That the fourth Gospel is characterised by setting forth the Lord Jesus as the Word, the Only-begotten Son, God Himself, on earth can be questioned by no intelligent Christian. It is not as Messiah, Son of David and of Abraham, yet withal the Jehovah of Israel, Emmanuel; nor yet as the Son devoted to the service of God, above all in the Gospel; neither is it as the Holy Thing born of the Virgin by the miraculous agency of the Holy Ghost, and in this sense too Son of God, that He is presented, as in each of the other inspired accounts respectively by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the Gospel of John 1 His Divine nature shines from under the veil of flesh, as He moves here and there, evermore displaying the Father in His Person and words and ways; and then, on His going above, giving and sending the Holy Ghost to be with and in His own for ever.
1 [This and all other reference figures relate to the Editor’s notes respectively so numbered in the Appendix.]
Hence it is that He is here declared the giver of eternal life to the believer, who is accordingly entitled in virtue of this new life to become a child of God. For it is no question here of dispensational dealings, nor of testimony to the creature, nor yet of the moral perfections of the man Christ Jesus. All these have their fitting places elsewhere; but here the Spirit of God has in hand a deeper task-the manifestation of the Father in the Son, and this as the Word become flesh and tabernacling here below, with its immense consequences for every soul, and even for God Himself, glorified both in the exigencies of His moral being and in the intimate depths of His relationship as Father.
Further, we may take note of the Divine wisdom which wrote and gave such a Gospel at a comparatively late date,2 when the enemy was seeking to corrupt and destroy, not by Pharisaic or Sadducean adversaries, nor by idolatrous Gentiles, but by apostates and antichristian teachers. These, under the highest pretensions to knowledge and power, were undermining the truth of Christ’s Person, on the side both of His proper Deity and of His real humanity,3 to the ruin of man and to the most thankless and daring dishonour of God. No testimony came in more appropriately than that of John, who, like the writer of the earliest Gospel, was an eyewitness,4 and even above all others familiar, if one may reverently so say, with the Lord Jesus as man on earth. Yet none the less, but above all, is he the instrument of attesting His Divine glory. The bearing of both on the closing efforts of Satan, even then and thenceforward prevalent (1 John 2:18), is also most evident and of supreme importance. The Lord, on the other hand, as ever in His grace, met the efforts of Satan by a fuller assertion of “That which was from the beginning,” for Divine glory in the clearing, comfort, and consolidation of the family of God-yea, of the babes. For what greater security than to find themselves the objects of the Father’s love, loved as the Son was loved, Himself in them, and they in Him, Who on departing assures them of the abiding presence of that other Paraclete, the Holy Spirit?-a blessedness so great that He declares His own deeply missed absence “expedient” for them in order to secure it.
Consequently, along with the reality and manifestation of eternal life in man, in Christ the Son, there is the careful, complete, and distinct abolishing of Jewish or any other relationships for man in the flesh with God; while it is shown clearly both in the introduction and at the end of the Gospel that the dispensations of God are not overlooked, nor Christ’s relation to them, His Person, Divine yet a man, being the pivot on which all turns.
Indeed, it was a great oversight of the ancient ecclesiastical writers to regard John as the evangelist who views the Lord or His own in their heavenly connections, ill as the eagle could symbolize any such thing; though even Augustine accepted the fancy, as Victorinus seems first to have suggested it. But theologians do not at all agree; for Irenæus will have Mark to be the eagle, and Andreas follows in his wake. Williams of late-and he is not alone-revived the interpretation of Augustine, who strangely applied the man to Mark and the ox to Luke, where the converse would have been at least more plausible. Many more applications equally wild prevailed, but they are hardly worth recording.
For the “living creatures” in Rev. 4 and elsewhere have no real or intended relation to the four Gospels. These present to us the grace of God which appeared in Christ among men, and the redemption which He accomplished in the rejected Messiah. The cherubim, on the contrary, are revealed when the throne on high assumes a judicial character in chastisements, preparatory to the Lord’s taking the kingdom of the world and appearing from heaven for that reign. They symbolize the Divine attributes in figures taken from the heads of creation. Ingenious but superficial analogies cannot avail against the entire moral bearing of their associations as contrasted as grace is with judgment.
But the characteristic truth which it is hard to overlook in John, with a slight exception here and there, is God manifesting Himself in His Son, yet man on earth; not man in Him the exalted Christ on high, which is the line assigned to the apostle Paul, and among the inspired accounts of the Lord to the end of Luke and even, in a measure, of Mark. Therefore we may notice that there is no Ascension scene (though abundantly supposed) in John any more than in Matthew, though for wholly different reasons. For the first Gospel shows us the Lord in His final presentation, risen indeed, but still maintaining His links of relationship with the disciples or Jewish remnant in Galilee, where He gives them their great commission, and assures them of His presence with them till the consummation of the age. The last shows us Him uniting in His person the glory not only of the risen man and Son of God, the last Adam, but also of the Lord God, Who as the quickening spirit breathes the breath of a better life in resurrection power into His disciples, and thereon gives also a mystical view of the age to come, with the special places of both Peter and John.
It is God on earth, therefore, that appears in the account of our Lord here, not (save for exceptional purposes) man glorified in heaven, as in the writings of St. Paul.5 Hence in the first chapter, so remarkable for the fulness with which the titles of Christ are brought before us there, we do not read of Him either as priest or as head of the church-relations which are exclusively bound up with His exaltation above and service at the right hand of God. John presents all that is Divine in Christ’s person and work on earth; and as he gives us the setting aside of the first man in his best shape, so also the absolute need of the Divine nature if man is to see or enter the kingdom of God. What is essential and abiding naturally flows from the presence of a Divine Person revealing Himself here below in grace and truth.
Again, the character of the truth before the Holy Spirit evidently excludes any genealogy such as is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, who respectively traced our blessed Lord down from Abraham and David, or up to Adam, “which was [the son] of God.” Here John gives no such birth-roll; for how trace the line of Him Who in the beginning, before a creature existed, was with God and was God? If Mark is devoted to the details of His service, especially His service in the gospel, accompanied by suited powers and signs (for He would arouse man and appeal to unbelievers in the patient goodness of God), he in the wisdom of the same Spirit was led to omit all record of His earthly parentage and early life, and at once enters on His work, only preceded by a brief notice of His herald, John the Baptist, in his work.6 Hence, as the Lord was the perfect Servant, so the perfect account of it says nothing here of a genealogy; for who would ask the pedigree of a servant? Thus, if His service seems to keep it out from Mark, His Deity, being the prominent truth, renders it unsuitable for the Spirit’s purpose by John. It is only from all the four that we receive the truth in its various fulness:7 only so could even God adequately reveal to us our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels He is given us in view not merely of our need, but of the Divine love and glory.
The contents of this Gospel may be more clearly apprehended by the summary that follows.1 Chapters 1-4 precede the Galilean ministry of our Lord given by the three Synoptists. John the herald was still baptizing, and free (John 3:23, 24); while our Lord was on His way to Galilee (John 4) through Samaria. John 1 to 2:22 are preliminary, John 1:1-18 being the wondrous and suited preface of His personal glory, seen in the chapter throughout. Then from verses 19-42 is John’s testimony historically, not to others only about Jesus, but to Himself and its fruit. From verse 43 Christ calls individually and gathers, wherein He passes from the truth of His position as the Christ in Ps. 2 to the wider and higher glory of the Son of man in Ps. 8 Then we have in John 2:1-22 the marriage in Cana of Galilee which manifests His glory, and His execution of judgment in purifying the temple, as risen from the dead.
From John 2:23 is shown the impossibility of God’s trusting man as he is, and in John 3 the necessity of his being born anew to see or enter the kingdom of God, even on its earthly side. The cross of the Son of man is no less requisite; but God’s Only-begotten Son is given in His love to save the world. Only faith in His name is indispensable. It is not a charge of law violated, but of light come and hated, men’s works being evil. But John, the Bridegroom’s friend, rejoices to be eclipsed by His glory Who comes from heaven and is above all, not only the Sent One with God’s words, but the Son of His love to Whom the Father has given all things. To believe on Him, therefore, is to have life eternal; to disobey Him in unbelief is to have the wrath of God abiding on him. Such is the introduction.
John 4 is the Son of God humbling Himself in grace to draw a reprobate Samaritan to God, in order to worship Him and as Father too in spirit and truth, Jerusalem being now gone, as her rival was nothing. For He is the Saviour of the world. Yet the courtier in Capernaum proves that his faith in the Saviour for his sick son, though in Jewish form, was not in vain. He does not despise feeble faith.
John 5 shows us Jesus the Son of God, not a healer only, but quickening the dead souls that hear Him now, and raising to a life resurrection at His coming; while those who hearken not and live wickedly He, the Son of Man, will raise to a resurrection of judgment. The grounds of faith are therefore added in the rest of the chapter.
In John 6 the sign of the bread He gave the great crowd introduces the teaching of Himself, incarnate, the true Bread from heaven, and in death His flesh truly food and His blood truly drink, followed by His ascension. He is the object of faith thus, as the Quickener in the preceding chapter.
Thence John 7 lets us into His sending down the Holy Spirit from Himself in glory before the Feast of Tabernacles is literally fulfilled. Such is the power for witness, as in John 4 for worship. In these four chapters the Lord is set as Himself the truth of which Israel had possessed forms.
In John 8 and John 9 His word and His work are rejected respectively and to the uttermost. Nevertheless the sheep, which receive both to their blessing, He not only keeps, but leads outside the fold to better still, one flock, one Shepherd. Nothing can harm. They are in the Father’s hand and in the Son’s (John 10).
John 11 and John 12 give us the testimony to Christ, as Son of God in resurrection power, as Son of David according to prophecy, and as Son of man bringing in through His death a new, unlimited, and everlasting glory, which His jointheirs should share with Him.
From John 13 to 17 is unfolded the Lord’s position in heaven, and what He is for us then and there-an entirely new thing for the disciples who looked for the kingdom here and now. He is our Advocate (1 John 2:1), and washes by the word our feet defiled by the way; and when Judas is gone out, opens His death as morally glorifying Himself, glorifying God in every way, and His glorification in Him as the immediate consequence. But He is coming (John 14) to receive them to Himself in the Father’s house, the proper Christian hope. Meanwhile Christ promises another Advocate, or Paraclete, to dwell with them and be in them for ever, Who is the present power of Christianity, and works in the obedience of the Christian. In John 15 we have the Christian position on earth contrasted with Judaism. It is not union but communion with Christ to bear fruit, and render testimony to His glory: moral government is in question rather than sovereign grace. John 16 treats of the presence of the Spirit, what it proves to the world, and how He deals with the believers who now ask the Father in Christ’s name. John 17, in Christ’s outpouring to the Father, gives our place with Him, and apart from the world, in past, present, and future unity, both privilege in heaven with Him by and by, and our wondrous blessedness even now.
John 18 and John 19 characteristically sketch the closing scenes of His varied mock trials after His willing surrender, and the humiliating experience of His disciples; then the death of the cross, and its fruit, as well as the beloved disciple’s witness, to whom He confided His mother. John 20 presents Him risen, His message through Mary of Magdala, and His manifestation to the gathered disciples on the Resurrection, and in eight days to Thomas, the type of Israel seeing and believing. John 21 adds the mystical picture of the millennial age, when the Gentiles become Christ’s, and the net is not broken as heretofore. As an appendix, we have Peter restored and reinstated, with the assurance that in the weakness of age grace would strengthen him to die for his Master, Whom he failed thus to glorify in the day of his more youthful self-confidence. John is left in no less mysterious guise, though it was not said that he should not die, but in suspense, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.” So we know that the same pen, which God employed to set out the Son of God in His personal glory and ineffable grace, was to give us, after the translation of the heavenly on high, the Divine government which will at length invest Christ and them with the world’s kingdom in the day when He will be the manifest centre of all glory, heavenly and earthly. For this and more we find in the Revelation.8
1 [Cf. subsequent “God’s Inspiration of the Scriptures (Divine Design, § 31. JOHN),” pp. 347-357 ]