Conversations With Jesus: A Visit from the Greeks

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them (John 12:20-36).

John’s writings–his Gospel as well as his letters–make it clear that Jesus was to be the Savior of the world, not just of the Jews. He often includes details such as this conversation involving some Greeks just for that purpose. The conversation, however, doesn’t go like the disciples thought it would–or we might think it would.


To paint a broad picture, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem in what is often known as the Triumphal Entry. This is at the very height of Jesus’ popularity. The people had heard of the miracles He had performed–including raising Lazarus from the dead. Of course the religious leaders were outraged by His popularity. John tells us, “Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him'” (12:18-19). They were more determined than ever to kill Him.

The Request by the Greeks

John tells us that while Jesus was in Jerusalem, some Greeks wanted to see Him. These Greeks would likely have worshiped the God of the Jews, and were often admitted to synagogues as “God-fearers” (Acts 13:26; 17:4, 17), yet had not submitted to the full demands of Jewish law, such as circumcision. These Greeks made a simple request to Philip: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” (It’s likely that they sought out Philip because of his Greek-sounding name, and possibly because he was from Bethsaida, which had many Hellenistic cities around the area.)

At first glance, Jesus’ reply seems to ignore the request altogether. Yet, it seems that the request itself signaled to Jesus that his hour had come to be glorified (v. 23). He had promised to bring other sheep into the fold (10:16), and the time had finally come to accomplish that. Though it may seem strange to speak of His death as glorification, this was the very reason He came to His people–to die for them and set them free. And thus, because He is fulfilling the Father’s will, He will be glorified along with the Father.

Verse 24 lays down the principle by which He has lived His life. Jesus has laid down His life voluntarily, seeking nothing but the Father’s will–and shortly will literally lay down His life. And in doing so, there will be a great harvest. He takes that same principle and extends it to those who would be His disciples: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25). The idea that a disciple must “hate” his life does not mean actual moral hatred. Rather it means that the disciple of Jesus will abandon all for Him, even his very life. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching about salvation and discipleship. Those who do so, Jesus promises, will have two rewards: First, they will be with Jesus, where He is–by the Father’s side in heaven. Second, those who serve Him will be honored by the Father (v. 26).

Jesus then lets His disciples know that such a life, such a choice of dying to self-will is not always easy. “My soul is in anguish,” He says, “What shall I say, ‘Father save me from this hour’” (v. 27a)? At this moment He is at a crisis point–the same point that Adam was at in the Garden of Eden. The point of decision, whether to abandon what the Father has called Him to, or press ahead, continuing to live in dependence and surrender. He decides forcefully on the latter. “But for His purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your Name” (vv. 27b-28a). More than any other scene, this shows Jesus’ full humanity. We have seen indignation, anger, and sorrow. Now we see a struggle to follow God’s will and purpose no matter what the cost. This shows us that temptation itself is not sin, for Jesus was indeed tempted to abandon the plan. Yet, He resisted temptation, whereas Adam gave into the temptation.

The Unbelief of the Jews

The test having been passed, the Father once again speaks on behalf of His Son. His voice came from heaven and declared, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28b). As usual, there was a division. Some said that it thundered (the rationalists of the group; they probably did not understand the words that were spoken). Some admitted that perhaps an angel spoke to Jesus (v. 29). Jesus quickly corrects that statement, telling the crowd that the voice came for their benefit, not for His. The voice came for their sake because Jesus knew the Father and knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan; therefore, He did not need the audible voice to reassure Him. For the Jews, however, the voice could serve as confirmation of all that Jesus had said up to this point, if only they had the ears to hear.

Now the hour has come, judgment has come to the world–all sin will be judged in the death of Christ. Not only will all sins be judged by the cross, but also the ruler of the earth (Satan) will be defeated. Finally, not only will Satan be defeated, when Christ is lifted up (speaking of His crucifixion), all men will be drawn to Him (vv. 31-32).

The Jews of course do not understand His statement at all. They seize on the last statement and ask, “The Law of Moses says that the Messiah will remain forever! How then can the Son of Man be lifted up? Who is the ‘Son of Man’” (v. 34). Though He in this instance did not mention “the Son of Man,” many in the crowd would have heard Him teach about the Son of Man, and it is clear in His teaching that He is referring to Himself. The Jews ask Him once again for a clear statement of His identity, which He has given them on numerous occasions (such as in John 8:58).

The Final Word on the Ministry

This time, Jesus gives them no answer to their question. Instead He exhorts them to believe and walk in the light, meaning His teachings that He had given up to this point. He had given them all the instruction and information He could. For if they reject the Light that was given to them, they will have no more light. Jesus thus closes His public ministry on the same themes with which He opened it: a command to “Follow Me” (1:43; 12:26) and a command to believe and walk in the light (3:19-21; 12:35-36). His teaching now over, Jesus now departs in preparation for the days ahead.

Takeaways from the Passage

The first and primary takeaway from this passage is what we identified earlier: Jesus is the Savior of all who place their trust in Him. Continuing along that path, the second takeaway is that the disciple of Jesus is called to abandon all for the sake of Christ–even his very life if need be. The disciple’s attitude is to be one of “I have nothing; You have everything. Apart from You, I am nothing.” Finally, all are called to walk in the light that is given. When the Lord gives light, we are to embrace the light so that we might have more light. If we reject the light that is given, we enter a world of darkness where even the light we have will vanish. This was the fate of many of the Jews that heard Jesus teach.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]


Conversations With Jesus: A Family in Grief

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go (John 11:1-44).

There is nothing that grieves the heart of a person more than the death of a loved one. When someone we love dies, it leaves a hole in our heart that never truly goes away this side of eternity. Even Jesus felt that grief, as we will see in this encounter. As we’ll also mention later, Jesus knows our pain because He has felt it.


Like many of the previous encounters, there is no specific time frame given by John. However, in verse 55 John mentions the Passover is “close at hand,” so we can infer from that this this event took place shortly beforehand. It would be Jesus’ last and most powerful sign given (apart from His own Resurrection).

The family of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha lived in Bethany. It can be supposed that they were a well-known family because of the number of people that turned out for the time of mourning. John notes that this Mary was the one who would anoint Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair. Finally, we can infer that the family was close to Jesus, based on the comments in verse 5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Though Jesus loves everyone, John does not include such details arbitrarily,.

The Illness and Death of Lazarus

While Jesus is in Perea (having withdrawn from Judea), Lazarus falls ill. Perea being reasonably close to Bethany, the sisters send word to Jesus “The one You love is sick.” The clear implication is that Jesus should heal Lazarus. It’s what we would expect from someone who is a close friend and has that ability. But, look at what John says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (vv. 5-6, emphasis mine).

Did you catch that? The sense of the verse is that because Jesus loved the family, He stayed two extra days! Now, why would someone who loved Lazarus do that? The answer is found in the previous verse, where Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He was going to use this to display God’s glory–just not in the way we might expect. After two days, Jesus tells His disciples that He is going back into Judea. The disciples are, to say the least, shocked. “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (I can easily imagine Peter having this discussion with Jesus!)

He reminds them that He was there to do the work of the Father, and that His time was running out. Then He tells them the real reason He is returning: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; I am going to wake him up.” The disciples obviously don’t understand this. They knew Lazarus was sick, so their natural response is, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Let the man sleep, Jesus, so he will get well.

Of course Jesus is talking about Lazarus’ death, not just sleep (Paul uses the same idea in 1 Cor. 11:30, KJV, NIV). He tells them plainly that Lazarus has died, then adds, “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Comforting the Family

Jesus and the disciples thus return to Bethany. Once they get there, they discover that Lazarus has already been dead four days. (This is an important detail because the eliminates the possibility that Lazarus was not really dead or that any sort of trickery was used.) Martha hears that Jesus is coming and she runs out to meet Him. We are not told why Mary didn’t accompany her to meet Jesus. However, her attitude can be deduced from verse 32, where she falls at His feet; clearly she is overcome with grief, and perhaps some resentment.

Martha, in her own grief, blurts out, “If only you had been here! Then my brother would not have died” (v. 21). But then, she seems to calm: “Even now, though, I know that God will give you whatever You ask of Him” (v. 22). The implication, of course, is that Jesus should ask for Lazarus to be restored. Seeming to ignore the implied request, Jesus engages her in a dialogue, starting with an assertion that Lazarus would rise again.

Martha admits this to be true, with perhaps a touch of frustration and impatience: “Yes, I know that!! He will rise again–in the resurrection at the Last Day…. but that is not soon enough for me! I want him back now!” Jesus, however, turns the conversation around to Himself, proclaiming that He is the very Resurrection and the Life (i.e., the Source of all true life). Though one who believes in Him may die (i.e. “fall asleep), he will live and never die.

Martha acknowledges His words and her faith shows through in her profession that He is the Messiah, the Son of God (v. 27). With a new understanding (it seems), she returns to the house and calls Mary aside, and tells her that Jesus is nearby and wants to see her. Mary leaves the house abruptly–so much so that the people think she must be overcome with grief and is going to the tomb to mourn. Instead, she runs to Jesus, who had remained where Mary had met Him.

Mary utters the same words as Martha upon seeing Jesus, yet with some subtle differences. First, she called Him “Lord,” whereas there is no record of Martha doing so until the end of the conversation. Second, John records that Mary “fell at His feet.” The tone suggests both grief and worship, perhaps the same type of crying out that Job experienced during His own agony. Unlike Martha, who seems to have reacted somewhat coldly to Jesus, Mary is not engaged in conversation. Instead, Jesus is moved by her weeping and the weeping of those who have come with her. John writes that Jesus “groaned” in the spirit, and deeply troubled (v. 33). He simply asks, “Where did you bury him?” He is invited to see the tomb and then, John records the shortest verse in the English Bible: “Jesus wept.”

On a side note, it should be pointed out that the words John uses for Jesus’ weeping and the weeping of Mary and the Jews are different. Jesus “wept” (Greek dakruon), suggesting sadness at the pain he sees around Him. Mary and the Jews “were mourning” (Greek klaiō, indicating “mourning for the dead”).

The Son’s Glory Displayed

Jesus commands that stone should be removed. Martha objects, both because of the odor and probably at the idea of exposing a dead body–some would fear ritual defilement. However, this act will serve as an act of faith for what is about to happen. As with His first miracle, turning the water to wine, He allows man to do what man can do, and then does what only He can do. He reminds Martha that through her belief she would see the glory of God, and she acquiesces.

Jesus prays to the Father audibly, so that the people around Him will have a point of contact. There is no record of Him praying to the Father verbally, but no doubt He is in constant communication with the Father, as He consistently maintains that He does only what the Father wills. After thanking the Father for hearing Him, Jesus calls out loudly, “Lazarus! Come out!” He had previously stated that a time would come when the dead would hear the Son call and come out of the tomb, and this was a demonstration of His words (5:28). Lazarus appears at the entrance still bound in grave clothes, and Jesus tells the people to unbind him and let him go.

Takeaways from the Passage

While we must never forget that this was an actual event in the life of Jesus and should not over-spiritualize or analogize it, there is one striking spiritual parallel. When one is born again (John 3), his spirit is made alive. Yet, it is also necessary to remove the “grave clothes,” meaning the old ways of thinking, and “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1, NIV). Failure to do that will mean that a believer will continue to stumble, whereas he was saved that he might be free.

Had Jesus immediately intervened and healed the sickness, much would have been missed. Not only the “teachable moment” with Martha, but also the display of Jesus’ utter humanity as He wept openly, reminding us that He has experienced the same types of loss that we have, and thus can sympathize with us as our High Priest (Heb. 4:15). Jesus did love His three close friends, but He loved them so much that He wanted to give them the best, not just “good.” This is what He wants for all of us–His best.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: Born Blind–A Trial in 5 Scenes

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains (John 9:1-41).

Some people during Jesus’ earthly ministry had the spiritual eyes to recognize truth, even though they had not yet believed in Him. The man born blind in John 9 was one such individual. He is at the center of yet another controversy involving Jesus healing on the Sabbath. This time, however, it seems almost everyone gets involved–even the man’s parents. It turns into quite a circus–I mean trial. The question, though, would be just who was on trial.


John’s transitional phrase in 9:1, “As He passed by” (the NIV renders it, “As He walked along”), could be interpreted to mean that the events of chapter 9 follow immediately after the debate with the Jews at the end of chapter 8. However, this is not necessarily the case, and there are no points of reference to indicate the passage of time, so the only thing that is known is that it follows the events of chapter 8 chronologically. In any case, in addition to being the sixth of John’s “signs,” this event has theological significance in looking at disease, sin, and healing.

Scene 1: The Crime–Healing of the Blind Man

As Jesus (and presumably the disciples) walked along, He came to a man who was born blind. The man was apparently well-known in the area–such people would have been taken to the Temple to sit outside and beg for alms (see Acts 3:1-10 for a similar example). Immediately, he attracts the attention of the disciples who ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents” (v. 2). Their assumption, like the Jews of the day, was based on an interpretation of Ex. 34:7 that held that any disease or infirmity was a result of sin. In this case, logically one would assume it was the parents’ sin, since the man was blind from birth.

Jesus, however, answers that his blindness is not the result of sin, either his or the parents. Rather, he was born blind “so that God’s work might be displayed in him” (v. 3). Such a statement was certainly contrary to established Jewish interpretation, and it should give us pause also. Jesus clearly dispels such a broad idea that most or all disease, sickness or infirmity is a direct result of sin in the believer’s life. In John’s Gospel, the works of God are always tied to His glory, i.e., God receives glory through a particular event. This event proves to be no different.

You’ll notice that Jesus confesses to the “crime” before even committing it! He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Working on the Sabbath was a big no-no, and it caused a lot of the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leadership. Now that His purpose is clear (“to work the works of Him who sent Me”), he immediately spits into the dirt, makes mud, and places it on the blind man’s eyes.

Is there theological significance in this specific detail? John does not include such small details as this without a purpose. When one considers that Adam was created from the ground (from dust, as it were), and that the earth was cursed because of him, it becomes at least plausible that Jesus is here tying this act back to the act of creation, as in a message of redemption or renewal. In any case, He tells the man to go to the pool at Siloam and wash his eyes. Unlike the cleansing of the lepers who were healed on the way to the priests (Luke 17:11-19), this man was apparently not healed until he completed Jesus’ instructions, for “he went to the pool and washed, and returned able to see.”

There’s not much suspense in this “crime.” We already know who the Defendant is, the charge, and we even saw Him commit the crime. The only question is who would really be on trial and what the final judgment would be.

Scene 2: Questioning of the Man

Of course, this miracle catches the attention of the man’s neighbors. No one had ever heard of a person born blind being healed! As some do, they try to deny that a miracle took place: “That’s not him, it only looks like him.” The ones who really knew him, however, knew the truth. And it was these, no doubt who asked him, “How were you healed?” Unlike the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), this man knows who healed him: “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes. I went to the pool of Siloam as He instructed me, washed, and now I see!”

Also unlike the invalid of John 5, the formerly blind man has a much more thankful and objective attitude. He is brought before the Pharisees, and his testimony is direct and simple: “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” This of course caused a stir among the leaders. One can imagine the conversations that were happening

This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.

How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?

John tells us, “There was a division among them. So, they turned to the formerly blind man and asked him, “What do you say about Him? After all, He opened your eyes.” The man’s response is like the woman at the well (John 4). Somewhat committed, but still not all in: “He is a prophet.”

Scene 3: Corroboration of the Story

It seems the Pharisees aren’t satisfied. John tells us that they don’t believe the man was born blind. So, they call his parents before them. You can almost hear the malice and contempt in the questions: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” One wonders if suggestion was being made perhaps the whole thing was a hoax (the man was not really blind), or perhaps the parents had a hand in the healing (in which case they’d be in real trouble with the leaders).

The parents are no doubt frightened, as we can tell by their response. The leadership had already “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” The parents had no wish to be flung out of Israel, cut off from God’s people, so they disavowed any knowledge, except to affirm that the man is their son and he was born blind. “We’ve no idea how he received his sight. He’s of age, ask him. He can speak for himself.”

Scene 4: Judgment by the Pharisees

At this point, it seems pretty clear that the Pharisees believed that a miracle had been done–and on the Sabbath no less. So, they call the man before them a second time. This time, he is not so quiet and reserved. I can picture him on the witness stand having this exchange with the lead investigator:

Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner. [This can be interpreted as “Give God the glory, and not this man Jesus,” or more likely as a solemn charge to tell the truth, such as the high priest gave to Jesus at His trial, Matt. 26:63.]

Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

[At this point, the man is becoming a little impatient.] I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?

[Now the leaders are really mad, they hurl insults at him.] You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from!

[The witness takes a moment to collect himself and ponder this, and answers reasonably.] Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

We know what happens next. The pride of the Pharisees rises up: “You were born into utter sin! How dare you lecture us!” Case closed. Guilty. The man is guilty and is excommunicated. Jesus is declared to be a sinner for breaking the Sabbath.

Scene 5: The True Judgment by Jesus

The trial is now over (so it seems). The man has left the courtroom. But Jesus found him–just like the invalid in John 5. The implication is that Jesus went looking for him. Jesus always comes to those who have been healed and seeks a deeper commitment. In contrast to the invalid of John 5, this conversation is totally different.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?

You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.

Lord, I believe. [The man falls and worships.]

The attitude of the man is dramatically different than both the Pharisees and the invalid of John 5. He worships in gratefulness. Then Jesus pronounces His own judgment: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” What does He mean? The meaning is clear from the next exchange. Some of the Pharisees apparently are close at hand and heard His comment.

Are we also blind?

If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Jesus has issued His judgment against the world and the Pharisees. Any who fail to come to Him for spiritual sight, claiming that they can see, are in fact guilty of chosen blindness.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: Caught in the Act

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:2-11).

This is one of the best-known passages in John’s Gospel, with the last verse being one of the most-quoted (and often misused) verses of all Scripture. We continue our look at conversations with Jesus by looking at the woman caught in adultery. This passage has much to say to us today about how we are to handle sin, and, as usual, John gives us a front-row seat.


This conversation, as it were, takes place at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), the time when obedient Jews lived in handmade shelters to commemorate the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness. John 7:53-8:1 completes the Feast of Tabernacles with the words, “They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” Since the observant Jews would have been living in booths during the Feast, it is natural now that they return to their homes. Jesus, however, having “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20), goes instead to the Mount of Olives, as He often did when visiting Jerusalem.

The scene begins, then, the following morning. We’re told that Jesus returned to the Temple courts in the early morning. Coming from the Mount of Olives, this would have placed Him in the Court of the Women. John notes that “all the people” came to Him, and He “sat down” and taught them. Though this phrase has fed the fire of criticism, it is simply John’s attention to detail. Jesus was teaching in the manner of the rabbis of the day–even if His teaching could not be compared with theirs. As the rabbis expounded the Law, Jesus was expounding on the Kingdom.

The Trap by the Pharisees

While teaching the people, Jesus is interrupted (rather rudely) by a boisterous crowd of “scribes and Pharisees,” dragging a woman along with them. Though that construction is used nowhere else in John, it is particularly appropriate the he use it here, since the controversy was supposedly over the Law’s application and the scribes were the “experts” in the Law. They push the woman, who is not named, into the center with Jesus, and gather round. The sense seems to be that the two are surrounded on all sides. Then the Pharisees lodge their complaint. They accuse the woman standing before Him: “She was caught in the very act of adultery! Now, the Law demands that she be stoned. But…. what do You say” (vv. 4-5)? John comments here that this was a “test,” or trap, in order to bring a charge against Him.

We should take note of a few things here. First, the Law demanded death for both the man and woman. The man was conspicuously absent. It is noteworthy that in all His encounters with women who are labeled “sinful,” no judgment is made of the men involved. This evidences a double standard of the time.

Second, the construction “in the act of adultery” has the sense of a door being kicked in and finding the woman in the midst of the act, rather than a husband discovering her unfaithfulness and lodging a charge (the Greek construction suggests rather strongly that she was married). It also suggests that perhaps the man is not present because he cooperated with the leaders, setting up the woman and attempting to trap Jesus.

In any event, Jesus now has a choice (according to the leaders). He can refuse to condemn the woman, in which case the leaders’ scorn of Him would seem to be justified since He is an enemy of the Law. On the other hand, He can insist that the penalty be carried out, and likely lose the support of the common people, since His reputation for compassion is well-known. The trap has been cleverly set.

Jesus’ Response to the Trap

One might wonder if Jesus pondered the situation for a moment. Whether He did or not, He said not a word to the woman’s accusers, only bent down and began to write with His finger! There have been many suggestions on the content and purpose of His writing. It may have been simply a delaying tactic, to draw the eyes of everyone off the woman. There is absolutely no way to know what He wrote on the ground–and any such suggestion would be pure speculation. Why? Because it was the act of writing itself that was important here, rather than what Jesus wrote. Consider this:

  • The discussion centered around the Law (specifically the seventh commandment forbidding adultery).
  • Those in the crowd familiar with their history would remember that the Ten Commandments were written “with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18).
  • John specifically mentions Jesus writing “with His finger.”

This gives the strong suggestion that Jesus is identifying Himself as the Lawgiver, the One who wrote the Law and is in the best position to interpret it. (In this context, it may be possible that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments, but as noted above that is unwarranted speculation.)

The crowd seems to have missed the point of the writing, growing impatient and continuing to question Jesus. “Tell us, Teacher! What should we do with her?” Finally, Jesus stood up and gave His reply, one of the best-known statements in all the Gospels: “She should be stoned according to the Law. But, the first ones to cast the stones should be the ones without sin” (v. 7). Often misinterpreted, this verse does not support the idea that sin can only be judged by one who is perfect. Rather, this verse calls for justice–true impartial justice.

The leaders had brought this woman to Jesus under false pretenses. They were not concerned with the administration of justice–that much is clear from the fact that the man is conspicuously absent. They were concerned only with a way to trap Jesus (v. 6). Further, if the supposition that they induced a man to set the woman up, then they were indeed partakers of the sin (the modern legal terms for this are “conspiracy” and “accessory before the fact”).

The Results of the Trap

The ones who sought to trap Jesus now had the trap turned around on them. The staunch observers of the law could not carry out an execution and claim to be righteous, knowing that they had brought the charge under false pretense, and were likely a party to it (at least some were, John does not distinguish individuals within the group). Though John records that “the older ones” left first (another one of those eyewitness details), it is not certain why. It is possible that they recognized the impossibility of making a claim of righteousness in order to carry out the sentence.

In any case, the woman now stands alone with Jesus (and presumably some witnesses, including the disciples). As one writer says, Jesus now “gives the woman a chance to interpret her own situation.” He asks her, “Woman [that same term of respect that He used with his mother in John 2], where are those who accused you? Is there no one left to condemn you?” Of course, she answers, “No one,” and simply awaited His judgment. Jesus simply replies, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.”

These words are some of the best known in the entire Gospel–indeed in the entire New Testament. However, they have sparked considerable division within and without the church. Often one group will emphasize one part of the statement while minimizing the other:

  • “Neither do I condemn you.” While some commentators see this as simply Jesus passing no judgement whatsoever, since He had no civil authority, the idea is that Jesus, as the Lawgiver had more right to judge her (and thus condemn her) than anyone else. As He did with the woman who anointed His head with oil and the tax collector Zacchaeus, He chooses to forgive the sin. If this were not true, then the second half of His statement makes little sense and indeed invites the idea that Jesus is simply “overlooking” the sin.
  • “Go and sin no more.” This is a simple, direct statement, tied to what has gone before. Because He forgave her, she is to now use that grace as an empowerment to live a pure life. Incidentally, we are not told if this adultery was a one-time event or, as in the case of the woman in John 4, a habitual practice. In any case, the command is the same.

These two statements are inextricably linked. The second statement without the first leads to legalism. The first statement only leads to license. However, the two statements combined lead to liberty–the kind of liberty that is only found in Christ.

Takeaways from this Passage

There is much that we can take from this passage. The primary teaching of the passage is that Jesus, while upholding the Law, did not come to condemn the world. He is the Law-Giver and has more right than anyone to make judgments about the Law, yet the time for judgment will come later.

Beyond that, what are we to do with this passage? What is a man or woman to do who has fallen into the sin described in this passage? This passage has much to say to a world struggling with the aftermath of the sexual revolution. Sexual activity before, alongside and outside marriage is a fact of cultural life–both without and within the church. The church as a whole must come to terms with it. Two key applications emerge from this, then.

First, the passage is a plea for understanding. While it is true that the church must reaffirm and strengthen its teaching regarding the biblical norm of sexual activity within the bond of marriage, blanket condemnation is not appropriate, and indeed is opposed by the example of this passage. In today’s world, when dealing with individuals who have fallen, the church has a pastoral duty to move with sensitivity and a goal of true restoration.

Secondly, the church needs to declare that there is forgiveness and grace in Christ. It is something amazing when the Law-Giver, the I AM should say to a say self-confessed sinner (the woman never denied the charge) with the guilt of the broken commandment heavy on her conscience, “Neither do I condemn you.” This is what “the grace of God” means.

There is no sin outside of Christ’s ability to forgive, even sexual sin. In calling the broken to Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, the church must also be mindful of the other half of that command: “Go and sin no more.” The church is to call for commitment and purity, not to maintain some outward standard, but rather as a response to the undeserved grace of Christ.

[1] There is debate among scholars as to the authenticity of this passage and its place in the Gospel. However, a strong case can be made that it was part of the original Gospel but was removed, as noted in the essay in my commentary (see below).

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: The Jesus Groupies

On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 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 will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever 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 that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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 you. Whoever feeds on 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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (John 6:22-66).

In today’s culture, it’s quite fashionable to be what we might call a “groupie.” You know the kind of person that term describes—someone who follows a band or person around, always present though often just on the periphery. This accurately describes many people who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had several encounters with them, this one being one of the most well-known.

Unlike many today, Jesus often didn’t desire to have groupies. He set out to make disciples who would place their full trust and obedience in Him, going forth to make more disciples. We see this in His conversation with these groupies in John 6.


This encounter is immediately after two well-known miracles of Jesus: the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15) and Jesus walking on the water (6:16-21). Jesus’ message is directly linked to the feeding of the 5,000 (through the discussion of the bread). It shows, once again, that He refuses to allow a discussion to remain on purely on the outward or physical plane. He calls anyone who would engage Him to see the emptiness in his soul and then turn to Christ to have that emptiness filled.

Introducing the Groupies

We begin by watching this group of people realize that Jesus has left during the night. They are obviously at least part of the group that was fed by Jesus the previous day (v. 26). After the feeding, He sent His disciples ahead to go on to the other side of the lake, while He withdrew by Himself to pray. Of course, that night He went to His disciples on the lake in the midst of the storm.

So, the people tried to figure out how Jesus had managed to leave the area. They knew that the disciples had started out without Jesus, and they knew (or at least were reasonably certain) that He did not take a different boat (this seems to be implication of verses 23-24). They were undoubtedly surprised to find Jesus with His disciples in Capernaum, as evidenced by the tone of their question in verse 25: “Teacher, when [and how] did you get here?” The miracle of Jesus’ walking on the water must have been solely for the disciples’ benefit, for He doesn’t disclose how He came to be at Capernaum. In fact, He doesn’t answer their question at all. Rather, He tells them, “I know that you were looking for Me because you were hungry, and you were filled with the food that was provided. In the same way, seek the food that gives you eternal life (not just physical life), which I, the Son of Man, will give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of His approval” (vv. 26-27).

The crowd then asks a rather sensible question: “If we are to work and seek for eternal food, what is the work that God requires?” It’s the same question as the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas: “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30, NIV). It’s the same question the expert in the law and the rich young ruler asked Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25; 18:18). Jesus answers just as sensibly and simply: “This is the work of God, to believe in the One that He has sent” (v. 29). In typical fashion, like much of Jesus’ ministry, the people respond by asking for a sign “that we may see and believe you” (v. 30).

There is a sharp contrast between Jesus and the Jews regarding the definition of believe or belief. For the Jews, to believe meant mental assent based on Jesus’ credentials, which He should show by doing signs (i.e., “that we may see and believe,” v. 30). For Jesus, however, belief was more than mental assent, and it had little or nothing to do with signs. For Him, belief was commitment, placing one’s life and trust in the One that the Father has sent. For the Jews, belief was passive; to Jesus, belief is always active. And because they lacked true active belief, they really ha trouble with the rest of His message to them.

The Bread of Life

Jesus has already encouraged the people to work for eternal food—i.e., the food that God gives to meet the deep needs of the human soul. Like many previous conversations, He uses the physical to represent the spiritual (in this case, bread). He moves the conversation from a simple command (seek the true bread which the Father gives and is better than any that man can give) to a deep revelation of Himself. He pointedly says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). He is the one that will fill every genuine need of the human soul. But, because the Jews had a faulty idea of what belief meant, Jesus could rightly say in verse 36, “You have seen Me but have not believed” (implying that even though they had seen the miracles establishing His credentials, they had not believed, therefore invalidating their definition of “belief”).

An Even Harder Message

After Jesus utters these words, the Jews start “grumbling” among themselves. By the words used, the sense is, “Hey, we know this man! He is the son of Joseph! Who does he think he is, saying he came down from heaven” (vv. 41-42)? As has been a common saying over the years, “familiarity breeds contempt” would be an accurate characterization of the people. In comparing Himself (the bread of life) to the manna that their ancestors ate, Jesus reminded the people that even though the Israelites in the wilderness ate the manna (that was given by God), they still died. On the other hand, Jesus asserts that what He provides to a person will cause such a one to never die (spiritually speaking). Then He stuns the Jews by stating, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51).

It’s clear here that Jesus is not suggesting that people would literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. He is speaking of spiritual realities using earthly things, as was His habit. Here he is describing the new birth (see John 3) in a different way, by using the previous subject (bread). One is united to Christ and partakes of His flesh and blood (meaning His death, symbolized in the Lord’s Supper). Jesus promises that all who are united to Him will be raised up at the last day (vv. 54, 58).

Neither the crowd nor many of Jesus’ disciples seem to have understood this, however. We can almost hear them grumbling among themselves again. In fact, many disciples said, “This saying is too offensive for anyone to listen to” (v. 60, the idea of offense being suggested by Jesus’ question in verse 61). His question in response is similar to the one He asked Nicodemus in John 3. If the disciples could not understand this teaching, how would they understand his resurrection and ascension (v. 62, where His resurrection is implied). He acknowledges that there are some that do not believe (knowing their thoughts) and reminds them that in order to have life they must have an awakening by the Spirit. Earthly words (flesh) profit nothing, so He asserts that His words are “spirit and life” (v. 63). As He speaks words of spirit and life, the Father, through the Holy Spirit, awakens those to come to the Son (v. 65, repeating v. 37).

In the end, however, many of the disciples, instead of seeking to understand more, “turned back and no longer walked with Him” (v. 66). The idea seems to be that their hearts were simply too closed and offended to pursue Christ. He became their stumbling block. However, unlike many preachers and teachers of today, Jesus could not preach an easy or soft message simply as a means to get people to come to Him. But what He did do was offer the one thing that no earthly person could offer—life. Real, genuine, eternal life. This is the Gospel. It costs the disciple his life, but he gains the very life of Christ in return.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: Healing at the Pool

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:1-18).

Often when Jesus healed a person or brought healing to the life of a person we see a grateful, positive response. But not always. In this conversation with Jesus we see something very different, and it illustrates how Jesus continued to warn, love, and exhort those who were ungrateful, offended, and outright opposed Him.


After the events in John 4, Jesus goes up to a feast in Jerusalem. John is not specific about which feast, and his phrase “after these things,” is not clear. In any case, Jesus comes to the pool of Bethesda, where many invalids would lay. The ESV brackets the real context as non-original (as do many modern translations); whether it’s original or not it does give at least a clue as to why the people are there:

[The people were] waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.

We cannot and won’t comment as to whether this is original, a legend, or the truth. The point is that the people believed that’s what happened. And it may be that indeed there had been healings–after all, the word must have spread that something happened there. In any case, here we find the man at the center of this conversation with Jesus, having lain there for 38 years, the text says. We know little about him–what kind of ailment he had, whether he was born with it, his background, etc. John typically includes such details that highlight the point he is making.

A Rude Question?

Like the conversation with the woman of Samaria (John 4:1-26), Jesus begins this conversation. He does so with a simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” At first it seems this question is a bit insensitive. Who wouldn’t want to be healed? Who would desire to continue laying there day after day?

The man, however, gives neither an affirmative nor a negative answer to Jesus’ question. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” What kind of answer is this? It’s one that shifts the blame. Life was so cruel to him for placing him in this position, and now he has no one that would help him. As with the woman of Samaria, the answer reveals the condition of his soul. He has lost hope, grown cold and bitter toward the world.

This condition happens when one sets a goal for himself to attempt to meet some personal need. “I’ll be a whole person, significant and secure, if I can just be healed and get on with life. So, I must be healed. Here’s a way to do it.” When that goal is not reached, and perceived as unreachable, the person will often shift the blame in order to protect what little self-worth they still have–and to protect themselves from any future failure (“If I don’t try anymore I won’t fail.”)

Exposing the Holes

Jesus doesn’t directly engage the man as He did to the woman of Samaria. Instead, He simply says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” When the man was healed, not only was his body healed, but his will was healed, for he did not hesitate to obey but stood up immediately and began to walk. For Jesus, the physical healing, of course, was not an end in itself. It was rather a way to expose the real need of the individual. And in this case, we see the true heart of the man after the healing.

Of course, the Pharisees are all over the man for breaking the Sabbath: “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” Like the blind man of John 9, this man also gives testimony to his healing. Yet, there is no thankfulness. It is again an attempt to shift the blame: “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” So, it’s Jesus’ fault that this man was breaking the Sabbath.

The man is questioned about who it is that healed him and caused him to break the Sabbath. Jesus, however, has slipped back into the crowd, as He often does after teaching or healing in the Temple. But, Jesus apparently goes looking for the man (v. 14). The reason for the search is obvious from His words: he was concerned about the man’s spiritual condition. Jesus tells him, “Look, you have been healed. Stop sinning so that something worse will not happen to you.”

We need to be careful when considering these words. While they may indicate that the man’s condition was a result of sin, they may also simply serve as a warning to the man that in the future, his sin may lead to something more serious may happen to him. In John 9, Jesus specifically said that his blindness was not a result of sin. So we must be careful when developing doctrine from these passages.

Judging by his response, the man may have been offended. Instead of submitting in obedience, he goes back to the Jewish leaders and reports that it was Jesus who healed him, as if to cause trouble for Him, with some success. The Pharisees “persecute” Jesus, according to John (v. 16), though he is not specific as to what form that took. It’s obvious that the Jews charged Jesus with breaking the Sabbath, because Jesus’ reply is, “My Father is working even now, and I am also working.” It’s also clear that the Jews understood Jesus’ statement, for they sought “all the more to kill Him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Takeaways From this Passage

What do we learn from this story? The primary message here is first that Jesus comes to all, no matter where they are. He comes to expose our deepest needs, but only so that He can fill them. He heals us so that we can turn to Him in obedience and trust, opening our hearts to Him. Finally, Jesus reminds us that He is the Lord of the Sabbath and places people over rules.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: From Faith to Faith

After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee (John 4:43-54).

One of the unique characteristics of John’s Gospel is the emphasis on the personal journeys of faith. We see people like Nicodemus, who talked to Jesus and then later became a disciple (whether immediately or later we don’t know). We see the woman at the well, who argued with Jesus but then asked, “Could this be the Christ?” (Again, John is silent on her ultimate fate.) The conversation we are going to look at in this post is another journey of “from faith to faith.” It also continues Jesus’ mission to be the Savior not to just the Jews, not to just the Samaritans, but to all the world.


These events occur immediately after the events of John 4:1-42, the Samaritan woman at the well. John tells us that Jesus stayed with the Samaritans two days. After He left there, He continued His original trip to Galilee (v. 3). There are two things that set the scene here. First, John’s comment that “Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown,” reminds us that Jesus was returning home, as it were (as much as He had one). Second, John makes a point to note that there were many Galileans at the Feast mentioned in John 2:13-25 (the Passover), and saw the signs that He performed. So of course when Jesus returned to Galilee, as John notes, they welcomed Him–Jesus implies later that they welcomed Him only because of the signs.

The “official” at Capernaum that is mentioned in this conversation is most likely a Gentile official in Herod’s court. This would fit well with John’s emphasis that Jesus is the Savior of all, not just to the Jews.

A Desperate Plea

Jesus in Cana, where He turned the water into wine (2:1-12). John, as is his pattern, does not specific why Jesus chose Cana. In any case, this official hears that Jesus is in the region and went to see Him. He comes with a simple plea: “Heal my son, for he is at the point of death.” Now, notice his son wasn’t just sick or ill. He was dying. At death’s doorstep, as it were.

He makes no case, no bargains with Jesus, no trying to convince Jesus that it was the right thing to do (“I’m a really powerful man, Jesus, and I could really help You out!”). He went and humbled himself with a simple desperate cry of the heart.

Just as in the conversations with Nicodemus (John 3) and the Samaritan woman (4:1-42), Jesus’ initial reply seems out of place, even harsh. He says, “Unless you [people] see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” In taking a closer look at His response, however, we see first that the you is plural in the Greek. Here Jesus is addressing the Galileans as a whole more than just this one official. Second, since He knew that the Galileans had welcomed Him primarily because of the signs He performed at the Passover, His response was giving the chance for the official to separate himself from them. Jesus was waiting to see a true need, not just a desire for a miracle.

A Dilemma of Faith

Again, the official does not try to bargain, argue, or persuade. He simply repeats his plea: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” One can almost hear the desperation in His heart. Jesus then simply says, “Go, your way, for your son lives.” A simple command in response to the plea, really, but it put the official in the position of having to make a choice.

Will he choose to ask for a sign to authenticate Jesus’ words, and thus put himself in the camp of the Galileans? Or will he simply return home as Jesus said, acting in faith? This is arguably the harder of the two choices. John tells us that the official “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” He chose the harder of the two roads. This is the kind of faith that Jesus looks for–a faith which He honors. We know the rest of the story. John relates,

As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live” (vv. 51:53).

The official discovered it just as Jesus had said. The faith that he exercised in obeying Jesus’ command, I should point out, was not saving faith. He had simply asked for and received healing from Jesus. Yet, we can see the results. As with the Samaritan woman, Jesus uses the physical to open the door to the spiritual. John tells us, “And he himself believed, and all his household.”

When John uses this phraseology, it typically indicates what we might call saving faith. The official has moved from a basic faith in Jesus’ power to placing his life in Jesus’ hands. What’s the lesson here? The lesson is that the Lord will honor the simplest acts of faith, and will use those to draw men and women to Himself. One of the greatest catalysts of change in a person’s life is physical need. We must not overlook that when ministering to those around us. When we start at the point Jesus did, that too is an act of faith that He delights to honor.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: High Noon at the Well

[Jesus] left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:3-26).

When talking to people, Jesus had two distinct habits. First, He constantly used earthly things as a means of opening doors to discuss spiritual matters. Second (and related), He refused to keep the discussions above the waterline, insisting that people needed to examine the real heart issues

The conversation Jesus had with the woman of Samaria (the woman at the well) in John 4 is no different. This conversation is one of several that Jesus had with Gentiles during His earthly ministry, and emphasizes His mission to be the Savior of all–including the Samaritans, who were despised by the Jews.


The text tells us that Jesus left Judea and was returning to Galilee. The reason for this is that he “learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples)” (vv. 1-2). He did not want to be in the midst of a popularity contest, an wanted no unnecessary friction. So, He withdrew Himself.

The direct path to Galilee would take Jesus and the disciples through Samaria, but observant Jews universally avoided that area in order to avoid being defiled. Jesus, however, “had to” pass through Samaria. He “had to” in the sense that He was to be the Savior of the world (John 3:16), not just the Jews. It would have been during the hottest part of the day (the sixth hour, v. 6, equates to noon), and Jesus was tired, so He sat down beside the well while the disciples went to buy food. It was most likely late spring or summer, and Jesus would have been thirsty.

We know little about the Samaritan woman who came to draw water. Midday would have been an odd time to draw water, being the hottest part of the day. She either came at this time of the day because she needed more water, or because she did not want to meet the other women of the village. Based on what Jesus reveals about her, it is likely she was shunned because of her lifestyle. It was unheard of in that day for Jesus to be talking to her. It was also socially improper for Him to have done so without her husband present (one reason for His statement, “Go, call your husband” in v. 16).

Water Seen and Unseen

Unlike the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus begins this conversation. he does so by politely asking for a drink of water–not an altogether uncommon request in those days. The woman, however, exhibits a bit of sarcasm in her reply–by the time of Christ there was deep animosity between the Jews and the people of Samaria (who the Jews considered half-bred and idolaters). The woman’s reply almost says, “You Jews stay away from us Samaritans–until you need something” (v. 9). It wasn’t His need that drew Jesus here, though. It was hers.

Jesus refuses to respond in kind, but instead moves to the spiritual. It is almost as though He may have smiled and said, “Ma’am, if you only knew….” If she only knew Who was speaking to her (“the gift of God”), she would ask and would receive not just physical water but living water–a phrase to be repeated later, just before another well-known encounter involving a woman (John 7:37-38, but that’s for a future post).

Like Nicodemus, the woman is focused on the physical–and as He did in the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus insists on lifting the conversation higher, to the realm of the spiritual. The woman pointedly asks, “Just how are you going to get this living water? If you can do that, give me some too so I won’t have to come here anymore” (vv. 11-12, 15). The woman is still caught up in the physical need, though her desire to no longer have to visit the well may also be linked to the very reason she is here at noon.

The Real Issue Exposed

Before answering the question, Jesus tells the woman to go and get her husband. Not only was it socially improper at the time for Jesus to be speaking with her without her husband present (see above), but the statement is designed to lead to the real issue of her heart. She tells Him, “I have no husband,” sort of in a dismissive way. He responds by exposing what she has tried to keep hidden:

You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true (vv. 17-18).

One can almost hear the woman gasp as the contrast between the truth of her soul and the living water He offers her is exposed. She was seeking something that only He can provide. And because she never found what she truly needed, the cycle continued over and over, through five husbands and her current “non-husband.” It is important to note here that Christ does not reveal her character in order to judge her. Rather, He does so to help her confront the real need of her soul–Himself.

Avoiding the Issue

The woman is suddenly uncomfortable (understandably so). So, she does what many do in the situation–change the subject. In her case, she switches to religion. She says, in effect, “Since you seem to be a prophet, answer this for me. Where is the right place to worship God? Here, or in Jerusalem as you Jews assert” (vv. 19-20). Religious discussions of this nature are always easier than dealing with the emptiness inside the human soul.

Jesus, however, refuses to engage in the debate, though He does seem to vindicate the Jews, at least to some extent. He sees Samaritan worship as, at best, confused (“you worship what you do not know”), but in the same breath says that all humankind–including Samaritans–will be able to worship God, as long as they do so in “spirit and truth” (vv. 23, 24).

What does this phrase mean? In the larger context of John’s Gospel, it implies two things: First, that true worship of God is more than just outward appearance, but springs from inside (i.e., the spirit). Second, that true worship is “in truth,” i.e., without hypocrisy or falsehood. In direct application to the woman, it also means the worshipper deals honestly with God, not evading or skirting the issues, as she had done earlier.

The woman’s answer comes across as a bit flippant, as though to say, “Whatever. When Messiah [the Christ] comes, He will explain everything to us” (v. 25). Jesus isn’t offended by her dismissive statement but gives the first public confession of His identity to her: “I am [he] that speaks to you” (v. 26). Since he is not present in the original Greek, the phrase could rightly be rendered “I am that speaks to you.” Christ spoke the same construction (Greek ego eimi, “I am”) to the Pharisees, and it is clear they understood His meaning enough to pick up stones (see 8:58-59).

The Lightbulb

The woman must have pondered that for a bit, as the disciples arrived. She does finally make the connection between her assertion that Jesus is a prophet and His self-confessed identity. So, she takes off for town–and incidentally leaves her physical burden (the water jug) behind. She returned to the village, and she told the people, “There’s a man at the well who told me everything I’ve done” (v. 29). The implication seems to be “. . . and He still associated with me!” Though not a ringing endorsement, she tentatively asks, “Could this be the Christ?” It seems that the people who once shunned the woman did not hesitate to act on her information, for they immediately left the village and headed for Jesus.

This is Jesus’ method of evangelism. No hellfire and brimstone. Simply exposing the hidden needs of the human soul and offering Himself as the means of fulfillment. All human sin, while repulsive to God, is even more heartbreaking to Him, because it springs from needs and longings in the soul that He desires to meet. As we minister to those around us, let us remember that they are not just sinners; they are needy sinners. And we have the answer in Christ.

The Sin Behind the Sin

In a previous post (“The Root of the Problem,” 9/30/19), we talked about our underlying fear/belief that God is not as good as He claims to be. Now, as a believer, part of me wants to believe that He is. We are told that God is good. We are encouraged to memorize Scriptures to learn that God is good. But still, we have this nagging belief that He is not.

Unfulfilled Longings

Now, if God is not good, how does that affect me? Besides the fact there is a God who I believe is not good who holds my eternal destiny in His hand, there is the fact that I need and want things, and God doesn’t give them to me as I think He should. We were all created with longings in our soul, and we feel the ache in our soul when we sense that those longings are not being met.

Look at what Scripture says about the creation of man:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

We can draw out two things from this verse about the nature of humanity. First, notice that we were created for relationship and community. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God exists as an Eternal Community (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Each relates to the others in perfect love, connection, and harmony. Thus, when man was created in God’s image, part of that is necessarily a longing for relationship.

Second, notice that man was given a purpose: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” We still have that purpose. We thus have a longing for impact, to be a part of the eternal plan, to make a lasting difference in our world.

The Root of All Sin

What does this have to do with our belief that God is not good? Remember those longings that we just identified? Those will only be fully met in a perfect world. We were designed for a perfect world–a world of no sin, corruption, or pain. In such a world we would be loved fully and unconditionally, we would likewise love unconditionally and sacrificially, and we would find ourselves having impact on those around us and our world.

But, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world that is fallen–along with us. We experience hurt, rejection, and pain–and often cause the same to others. Worse yet, we experience the ache of these longings that will never be fully experienced until eternity. So, in our fallen state, we want those aches to go away. Now. And since we believe that God is not good, that He won’t provide what we think we need and want on our terms, we decide that we have to arrange for it ourselves.

That’s exactly the path that Eve and then Adam took. Eve decided that God wasn’t good, that He was holding out on her. She sought a way to provide for her own satisfaction. Likewise, Adam decided God wasn’t good because He had not (in Adam’s view) provided a way for Adam to deal with the confusion he now faced. He thus took matters into his hand, leading his wife down the path of self-gratification.

This is the root of all sin, no matter what form it takes. We want life to work. And we are determined to make it work for us, apart from God–because we view Him as not good. Even those of us who have been born again struggle with this. We want to take the principles of Scripture and make them rules. However, we forget that those principles (and we) were designed for a perfect world.

Moving Into Dependence

If all sin essentially boils down to living independently of God, making life work in our own way, then the answer to the sin question does not lie in more Bible reading, prayer, accountability, etc.–though those are good and necessary things. I know that might shock you, especially if you come from a background that emphasizes this. “Oh, you’re struggling? Get into the Word and find the principles that you are not applying and apply them to your life. Pray more. Get involved in ministry more.” The truth is that those things are strong medicine for the soul. But, if we are using them to continue to make life “work,” then they are worse than a band-aid.

The answer to independence is dependence. We must acknowledge our deepest fear that God is not good, despite what the Bible teaches us. We must turn to Him in dependence and trust. Now, this is no easy task, because the times we must depend on Him the most are the hardest and darkest times of life–those times when we desperately seek answers to questions and relief from real pain.

Part of our quest to make life work for us is that we avoid or minimize the pain of life–especially relational pain. If we are to grow, to become like Christ, we must be willing to face that pain–even embracing it–so that He can show Himself good beyond our wildest imaginings and dreams of what “good” is like.

Conversations with Jesus: One Confused Guy (Part 2)

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:9-21).

In Part 1 of this conversation with Jesus, we introduced Nicodemus and his obvious confusion. We saw that Jesus taught Nicodemus that when it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, mental assent to truths about God is not enough. The new birth is required. Jesus went on to explain the new birth to Nicodemus, who remained confused.

We see Nicodemus’ confusion, and perhaps a bit of frustration, in his question in verse 9: “How can these things be?” Jesus’ reply (vv. 10-12) seems at first glance to be a little harsh: “How can you call yourself a teacher of Israel? I’ve spoken to you of earthly things [concepts easier to understand] and you don’t believe, so how can you believe if I tell you of the truly heavenly concepts?” The reply, however, is meant to serve as a point of entry for Nicodemus to explore more deeply the truths that Jesus is teaching.

Truth #1: The new birth requires faith

The first truth that Jesus explains to Nicodemus is that the new birth reuires faith in Jesus. He says,

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (vv. 14-15).

The phrase lifted up is an obvious reference to His death, as is a parallel saying: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:12; compare 8:28). Being born again, and thus entry into the Kingdom, requires that I believe in Jesus, that He died for me.

There’s no equivocation on Jesus’ part here. It’s not enough to believe that He is a teacher sent from God, that He has some great ideas, that He’s a good man. That simply will not do.

Truth #2: The new birth comes out of God’s love

Lest Nicodemus or anyone misunderstand, Jesus makes it clear that God’s goal is not one of condemnation or judgement. He tells Nicodemus,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (vv. 16-17).

God’s motive in this simple: love. When we are tempted to think of God as anything less than utter love, Jesus gives us this reminder.

Further, God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save His people. The truth is, Jesus has no need to condemn people. Why? Because they stand condemned already. He tells Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (v. 18, emphasis added). So, without faith in Christ, one is already condemned. And that is the position that every human starts from.

Truth #3: The new birth requires coming to the light

The final truth that Jesus makes known to Nicodemus has to do with the fact that real change requires coming into the light. He says,

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God (vv. 19-21).

There can be no true salvation for those who walk in darkness. Even for those of us who have been born again by faith in Jesus are told to remain in the light. If we do not confess our sin, the truth is not in us (1 John 1:5-10). The problem, Jesus says, is that evil men do not want to come into the light. They prefer the darkness, because they do not want God. They want to live life on their terms, not His.

Those who do come into the light, however, will find more than they bargained for. They will find not only cleansing, but life (John 5:40). They will find their hunger and thirst satisfied (John 6:35; 7:37-38). This is the truth that Nicodemus is missing. Salvation is not a way of life–it is life.

Takeaways from This Passage

Unlike some of the other conversations with Jesus that we’ll examine later, we do see Nicodemus again. In John 7, he gives a cautious defense of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-51). And we learn in John 19 that he helped Joseph bury the body of Jesus after the crucifixion (John 19:31-42). It’s interesting to note that Joseph is listed as a “secret” disciple, though Nicodemus is not. John is eerily silent on his fate. In any case, it appears that his time with Jesus indeed left a lasting change.

What we learn from this passage are the same truths that Nicodemus learned. We must believe that Jesus was sent from God to die for our sins out of His great love for us. We must be willing to come to Him in the light, casting all we have upon Him. That is the essence of the Gospel.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]