The Dispensational Place of John
Many phases of scriptural truth have not found a place in these pages simply because
1. Those who believe and stand by the revelation contained in the prison epistles.
In the present series, we have not the second but the third group before us, the Widest circle of believers. What is their calling? What is their place in the present dispensation? What is the word for them? Before seeking a scriptural answer to these questions, it will be necessary to consider briefly one or two possible objections and suggestions. In view of past misunderstanding, we also wish to make it plain in dealing with these that no individual writer is in mind.
What is the exact position of the great company of believers who are called during the dispensation of the mystery, and yet are not of it? Are they enjoying the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant? Are they in the same position and calling as the pentecostal church? Do they come under the new covenant?
Equally with the covenant made with Abraham, this covenant, while finding in Christ the complete ratification of all its terms, nevertheless necessitates a restored Israel as a nation before the Lord. This can be seen by reading the original terms of the new covenant given in Jer. 31:27-49. The new covenant was in operation during the Acts, as 2 Cor.3 and 4 ‘indicate, but, like the covenant with Abraham, its full outflow awaits the day when all Israel shall be saved.
This is difficult to answer, for “Christendom” Is not a scriptural name, and consequently we can never be sure that we use it exactly as another may intend. Speaking broadly, Christendom stands for that great mass of professing Christians, largely leavened with false doctrine and finally developing into the apostasy, that precedes the end. Accepting this definition we are compelled to say that it would be most uncharitable as well as untrue unceremoniously to sweep aside all those men of God who fail to see the truth of the mystery, and who ‘indeed are sometimes antagonistic to it. Just as it was not necessarily true during the Acts that if Paul was right Peter was wrong, so it does not follow that every believer today should be a believer of the truth of the mystery – he cannot be unless chosen of the Lord, and his calling and election may place him in an entirely different company. This, of course, remains to be proved.
To refute this position we should have to reprint the bulk of the last 20 years’ witness
Without, therefore, pretending to have given anything more than a cursory glance at these varied views, we proceed to the examination of Scripture to discover whether there has been written a book, an epistle, or section of the New Testament that embraces all the peculiar conditions that characterize the outer circle of faith among Gentiles today. This will necessarily be the subject of another article.
We concluded our opening article with the statement that we should now proceed to the examination of Scripture to discover whether there has been written a book, epistle, or a section of the New Testament that embraces all the peculiar conditions that characterize the outer circle of faith among the Gentiles today. What are these peculiar conditions?
1. During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, He limited Himself to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and at the close commanded His disciples to go into all the world. One of the conditions that belong to the present enquiry is that the message shall be pre-eminently world-wide.
2. It is evident to the most casual reader that the bulk of the Bible was written for Jews. The present condition, however, demands a book that shall give evidence that non-Jewish readers are in view.
3. The Gospel of Matthew does not speak of the rejection of Christ by Israel until chapter 12; Paul’s earlier epistles give considerable prominence to Israel, whilst Peter at Pentecost calls upon the nation to repent and be saved. The book we seek should take it for granted, or should early state that Christ was rejected by Israel, and that its message is addressed to those who have believed after that rejection has reached its climax.
4. The Lord’s Supper is directly connected with “the new covenant”(Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor.1 1:25), so that the message we seek will of necessity omit this feast of remembrance, seeing that its terms cannot be put into operation until Israel as a nation are restored (Jer. 31).
5. The present position of the Lord Jesus is that of ascension, ascribed to Him in the prison epistles, and we must find our message in a book giving due prominence to this exalted position.
6. The epistles of the mystery do not speak of Christ as the Son of Abraham, or the Son of man, but go back behind all these to the wondrous title of the Image of the Invisible God, Who is, moreover, the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. This revelation of His Person will colour the message that is addressed to the outer circle today.
7. We shall find in that message the great desire expressed by the Lord, that, though He was rejected by His own, the world might yet believe and know that He was the Sent One of God.
8. There will be an indication that the gift of “miracles” possessed by the church, as at
By common consent the Gospel according to John was written when Paul’s ministry was finished, and corresponds fully to the conditions suggested above, as well as to many more to be entered into later. Let us for the present, however, confine ourselves to noticing how John’s gospel deals with these peculiar conditions.
1. The World
These and many more come immediately to the mind, and it is common knowledge with students of the Word that John’s Gospel is preeminently the presentation of Christ to the world.
Kosmos (world) occurs in Matthew’s Gospel 9 times, in Mark 3 times, in Luke 3 times, but in John it occurs about 79 times. Matthew’s Gospel tells us concerning the Lord that He was called “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Luke’s Gospel records the Lord’s Instructions to His disciples that “remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). John, however, speaks of “sin” not “sins,” “the sin of the world’ and “the sins of His people.”
The reader will remember the wide scope in the standpoint of the first Epistle of John: “He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’ (1John 2:2). John’s Epistles account for another 21 occurrences of kosmos, so that out of a total of 188 occurrences in the whole N.T., John’s Gospel and Epistles use 100 of them. If we seek for a message that has the world in view, can we find one more suitable than this Gospel according to John?
2. Not written for Jews
Our next condition was that the matter should be tested not only by the positive address to the world, but by parallel internal evidence that Jews were definitely not in the writer’s mind. Every Jew knew the purpose of the six water pots at the wedding feast of Cana, but John informs us that they were “after the manner of the Jews” (John 2:6). Every Jew knew the history and importance of the Passover, but John writes: “The Jews’ Passover was at hand”; “The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh”; “the Jews’ Passover was nigh at hand” (John 2:13; 6:4; 11,55). Added to these are the further informative statements: “There was a feast of the Jews” (5: 1), “the Jews’ feast of tabernacles” (7:2). Again, note John 10:22: “It was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication and it was winter,” which is as though we should write, “It was Christmas Day in London and it was winter.”
The message that fits the wider circle of believers during the present time must recognize the fact that the Lord was rejected by His own people. This we find at the very forefront of the Gospel by John: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not, but as many as received Him” (John 1: 11, 12). Here it is evident that the “Many” who received Him are a different company from “His, own” who received Him not. Matthew’s Gospel waits until the twelfth chapter before rejection is reached, but John opens with it. There is a foreshadowing of Acts 28 at the close of John 9: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.” The critical passage (Isa.6: 10) is quoted immediately after the warning to walk while the light lasts, lest darkness come upon them, and towards the close of the passage come the solemn words: “He that rejecteth Me, and recelveth not My words, hath One that judgeth him” (John 12:48).
It will be remembered that where Matthew quotes Isa. 6:10, we find the parables of the kingdom of heaven, which, while revealing the interval of failure and corruption, nevertheless look forward to the day when, under the new covenant, the word of the kingdom shall be received in an honest and good heart (Jer. 31:27-33). The quotation of Isa. 6:10 in John 12 is not accompanied by the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but focuses attention upon the rejection of the Lord by His own people.
4. The Lord’s Supper
It is not our purpose to discuss the vital association of the Lord’s Supper with the new covenant – that can be seen both in Matt. 31 and 1 Cor. 11. The terms and parties of the covenant are distinctly set out in Jer. 31 and repeated in Heb. 8. It is not a matter for discussion, but of believing what God has said. The Gospel according to John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper, and the omission is as eloquent as the non-Jewish and world-wide evidences already brought forward. During the Acts period Gentile churches observed this feast of remembrance, but with the setting aside of the covenant people, the covenant feast was discontinued, and John, who was present and knew all about it, was as inspired to omit it as Matthew, Mark and Luke were inspired to include it.
5. The ascended Lord
Paul’s prison ministry is impossible apart from the ascension “far above all.” Matthew’s record ends without reference to the ascension; Mark and Luke close their accounts with it, but John speaks of it as early as the third chapter: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven” (John 3:13). Again, in John 6, the Jews objected to the Lord’s statement that He was the true bread that came down from heaven, saying: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He saith, I came down from heaven?” (John 6:42). Also, when the disciples were offended with His teaching He said: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” (John 6:62). It is John alone who tells us that the Lord’s first message after His resurrection, and that He ascended to the Father on that first day of the week, 40 days before the visible ascension from the Mount of Olives. “Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God” (John 20:17).
The reader should add to the above the passages which use the phrase: “Because I go unto the Father,” and similar expressions.
6. “The image of the invisible God the Creator.”
John’s Gospel is distinguished from the synoptics (Matt, Mark, Luke) by the opening words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
Here also, in close harmony with the standpoint of the dispensation of the mystery, are the wondrous words of John 17:24:
“Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world.”
True, beholding this glory, and being manifested with Him in glory, having this body of humiliation fashioned like unto the body of His glory (Col.3:4 and Phil.3:2 1) are very different, yet if there is a circle of believers, called into blessing during this parenthetical period, but not constituting the body, it is appropriate that their blessings should in some way be associated with the ascended Christ, and the glory that was His before the world was. The distinction to be observed between the glory of John 17:24 and that of the epistles of the mystery must be considered in some future article, for it is too great a subject for the present survey.
7. The Prayer that the world may know
If the standpoint of John’s Gospel be as we have indicated, we can understand the burden of the Lord’s prayer in John 17, in which He asks that though “His own” refused Him as the Sent One, yet that the world might believe and that the world might know that the Father had sent Him.
8. Discontinuance of miracles
The word usually translated “miracle” (dunamis) is entirely absent from John’s Gospel, and in its place we have a series of “signs”.
While the unity of the body is not mentioned in John, there is a unity which is very close. This and many other items of importance must now be reviewed, and we trust that the result of these studies will be not only a deeper appreciation of the supreme blessedness of the calling that places us “far above all” at the right hand of God, but further ability to speak with no uncertain sound to saints and sinners who while giving no evidence of being destined to this high calling, yet cannot, by reason of the dispensational conditions in which they find themselves, yield faith or obedience to pentecostal and new covenant messages.
No.3 Christ, the Image and the Word.
We have arrived at the conclusion that the Gospel according to John very specially meets the need and position of that great company of believers who, though called during this present time, do not seem to come under the dispensation of the mystery. Naturally our present findings will modify some statements made in earlier volumes. For this we feel there is no need to apologize, but rather give thanks for added light. However, it may be well to repeat, without detail or proof, the eight features found upon the surface of John’s Gospel, which reveal the special fitness of his message for the time: –
1. The message must be world-wide in its scope.
2. It must give evidence that it is written for non-Jewish readers.
3. It must start with the fact that Christ came and was rejected.
4. It will omit the Lord’s Supper.
5. It will give prominence to the ascension.
6. It will give a title to the Lord which is in some way parallel with “The Image” and the “Creator” of Col. 1.
7. It will convey the Lord’s desire that, though rejected by “His own,” the world may yet believe and know Him as the Sent One.
8. It will not use the word “miracle,” but will substitute some other word in recognition of the fact that pentecostal conditions have passed.
We believe that the distinctive nature of these prominent features carry the matter beyond debate into the region of fact and faith. We therefore spend no time in “proofs” but proceed to the more edifying labours connected with exposition.
This Gospel opens with a wonderful revelation concerning Christ as the Word. Now there is a principle (found fairly constantly throughout the N.T.) that in harmony with the line of blessing which is to be developed in any one Gospel or Epistle, there will be found either in that Epistle or Gospel, or in a book connected therewith, some special aspect of the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. This must be so, for there are no blessings, promises, callings, or hopes apart from Him, and before we can be told of either earthly or heavenly hopes, we must first be assured and instructed as to the position of Him on Whom all our hopes must rest.
Ordinarily we should leave this statement unelaborated and pass on, but as we trust these studies will be useful to those who may be engaged in ministering the Word to the wider circle of which we speak, we will give one or two illustrations of the principle.
Matthew. – The opening chapter is occupied with the genealogy (Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Son of the Virgin), birth and work (“for He shall save His people from their sins”), of the Lord Jesus, which lays the foundation for all that is subsequently written in the Gospel.
Romans. – Here the Lord is the Seed of David according to the flesh, declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. The opening thought is the presentation of Christ as the risen One.
Ephesians. – In the opening chapter Christ is shown as the One in Whom all who form the Body were chosen before the foundation (or overthrow) of the world, and Who was not only raised, but seated at the right hand of God far above all. That revelation concerning Christ Himself made possible the associated revelation concerning the Church which is His Body.
Revelation. – The Lord said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” Here in the vision of chapter 1, we have the great Priest-King after the order of Melchisedec.
The presentation of Christ by John, however, differs from that of the synoptic Gospels. Before He is presented as either Son of God, Son of man, Son of David, or Son of Abraham, he is revealed as “The Word.” While the repeated use of the name “Word” by the Targumists (paraphrase of the Hebrew in Chaldee) could be adduced to illustrate the way in which this word had become generally recognized as a title of the Lord, the meaning is evident by a comparison of verses I and 18 of John 1:
a.In the beginning was the Word.
c. No man hath seen God.
It is the function of a word to make manifest the inaudible thought, and this is plainly seen in the last clause, “He hath declared Him.” Eregeomai means to lead or bring out, and is translated “declare” and “tell.” There is a parallel here with the revelation of Col. 1: 15, but the latter is upon a higher plane. This we may set out as follows: –
John 1 Colossians1
The Word. The Image.
The Only Begotten. The Firstborn.
All things made. All things created.
His fulness -full All fulness.of grace and truth.
The Word made flesh
Preferred before He is before all things.
First, let us observe that there is no such parallel as this discoverable in the other Gospels. Here John is evidently ministering truth that approximates to the dispensation of the Mystery, without actually touching it. Having observed the likeness we must also note the difference.
The Word and The Image.
The Only Begotten and The Firstborn. Care must be exercised when dealing with these different titles. The one, “The Firstborn,” goes back to “the beginning;” the other, “The Only Begotten,” begins at Bethlehem.
Prototokes, “firstborn,” occurs in Matt. 1:25; Rom. 8:29, Col. 1:15,18; Heb. 1:6; 11:28 and 12:23.
Monogenes, “Only Begotten,” Occurs in Luke 7:12, 8:42; 9:38, John 1: 14, 18; 3:16,18; Heb: 11: 17, and I John 4:9.
Monogenes is limited to the flesh; Christ is never named “the only begotten Son” until it is declared that “the Word became flesh.”
Prototokes is, however, used with wider significance. In Heb. 11:28 it has the meaning of the first-born after the manner of men, but it is readily seen that a fuller meaning attaches to it in Col. 1: 15,18. If “Firstborn” in verse 15 is to mean that Christ had no existence before He became the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation, how will this interpretation answer ‘in verse 18? Had He no existence before resurrection? The assumption is impossible and reveals the folly of the argument. Let us adhere closely to the language of Scripture. Before Bethlehem, Christ is called “The word” and “The Image,” but after, when He had become flesh, He is called “The Only Begotten Son,” “The son of God,” “The Son of man.”
All things made and All things created.
The language of 2 Cor. 3: 10 seems almost necessary as we compare these two records.
His fulness and All the fulness.
This is indeed wonderful, but the fulness of Colossians transcends it. There it is “all the fulness,” which is further enlarged in Col. 2:9,10 as: “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are filled to the full in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power.” Fulness of grace, as opposed to types and shadows, is one thing – this is the message both of John and Paul (see Col. 2:16,17), but Paul’s ministry goes deeper; all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, the church filled full in Him, and He, not only Head of the church, but also of principalities and powers – this is a revelation necessitated by the high glory of the dispensation of the mystery.
Preferred before and He is before. John the Baptist recognized something of the pre-eminence of the Lord, and there are several statements to this effect in the opening chapters of John’s Gospel: –
“He was not that light” (1: 8),
“He is preferred before me, for He was before me ” (1: 15).
“I am not the Christ…I am a voice ” (1:20-23).
“He must increase, I must decrease..He that cometh from heaven is above all” (3:31).
Let us not miss the beauty of verse 23. Christ was The Word, John was but a voice. Christ was The Light, John was but a bright and shining lamp (John 5:35). John glimpsed something of the glory when he said: “He that cometh from heaven is above all,” but, in the main, the position is that Christ is greater than John the Baptist. When we come to Ephesians and Colossians, however, the greatness of the Lord is beyond the flight of imagination. He is before all things; thrones, dominions, principalities, powers. He has pre-eminence over all. It will be seen that while John ministers things that are associated with Christ during His rejection by Israel, and reveals the Lord in a light quite different from that of the other Gospels, he by no means deals with the Mystery, neither does he speak of Christ in terms that compare with the revelation of Ephesians and Colossians. There is, however, sufficient likeness to enable us to see that the teaching found in John’s Gospel fits the condition of many children of God
We do not pretend to have given an exposition of John 1: 1-18; the matters contained therein are too weighty for such slight treatment. There is perhaps need for one word on John 1: 1 before closing, and that is a reference to the translation sometimes suggested, “The Word was a god.” The following are the occurrences in John 1: 1-18 of Theos = God, without the article “the,” and we have but to adopt the translation “A god” to manifest its inaccuracy when used of John 1: 1: –
“The Word was A god” (v. 1).
“There was a man sent from A god” (v.6).
“Power to become children of A god” (v. 12).
“Which were born of A god” (v. 13).
“No man hath seen A god at any time ” (v. 18).
It is also well to remember that some MSS., namely, Lm., Tr., WH., Rm., with the Syriac, read “God, only begotten” in John 1: 18: this is found, moreover, in the confession of the church of Antioch. While therefore much more should be considered were we purposing an exposition of John’s Gospel, or of the doctrine of the deity of Christ, sufficient for our present purpose has been brought forward to establish the link and yet to manifest the difference between John’s ministry and the prison ministry of the apostle Paul. Other phases of truth we must leave for future studies.
Bridal relationships. – It must not be inferred that we deny the occurrence of bridal relationships in the other Gospels; they are here, and we recognize them, but what we wish to draw attention to is that bridal relationships are perpetuated now among that great company of believers outside the Body at the present time: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29).
Now it is nowhere said, either in the synoptic Gospels, or in John, that those addressed actually formed part of the bride; neither, therefore, do we. John the Baptist makes it clear that he formed no part of the bride, his being a special relationship as, “the friend of the bridegroom.” In Matthew, Mark and Luke the disciples are spoken of as “children of the bride-chamber,” who, of course, are not the bride, and in Matt. 25 virgins go out to meet the approaching bride-groom, not as brides, but to be present at the marriage feast.
The bride is distinguished from those blessed ones who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Rev. 19:7,9, as also in Matt.22, so that all we can say here is, that while the bride herself may not be in process of formation during this present period, the great company who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb are being
Light on the subject may be obtained from the parable of Matt.22. We have first of all the invitation to the wedding of those “who had been bidden.” Following their refusal the invitation is repeated, with the urgent addition, “All things are ready.” This they made light of The word translated “made light” here is rendered “neglect” in Heb. 2:3. As a consequence these refusers are destroyed and their city burned. This clearly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
But after this date, and consequently after the ministry of Peter and Paul in the Acts, a further invitation is sent out, this time into the highways, with the result that the wedding is furnished with guests. This exactly corresponds with the subsequent ministry of John in his Gospel, which extends the marriage feast invitation to believers now.
Again, the first of the eight signs of John’s Gospel is that given at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. There the water was turned into wine, and there the Lord manifested forth His glory. At this feast Christ is not the bridegroom, both He and His disciples being present as “guests.” This first sign therefore suggests that those who came under John’s ministry here form the great company who shall be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The other sheep.
‘And other sheep I have which are, not of this fold; them also I will bring, and they will hear My voice; and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd” (John 10: 16).
Who are those other sheep? The answer that comes most readily and acceptably is, “Israel of the Dispersion,” but is this the right answer? The other sheep are declared to be “not out of (ek) this fold.”
We must distinguish between the two words translated “fold” in the A.V. of verse 16. Aule is “fold” poinme ohel, tent or tabernacle. Primarily it means an open courtyard, and John himself uses the word in 18:15, where it is translated “palace.” Oniginally sheepfolds were in the open court of the house, and the word is so used in 2 Chron. 4:9; Psa.64:4; 135: 1; Isa. 1:12, and many other passages. There, other sheep were not “of this fold,” were not connected with those courts of the Lord into which it was the peculiar prerogative of Israel to enter. The dispersion could hardly be so designated.
The word poimne, flock, is intimately associated with poimen, shepherd, the flock being viewed not so much as so many sheep, but as so many sheep under one shepherd. Poimnion, the diminutive, is found in Acts 20:28,29 where it most certainly is used of the church of God: “Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. “
If Paul could use the word “flock” in its diminutive sense for the church as constituted in Acts 20, the Lord could use the words, “one flock” of a company composed of the gathered sheep of the house of Israel, and of the “other sheep” who, though not of Israel’s fold, would, nevertheless, under the one great Shepherd, constitute one flock. While this is far removed from the unity expressed by the One Body, with the Lord as Head, it nevertheless is in consonance with that blessing which must necessarily take
Peter was definitely commissioned to feed the Lord’s sheep and lambs, but his curiosity was not satisfied when, concerning John, he asked: “And what shall this man do?” Peter and John are associated very closely in their early ministry with the Lord and the twelve, and it looks as though both were to be under-shepherds, though tending different folds. Galatians 2:9 ‘indicates that John, like Peter, had a ministry to the circumcision, but we are not thereby justified in concluding that God could not send John to another company – such a conjecture is beyond our right or ken.
We know that Paul had a twofold ministry. Why, then, should not John be similarly commissioned? In the same way there is no more difficulty in believing that Gentile believers may be called “other sheep” than that they are likened to a “wild olive.” And if Gentiles could be grafted on to the stock of Israel, there is nothing to render it impossible that they should form part of that great “flock,” though never of the “fold of Israel.”
Partakers of the true bread. – None but those who came out of Egypt ate the manna in the wilderness: “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:31).
The Lord, when replying to this, and declaring Himself to be the true bread that came down from heaven, speaks of the world as recipients: –
“For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world
“The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. “
The record of the Lord’s dealings with Nicodemus may throw some light upon the way in which seekers after truth belonging to the great outer circle may be led on and encouraged. Nicodemus appears three times in this Gospel, viz., John 3:1-12; 7:50-52 and 19:39. In each case the reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that he came by night:
“The same came to Jesus by night” (3:2).
“He that came to Jesus by night” (7:50).
“Which at the first came to Jesus by night”(19:39),
In the first case Nicodemus approached the Lord with evident desire to learn of Him, but very probably with no other really fixed idea. Considering the greatness of Nicodemus, who is described as “the teacher of Israel,” and the great wealth which Rabbinical tradition ascribes to him, his manner of addressing the Lord, Who was, externally, but a Galilean peasant, was respectful and conciliating. He called Him “Rabbi,” and admitted that God must be with Him.
The occasion of his second appearance is less peaceful. A division was coming among
Again, while he shared the same unbelief concerning the resurrection of the Lord as was common among the disciples, his third appearance finds him coming into the open as a self-confessed disciple, bringing his offering of myrrh and aloes. Certainly we may cherish the thought that Nicodemus was numbered among the 120 who met together in the upper room of Acts 1.
Now, this is the man to whom the Lord said, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?” It is evident from these words that all that the Lord had said to Nicodemus up to that point was concerning “earthly things,” “If I have told you earthly things.” What had the Lord told Nicodemus? He had said: –
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. “
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God That which has been born of the flesh is flesh; and that which hath been born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit ” (John 3:3-8).
This new birth therefore belongs to earthly things. ‘ The Greek word gennao is used in the N.T. for both begetting and birth. This dual use may be seen in Matt. I:16: “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom (i.e., Mary, whom being feminine) was born Jesus.” Nicodemus evidently understood the Lord to speak of birth, but the Lord’s words are better understood of the begetting of the Father. “Again” is anothen = “from above.” It is so translated in 3:31. No sense is made of the verse by translating it, “He that cometh again.” So we hear of authority given “from above” (19: 11), of the Lord’s coat woven “from the top” (19:23), and many other instances. “Ye must be begotten from above” is a better rendering of the Lord’s words.
In answer to Nicodemus’ question, “How?” the Lord expands His statement, the words “from above” being omitted and “of water and spirit” substituted. From this passage baptismal regeneration has been taught, the baptism being that of water. A reference to John 7:38,39 gives guidance: “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, but this spake He of the Spirit.” Here we have Scripture for it that “living water” can be a type of “Spirit.” We did not quote fully John 7:39 above, which we now do: “But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive, for the Holy Ghost was not yet given: because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” This combines the two thoughts “from above” and “Spirit” referred to in John 3.
In what way are we justified in speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as an “earthly thing?” We cannot so use it if we mean by “earthly” anything that is sinful or
Verse 44 adds a further pair of words, “a natural body,” and, “a spiritual body,” “natural” being psuchikon, pertaining to the soul. Inasmuch as the purpose of the ages embraces things in the heavens and things on earth, and both spheres of blessedness are to be occupied by a redeemed people, it follows that for “spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” “spiritual” and “heavenly” resurrection bodies will be necessary, while for the meek, who are to inherit the earth and enjoy the delights of Paradise with its twelve manner of fruit, earthly and physical bodies will be required.
Birth from above, therefore, may well be one of the many “earthly things” which the Lord had to tell Nicodemus.
Peter who wrote to the “Dispersion,” whose salvation was the salvation of their “souls,” a salvation spoken of by the OT prophets, and whose destiny was to be “a royal priesthood, an holy nation, and a peculiar people,” speaks of this birth from above, ‘Being begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Pet. 1: 23). James, who writes to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, says, “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Jas. 1: 18). John, in his first epistle, has much to say about those who are ‘born of God” (see I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:14,18). Peter, James and John looked forward to sitting upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Paul’s use of the term in I Cor.4:14,15, and Philemon 10 is not strictly parallel:
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.
The distinctive teaching of Paul’s epistles is not the new birth, but a new creation. Some may set this aside as a quibble, but we record it as one of the many distinctions that must be observed between things earthly and heavenly.
We learn from John 3 that the new birth belongs to the outer circle of truth today. It may be perfectly right to emphasize the necessity for this new birth when preaching the gospel, so long as we are clear that such does not belong to the ministry of the apostle Paul, nor afford an entrance into the church of the One Body. New creation and identification “with Christ” in His death and resurrection is something deeper and higher.
“Ye must be begotten from above” belongs to earthly things.
No.6 The Samaritan woman and true worship (John 4)
We have seen that Nicodemus was warned that unbelief concerning earthly things would prevent him from hearing of heavenly things, these heavenly things being intimately associated with the Lord’s ascension (John 3:12,13). In John 4 a very different character is introduced, a Samaritan woman, yet to her was made a marvelous revelation concerning worship. The statement in John 4:21-24 resembles the words of
“Believe Me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship;.for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth ” (John 4:21-24).
We are, the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil.3:3).
To Nicodemus the “must” concerned the new birth. To the Samaritan woman the “must” dealt with worship.
In the record of the Lord’s dealings with this poor woman we find that He speaks to her seven times, gently leading on to the final revelation of Himself as the Messiah. The woman’s first reply was-“How is it that THOU, being a.Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” (v.9).
Upon the Lord’s reply she asks: –‘Art THOU greater than our father Jacob? ” (v. 12).
Following the conviction she receives concerning her mode of life, light begins to break in, and she says: –
“Sir, I perceive that TH0U art a prophet” (v. 19).
At first sight we may be disposed to think that the sudden introduction into the conversation of the question of worship was a ruse adopted by the woman to avoid further reference to her own manner of life. As we pursue the story, however, it becomes evident that the simple revelation of her sinful life created a deep impression. Though the Lord unfolded to her the wondrous prospect of a spiritual worship that would set aside both Samaria’s mountain and Jerusalem’s temple, She says not a word about it but as though still holding on to the one great fact of the Lord’s knowledge of her dark life, she intedects a further remark concerning the Lord’s prophetic knowledge. And by her use of the title Messiah, it Is easy to see that already the thought was forming in her mind, “Can this Prophet be indeed the Messiah?” The woman said unto Him, I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ; when He is come, He will tell us all things” (v.25). Then comes the Lord’s revelation of Himself “I that speak unto thee am He” (v.26).
The impression and conviction wrought in this woman’s heart abides. It is the burden of her testimony to her friends and neighbors: – “Come, see a Man which told me all things that ever I did.- Is not this the Christ? ” (v.29).
This simple testimony of a repenting soul was owned by the Lord: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman, which testified, he told me all that ever I did” (v.39).
The conclusion of this witness leads once more to the world-wide aspect of the Saviour’s mission: – “We have heard Him ourselves, and know that this indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (v.42).
We cannot help seeing in the repentance, confession and evangelistic testimony of this woman, a contrast with Israel’s lack of repentance, and consequent failure to recognise their Messiah and to fulfil their ministry among the nations.
The insistence upon the Lord’s knowledge of the human heart is not confined to this chapter. It is found *in chapter I and prefaces chapter 3. Nathaniel is converted and
Immediately preceding the conversation With Nicodemus are the words of John 2:24 – 3:1: – “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. There, was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus.
In all probability Nicodemus could have maintained a good argument concerning the question of worship, but he was not permitted to do so. To this great doctor of the law, the Saviour speaks of the new birth. To a poor ignorant and sinful woman the Lord reveals the truth concerning spiritual worship. Whether the Samaritan woman grasped His teaching is not our concern – let us not miss its import.
“The hour cometh and now is.”
Perhaps the most precious word in the whole statement is the word “seeketh” – “The Father seeketh such.” Is not this a revelation of the heart of God? The Father seeks the true worshipper as the Son seeks the lost. The Father goes out to us in our worship perhaps more than we can ever go out to Him. What a blessed thought, that as surely as we draw near to Him, He is drawing near to us!
Worship lies behind the original purpose of Satan’s creation and underlies his terrible fall (Ezek.28). Worship is the first clause in the covenant with Israel. Worship was the desire of the tempter in the wilderness (Matt.4), and worship is the goal of the great anti-christian apostasy at the end (Rev. 13).
The church of the mystery, and its association with heavenly places, is intimately connected with worship. This church is itself a holy temple (Eph.2). As the true circumcision its worship is entirely spiritual (Phil.3), and its members, holding the Head, repudiate any imposition upon them of the worship of angels (Col.2). The oft-recurring word “godliness” in the epistles to Timothy, literally means “good or acceptable worship.”
If John’s Gospel ministers to the needs of believers who are today on the outer fringe of the dispensation of the mystery, then the Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman are words in season. Just as the Lord told Nicodemus that to stumble at the revelation concerning earthly things precluded all reference to heavenly things, so we shall find that where believers are entangled with places” of worship, ensnared in denominational jealousies, subscribing to carnal ordinances, ceremonials and the like, they are very unlikely to hear the truth committed to the apostle Paul.
(Written by C. H. Welch and published in The Berean Expositor, Volume 20 – 1930.)