Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #18. Healing the Blind Man (Part 3)

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There’s not much I hate more than not being able to see. When a person or an object blocks my view, I might stand on my tip toes, turn my head, stretch my neck, and do whatever I can, but sometimes you just miss it. It drives me crazy when I miss it. At the same time, there’s not much I enjoy more than seeing. Seeing my wife and child playing in the yard when I get home from the office. Seeing a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. Seeing a friend. On vacation my favorite things to do are to go somewhere I’ve never been, eat their local food, hike, and see incredible stuff. There is so much I still want to see.

In John 9 Jesus meets a man has never seen anything. Never seen a smile. Never seen the stars at night. Never seen a friend or a stream or a tree. Nothing. He was born blind. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t support a family. He was a beggar. Until Jesus changed all that. In an instant, Jesus gave this man a gift that no one else could. What indescribable joy and opportunity now lay in front of him. And as amazing as that story truly is, that’s not actually the true point of the event.

John doesn’t just tell stories for the purpose of learning history. There are levels to his stories. Levels of what the characters in the story are experiencing. Levels of what the original readers are thinking many years later. And deep spiritual levels of truth from which we are all to glean. The “signs” are truly about that deeper spiritual level. Jesus did an amazing sign by giving sight to this blind man. But what does that sign point towards? What does it actually mean?

I think the true point of the sign is seen at the beginning and the end of the event. Before healing the man, Jesus is asked whose fault it was that this man was born blind? Jesus responds, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I Am the Light of the world” (John 9:3-5). This is how Jesus introduces the sign.

When Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World” His point is not that He is literally the sun, or that his face or appearance is astoundingly, blindingly, bright. “Light” is used metaphorically to describe spiritual enlightenment: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). In our last reflection we saw how this description, this whole story, is a picture of New Creation. It compares strongly with Genesis 1, where God saw darkness over the whole earth, so He said, “Let there be light.”

Think for a moment about God’s original creation. Think about the blissful Garden of Eden. There was no sickness, infirmity, or death. There was no blindness. When Jesus restores this man’s sight, He is not necessarily only doing a brand new thing. He is also doing a very old thing. He is restoring this man to what He was originally created to be. In God’s original creation no one was to be blind. Jesus is engaging in New Creation, He is giving this man a glimpse (literally) of what life on earth was supposed to be.  Jesus does it over and over again. Eden seems to be the goal of so much of His ministry. His teaching on divorce goes back to Eden (Mark 10:6-8). His reversal of the Adam’s sin (Romans 5:18) is a return to Eden. His miraculous healings show people what their lives were supposed to be, what they would have been in Eden. Resurrection goes back to the ideal in the garden with the tree of life, when there was no death. Sin is responsible for our expulsion from the garden and all the darkness and pain and suffering and death which are present in the world. Not because “this man or his parents” sinned, but because the entire world is in darkness and “men loved darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19).

This blind man is a picture, an illustration, of what Jesus is doing in the world. He is, in a very real way, recreated Eden. He is redoing what God did in Genesis 1. Perhaps this is how Jesus will “work the works of Him who sent Me” (John 9:4). God’s work is creation, light, and goodness. By being the Light of the World, and giving sight to the blind, Jesus is doing God’s work. This blind man represents the world without Jesus. Giving him sight is a picture of Jesus’ ministry, an illustration of His Light which shines in the darkness and enlightens the world.

However, not all will come to see. The flip side of Jesus’ ministry is that many who think they see will be revealed to be blind. The blind one who was believed to be a sinner (John 9:2, 34), ends up believing and worshipping and justified. This is the positive side of Jesus’ ministry. But to those who think they can see without Jesus, He says, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). This healing really shows the blindness of the Pharisees. An incredible, unprecedented, miracle has taken place right in front of them, The obvious thought is stated by the man born blind: “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).

The Pharisees had eyes to see this man. They had eyes to see Jesus. They had eyes to see an incredible sign had taken place. But rather than seeing the Light of the World, they were blinded by it. What does this sign mean? Jesus is Light. Some will begin to see everything because of Him. Some will be blinded because of Him. What we must answer is what will the Light of the World do with us?

Thanks be to God that He can give sight to the blind!


52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #17. Healing the Blind Man (Part 2): “I Am the Light of the World

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Several really important themes converge in John 9 when Jesus heals the blind man. One of the famous “I Am” statements is uttered. One of the important “Signs” is witnessed. And the theme of New Creation which John has been echoing from the beginning of the book emerges again. You see all of this come together when Jesus describes what He is about to do: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (John 9:4-5). “Light” in John has very little to do with lumens, watts, or photons. It describes the spiritual vision that Jesus is bringing the world. In this short section we see three pictures which describe the spiritual state of humanity: sight vs. blindness, light vs. darkness, and day vs. night.

Throughout the Gospel of John there is a call to not be blind, but to actually see and behold. When the Word became flesh, “we saw His glory” (John 1:14). John was told the Messiah was the One on whom “You see the Spirit descending and remaining upon” (John 1:33). Two times John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36). Jesus tells two disciples, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39). Philip says to Nathanial, “Come and see.” Jesus tells Nathanial “I saw you” and “You will see greater things than these” and “you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:48, 50, 51). During Passover, “many believed in His name, seeing the signs which He was doing” (John 2:23). Jesus warned Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Regarding John the Baptist, “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies” (John 3:32). The Samaritan woman told her city, “come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done” (John 4:29).

This list of passages could go on and on and on (John 19:35; 20:8, etc.). This concept will literally be on every page of you turn in the Gospel of John. Which makes the ending so ironic, and beautiful, and incredible: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). This is a message to the reader who cannot literally “come and see” but many years later has come to believe anyway.

But what of this blind man? Is He able to “come and see?” On his own He never could. But he is about to meet, “the Light of the world” (John 9:5). This is one of those foundational “I Am” statements of Jesus which are so popular in John. The “Light of the World” is a picture of New Creation.  “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the Light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:3). Compare that with the beginning of John: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1), “in Him was life and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5).

Remember in Genesis the Light was created on Day 1 but the sun wasn’t created until Day 4. So, what was that light? I’m not speaking scientifically here, but hinting at something theological: Jesus takes for Himself the role of giving light to the world.

In Genesis the “heavens and the earth” were in “darkness,” (Genesis 1:2) but God gave it light which “was good.” That same story is being told in John. When the light of the world comes, He “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5) and gives light and sight. The critical tension, however, is that “the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

Jesus will be loved by some because they once were blind but now they see. Jesus will be hated by others because He will reveal them for what they truly are. That very thing happens in the healing of the blind man (John 9:39).

Going back to Genesis, “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (Genesis 1:5). Darkness comes over the world at night time. Two times we are told that Nicodemus, seemingly out of fear, came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2; 19:39). When Judas goes off to betray Jesus there is a small little note added by John which says, “And it was night” (John 13:30). Why does this matter? Because “if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:10).

So again, what does all this actually mean? There is far more to the story than just a physical miracle, Jesus is the embodiment of the “Light of the World.” He is the only hope for the world to leave darkness, blindness, and night.  While Jesus is on earth, as the Light of the World, it is daytime. But night is coming (Remember, His betrayal and crucifixion are at night). So He must work now. What work must He do? Give light and sight to those who are blind and in darkness. He does this physically in John 9, and spiritually for the rest of time. Some will certainly hate Him for it. Others will rejoice. John 9 is not just about giving light to a blind man, but it also shows how his neighbors, his parents, and the Pharisees respond to that light. They all respond in darkness. What a tragedy to see a great sign of Jesus, to see Light from God, and choose to be blind. The blind man chose sight. All who saw it chose blindness.

*A strange final note about that phrase “I Am the Light of the World” is that Jesus applies it to Himself in John. But terrifyingly, Matthew says, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). I like John better. I’d much rather that burden be on Jesus. He is a bit more qualified than me and you. Nevertheless, the job of bringing the spiritual vision of God into the world is not solely upon Jesus. It’s on each one of us called by His name.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #16. Healing the Blind Man (Part 1)

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“Why do bad things happens to good people?” This is a huge question. It’s been asked over and over and over by people all around the world. Why? Because we find ourselves in a world full of injustice and suffering.  Some have attempted to answer this perplexing question by assuming that it’s just incorrect. All bad things are deserved because all people have done bad things. So, if a man loses his health and job and family, it must be because he did something awful to deserve it. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar shared this type of worldview and it did not help their spiritual journeys. In fact, they offended God by it, saying things about Him which were not correct (Job 42:7-8).

There are, however, entire religious structures predicated on this idea. If you see someone with a disability, it must be because some sin in their life or possibly it’s punishment for a grievous sin committed in a previous life. Even at a non-spiritual level, many people assume this to be the infallible standard of life. When a homeless man is sitting on the ground, in dirty clothes, missing teeth, thin and hungry, many (without knowing him, his experiences, or his story) will immediately assume the worst about his character: “He’s just lazy and needs to get a job!” “If you give him money, he’ll just spend it on drugs and alcohol.” “I heard about someone who just faked poverty to rip you off, then got in their Mercedes and drove home afterwards.”

This is the type of setting which introduces the next great sign of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they see a man who had been born blind. Rather than feeling compassion, seeing his humanity, or trying to find any small way to help, the disciples turn to Jesus and ask about whose fault it is: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2). That’s just kind of a heartless question to ask when you see a person in need. “Is this guy awful or is he just from an awful family?” Notice the logic though. If someone is experiencing suffering, there must have been some grave sin committed. In order for God to be just, there must be some sort of just explanation for this suffering.

Jesus rejects this idea. His answer is, “he neither sinned nor his parents” (John 9:3). Jesus in fact wants to change the way His disciples think about those in need. He wants to change the way we think about those in need. Rather than seeing the pain in others as evidence of their sin, try instead to see it as an opportunity to glorify God. See it as an opportunity to display and “work the works of God” (John 9:3-4). Perhaps the disciples would have been content to walk right passed this man as they debated the theology of individual VS inherited sin. Jesus won’t have that. When you see someone in need, it’s not the time to judge and it’s not the time to theologize, it’s the time to work.

Jesus then stresses the need for them to be busy working. It’s because day is here and night is coming. It’s really hard to work when the lights go out. In John there is a constant contrast between Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Seeing and Blindness. While Jesus is on earth He is bringing light to the world. He is the Sight and the Day and the Light. Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world” (John 9:5). This is how Jesus was first introduced in John 1:4-9: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” So from the beginning we’ve known this about Jesus. Now, in John 9, we’re about to get some evidence as to what it really means.

Darkness pretends not to see the man. Darkness walks right passed him. Darkness judges and wags its head. Darkness treats this man the way the passerby’s treated Jesus on the cross. They look, they see suffering, and they immediately blame. Jesus will put an end to the darkness. He will shine the light right on this man, and many will see it. Jesus will enlighten this man. Jesus will change the definitions of “light” and “dark” and “blind” and “sight.”

At the beginning of this story, the blind man is the one without sight and the one assumed to be a sinner. At the end of the story, the blind man sees and those who see are truly blind. At the end of the story the blind man believes and worships (John 9:38) and the spiritual leaders are called sinners. Jesus explains, “‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains’” (John 9:39-41).

In the next reflection we’ll look a little deeper into how this reversal actually happens. But for now, just consider a possible change of mind. When you see a stranger on the street, what is your first thought? When you see someone in prison, are you quick to judge? How many were guilty of passing by this blind man assuming the worst? How many were guilty of passing by Jesus as He was executed by the Romans and assuming guilt? Would you have been one? What if we saw these as opportunities to be lights in a dark situation? To show the love and glory of God instead of the darkness and neglect of the world? I want to suggest we just hold our judgment a little bit longer. I want to suggest we proceed with caution before we say “We see clearly, but you are blind.” Sometimes the one who “sees” is indeed the one in darkness and Light is coming to the one who is blind.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #15. Walking on the Water

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Jesus has just done something remarkable (again!). He just miraculously fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. John 6 is primarily about this sign and its meaning. John 6:1-15 is about the sign and John 6:26-71 is about the sign’s meaning and the crowd’s response. Shoved right in the middle, however, is this incredible moment where Jesus defies every human ability and expectation; he physically walks on water.

After feeding the 5000 several thoughts had entered into the minds of those who saw it. They said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). This is a likely reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 where God promises to raise up a prophet like Moses. When Moses was leading the people, they had bread miraculously provided. When fleeing from Egypt the Red Sea parted and they crossed over on dry land; the sea was no longer an obstacle. When the disciples see that Jesus is this prophet like Moses, “they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15). It makes sense they would want a king like Moses. Moses was favored by God, performed mighty signs, destroyed the enemy Egyptians, and gave bread to the people.

They want Jesus to be this type of king. They know He is favored by God, He has already performed mighty signs, and He just gave bread to the people. Perhaps He can also destroy the Romans and establish peace in the land? But as they come to make Jesus king, He does a very unkingly thing. He left His people behind and escaped and ran off to the mountains alone (John 6:15).

Were the disciples wrong? Is He not the prophet like Moses? Is He too cowardly to lead a charge against the Romans? The timing is perfect! He just fed an entire army! A Roman centurion has charge over 100 men (a century). A Roman cohort was generally made up of 5 or 6 centuries. And a Roman legion was made up of 10 cohorts. A legion was roughly 5000 men. Do the math! Jesus has a legion at His disposal right now!  He could destroy the Roman occupying forces and establish Himself as king right now! The successful Jewish Maccabean revolt which gained independence from their Greek oppressors and established the Hasmonean dynasty was relatively recent history for these people. They could do it again. They could do it right now! But instead, their Hope, their Prophet, their Leader, their Savior, fled to the mountains and abandoned them.

The daylight began to wane and evening came. His disciples were still alone, confused, and depressed.  It became dark and Jesus was still gone. What to do? Is He coming back? They can’t just stay there forever.  Without waiting any longer, they decide to get in the boat and go back home to Capernaum, leaving Jesus behind on the other side of the sea. As it turns out, this will not be any ordinary seafaring journey.  Soon the winds pick up and the waves begin to rise. A storm is brewing and their lives are in peril. They are too far from land (3 of 4 miles out) to disembark. They must ride the storm and hope and pray for the best.

Then all of the sudden, while they are struggling with wind and the waves on the sea, crushed with disappointment and lost hope, something appears on the horizon. Something, miles away from shore is coming towards them. It can’t be another boat. It doesn’t look like anything ever seen on the water before. It looks like, a human form? It is! It’s Jesus! He’s walking out towards them. And terror grips them. How would you respond? The guy you just abandoned on the other side of the sea is coming out to you, walking through a storm on the water.

But then they hear a comforting voice and words of assurance, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20). What an amazing moment. After feeding the 5000 they saw a connection between Jesus and Moses. Jesus can provide miraculous food just like Moses did! Now again, just as Moses couldn’t be stopped by the Red Sea, Jesus makes His way through the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has no need to split the sea though, He has no need for dry land, He can walk for miles right on top of the water. He has that much control over the creation around Him, which is why Jesus is so much more than just a prophet like Moses. He controls even the winds and the seas (Psalm 107:23-32).

When Jesus introduces Himself, it’s translated as “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20). But that translation alters an important aspect of this declaration. He does not literally say, “It is I”; He says, “ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ φοβεῖσθε”, literally, “I Am; do not be afraid.” This is the same phrase He utters in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I Am.” It is regularly used by Jesus in John and is a direct reference to the divine name of God described in Exodus 3:14.

Jesus comes in an unprecedented way to His disciples, not only confirming to them that He is like Moses, but so much more, He is the I Am who sent Moses. He is so much more than an earthly king who can defeat the Romans. He is so much more than they could have ever expected.

So what do they do? “They were willing to receive Him into the boat” (John 6:21). That might not be as simple and straightforward a statement as it seems. John likes to word narratives in a way that brings about theological truths in the story. To “receive Him” is a really important phrase and idea in John: “As many as received Him, to them He have the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12; c.f. John 5:43, 12:13 [meet is literally receive], 13:20, ironically 19:6 [take is literally this same word]).

Jesus was not what His disciples were expecting. He crushed their dreams as an earthly king. But when they saw who He truly was, they received Him on those terms. Are we willing to do the same? Can we receive Jesus as He is, rather than just what we want Him to be?

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #14. Bread from Heaven (Part 2)

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In Part 1, we noted a radical rereading of Psalm 78:24 and the Exodus narrative, specifically regarding the manna which came from Heaven. The manna is a source of life that comes from God. Jesus is a source of life that comes from God. The link between the two jumps off the page. John reads about the manna but sees Jesus.

Problem #1:

There are, however, some problems with this interpretation. The crowd soon points out one of these problems: “the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’” (John 6:41-42).

The setting for this conversation is Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown. The problem is that they know His parents. It might be easier to convince a group of distant strangers about your divine origins, but to people who know your parents? That’s gonna be a problem. Jesus doesn’t see the problem this same way, however. Jesus sees the problem as a lack of divine education. They trust in their own minds rather than what God has taught. Don’t look to Joseph and Mary to see if Jesus has come from heaven, look to God.

Jesus warns, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:44-45). To Jesus, the problem is that they aren’t reading their Bibles correctly. When John reads Torah, He sees Jesus nearly everywhere. Jesus says, “For if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:39-47). (Our next article will focus on how often John sees Moses writing about Jesus).

Jesus’ true identity has been screamed out by God in the writings of Moses and will culminate in the cross, where Jesus says, “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die” (John 12:32-33, cf. John 3:14-15). Jesus’ adversaries are ignoring God’s teaching in Scripture, which is how He teaches and draws you to Christ. They’re reading wrong, getting the wrong information, and missing Jesus. They’re unwilling to look at Jesus in a new light. In God’s light.

Problem #2:

The second problem is that the manna only gave temporary life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…” (John 6:47-51).

Jesus gives eternal life. In this way, He is dissimilar from the manna in Exodus. Jesus draws a distinction between the “bread out of heaven” and the “true bread out of heaven” in John 6:32. The manna in the wilderness is an excellent picture of Jesus, as it came directly from God to give life to mankind. But it’s incomplete. All who ate still died. Jesus is not just the “bread”, but the “true bread” and the “living bread” (John 6:51).

By adding the word “living” Jesus is indicating that He will continue to be a source of life. He offered the woman at the well “living water…the water that I give…will become…a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14). About the bread, He says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Jesus offers living water and living bread, both of which lead to eternal life.

Jesus isn’t the literal manna in the wilderness. He is an even truer form of that manna. He gives life, not only at the time of consumption, but for all eternity.

Consuming Jesus:

So how do we consume this bread? One way that John indicates is through coming to Jesus and believing: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

I’d like to suggest another way as well. Jesus, in striking and vivid language, continues by saying, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56). The echoes of Lord’s Supper terminology in this passage are just too loud to ignore. I don’t think it’s possible that early Christians hearing these words read at the Sunday gathering would miss the connection to the meal they just shared.

Consider how often John teaches in spiritual terminology with multiple levels of meaning. He says very little about baptism, but He does speak of new birth in water. The Gospel of John is the only gospel to contain this conversation about eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. It also happens to be the only gospel not to describe Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper.

Perhaps this is the spiritual way John teaches about the Lord’s Supper. If so, it’s a tremendous word of encouragement about our connection with Christ through that weekly experience. If so, our Eucharist is a powerful promise that we abide in Him, He abides in us, we have eternal life, and we have hope of resurrection. What a tragedy it would be for us, like Nicodemus, the woman at the well, or the 5000, to miss the rich and deep meaning of the words of Jesus. These words can add greater depth and hope to our thinking as we gather around the Lord’s table.

Wouldn’t it be great to hold the bread and wine and remember, “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #13. Bread from Heaven (Part 1)

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John is very familiar with his Old Testament. He’s also very familiar with the life and identity of Jesus. At interesting points throughout his Gospel these two subjects intertwine in such a way that both Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures are illuminated. For example, how did God provide food for the children of Israel in the wilderness? It was that mysterious manna which came down from heaven which sustained God’s people. This was their source of life; they needed it and depended upon it. Think about that for a moment. There was something mysterious that came from heaven to earth and gave life to God’s people. Can you think of anyone who matches that description? John can.

When John reads about the manna, he cannot help but see Jesus. This is why Jesus can say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the worldI am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst”
(John 6:32-35).

This statement by Jesus is where the conversation leads.  This is the great reveal. But let’s back up a little bit and see how John takes us here. This whole discussion is predicated on understanding a sign Jesus performed. We’ve been talking a lot about the signs of Jesus and how to read them properly. It’s not enough just to see the miracle, but you must ask what that particular miracle (or demonstration) is pointing towards. What is the spiritual lesson or purpose of the miracle? The physical miracle in this instance is feeding 5000 men with just five barley loaves and two fish. But what is the sign?

Prior to this, Jesus had been performing signs on the sick which caused a large crowd to follow Him (John 6:2).  When He saw this crowd He tested His disciples, asking Philip how they could afford to feed so many (John 6:5-6). It’s an interesting test to see how Philip and the other disciples will respond to the dilemma. Both Andrew and Philip speak up about the situation: Philip says we don’t have enough money and Andrew says we don’t have enough food (John 6:7-9). They both fail the test. But they set Jesus up with the perfect opportunity for His next sign. He took a kid’s bread and fish, gave thanks, and miraculously distributed them to the whole crowd.

The crowd was so amazed by this sign that they came away with an important realization: “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). This is probably a reference back to Deuteronomy 18:15-18, where Moses writes, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.” After the death of Moses, Deuteronomy 34:10-12 says, “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh…and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”

Moses performed signs and God promised another great prophet like Moses to rise. Now Jesus is performing the signs. Perhaps He is that great prophet? Moses used the signs to destroy the Egyptians. Perhaps Jesus can use His signs to destroy the Romans and become king in Israel? Perhaps He can restore the kingdom to Israel and free them from subjugation to the occupying Romans. He just proved that He can feed 5000 with barely any food at all. Imagine a king whose people will never go hungry? Imagine a king who can feed an entire army with just 5 loaves of bread? As the crowds ruminated over these things, “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15). By the way, do you remember who else used to go off to a mountain alone, leaving the people behind? Maybe Moses?

The Jesus/Moses typology is glaring in this passage. But there are numerous other motifs at work. Not only do the people want a prophet like Moses, they want a warrior king. Jesus rejects this role, but takes on another. He takes on the role of God’s bread from heaven. Jesus just gave them bread and for now they want to follow Him. But as often happens, they missed the sign for the miracle. They missed the message for the meal. Jesus says, “You seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).

They are seeking Jesus because they want a meal and He’s the kingly Moses-type figure who can give them bread. They cry out, quoting Psalm 78:24, “He gave them bread out of heaven to eat” (John 6:31). They think Moses gave the people bread, so Jesus, the Prophet like Moses, should give them bread. If He does, they will believe (John 6:30-31). In response, Jesus clears up their misreading of Psalm 78 and makes a radical shift in the way they should read the wilderness narrative.

Jesus explains that it was not Moses who gave them bread, but God (John 6:32; Psalm 78:21-24). And in the wilderness narrative, more than being Moses, Jesus is the bread from heaven. Jesus is the Manna rather than the Moses. In order to have life, they need the true, God-given source of life which comes from Heaven. Moses did not give them life, God gave them life by sending something from Heaven. Rather than coming to the manna to eat, they need to come to Jesus to believe. Jesus wants them to come to Him, for, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35)

To John, that’s what it meant when Jesus fed the 5000. To John that’s what it meant when God gave manna from heaven. The bread/manna is a symbol and extension of Jesus Himself. This sign illustrates the necessity of believing in Jesus unto eternal life, the necessity of Jesus for life and sustenance. Rather than manna, Jesus is the way that God gives life to the world.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #12. Healing at Bethesda

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In our last post we observed that Jesus finally made his way home from the Passover (John 2:13; 4:43-45). After a wedding feast in Galilee (John 2:1, 11), Jesus took a trip up (up in elevation, but south on a map) to Jerusalem for Passover, then He came back up to Galilee through Samaria. Throughout this journey Jesus made a significant impact in Jerusalem (John 2:23), Samaria (John 4:39-42), and Galilee (John 4:43-45, 53-54).  His signs and people’s testimonies have been causing large numbers to believe in Him.

And He can’t stop now. There is no time to rest. John immediately moves to Jesus’ next journey back to Jerusalem. Another feast was about to take place so again “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 5:1). Upon entering the city, He meets a man who “had been ill for 38 years” (John 5:5). This man spends his time by a pool of water with the “sick, blind, lame, and withered” (John 5:3). He’s an outcast with no social status. Basically, he is the exact opposite of the last guy Jesus just met (John 4:46-54). Jesus had just been in Galilee with a royal official and now He is in Jerusalem with the outcasts of society. Yet another example that Jesus cares for all.

But this man believed he could be healed. He had hope in something, but unlike the royal official, that hope was not Jesus. His hope was to lay by a mystical pool of water. The pool of Bethesda was believed to have mystical healing powers, which is why so many in need of healing surrounded it. Thus, it’s an excellent location for Jesus to visit. It’s an excellent location for His next sign.

The ill man wants to be made well, but complains, “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (John 5:7). Basically, this guy has been at a stop sign at a busy intersection for 38 years. Someone keeps pulling out in front of him and he can’t go. Every single time the water is stirred up, he tries to get in, but someone beats him to it.

You may be wondering, “What in the world is he talking about?”  This whole story is bizarre. What does he mean by the water being “stirred up” (John 5:7)?  Why does he need to get in first? Why does he believe this water will heal him? There’s an interesting history to this pool which might help explain some of these details and why it’s so important that Jesus healed him without using this water. Prior to the 19th century, it was doubted by some that this pool even existed because nothing like was known. Then, as so often happens, archeology did its thing and a pool matching this description was discovered. We now know where it is and you can visit it today if you find yourself in Jerusalem. Or you can just google a photo of it.

The mystical healing powers of this pool were at first believed to come from the gods of Greek mythology. The son of Apollo, Asclepius, was the god of medicine and healing. This pool was at one time dedicated to him as a place of healing, probably by an occupying Roman garrison. It had pagan roots, and while Jews would have rejected the paganism associated with the water, some maintained the idea of its mystical healing power.

There’s a textual variant which is not original to the Gospel of John (although it’s maintained in the King James and New King James Version and bracketed in the NASB) which attributes the healing power to an angel which stirred the water (John 5:3b-4). This variant shows an attempt to make the healing power of this pool consistent with Judaism by attributing it to an angel rather than a god. I think this misses the point though. The pool is to be seen as a place of false hope and Jesus is contrasted as the only source of true hope.

He spent most of his life with an illness that couldn’t be cured. Upon seeing him, Jesus asks, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:6). The answer might seem obvious, but perhaps it isn’t. The healing that Jesus offers is an amazing blessing, but not everyone is interested. Some might grow comfortable by the pool of water, putting false hope in a healing they can never truly receive. After the man explains that he has no one to help put him in the water (perhaps hoping that Jesus will stick around and be that helper), Jesus says, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). Jesus entirely ignores the statement about the water and heals him anyway. Jesus heals him without the aid of mystical waters or pagan beliefs.

Then, like always, a problem arises. The man picks up his pallet and begins to walk, but it’s the Sabbath. You’re not supposed to carry stuff on the Sabbath. As the Jews rebuke him they ask who healed him. Incredibly, John tells us, “But the man who was healed did not know who it was” (John 5:13). What a remarkable thing to say! What a remarkable contrast with the royal official in John 4:46-54. The royal official heard of Jesus, sought Him out, and believed. This man had never heard of Jesus, did not seek Him out, and was healed without believing. He was still complaining about the water when Jesus healed him. And he didn’t even know who Jesus was! His hope was in the pool when it should have been in the stranger standing right in front of him.

Later in the story, this man meets up with Jesus in the temple. Jesus tells him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14). Jesus likens this man’s physical illness with a spiritual illness. Perhaps in this we see the point of the sign. Jesus embodies His Father as the Forgiver of sins and spiritual Healer. So many long to be made well, but so few seek the proper source. This man put his hope in mysticism instead of Jesus. He was talking with Jesus and had no idea that this stranger could be his solution.

Maybe we would all benefit from opening our eyes and trying to see how Jesus could be our solution. Maybe we would all benefit from asking ourselves the question, “Do you wish to be made well?” Then go to the Source of all healing. Not Asclepius, not an angel who stirs up the water, not wealth, alcohol, or mindless entertainment, but the working and active Son of God (John 5:17). This man soon learned and reported “that it was Jesus who had made him well” (John 5:15). Hopefully, we all can say the same thing.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #11. Healing the Royal Official’s Son

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John 4:46-54 contains the incredible account of Jesus healing the son of a royal official in Galilee. This is the third in a series of exchanges that Jesus has with various characters. John 2:24-25 makes an important claim about Jesus: “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man.” Immediately following that verse, Jesus proves that He knows all men by a series of interactions.

Jesus Knew All Men:

The first is a well-respected man, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin Court (John 3:1). Then Jesus meets the polar opposite; a poor, sinful, and disgraced Samaritan woman (John 4:7). An honorable, probably wealthy, male Jewish leader VS a probably poor, female Samaritan of ill-repute. You cannot find two more opposite people. Yet Jesus knows both, talks with both, and leads both closer to Him.

The third interaction is with a royal official in Galilee (John 4:46), who we will spend this post talking about. But immediately afterwards, Jesus meets up with a man who spends his time lying by a pool in Jerusalem with the “sick, blind, lame, and withered” (John 5:3), he had been ill for 38 years and was a social outcast (John 5:5). He is quite the opposite of the royal official in Galilee. Yet again, Jesus knows these people, He knows what’s in them. No one is beneath Him and no one is above Him. No matter who He meets, He responds perfectly because “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

Jesus Enters Cana of Galilee:

The reason for focusing of the third of these interactions, the royal official, is because this is the next “sign” in John’s collection. John gives a list of carefully selected signs in hopes of bringing people to believe (John 20:30-31). This event is counted as “a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee” (John 4:54). Upon experiencing this sign, the royal official “believed and his whole household” (John 4:53). I think John hopes that we will too.

This account begins with Jesus entering Cana of Galilee (John 4:46). This should immediately remind you of Jesus’ first sign in Cana, turning water into wine (John 2:11). To ensure you don’t miss it, John says, “He came again to Cana of Galilee (where He had made the water wine)” (John 4:46). This is intentional. You are supposed to read this account with the sign at the wedding feast in mind. Both of these signs are in Cana, both produce belief, and both tell us something about Jesus.

Once in Cana, Jesus meets a royal official. This official had heard of Jesus. In fact, many of “the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast” (John 2:45). The “feast” is the Passover that Jesus went to right after turning water into wine (John 2:12-13).  While there, He cleansed the temple, performed many signs (John 2:23), and met Nicodemus (John 3:1). On His way back to Galilee, He interacted with a woman in Samaria (John 4:7). Now He is back in Galilee and reports have spread about His signs. This royal official is in desperate need of one of them, so He comes to Jesus, leaving behind a dying son about 15 miles away in Capernaum.

What did Jesus Do?

So, let’s examine the actions that make up this sign, and then ask the question, “What does this sign mean?” What Jesus did is quite remarkable. He sent a miracle 15 miles away to the city of Capernaum to a deathbed with precision accuracy. This sign transcends time and space. The official wanted Jesus to go back with him to Capernaum but Jesus refused. Jesus told him to go back home alone (John 2:49-40). He simply said, “Go; your son lives” (John 4:50). That would be extremely hard to do.  Your son is dying, you know Jesus can heal, you travel all the way to Him to bring Him to your son, but He doesn’t come. He gives you just a few words, possibly a few seconds, and sends you back.

Imagine turning around and walking home, empty-handed, by yourself. Why did the official do this? Why didn’t he stay and beg Jesus to come with him? Because “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him” (John 4:50). He believed the word, even though he hadn’t seen the sign yet. This is the opposite of what Jesus has just told him, “Unless you (pl.) see signs and wonders, you (pl.) will not believe” (John 4:48). Jesus is giving him a test. Can you believe, unlike so many others, without seeing?

So the official heads to his son. The next day he is greeted by some slaves who tell him the great news that his son is alive and well. So he asks what time His son recovered, and lo and behold, it was the exact moment that Jesus uttered the words, “Your son lives.” Thus, the official and his whole household believe. This was the second sign Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.

What does it Mean?

Now, I can’t help but think that the true spiritual meaning lies in the fact that this sign was believed, but not seen. The Galileans were willing to receive Jesus because they saw His signs in Jerusalem (John 4:45). Either this official heard their testimonies, or was in Jerusalem, but he believed Jesus could heal His son. That belief led him both to walk to Jesus, and to walk away from Jesus, trusting His words.  He did not see his son healed. He didn’t witness Jesus touch him, hold his hand, or raise him up. But he believed the testimonies about Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the evidence that came later.

This is the way that all the readers of John are asked to believe in Jesus. Some were told they will see great things (John 1:50). Some saw the glory of Jesus made manifest (like the first time He was in Cana, John 2:11). Some, like Thomas, had the benefit of seeing the resurrected Lord (John 20:27-28). Some will only believe if they see signs (John 4:48). But Jesus wants us, you and me, to believe based on what we haven’t seen. Believe the testimonies about Him. Believe what we read. Believe in what we will see one day. Remembering, “Blessed are they who did not see, but yet believed” (John 20:29).

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #10. Jesus as the Temple

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Last week we examined that odd scene in John 2 where Jesus visits Jerusalem for Passover and enters the temple and starts flipping tables and driving everybody out and stopping all the buying and selling that was common in the Jerusalem temple. After this dramatic demonstration, Jesus explains His actions by saying, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’” (John 2:19-20). That’s where the conversation ends. It is ambiguous and the Jews leave without understanding. The author, however, fills the reader (us) in on the hidden true meaning behind Jesus’ words. We are told, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

It is that explanatory note that we will investigate in this post. What is meant by “the temple of His body”? In what way is Jesus’ body analogous to the Jerusalem temple? In building up to this question it is helpful to start back at the beginning of John, because there have already been a few hints leading us to this conclusion before you even get to this scene in chapter 2.

Going all the way back to the first verses of chapter 1, John begins with a creation account. The first words in the Gospel are, “In the beginning” (John 1:1). This should immediately take you back to Genesis 1, which begins with these exact same words. Genesis 1 opens by telling you about creation, and John does the same thing: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Genesis 1 tells you on the first day God said, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4). Genesis has the coming of light and the separation of light and darkness. John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). These strong parallels tell us that John is writing with the Genesis creation account in mind. He is retelling the creation story Christologically, that is, reading it through the lens of Jesus.

John can’t read Genesis 1 the way He used to. He can’t read it the same way as before He met Jesus. He now sees Jesus through the entire creation event. Only, he also notes a very serious problem: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).  The darkness of the world rejected the Light which came from God. This Light is also referred to as the Logos, the “Word.” In the beginning this Word and Light was One with God acting together in creation.

The story takes a very interesting turn in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There are two words in this verse that strongly imply this is meant to be taken as a Temple description. The first is the word “Dwell.” The One who created heaven and earth has come to dwell among men. Where does God dwell among men? He did in the Garden of Eden. He did in the tabernacle/temple. And He did in the flesh of Jesus. Creation, temple, and the incarnation are all coming together in this verse. In fact the word “dwell” is not the usual Greek word for “dwell” in the New Testament. It literally means, “tabernacled” (See the same word in Revelation 7:15 and 21:3). It is the verb form of the noun “tabernacle.” When God instructs the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle, He begins by saying, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them…the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:8, 9).

Secondly, the word “tabernacled” is coupled with the word “glory.” When He tabernacled among men, we beheld His “glory.” The glory of God was seen in His temple. Remember the depressing account in Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:23 of the glory of God slowing departing from the Jerusalem temple? That was in preparation for the temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians. But the dwelling of God was supposed to contain God’s glory. When the temple is reconstructed in the days of Zerubbabel, God encouraged and promised, “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9). John 1:14 pictures Jesus as the new tabernacle/temple of God who shines forth His glory.

This identification is hinted at further in John 1:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This passage clearly has references to Genesis 28:12 where Jacob rests his head on a rock and dreams of a ladder going up into heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. That ladder was the connection between heaven and earth, between God and Men. Jesus, the Son of Man, claims to be that ladder. In the Genesis story, Jacob wakes up and comes to a realization. The place he was resting is “none other than the house of God, and this the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). He then names the place Bethel, which literally means “House of God.”

The Temple is the house of God. It is God’s dwelling place and the meeting place between God and man. It is like that ladder going from earth to heaven. And Jesus has taken the role of the temple for Himself. That’s why it is not surprising when John tells us, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21). To the careful reader, these dots have already begun to connect. Instead of going to the temple to find God, go to Jesus. Instead of going to the temple to find the Passover lamb or forgiveness, go to Jesus. Don’t go to the temple to find the glory of God, go to Jesus. Jesus, as the eternal Divine Word become flesh, has become meeting place of God and man and the dwelling place of God on earth.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #9 Cleansing the Temple

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Prophets often did strange things to demonstrate God’s Word. Jesus continues this tradition when He enters the temple in John 2. Jesus entered Jerusalem because “the Passover of the Jews was near” (John 2:13). This is the first of three Passovers (John 6:4; 11:55) in the Gospel of John (which is why we say Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years). In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Jesus cleanses the temple also, but John’s telling is unique.  For instance, in the Synoptics, Jesus cleanses the temple as one of His final acts in Jerusalem leading to His arrest and crucifixion. In John, however, He cleanses the temple right at the beginning of His ministry. This placement is theologically motivated. I think it’s supposed to tell us something rather important about Jesus. Something that John wants you to know right from the start, to be kept in the reader’s mind throughout the rest of the Gospel.

Another unique feature of John’s account of Jesus cleansing the temple is the symbolic way that Jesus interprets His actions. Right after Jesus drives everyone out the temple He is asked to explain Himself. This also happens in the Synoptics (Mark 11:28; Matthew 21:23; Luke 20:2). In John, however, His answer is quite different. The question is also slightly different. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all portray the question as “By what authority are you doing these things?” But John has particular interest in “signs,” so notice how the question is asked: “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (John 2:18). At least that’s how the NASB translates it. The word “authority” (ἐξουσίᾳ), while in the Synoptics, is not actually in John. The question is simply: (τί σημεῖον δεικνύεις ἡμῖν ὅτι ταῦτα ποιεῖς;) “What sign do you show us because you do these things?”

Now that question could be taken one of two ways. First, as the NASB thinks, it could be: “What sign will you now show us to prove that you had the authority to cleanse the temple?” Or, the question could be more like this: “What sign are we supposed to see from you cleansing the temple?” When a prophet would do some extravagant demonstration like this, there is supposed to be a meaning attached to it. What is the sign of cleaning the temple? What does it mean? To take the question this way, which I think is probably correct, means that cleansing the temple was itself a sign, though non-miraculous, and Jesus is now going to explain the spiritual meaning of it.

Here is Jesus answer: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).The Jews respond in the typical manner. By typical, I mean the way everyone always responds to Jesus, they will miss the spiritual point and get lost in the physical details.  They snort back incredulously, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20).  This is when John lets the reader in on Jesus’ true meaning. He clarifies the confusion for us, saying, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

So what does this all mean? Jesus cleansed the temple as a sign. When Jesus says, “Destroy this temple” He actually means, “destroy My body.” And when He says, “in three days I will raise it up,” He is not talking about constructing a new temple, but His resurrection. In this way, the destruction of Jesus’ body parallels the destruction of the temple (which took place in AD 70).  And while Jesus was raised from the dead three days later, I think the implication may be that the temple will be raised also. Perhaps the temple will live on, be raised, as the “body of Christ,” or the church. A common New Testament picture of the church, the body of Christ, shows it is how God’s temple now lives on (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Perhaps then, the “sign” of Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2 is that Jesus will be killed and raised, paralleling that the temple will be destroyed and raised up in His body, the church. The problem with this “sign” though, is that you don’t actually get to see or understand its meaning until after the resurrection. While He is speaking the Jews miss His meaning, but the disciples miss the meaning also. At least, they don’t understand it yet. But, “when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this: and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).

The resurrection of Jesus caused the disciples to look back on this event. They looked back and remembered this conversation and it led them to “believe” (The sign led them to believe, remember John 20:30-31?). But what’s interesting is that His disciples believed “the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). What Scripture did they believe? I think the answer is back in John 2:17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me’” (John 2:17; Psalm 69:9).

All of the sudden, after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples believed that Psalm 69:9 is about Jesus. Notice, by the way, the entire verse: “For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9; Romans 15:3). After the resurrection this Psalm became a key Messianic Psalm. Note Romans 15:3 which also applies this verse to Jesus. In fact, the entire Psalm came to be read about Jesus. Each of these New Testament passages applies parts of Psalm 69 to Jesus: John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28-29 (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36) Romans 11:9-10; 15:3; Acts 1:20. The cleansing of the temple is what opened this passage up to Messianic interpretation.

The cleansing of the temple, coupled with the death and resurrection of Jesus, was a sign that the temple would live on as Jesus’ body in the church. It also opened the disciple’s eyes to believe and to see Jesus throughout Psalm 69, to read it in a new light. Perhaps, it also caused the disciples to read other Old Testament passages about the temple differently, since Jesus links His body to the temple. The temple was seen as God’s dwelling on earth, but Jesus is the truest form of God dwelling on earth. Our next post will examine how Jesus is repeatedly pictured as God’s temple in John.

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