Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eternal Life

It has been observed that John's Gospel doesn't really present Christ as dying for sins. In John's Gospel, Christ comes to give life to the world. This is different (not contradictory, different) from Paul's Gospel in Romans, where Christ has died so that we can be justified. Paul talks about justification, John talks about new birth.

John 5 presents the Son as the Son of Man who will judge all men and as the Son of God who raises the dead. He is the one who gives life to the dead. John 6 takes this farther and discusses how exactly He is going to give them life. In John 5, the Son of God will call the dead out of their graves; but in John 6 the Son of Man is the One who offers His flesh as food and His blood as drink: the one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.

We understand "eternal life" is not physical life: it's not that our bodies will never die. We understand that because the Lord Jesus specifically says so, "He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54, JND). The one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, but he still needs to be raised up at the last day. So having eternal life doesn't mean his body won't die. It does mean he will be raised up. Notice this is the truth taught in Romans 8, "if Christ be in you, the body is dead on account of sin, but the Spirit life on account of righteousness" (Romans 8:10, JND). So our bodies are still subject to death, even though we may have eternal life. Of course that will change when He comes to get us: He'll change our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:21). But until then, we live in mortal bodies.

But the Lord Jesus offers eternal life to dying (and dead) sinners. We are born dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1--3), but He came to give us life. John 6 gives us further insight into how He accomplishes this: He will give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This is an offensive statement, and it offended the people who were listening to Him. And we understand from the passage that He wasn't meaning a literal eating of His flesh and blood. The Lord Jesus told the people, "the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (v. 63, JND). It was a spiritual, not physical truth He was relaying to them.

In fact, the passage begins with an important statement, "Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom *he* has sent" (v. 29, JND). It's not literal eating and drinking that the Lord Jesus is discussing. It's not even sacramental observance. He specifically says the only work God has for us is to believe. The entire discussion begins on this ground: that the work God has for us to do is to believe.

But it is a striking image nonetheless, and it's an image we'd rather not dwell on. But it conveys a very important truth: it was not merely that He in His deity would call the dead from the grave, but that He would give them life at great personal cost. It would cost Him His flesh and His blood to give us life. This is not the Son of God commanding, this is the Son of Man dying. And it puts a responsibility on His hearers. In John 5, the Son quickens whom He will (v. 21). There's no part for us to play in this, the Son quickens the ones He wants to quicken. But here in John 6, there is a responsibility on the recipients: if you want eternal life, you need to eat. So John 5 is all about God's sovereignty, but John 6 brings in human responsibility.

There's another truth that comes out in this chapter: eternal life needs to be fed. We get eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood (v. 53), and this is a one-time eating. But there's another eating, an ongoing feeding in vv. 54--56. It's one thing to get eternal life, it's another to sustain it. I don't mean to say we lose our eternal life if we don't feed it--- if we can lose it, it's not eternal. I mean to say that it's possible for us to have eternal life, but to let it wither and fade. We can have eternal life and not really live it: have it, but be content to keep it on the shelf (so to speak), never really experiencing it.

Notice this truth, too, is brought out in Romans 8: "if ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die; but if, by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13, JND). All believers have eternal life as a present possession (cf. 1 John 5:11-13), but it's possible to have it so weakly that it doesn't affect us. The challenge of Romans 8 is, walk it out. Live it. Don't live after the flesh so that your life is a waste! Walk in the Spirit, so that our eternal life is obvious. Live now like it's eternity already.

Let's remember that the whole basis of John 6 is in v. 29. The work of God is believing. So it's a continual believing on Christ that feeds us. It's contemplating and meditating on Him that feeds the eternal life we have.

The Lord Jesus specifically talks about Himself as the "bread of life" (vv. 48--51) and contrasts Himself with the manna the "fathers" ate in the wilderness. That, He said, only gave them temporary life. He, on the other hand, gives eternal life. So we can consider the manna in the Pentatuech as a type of Christ. And we notice that the "fathers" only ate manna in the wilderness. Once they came to Canaan, the manna stopped (Exodus 16:35, Joshua 5:12). This suggests that Christ as our manna is only available while we are in the wilderness. Once our time here is done, we won't be able to feed on Him in this way. I'm not saying we won't feed on Him throughout eternity: He is our life (Colossians 3:1--4) and we'll never not need Him. But there is a sense where we have a limited opportunity to feed on Him in this way. The day will come when we'll be out of the wilderness, and the manna will stop.

Now, the manna stopped after the people had eaten the "old corn of the land" (Joshua 5:12). If we consider Christ as manna, we realize it is Him here to give His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drunk. But now He's not here in humiliation: He's ascended back to Heaven, and He can't die again (Romans 6:9). And this is what He specifically says at the end of our passage in John 6:

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmur concerning this, said to them, Does this offend you? If then ye see the Son of man ascending up where he was before? It is the Spirit which quickens, the flesh profits nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life. (John 6:61--63, JND)
But there is a sense where we are to feed on Christ, not as the Man who died for us, but as the Man now at God's right hand. Consider 2 Corinthians 3:18,
But *we* all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, JND)
I'll suggest that this is the "old corn of the land." We can't feed on manna forever, eventually we make it out the wilderness and the manna stops. But when the children of Israel came into the land, the manna stopped after they ate the old corn of the land. In other words, they were feeding on both.

There are analogies to the Christian life in the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, there are analogies to the Christian life in the land too. We should really be living the truth of both. So we feed on Christ as the True Manna, but we feed on Him as the Old Corn of the Land too. The one is Christ in humiliation, the other is Christ in glory.

John 6 teaches us we need to feed on Christ as the Bread from Heaven to have eternal life. 2 Corinthians 3 teaches us we need to gaze on Christ to be like Him. I don't think they are the same thing, but the principle is the same. If we want to live now in the power of eternal life, we need to have hearts and eyes full of Him.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Father and the Son

John 5 is to me one of the highest and most mysterious passages in Scripture. It takes us back into eternity before there was anything except God, and it takes us to the last day when Christ will judge all men. It pulls back the curtain a bit and gives us a rare and touching glimpse into the Godhead so we can see a bit of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son.

The chapter opens with the Lord Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, a man who'd been bed-ridden for 38 years. The Pharisees accuse Him of working on the Sabbath (which He had, in fact, done). The response of the Lord Jesus to the accusation of the Pharisees opens into an astonishing treatise on relationships in the Godhead.

The Lord Jesus' answer to the charge of working on the Sabbath is actually fairly subtle, and I have to admit I didn't really understand it until fairly recently. The argument basically boils down to this: the Son can't do anything on His own, He only does what He sees the Father do (v. 19). And the Father works on the Sabbath (v. 17), so the Son must work on the Sabbath. It's what the Father has taught Him to do.

I find it interesting that the Scripture doesn't tell us that Christ didn't really break the Sabbath. That's not the point. The Son had been told to do something by the Father, and that meant He wasn't going to keep the Sabbath. Interestingly, there is an Old Testament precedent for this in Joshua. It was a few years ago that an older brother pointed out that Joshua and the people were told to encircle Jericho once every day for six days, and seven times on the seventh. No matter how you figure it, those people broke the Sabbath. But they did it because God told them to. Similarly, Christ broke the Sabbath because He was obeying the Father.

But He goes beyond explaining His actions in vv. 19--30. He starts with an explanation of the relationship between the Father and the Son: "the Father loves the Son and shews him all things which he himself does" (v. 20). There is an interesting image here: the Father is bringing the Son into the family business. The Son doesn't do what He wants, He does what He sees His Father do. The Father deliberately shows the Son what it is He's doing.

Notice the titles Christ uses for Himself here: He mainly refers to Himself in John 5 as "the Son", but in v. 25 He's the "Son of God" and in v. 27 He's the "Son of man." Each of these titles holds a distinctive meaning. When the Lord Jesus refers to Himself in relationship with the Father, He calls Himself "Son." When He talks about raising the dead, He's "Son of God"; and when He talks about eternal judgment, He's "Son of man". In fact, it's because He's Son of man that all judgment is given to Him (v. 27).

(We should be very careful when we discuss Christ, because none of us can really understand Him: "no one knows the Son but the Father" (Matthew 11:27, JND). But I think it's worth emphasizing that when the Scripture talks about eternal relationships in the Godhead, it uses the title "Son", not "Son of God". Certainly Christ is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, but the title that conveys that isn't "Son of God," it's "Son". I say that carefully, because I've heard a lot of people insist that Christ is the "eternal Son of God". I don't think that's what Scripture teaches: He's the "eternal Son"; the title "Son of God" is different. This certainly isn't a hill I'm willing to die on--- I appreciate they're only trying to highlight Eternal Sonship--- but I think a careful reading of Scripture indicates the eternal title is "Son", rather than "Son of God". cf. Hebrews 1 & 2.)

There are several passages in Scripture that specifically outline God's purpose. For example, in John 4 the Father is seeking worshipers. Exodus 29 tells us Jehovah saved the children of Israel "out of the land of Egypt, to dwell in their midst: I am Jehovah their God" (Exodus 29:46, JND). Here in John 5 we have another purpose of God verse, v. 23. It is the Father's goal that all men should honour the Son just like they honour the Father. This verse has been very important to me over the last 15 or 20 years. It's like God's grand plan is really just for all men to honour His Son.

Now, the Lord Jesus gives us three specific similarities between the Son and the Father:

  1. He raises the dead (v. 21)
  2. He is the judge of all men (v. 22)
  3. He has life in Himself (v. 26)
Raising the dead is God's exclusive right. It's not simply that only God has the right to raise the dead, but only God has the power to do so. We can't raise the dead, no matter how much we'd like to. Sure, we might witness a "medical miracle" where someone who's as good as dead recovers. Or we might even see someone "clinically dead" recover after a brief time. But the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead four days later. He'd been wrapped and buried: he wasn't in a coma, he was dead. But death is no barrier to the Son of God, He raises the dead. And He quickens "whom He will" (v. 21). It's not that He's under any obligation: He raises whomever He wants to raise. No one else gets a say in the matter.

Now, He applies this to two cases. The first is what we might call a spiritual resurrection in v. 25. The Scripture often refers to man's fallen state as a spiritual death. Christ's solution to that is to raise and quicken us. Notice Ephesians and Colossians follow this same thread, but Romans takes the opposite view. In Romans it's the lost who are alive (Romans 1--3), and the saved are dead (Romans 6).

The second application is two physical resurrections in vv. 29 & 30. One is a resurrection to life, the other a resurrection to judgment. You can't be in both groups: if you're in the resurrection to judgment, you're not in the resurrection to life. Notice this is what He insists on in v. 24. If we hear His word and believe on Him who sent Him, we have life and don't come into judgment. It's not just that we're judged and acquitted, but we're never even summoned.

This brings up an important point: judgment is always related to our physical bodies. When the dead are judged, they're raised first. And how are they judged? They're judged for what they did in their bodies.

There is no escaping the judgment of God. If you die first, He'll raise you from the dead to judge you. There's no statute of limitations, there's no way to avoid the bailiff. The only escape is to believe and pass from death into life: Christ has already been judged for those who believe. He has taken their punishment, so there's no judgment left for them.

I should think to the Pharisees at the time, certainly the next claim would be been shocking. They would have known that Abraham called God "the Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25, JND), and here Christ is claiming that He is the exclusive Judge (v. 22). The Father has given all judgment to the Son. The Father won't judge anyone, the Son will judge everyone. Now certainly the Lord Jesus is God. I'm not denying that. But within the Godhead it's the Son who will judge.

I find it interesting that He is Judge because He is Son of man. This is closely echoed by Paul on Mars Hill: it's by this Man God will judge the world (Acts 17:31). Paul goes further than John 5 and tells us God has announced this publicly through the Resurrection. The message of the Resurrection, Paul says, is that God has publicly named His Judge by raising Him from the dead. But again, it's the "Man Christ Jesus" that will be Judge. Christ won't judge all men as God (although He is God), but as Man. He will judge as One who knows exactly what it's like to be a Man in a fallen world.

William Kelly says God created this world for Christ to have dominion over it:

Man is called to rule, to have dominion. God was looking on to His Son, the Son of man. For Him the habitable earth is destined. God has not made it in vain. (William Kelly, Hebrews, Chapter 2)
God created the world and gave it to man to have dominion over it. But it wasn't really Adam God intended to rule; it was the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. It is as Man that He will take dominion, and it is as Man that He will judge.

The last similarity Christ reveals is "as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself" (v. 26, JND). I find this one of the most mysterious and difficult verses in Scripture. Here's a time when the Son pulls back the curtain and lets us see into the light unapproachable where God dwells, and we can't really understand what we see there.

I have no idea what it means that the Father has "given to the Son also to have life in himself." No clue.

But little as I understand it, this verse forms the basis of Christianity in a sense. Colossians 3 says, "When the Christ is manifested who [is] our life, then shall *ye* also be manifested with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4, JND). It's not just that Christ has life in Himself, but that He shares it with us. And it's not that He gives us a little piece of it and sends us on our way: but He Himself actually is our Life. John says it a little differently: "God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11, JND).

God has no blessing for me that's not in Christ, and He has no intention of ever taking it out of Christ to give it to me. God doesn't give me blessings per se. He gives me Christ, and in Him are all the blessings God has.

Christianity is not just that Christ has died for me. That's important, but it's not really Christianity. That's not much more than Abraham, Moses, and the prophets expected. The really amazing thing about Christianity is that the Son of God has died for us and has given us an eternal claim on Him. Christianity is not so much justification: it's the ongoing, eternal, and uninterrupted relationship we have with the Son of God. He's died for us, He also lives for us. And He is personally our Life.

We're going to spend eternity getting a better idea who Christ is. And when we get to the end of eternity (you know what I mean), we won't be done. Of course, the real goal is not to wait until we're there to get to know Him. I'm not sure I'll ever understand this chapter: I'm just a creature after all. But it's in looking at Christ that we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). So maybe the point isn't understanding, but just in looking and enjoying.