," among the Jews, was killed and eaten at the Passover to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt, Exodus 12:3-11. A lamb was offered in the tabernacle, and afterward in the temple, every morning and evening, as a part of the daily worship, Exodus 29:38-39. The Messiah was predicted as a lamb led to the slaughter, to show his patience in his sufferings, and readiness to die for man, Isaiah 53:7. A lamb, among the Jews, was also an emblem of patience, meekness, gentleness. On "all" these accounts, rather than on any one of them alone, Jesus was called "the Lamb." He was innocent 1 Peter 2:23-25; he was a sacrifice for sin the substance represented by the daily offering of the lamb, and slain at the usual time of the evening sacrifice Luke 23:44-46; and he was what was represented by the Passover, turning away the anger of God, and saving sinners by his blood from vengeance and eternal death, 1 Corinthians 5:7.
Of God - Appointed by God, approved by God, and most dear to him; the sacrifice which he chose, and which he approves to save people from death.
Which taketh away - This denotes his "bearing" the sins of the world, or the sufferings which made an atonement for sin. Compare Isaiah 53:4; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 2:24. He takes away sin by "bearing" in his own body the sufferings which God appointed to show his sense of the evil of sin, thus magnifying the law, and rendering it consistent for him to pardon. See the notes at Romans 3:24-25.
Of the world - Of all mankind, Jew and Gentile. His work was not to be confined to the Jew, but was also to benefit the Gentile; it was not confined to any one part of the world, but was designed to open the way of pardon to all men. He was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2. See the notes at 2 Corinthians 5:15.
30This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
I knew him not - John was not personally acquainted with Jesus. Though they were remotely related to each other, yet it seems that they had had heretofore no personal acquaintance. John had lived chiefly in the hill country of Judea. Jesus had been employed with Joseph at Nazareth. Until Jesus came to be baptized Matthew 3:13-14, it seems that John had no acquaintance with him. He understood that he was to announce that the Messiah was about to appear. He was sent to proclaim his coming, but he did not personally know Jesus, or that he was to be the Messiah. This proves that there could have been no collusion or agreement between them to impose on the people.
Should be made manifest - That the Messiah should be "exhibited," or made known. He came to prepare the way for the Messiah, and it now appeared that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.
To Israel - To the Jews.
32And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
Bare record - Gave testimony.
I saw the Spirit ... - See the notes at Matthew 3:16-17.
33And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
The same said ... - This was the sign by which he was to know the Messiah. He was to see the Spirit descending like a dove and abiding on him. It does not follow, however, that he had no intimation before this that Jesus was the Christ, but it means that by this he should know it infallibly. From Matthew 3:13-14, it seems that John supposed, before the baptism of Jesus, that he claimed to be the Messiah, and, that he believed it; but the infallible, certain testimony in the case was the descent of the Holy Spirit on him at his baptism.
That this is the Son of God - This was distinctly declared by a voice from heaven at his baptism, Matthew 3:17. This John heard, and he testified that he had heard it.
34And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
35Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
The next day - The day after his remarkable testimony that Jesus was the Son of God. This testimony of John is reported because it was the main design of this evangelist to show that Jesus was the Messiah. See the introduction. To do this, he adduces the decided and repeated testimony of John the Baptist. This was impartial evidence in the case, and hence he so particularly dwells upon it.John stood - Or was standing. This was probably apart from the multitude.
Two of his disciples - One of these was Andrew John 1:40, and it is not improbable that the other was the writer of this gospel.
36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
Looking upon Jesus ... - Fixing his eyes intently upon him. Singling him out and regarding him with special attention. Contemplating him as the long-expected Messiah and Deliverer of the world. In this way all ministers should fix the eye upon the Son of God, and direct all others to him.
As he walked - While Jesus was walking.
37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
They followed Jesus - They had been the disciples of John. his office was to point out the Messiah. When that was done, they left at once their master and teacher, John. and followed the long-expected Messiah. This shows that John was sincere; that he was not desirous of forming a party or of building up a sect; that he was willing that all those whom he had attracted to himself by his ministry should become followers of Christ. The object of ministers should not be to build up their own interests or to extend their own fame. It is to point men to the Saviour. Ministers, however popular or successful, should be willing that their disciples should look to Christ rather than to them; nay, should forget them and look away from them, to tread in the footsteps of the Son of God; and the conduct of these disciples shows us that we should forsake all and follow Jesus when he is pointed out to us as the Messiah. We should not delay nor debate the matter, but leave at once all our old teachers, guides and companions, and follow the Lamb of God. And we should do that, too, though "to the world" the Lord Jesus may appear, as he did to the multitude of the Jews, as poor, unknown, and despised. Reader, have you left all and followed him? Have you forsaken the guides of false philosophy and deceit, of sin and infidelity, and committed yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ.
38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
What seek ye? - This was not asked to obtain "information." Compare John 1:48. It was not a harsh reproof, forbidding them to follow him. Compare Matthew 11:28-30. It was a kind inquiry respecting their desires; an invitation to lay open their minds, to state their wishes, and to express all their feelings respecting the Messiah and their own salvation. We may learn:
1. That Jesus regards the first inclinations of the soul to follow him. He "turned" toward these disciples, and he will incline his ear to all who begin to approach him for salvation.
2. Jesus is ready to hear their requests and to answer them.
3. Ministers of the gospel, and all other Christians, should be accessible, kind, and tender toward all who are inquiring the way to life. In conformity with their Master, they should be willing to aid all those who look to them for guidance and help in the great work of their salvation.
Rabbi - This was a Jewish title conferred somewhat as literary degrees now are, and meaning literally "a great one," and was applied to a teacher or master in the Jewish schools. It corresponded with the title "Doctor." Our Saviour solemnly forbade his disciples to wear that title. See the notes at Matthew 23:8. The fact that John "interpreted" this word shows that he wrote his gospel not for the Jews only, but for those who did not understand the Hebrew language. It is supposed to have been written at Ephesus.
Where dwellest thou? - This question they probably asked him in order to signify their wish to be with him and to be instructed by him. They desired more fully to listen to him than they could now by the wayside. They were unwilling to interrupt him in his traveling. Religion teaches people true politeness, or a disposition to consult the convenience of others, and not improperly to molest them, or to break in upon them when engaged. It also teaches us to "desire to be with Christ;" to seek every opportunity of communion with him, and chiefly to desire "to be with him where he is" when we leave this world. Compare Philippians 1:23.
39He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
Come and see - This was a kind and gracious answer. He did not put them off to some future period. Then, as now, he was willing that they should come at once and enjoy the full opportunity which they desired of his conversation. Jesus is ever ready to admit those who seek him to his presence and favor.
Abode with him - Remained with him. This was probably the dwelling of some friend of Jesus. His usual home was at Nazareth.
The tenth hour - The Jews divided their day into twelve equal parts, beginning at sunrise. If John used their mode of computation, this was about four o'clock p. m. The Romans divided time as we do, beginning at midnight. If John used their mode, it was about ten o'clock in the forenoon. It is not certain which he used.
40One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
He first findeth - He found him and "told him about Jesus" before he brought him to Jesus.
We have found the Messias - They had learned from the testimony of John, and now had been more fully convinced from conversation with Jesus, that he was the Messiah. The word "Messiah," or "Messias," is Hebrew, and means the same as the Greek word "Christ," "anointed." See the notes at Matthew 1:1. From the conduct of Andrew we may learn that it is the nature of religion to desire that others may possess it. It does not lead us to monopolize it or to hide it under a bushel, but it seeks that others also may be brought to the Saviour. It does not "wait" for them to come, but it goes "for" them; it seeks them out, and tells them that a Saviour is found. Young converts should "seek" their friends and neighbors, and tell them of a Saviour; and not only their relatives, but all others as far as possible, that all may come to Jesus and be saved.
42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
Cephas - This is a Syriac word, meaning the same as the Greek word Peter, a stone. See the notes at Matthew 16:17. The stone, or rock, is a symbol of firmness and steadiness of character - a trait in Peter's character after the ascension of Jesus that was very remarkable. before the death of Jesus he was rash, headlong, variable; and it is one proof of the omniscience of Jesus that he saw that Peter "would" possess a character that would be expressed appropriately by the word "stone" or "rock." The word "Jonas" is a Hebrew word, whose original signification is a "dove." It may be that Jesus had respect to that when he gave Simon the name Peter. "You now bear a name emblematic of timidity and inconstancy. You shall be called by a name denoting firmness and constancy."
43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
Would go forth - Was about to go.
Into Galilee - He was now in Judea, where he went to be baptized by John. He was now about to return to his native country.
Findeth Philip - This does not refer to his calling these disciples to be "apostles," for that took place at the Sea of Tiberias Matthew 4:18, but it refers to their being. convinced that he was the Christ. This is the object of this evangelist, to show how and when they were convinced of this. Matthew states the time and occasion in which they were called to be "apostles;" John, the time in which they first became acquainted with Jesus, and were convinced that he was the Messiah. There is, therefore, no contradiction in the evangelists.
44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Of Bethsaida - See the notes at Matthew 11:21.
The city of - The place where Andrew and Peter dwelt.
45Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Moses, in the law - Moses, in that part of the Old Testament which he wrote, called by the Jews "the law." See Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18; Genesis 49:10; Genesis 3:15.
And the prophets - Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 9:24-27; Jeremiah 23:5-6; etc.
Jesus of Nazareth ... - They spoke according to common apprehension. They spoke of him as the son of Joseph because he was commonly supposed to be. They spoke of him as dwelling at Nazareth, though they might not have been ignorant that he was born at Bethlehem.
46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Can any good thing ... - The character of Nazareth was proverbially bad. To be a Galilean or a Nazarene was an expression of decided contempt, John 7:52. See the notes at Matthew 2:23. Nathanael asked, therefore, whether it was possible that the Messiah should come from a place proverbially wicked. This was a mode of judging in the case not uncommon. It is not by examining evidence, but by prejudice. Many persons suffer their minds to be filled with prejudice against religion, and then pronounce at once without examination. They refuse to examine the subject, for they have set it down that it cannot be true. It matters not where a teacher comes from, or what is the place of his birth, provided he be authorized of God and qualified for his work.
Come and see - This was the best way to answer Nathanael. He did not sit down to reason with him, or speculate about the possibility that a good thing could come from Nazareth; but he asked him to go and examine for himself, to see the Lord Jesus, to hear him converse, to lay aside his prejudice, and to judge from a fair and candid personal inquiry. So we should beseech sinners to lay aside their prejudices against religion, and "to be Christians," and thus make trial for themselves. If men can be persuaded to come to Jesus, all their petty and foolish objections against religion will vanish. They will be satisfied from their own experience that it is true, and in this way only will they ever be satisfied.
47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
An Israelite indeed - One who is really an Israelite - not by birth only, but one worthy of the name. One who possesses the spirit, the piety, and the integrity which become a man who is really a Jew, who fears God and obeys his law. Compare Romans 9:6; Romans 2:28-29.
No guile - No deceit, no fraud, no hypocrisy. He is really what he professes to be - a Jew, a descendant of the patriarch Jacob, fearing and serving God. He makes no profession which he does not live up to. He does not say that Nathanael was without guilt or sin, but that he had no disguise, no trick, no deceit - he was sincere and upright. This was a most honorable testimony. How happy would it be if he, who knows the hearts of all as he did that of Nathanael, could bear the same testimony of all who profess the religion of the gospel!
48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
Whence knowest thou me? - Nathanael was not yet acquainted with the divinity of Christ, and supposed that he had been a stranger to him. Hearing him express a favorable opinion of him, he naturally inquired by what means he had any knowledge of him. His conscience testified to the truth of what Jesus said that he had no guile, and he was anxious to know whence he had learned his character.
Before that Philip called thee - See John 1:45.
When thou wast under the fig-tree - It is evident that it was from something that had occurred under the fig-tree that Jesus judged of his character. What that was is not recorded. It is not improbable that Nathanael was accustomed to retire to the shade of a certain tree, perhaps in his garden or in a grove, for the purpose of meditation and prayer. The Jews were much in the habit of selecting such places for private devotion, and in such scenes of stillness and retirement there is something especially favorable for meditation and prayer. Our Saviour also worshipped in such places. Compare John 18:2; Luke 6:12. In that place of retirement it is not improbable that Nathanael was engaged in private devotion.
I saw thee - It is clear, from the narrative, that Jesus did not mean to say that he was bodily present with Nathanael and saw him; but he knew his thoughts, his desires, his secret feelings and wishes. In this sense Nathanael understood him. We may learn:
1. that Jesus sees what is done in secret, and is therefore divine.
2. that he sees us when we little think of it.
3. that he sees us especially in our private devotions, hears our prayers, and marks our meditations. And,
4. that he judges of our character chiefly by our private devotions. Those are secret; the world sees them not; and in our closets we show what we are. How does it become us, therefore, that our secret prayers and meditations should be without "guile" and hypocrisy, and such as Jesus will approve!
49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
Rabbi - Master. Applied appropriately to Jesus, and to no one else, Matthew 23:10.
The Son of God - By this title he doubtless meant that he was the Messiah. His conscience told him that he had judged right of his character, and that therefore he must know the heart and the desires of the mind. If so, he could not be a mere man, but must be the long-expected Messiah.
The King of Israel - This was one of the titles by which the Messiah was expected, and this was the title which was affixed to his cross, John 19:18. This case of Nathanael John adduces as another evidence that Jesus was the Christ. The great object he had in view in writing this gospel was to collect the evidence that he was the Messiah, John 20:31. A case, therefore, where Jesus searched the heart, and where his knowledge of the heart convinced a pious Jew that he was the Christ, is very properly adduced as important testimony.
50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
Greater things - Fuller proof of his Messiahship, particularly what is mentioned in the following verse.
51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Verily, verily - In the Greek, "Amen, amen." The word "amen" means "truly, certainly, so be it" - from the Hebrew verb to confirm, to establish, to be true. It is often used in this gospel. When repeated it expresses the speaker's sense of the importance of what he is saying, and the "certainty" that it is as he affirms.
Ye shall see - Not, perhaps, with the bodily eyes, but you shall have "evidence" that it is so. The thing shall take place, and you shall be a witness of it.
Heaven open - This is a figurative expression, denoting "the conferring of favors." Psalm 78:23-24; "he opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna." It also denotes that God was about to work a miracle in attestation of a particular thing. See Matthew 3:16. In the language, here, there is an evident allusion to the ladder that Jacob saw in a dream, and to the angels ascending and descending on it, Genesis 28:12. It is not probable that Jesus referred to any particular instance in which Nathanael should literally see the heavens opened. The baptism of Jesus had taken place, and no other instance occurred in his life in which it is said that the "heavens were" opened.
Angels of God - Those pure and holy beings that dwell in heaven, and that are employed as ministering spirits to our world, Hebrews 1:14. Good men are represented in the Scriptures as being under their protection, Psalm 91:11-12; Genesis 28:12. They are the agents by which God often expressed his will to men, Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19. They are represented as strengthening the Lord Jesus, and ministering unto him. Thus they aided him in the wilderness Mark 1:13, and in the garden Luke 22:43, and they were present when he rose from the dead, Matthew 28:2-4; John 20:12-13. By their ascending and descending upon him it is probable that he meant that Nathanael would have evidence that they came to his aid, and that he would have "the" kind of protection and assistance from God which would show "more fully that he was the Messiah." Thus his life, his many deliverances from dangers, his wisdom to confute his skilled and cunning adversaries, the scenes of his death, and the attendance of angels at his resurrection, may all be represented by the angels descending upon him, and all would show to Nathanael and the other disciples most clearly that he was the Son of God.
The Son of man - A term by which lie often describes himself. It shows his humility, his love for man, his willingness to be esteemed "as a man," Philippians 2:6-7.
From this interview with Nathanael we may learn:
1. that Jesus searches the heart.
2. that he was truly the Messiah.
3. that he was under the protection of God.
4. that if we have faith in Jesus, it will be continually strengthened the evidence will grow brighter and brighter.
5. that if we believe his word, we shall yet see full proof that his word is true.
6. Since Jesus was under the protection of God, so all his friends will be. God will defend and save us also if we put our trust in Him.
7. Jesus applied terms expressive of humility to himself. He was not solicitous even to be called by titles which he might claim.
So we should not be ambitious of titles and honors. Ministers of the gospel most resemble him when they seek for the fewest titles, and do not aim at distinctions from each other or their brethren. See the notes at Matthew 23:8.