FLESH AND BLOOD – John 6:51-59

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INTRODUCTION:

“THIS IS A TEST.  THIS IS ONLY A TEST.”  Have you heard those words before? Those words are a warning to all who are listening and watching, telling them that this is only a practice session, and informing them that, if this was an actual alert, instructions would be given to prepare each person for what was about to happen.  As you listened to those words, were you trusting that the one who was speaking them was telling you the truth, and was speaking with authority?

Author C.S. Lewis made the following statement concerning belief and authority.  He said, “Believing things ‘on authority’ only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.  Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority.  I believe there is such a place as New York.  I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place.  I believe it because reliable people have told me so..  The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority – because the scientists say so.  Every historical statement is believed on authority.  None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority.  A person who balked at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Since the very beginning of His ministry, the Lord Jesus has been speaking with authority, and this authority has been attested to by John the Baptist, by the voice of the Father from heaven at His baptism, and by the miracles He has performed.  Let’s see how the Jewish leaders and the crowd respond when Jesus’ words seem offensive, and they don’t understand what He means by what He is saying.

TRANSITION:

Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum, and He’s been telling the people in the synagogue that He is “the bread of life”, and that whoever eats of this bread will not die but will live forever.  The crowd is taking His words literally, thinking that He is talking about physical bread.  They are bewildered by His words because they don’t understand how this can be physically possible.

I.  REPETITION AND ADDITION (verse 51)

In chapter 6, verse 51 of John’s gospel, Jesus repeats this statement about Himself, but this time He adds a trailer at the end of it.  He says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Notice that Jesus did not say “my body”, but “my flesh”.  The Greek word is “sarx”, and Jesus is going to use that word six more times before this conversation is over.  As the saying goes, the Lord Jesus has “opened a can of worms” and there is going to be a repulsive reaction from the crowd.  Get ready for some negative repercussions!

II.  THE RESPONSE (verse 52)

How did the people react to those words?  Verse 52 says, “The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”   They must have thought that Jesus was talking about some form of cannibalism.  The Greek word translated “argue” literally means to “fight” or “quarrel”.  They are “fighting mad” and are taking out their anger on each other in the presence of Jesus.  Notice the words they use to refer to Jesus, calling Him “this man”.  After all the things that Jesus has said and done so far in His public ministry, they refuse to consider Him to be anymore than just a man.  They’ve shut their eyes and closed their ears and their minds to everything they have seen and heard.  Ironically, many of those present didn’t close their mouths to the free food that was miraculous provided for them on the previous day!

I used to wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus tell them He wasn’t speaking literally but figuratively, and then explain to them what He meant by those words?  I now think that a more appropriate question is, “Why didn’t they ask Jesus to explain to them what He meant?”  The answer to both of those questions is the same:  the crowd didn’t want an explanation.  What they were looking for was an excuse and an opportunity to kill Him.  As John 5:18 says, “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill Him . . .”.  Maybe that’s why they were arguing so vehemently with each other – they may have been fighting about how they were going to kill Him and who was going to do it. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that those thoughts were in their minds.

The crowd may have missed the words “for the life of the world” because of the shocking words that preceded them.  Jesus was saying that what He was offering them wasn’t for the Jews only, but for everyone.  As the apostle John says of Jesus in I John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

III,  EATING AND DRINKING – FLESH AND BLOOD (verses 53-58)

Rather than calming the angry crowd, Jesus makes a series of statements that are even more repulsive to His audience.  He begins by saying, in verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”   In John’s gospel, we find that Jesus often uses the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He does so, not because He is telling the truth in this case, but because He is letting His listeners know that He has firsthand knowledge of what He is about to say, and therefore is speaking with authority.  He is also implying that they should, therefore, pay close attention to what He is saying.because it is very important information that applies to them. 

When Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood”, what did He mean by those words?  Why did He say them?  There is a tendency to look for similarities between Jesus’ words to this crowd and the words He said to His disciples at the Last Supper.  But Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) in this conversation here in John 6.  He did not intend His statement to be taken literally.  He is using an analogy to communicate spiritual truths in the context of what they have already been talking about.  This is one of the many times in John’s gospel where Jesus uses symbolism to communicate spiritual lessons.  We have already studied Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus compared the wind that was blowing that evening to the Holy Spirit, and told Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.   In His conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus compared the water in the well to the living water He would give her, and if she drank from it, she would never thirst again but would have everlasting life.  So what does Jesus have in mind on this particular occasion?

Here in verses 53-58, as the Lord Jesus uses those words several times with some alterations, get ready for a history lesson, a principle of philosophy, and another short course in Greek grammar in order to understand what He really means by those statements.  Firstly, the differences between His words spoken here and those spoken much later at the last supper are much greater and more numerous than any possible similarities. 

   A.  A HISTORY LESSON

When the Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (the Passover feast) with His disciples, He did not say “This is my flesh”,  He said, “This is my body.  He also did not say, “This is my blood”.  Rather, He said “This is the new covenant in my blood”Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’.”  The focus of His attention is on the cup and the new covenant.  The Lord’s Supper (Communion) is not a sacrifice but a remembrance.  The apostle Paul addresses this issue to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 11 because of misunderstandings concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Some members of the church at Corinth, along with many in churches today, mistakenly thought (or think) that eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Table is essential for salvation, and that all who do so are guaranteed salvation.  The apostle Paul quotes those words said by Jesus, and then, in verse 26, he summarizes by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Rather than being a source of salvation, the Lord’s Supper is not only a remembrance, but also a proclamation. 

Looking again at the context of Jesus’ words on the way to the synagogue and in the synagogue, Jesus uses this analogy of flesh and blood because that was the initial subject of the conversation.  He was comparing Himself to the manna which their forefathers ate after fleeing from Egypt.  The Jews listening to Jesus took pride in the manna, considering it to be heavenly food which extended one’s lifespan, and asked Jesus to give them a sign like the manna.  Jesus addressed this belief of theirs by saying that He is the living bread.  He is greater than the manna because the life He offers lasts forever.

Rather than look ahead to the Last Supper to find a reason for Jesus’ words, it would be better to look back in history to the night when the first Passover was celebrated.  Before the manna, there was the Passover meal.  Before God sustained His people with the manna, He saved them from their bondage in Egypt.  In order for this salvation to occur, a price had to be paid:  death for life.  In Exodus 12, each household of the sons of Israel was told to slaughter a lamb, roast its flesh and eat it along with unleavened bread and put the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their home.  When the death angel passed through Egypt that night, wherever he saw that blood he would “pass over” that house and the firstborn would be spared from death.  The people of Israel would also be delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt, and God would lead them to the land He had promised them and give them a new life there.  So the flesh and blood of the lambs were the instruments used by God to bring salvation, deliverance, and a new life for His people as they believed and obeyed the word of the Lord given to them through Moses.  I believe that the original Passover was the Old Testament event that Jesus may have had in mind as a basis for comparison when He spoke of eternal life and deliverance through His flesh and blood.

B.  A PRINCIPLE OF PHILOSOPHY

A second evidence that Jesus was referring to salvation comes from one of the branches of philosophy called logic.  It is the science of evaluating arguments and determining sound reasoning.  A fundamental law of reasoning is the following:  “Two concepts which are equal to a third concept are also equal to each other.”  That sounds logical, doesn’t it?  Let’s see what Jesus is saying in verses 53-58 and then add up the results that come from the “eating” and “drinking”:  1)  If you don’t do so, “you have no life in yourselves” (verse 53).  So Jesus’ command is absolutely essential for eternal life.  2)  He “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (verse 54).  It’s a guarantee of eternal life and physical resurrection.  3)  He abides in Me and I in him” (verse 56).  Jesus speaks of an eternal relationship with Himself.  4)  “he shall live because of Me” (verse 57).  Jesus is saying that He is the source of that life.  5)  “he . . shall live forever” (verse 58).  Once again, the result of doing so is eternal life.

In each of His statements, Jesus is equating “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” to having eternal life as a result, correct?  If we look ahead to verse 63, we find that Jesus says, ” . . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  Jesus is telling His disciples afterward that he was speaking to the crowd in the synagogue about spiritual things and was not to be taken literally.

Now let’s compare Jesus’ words in verses 53-58 with other statements He made recently on the topic of eternal life.  Several times the Lord Jesus has spoken clearly about eternal life and what was necessary on man’s part in order to receive it.  In His discussion with Nicodemus, He began to speak clearly and literally in John 3:14-16, where He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The only other recourse given is that of perishing.

Later, in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  The only other option given is “judgment”.

Now, in the middle of this present conversation with the Jews, Jesus says, in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

As you can see from these three statements made by Jesus, eternal life results only from believing,  The logical conclusion, then, is that “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” is the same as believing in Him, with an emphasis on His atoning work, since both concepts have the same result.

C.  A LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR  (verse 53)

As you probably know, the Gospel of John, together with all the other books of the New Testament, was written in Greek.  The English language, in this particular passage of Scripture, does not communicate the tense of certain verbs as clearly as the original Greek text because there are more tenses to Greek verbs than there are in English.    In verse 53, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  Those two verbs (“eat” and “drink”) are in the aorist tense, denoting a one-time action.  It is not continued or repeated, but is a once-and-for-all event.  In passages of Scripture such as John 6;29, where Jesus asks people to believe in Him for eternal life, or tells them that they do not believe, the aorist tense is used also.  This is another proof that the words, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” are equivalent to saving faith because they are both once-for-all events, using the same tense of the verbs.

D.  A SECOND LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR (verses 54-58)

This second lesson is a new insight for me.  Below is the New International Version translation of verses 54-58:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate manna and died,
but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The words “eats”, “drinks”, and “feeds” are verbs in this English translation, but in the original Greek text they are not verbs, but participles.  You may be thinking, “Would you refresh my memory?  Just what is a participle and what does it do?”  I will be glad to do so, having just refreshed my own memory!  Participles are verb-forms ending in “ing” which have the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective.  To demonstrate that definition, let me write out for you verses 54-58 again, only this time you will see those verbs changed to participles.  The words that I’ve enclosed in parentheses are implied in the Greek text.

The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the (one) feeding on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate the manna and died,
but the (one) eating this bread will live forever.

Does reading that literal translation give you a change of perspective?  It did for me. The present participles put the emphasis on the believer rather than on believing.  Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a one-for-all event, demonstrated by the use of the Greek aorist tense.  Once a person takes that step of repentance, faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ, thereby becoming a Christian, a life-long process begins (as demonstrated by the use of the present-participles).  It’s called the “doctrine of sanctification”.  This process includes growing in our relationship to the Lord through spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, as well as through the fellowship with other believers.  As verse 56 says, “(The believer) remains in me, and I in him.”).  There is a closeness to God that becomes closer, and a fellowship with God that becomes deeper as the believer spends time with Him.  It’s the abiding relationship that Jesus will later describe in John 15.  There is also a deepening dependence upon God as the believer seeks to obey God, serve Him, and be a witness for Him.  It’s the Father’s desire, and it should be our goal, to become more and more like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So verses 51-53 focus on the beginning of spiritual life – how a person becomes a believer, and verses 54-58 describe the believer’s spiritual growth until the day when God calls him home to be in His presence and enjoy Him for eternity.  The once-for-all event of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, evidenced by genuine repentance for our sins and the surrender of our lives to His Lordship, then becomes a moment-to-moment fellowship with God, and obedience to our heavenly Father as His adopted children.  When this life is over we will see God face-to-face and enjoy His presence and His love for eternity in heaven.  Those are the three aspects of the doctrine of salvation:  justification (the one-time event),  followed by sanctification (the process of spiritual growth as His children), followed by glorification (with God for eternity in heaven).

IV.  POINT OF REFERENCE (verse 59)

The apostle John ends this conversation of Jesus by letting us know where it occurred.  We can’t say that this conversation didn’t happen because John documented it.  John writes, “He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”  Our responsibility. as readers and students of God’s Word, is not to discount this conversation or overlook it, but to understand its spiritual meaning and apply it’s principles to our lives.

CONCLUSION:

Where are you today in relation to this conversation between Jesus and the Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum?  Do you understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ?  Do you realize the price that Jesus, the Son of God and the Lamb of God, is going to pay to make that relationship with God possible?  Are you ready to commit yourself to follow the One who wants to give you a new, and an abundant life now, and eternal life with Him in heaven?  Whether you are ready or not, please read my “About Page” to understand what that decision involves and the Scriptures that declare it.

If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your life bears evidence to that decision, are you growing daily as a result of your fellowship with Him?  Are you enjoying His presence with you throughout your day, and learning to depend more and more on His strength and His faithfulness to supply your needs?  Is it becoming more and more obvious to those around you that your faith is real and your joy is infectious?  I hope so.  That’s just part of God’s desire for His children, as revealed in His Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Welcome to this completed construction site.  John 6:51-59 is a controversial passage of scripture with a number of viewpoints or interpretations.  There can only be one correct interpretation,  The Lord Jesus had a reason and motive for saying the things He said, and the apostle John was an eye-witness and wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

 

 

 

JESUS CHRIST: RESURRECTED, RESURRECTOR, AND JUDGE – John 5:26-29

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INTRODUCTION:

There is much we can learn from little children.  They are so eager to learn, and so straight-forward in their conversations with adults.  Here is a case in point.  It was Sunday morning and the church service was over.  A little girl had been taught about the second coming of Christ and was quizzing her mother.  “Mommy, do you believe Jesus will come back?”  “Yes”.  “Today?”  “Yes.”  “In a few minutes?”  “Yes, dear.”  “Mommy, would you comb my hair?”

That little girl thought her mother was paying close attention to what she was saying and was answering her clearly, so she wanted to look her best when she meets Jesus!  How about you?  Do you want to look your best when you meet Jesus?  That topic of conversation is appropriate to the passage of Scripture we are now studying:  John 5:26-29.  Jesus mentions five resurrections in verses 24-29 and we examined the first two, which the Lord Jesus described in verses 24-25.  The spiritual regeneration and resurrection of believers was described by Jesus in verse 24, and the physical resurrections from the dead by the words of Jesus are predicted in verse 25 and will be happening soon.  There are three more resurrections described by the Lord Jesus in the order of their occurrence.  Jesus is sharing that information as further proof to the Jews that He is the Son of God.  Let’s take a look at those resurrections, one-at-a-time.

I.  THE THIRD RESURRECTION:  HIS OWN (verse 26)

In verse 26 we find these words spoken by Jesus:  “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.”  You may wonder, “What does that verse have to do with the resurrection of Christ?”  “The word ‘resurrection’ isn’t even mentioned in that verse!”  That’s a good question!  Let’s see if we can find a satisfactory answer.  The Lord Jesus uses a similar expression in John 10:17-18.  “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I have received from My Father.” 

Putting these two passages of Scripture together, Jesus is saying that He always existed with the Father.  No one gave Him life because He has always had it, from all eternity.  Only God could say that truthfully.  Therefore only Jesus could lay down His life and take it back up again.  Warren Wiersbe puts it this way:  “Our life was derived, but His life is original.”  As John 1:4 says, “In Him was life”.  That’s why Jesus could say, in John 2:19, when the Jews asked for a sign after Jesus cleansed the temple, “Destroy this temple (His body), and in three day I will raise it up.”  

We have looked at Scripture passages which seem to point to the fact that Jesus raised Himself from the dead by His own power.  But the question, “Who raised Jesus Christ from the dead”, hasn’t been completely answered yet.  There are other passages of Scripture which seem to disagree with that conclusion.  Let’s take a look at some of those other Scriptures and see if we can resolve the issue once we get a good look at it.

Acts 10:40 says, “God raised Him on the third day”.  In Romans 6:4, the apostle Paul says, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father”.  In Romans 8:11, Paul says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dwells in you . . . “.  So who raised Jesus from the dead?  Was it God, the Father, the Holy Spirit, or Christ Himself?

You may disagree with the next statement, but keep reading.  God is not a Person.  God is a title that is given to the divine nature or essence.  So when the term “God” is used, it represents all three Persons in the divine essence:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  That helps us understand Acts 10:40, which says that “God raised Him”, but what about the Scriptures that speak specifically of the Father and the Spirit raising Jesus from the dead?  I’m convinced that it was a cooperative effort, and the apostle John wanted to make that clear.

This is not the first time that all three Persons in the Trinity are mentioned.  I’ve found that each of the three members of the Trinity is mentioned in every “major event” in history (from God’s perspective).  Creation was the first “major event”, and all three are mentioned as participating (Genesis 1:2; 1:26; John 1:3).  The words spoken by God, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness“, tell us that God wants us to know, right from the beginning of the Scriptures, that He is a plurality.  The Jews knew that;  one of the Hebrew words for God in the Old Testament Scriptures is the word “Elohim” which is plural.  The second “main event” was the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  Luke 1:35 says, “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you.”  Jesus was the “Seed of the Woman” Who was implanted in Mary’s womb (Genesis 3:17).  I think that God wanted those particular words to be spoken to Mary so that she would know that this was the true and living God who was going to accomplish this miracle in her.  The third “main event” was the baptism of Jesus, which marked the beginning of His public ministry.  It’s recorded in all four gospels.  Together with Jesus was the “voice of the Father, and the Holy Spirit descending as a Dove and resting upon Him.”  Can you imagine what that scene must have looked like.  The heavens opened up, causing everyone to look up into the sky.  What they see is a dove descending out of heaven and they hear a booming voice say, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).  The fourth “main event” is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as we have already seen.  His resurrection was so irrefutably true that the elders and the chief priests of the Jews gave a large sum of money to the guards and said, “you are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep’ ” (Matthew 28:11-15).  In each of those major events in the Scriptures, God wanted it to be known that the God of heaven and earth is a Trinity composed of three distinct Persons:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

II.  THE FOURTH RESURRECTION:  TO ETERNAL LIFE (verses 27-29a)

In verse 27, Jesus says of God the Father, “and He gave Him (Jesus) authority to exercise judgment, because He is the Son of Man.”  He’s telling the Jews that He has been given the authority to judge all men, and it’s based on the claim that He is the “Son of Man”.  Evangelist Billy Sunday said in one of his sermons, “There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I’ll take his word for it!  The Jews knew very well what Jesus was saying about Himself when He used the name “Son of Man”.  The prophet Daniel used those words in Daniel 7:13-14 as he was describing visions He had.

“I kept looking at the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like the Son of Man was coming
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

The Jews listening to Jesus’ words knew that He was again claiming to be the Messiah.  If His claim was true, then He had the right and the authority to judge the world.

Having made that claim again, the Lord Jesus continues, in verses 28-29, to describe the events and judgments that are going to take place in the future by the voice of His mouth.  In verse 28 He says, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice”.  Notice that Jesus begins with a caution or a warning:  “Do not marvel at this”, as if its too amazing and far-fetched to be true.  Think of all the amazing things God has done in the past.  Jesus is speaking in the third-person, using the words “He” and “Him” instead of “I” and “Me”.  He wants their focus to be on the word “Messiah” and what the prophets have declared about Him and His reign as King and Judge of all the earth.

Then Jesus does say something amazing:  “all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice.”  The dead can’t hear!  They can when Jesus calls them!  He’s going to be proving that claim very soon, only on a much smaller scale:  one-at-a-time.  But right now He’s talking about millions at one time.  There are many today, and there have been many throughout the ages, who have chosen to believe that death is the end of one’s existence.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “ALL DRESSED UP AND NO PLACE TO GO”.  That saying is sometimes found on tombstones.  But the Lord Jesus tells us that death is not a dead-end street.  Rather, it is a fork in the road.  Jesus is going to tell us about the two roads that split-off and continue in opposite directions forever after the road of this mortal-life ends.  So we do have “some place to go” – every one of us!

I’m going to call the first road “The Narrow Road” because, sadly, there are so few who follow it.  This road or path often has much more than a “one-percent grade”, but if you ask any hiker, it can be a joyful and exhilarating experience if you bring along the right equipment, wear the proper clothing, have some fellow-hikers with you, and follow the rules.  You’ll even build up some “spiritual muscles” along the way!  And don’t forget to enjoy the scenery along the way, and give praise and glory to the One who created it!

The first half of verse 29 gives us a brief description of where this trail leads for the devoted followers of Jesus Christ:  “those who did the good deeds to the resurrection of life.” .  That phrase standing alone may seem to say that “good deeds” are what get us into heaven.  From the context, Jesus is saying that genuine repentance and faith in Him is going to result in a changed life, and the “good deeds” are the observable evidence of that changed life.  If a person is a genuine believer, it should be obvious to the world around him.  This “resurrection of life” is the resurrection of Christians and saints of the Old Testament to eternal life with no more death (Revelation 21:4).  I Thessalonians 4:16-17 describes the scene.  “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  That is a description of the next event on the prophetic calendar.  It’s referred to as the Rapture and it could happen at any moment.  All believers will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ, where each of our lives will be completely reviewed (II Corinthians 5:10), and rewards will be given for faithful service.  My understanding of the “judgment seat of Christ” is that it is going to be “play-back time” for each of us believers.  We are each going to be watching a re-run of our lives, and you know how you hate to watch re-runs on TV!  Every thought, word, action, and attitude, whether good or bad, will pass before our eyes or in our minds before any rewards are given.  We’ll consider that in more detail at the conclusion of this message.

III.  THE FIFTH RESURRECTION:  TO ETERNAL CONDEMNATION

The fifth and final resurrection will be the resurrection to condemnation.  A father and his son were reading epitaphs on some of the gravestones in a cemetery.  Every description seemed to indicate that the deceased person was in a state of bliss.  After a while, the boy asked, “Daddy, where are all the wicked people buried?”

The child had a point.  There are many who have lived their lives in a way that is evil in the sight of God, and have refused to acknowledge their sins, and commit their lives to Jesus Christ by faith.  Many enjoy their immorality and even boast of it, defying God.  They live as if they don’t realize that there is an occupation many perform here on earth that is also practiced in heaven – accounting!  At the end of verse 29, the Lord Jesus tells His listeners, “those who committed the evil deeds to the resurrection of judgment.” 

You may be wondering:  “Where are all the unbelieving dead residing until the resurrection of judgment”?  Their souls are not in hell.  II Peter 2:4 says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment”.  The word “hell” is the Greek word tartarus, and this is the only place it is found in the New Testament.  II Peter 2:9 says, The Lord knows how to . . . keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.”   In Luke 16:23, Jesus refers to this place as “hades”, and it is a place of torment.  That’s where they are residing before the resurrection to judgment.  

Billions of unrepentant, unregenerate sinners from all of mankind throughout human history will be standing before the Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be condemned to the lake of fire.  You can find the description of the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15.  Verse 15 says,  “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  You have never watched a horror movie that’s worse than the description given in those verses.  Matthew 25:45 and II Thessalonians 1:8-9 tell us that it is an everlasting punishment.  The prophet Amos gave the people of his day a warning when he said, “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).

Are you prepared to meet God?  Please don’t put aside or put off choosing to make the Lord Jesus Christ the Lord of your life.  Consider the risks you are taking.  You could die at any moment and the Lord could come at any moment.  In either case, it will be too late to change your mind.  There are no second-chances and no loopholes.

Warren Wiersbe tells about a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy.  Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon.  The child who was saved grew up to be a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime.  The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who had saved his life, so he pled for mercy on the basis of that experience.  But the words from the bench silenced his plea:  “Young man, then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged.”

Today, Jesus Christ wants to be your Lord and Savior if you will repent of your sins and turn your life over to His control.  He gave His life in order to make that possible.  Don’t put it off until you stand before Him as Judge and hear the words, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!”

If you would like to read a presentation of the Gospel message given in the Scriptures, please click the following link provided by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc.:  https://peacewithgod.net/steps-to-peace-with-god.

Fellow Christians, in view of the coming judgment seat of Christ that awaits us, and the great white throne judgment that’s ahead for unbelievers, what should be our attitude and our focus?

I personally believe that the judgment seat of Christ should be a source of rejoicing and encouragement among believers.  The Syriac expression, “maranatha” (“our Lord comes”) was used as a greeting in the early church. When believers  gathered or parted, they didn’t say “hello” or “goodbye”, but “maranatha”.  It was the Christian “aloha”.  If we Christians had that same upward look and perspective today, it would add to our joy and anticipation in the midst of the struggles we face each day.  Let’s use the coming rapture as a means of encouraging one another.   The “day is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The judgment seat of Christ is also a reminder that, as God’s children, we are stewards of our lives, and of all that God has entrusted to us. (I Thessalonians 4:1; I Peter 4:10-11; I John 2:28; 3:3).

Brethren in Christ, don’t forget to think about and reflect upon the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20.  There is a sense in which it applies to us.  God is a holy God.  Therefore He hates sin and pours out His wrath on guilty sinners.  Look through the Old Testament.  You’ll see it everywhere because His people kept turning away from Him.  God hasn’t changed.  He is still a holy God.  To satisfy His holiness, He poured out His wrath for sin on His Son.  When we repented and turned to Christ as our Lord and Savior, the judgment of God was taken away and we were declared innocent.  That “turning” on our part was probably in answer to the prayers and the witness of many people.

Do you have a clear, biblical understanding of the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the great white throne judgment, and eternal condemnation in the lake of fire?  If you do, it should cause you to tremble and shutter when you think of those close to you and around you who are facing eternal condemnation.  They need your sincere prayers and witness.  In Romans 10:1 the apostle Paul said, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved.”  In II Corinthians 5:20 he says, “We  beg you (implore you, plead with you) on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.  May God increase our burden to pray for the lost, and may He empower our witness as we plead with them to be reconciled to God and escape His wrath through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we be ready and eager to see the Lord Jesus when He comes, and our work on this earth is over.  Until then, there is much work to be done for the Kingdom of God.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED 

Welcome to this completed construction site:  John 5:26-29.  Thanks for visiting.  It’s time to gather up my gear and equipment, and set up a new construction site next door:  John 5:30-33.  You’re welcome to grab your own tool belt and join the crew, or stop by and watch as the construction takes place.  See you then!  Maranatha!

 

 

 

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS, PART II – John 3:8-13

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND

Has the wind ever caught your attention?  Was it the sound of it, the suddenness of it, the power of it, the things being carried along by it, the refreshment it gave, or some other aspect that caused you to observe it’s workings and be fascinated by it?  Were there times when it caused fear and apprehension because of its power and unpredictability.  I have personally experienced a tornado and a typhoon.  The memories of those two experiences are still fresh in my mind, and come back into focus whenever the wind gives me another reminder.  In that little town in Iowa, no one could deny, the next morning, that there was a tornado in their town the night before.  It took weeks to clean up the mess and months to repair the damages.  On the island of Okinawa, Japan, no one could deny that a typhoon had struck the island.  We heard the winds, saw the water from the ocean coming across the island, and witnessed the damage that occurred in its wake.  Both experiences left unforgettable reminders on the landscape and in our minds.

The wind has often been the subject for poets, songwriters, movie producers, and photographers.  The wind has been used to express feelings of exhilaration (“the wind in my sails”, “the wind at my back”), of frustration and hopelessness (“try and catch the wind’), of sudden and irreversible loss (“gone with the wind”), or the experience of being drunk and out-of-control (“three sheets to the wind”).  In each case the wind is depicted as something that is outside our control and can have an effect upon us.

TRANSITION:

The Lord Jesus has been having a discussion with Nicodemus on the subject of being “born again” or “born from above”.  Nicodemus is not getting the picture, and it is not an easy concept to grasp.  So Jesus is about to give him an illustration that will use physical realities to help explain spiritual realities.  That’s where we left off in the previous sermon (John 3:1-7).  The Lord Jesus said to him in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.” 

I.  THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)

The Lord Jesus and Nicodemus may have been sitting in the courtyard talking, and an evening breeze may have been blowing.  This would make the illustration not only appropriate but timely.  Jesus says to him in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  He’s telling Nicodemus that being born again, “born of the Spirit”, is much like the wind.  One cannot control it.  Like the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it is invisible but powerful.  You can’t see it taking place but you can see and feel the effects and results.  The Greek word that the apostle John uses for both “wind” and “Spirit” is the word pneuma.  They are the same word and they work in the same way.  But Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus in Hebrew (Aramaic), and the word He used was ruach, which also means both wind and Spirit.  So there is nothing lost in translation!

II.  THE REPLY (verse 9)

In reply to Jesus, Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?”  He’s giving Jesus an abbreviated version of what he said before.  This time I think that Nicodemus is getting the message but he doesn’t want to put the pieces together.  Because of Jesus’ response to follow, I think that Old Testament Scriptures dealing with this subject are popping into the mind of Nicodemus and he’s trying to set them aside rather than deal with them.  Just as he is unwilling to admit that Jesus is the Messiah, addressing Him as a “Teacher from God”, so also he is not willing to consider those verses in his mind as being addressed to him personally and conclude that the Messiah is the One who is speaking to him right now.  What are those verses that have come to his mind?  For one,  Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “You do not know the path of the wind , , , so you don’t know the activity of God who makes all things.”  It’s almost as if Jesus was quoting from this passage of Scripture – the words of Jesus and Solomon are so closely-related.  Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  David expresses his need to become a new person with a new heart and spirit from God.

The words of the prophet Ezekiel should have immediately come to the mind of Nicodemus.  God tells Ezekiel in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them”.  By using the word “them”, God is addressing, not only the nation of Israel, but also the individual members of that nation.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 is probably the clearest Old Testament reference of them all.  It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”   This prophesy points out that before there can be a change on the outside, there must first be a new heart and spirit given by God to each person, and immediately the Spirit of God will indwell and empower His people.

When you’ve heard or seen something amazing or startling, have you ever used the phrase, “That really blew me away”?  The Free Dictionary defines the phrase in these words:  “to affect someone intensely in mind and emotion.”  When I’ve used the phrase, it was my way of expressing a joyful amazement, a happy surprise and excitement about a new revelation.  Why wasn’t Nicodemus “blown away” as a result of the things he just learned?  Why isn’t he showing appreciation and asking questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and His teachings?

III.  JESUS’ REACTION AND RESPONSE (verses 10-13)

In response to the “ignorance” of Nicodemus, Jesus chides him with these words:  “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?”  Every teacher, every Jew was familiar with the words of Ezekiel 37:  The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.  Every Jew was looking forward to the fulfillment of that prophesy.  The wind, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, rebirth, the breath of God, and the kingdom of God are all included in this passage of Scripture.  “Ignorance was no excuse” for Nicodemus.  To rephrase His words, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, how can you not know these things?  There is no excuse!”

In verse 11, Jesus says “truly, truly, I say to you.”  The King James version uses the original Greek words:  “Amen, amen”.  That’s what it says in the Greek text.  He uses those words 25 times in John’s Gospel.  When we say an oath in court, we say “I swear to God” or “as God is my witness”.  By saying the words “Truly, truly, I say to you”, Jesus is swearing to them on His own authority.  Only Jesus could use those words to attest to the truth of what He was saying.  He didn’t have to swear to anyone higher than Himself because there was no one higher than Himself.  Therefore, every time He used those words, He was declaring Himself to be God.  The apostle John doesn’t tell us any reaction from Nicodemus when Jesus said those words.

I don’t mean to come down harshly on Nicodemus for his answers.  I think he wants to know the truth, but he’s trying to get an explanation for things that can’t be understood completely.  That’s why Jesus is using illustrations to give him a basis for comparison.  If Nicodemus did not want to know the truth, he would have left in anger after Jesus’s first statement.  The fact that Jesus is continuing to give illustrations says to me that He wants to continue to expose Nicodemus to truth for as long as he is willing to listen.  The Holy Spirit will bring clarity and conviction in His time.

After swearing an oath to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.”  Why does the Lord Jesus use plural pronouns and adjectives in this statement?  Is He referring to the Trinity, He and John the Baptist, He and His disciples, He and other teachers, He and the prophets, or He and all those born of the Spirit?  Is Jesus being rhetorical or generalizing?  Could there be a reason other than these?  That’s a lot to choose from!  It’s hard to say for certain.  Looking at the immediate context of His words, I personally think that Jesus is including Himself with the prophets who came before Him (including John the Baptist).  My second opinion is that He might be including His disciples.  Those are only opinions.  In any case the focus of Jesus is on the rejection of the witnesses and their testimony (Himself included).  We’ll find in verse 32 that the prophet John the Baptist echoes those words of Jesus when he says, “What He (Jesus) has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness.”   He is identifying his witness with that of Jesus.

In verse 12 Jesus gets to the point behind His illustration.  “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  Jesus is not rebuking Nicodemus here; He’s proving His point.  Jesus is saying, in essence,,  “I’ve shared with you the illustration of the wind, which you can see, hear and feel, but can’t explain.  If you have to accept the workings of the wind by faith, since you can’t explain its source or how it happens, but can experience the results, how much more is this true of spiritual realities.  You also have to accept them by faith in the promises of God’s Word, and by faith in the Person who is explaining them to you.”  I would also add the words, “Do you see what I’m saying?  Is that making more sense to you”?  Nicodemus knows that Jesus is being respectful, and is trying to help him realize the need for faith.  There are many things in this world that we cannot understand, but we accept them by faith because we cannot deny the results.

Jesus concludes His illustration of the wind in verse 13 by saying,
“And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.” 
  I wondered, “why does it say ascended into heaven first, and then descended from heaven?  Didn’t Jesus “descend from heaven” first, at his conception and birth, then “ascend into heaven” later, after His death and resurrection.  The literal Greek text will help us to understand the meaning.  The translation of the Greek text word-by-word says:  And no man has gone up into heaven except the (one) out of heaven having come down, the Son of man.”    It is true that no man (no human soul) had yet gone to heaven.  No human soul could go to heaven until the Lord Jesus satisfied the wrath of the Father by dying on the cross for sin, and then rising from the dead.  The Scriptures speak of a place of waiting for the righteous, sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom.  It was a place of contentment, but not yet the joy of being in the presence of God.

I also think that Jesus had another reason for saying those words in the order that He said them:  “ascended . . . descended”.  He’s referencing Proverbs 30:4, a proverb written by Agur, and one that, I’m sure, Nicodemus was familiar with.  After saying those words, Agur gives an awesome illustration about God, His Son, and the wind.  He says, “Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s nameSurely you know!   

“Gathered the wind in His fists” – that description really blows me away!  Try to imagine that!  We may not be able to catch the wind, but God can!  In fact, He doesn’t have to catch it because it has already been gathered in His fists!  What a description of God’s greatness, power and sovereignty!  If you want to put yourself in an attitude of worship and focus your thoughts on God, that’s a good verse to bring to mind.  Then Agur ends his proverb with the words “Surely you know!”.  You should know, Nicodemus; you’re sitting right next to Him!  The Son’s name is JESUS!

Jesus concludes this illustration of the wind by referring to Himself as the “Son of Man”, a title that was given to the Messiah by the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.  Every time Jesus uses that term to refer to Himself, He is declaring that He is the Messiah.

Bob Dillan wrote a song in 1962, which was released as a single in 1963.  Many singers have sung that song, and the Trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary made the song very popular.  In 1994 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  In 2004 it was ranked on Rollin’ Stone Magazine’s list of the top 500 songs of all time.  As you probably already know, the name of that song is “Blowin’ in the Wind’ If you would like to hear that song, type “blowin’ in the wind” on your web browser.  Many questions are asked and many social issues are faced and the conclusion given after each one is:  “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”  In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any answer.

With all due respect for the author and singers of that beautiful song, the answer isn’t “blowin’ in the wind”.  That’s the illustration.  The answer is “BEING BORN-AGAIN”.  If that’s the answer, then what’s the question?  Actually, there are many questions that are answered by those words of Jesus.  Here are just a few questions that can be answered by being “born again”, “born from above”:
How can I find peace of mind?  How can I be delivered from my fear of death?  Where can I find purpose and meaning to life?  How can I be delivered from my addictions?  Where can I find unconditional love?  What’s the solution to hatred and wars?  How can I escape from my fatalistic attitude toward life?  How can I be sure I’m going to heaven?  How can I keep from going to hell?  How can I break away from my conformity to this world?  How can I ever forgive myself for the things that I have done?  What can be done about this emptiness I feel inside?

If none of those questions relate to you, maybe there are other questions you might want to add to that list.  Whatever the case, the Lord Jesus wants to make things new for you.  He wants to change you into a new person if you will let Him do so.  The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus isn’t over.  There are other illustrations that He is going to use to make that decision clearer for Nicodemus and for you.  I hope you will come back to see the picture more clearly.  The best is yet to come.  There was a price that had to be paid in order to make that new birth possible, and Jesus will pay it all.

If you are a born-again Christian, as I am, let’s remind ourselves of what it was like in our lives before that wonderful day, and pray for others around us who are experiencing the emptiness and frustration with life that we once faced.  Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to make us more like Him – loving and caring for everyone who came His way, and communicating the truth in love.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites   I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, and other assorted messages here from the last four years of Bible study.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing with you.  Having this opportunity to share with you the results of my Bible study has encouraged me to study all the more, as I try to put the things I’ve learned into words that I hope everyone can understand and apply to their lives.  May the Lord be with you, and may His Spirit control and empower you like the wind at your back today!  May He fill your sails with a steady breeze as you sail through your day with joy under His control!

 

THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.