The Gospel of John, Jesus' first sign, part 10
Oct 18, 2019
John 3:25, 26 says,
25 There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.”
It appears that a Jew thought that it was inappropriate for Jesus to baptize people separately from John. It seemed to compete with John and diminish his role in calling the people to the baptism of repentance. He had obviously discussed this already with others who agreed that this was a problem.
The underlying question was this: Was Jesus taking advantage of the situation after John had borne witness of Jesus? Did John feel as if he had been “used”? It is not unlike some situations today, where ministers compete for disciples (supporters). A minister may train someone to work with him, only to discover that the trainee was building his own ministry. Such conflict is often caused by the two ministers competing for a limited number of dollars.
So “they came to John” to inform him of the reason fewer people seemed to be coming to hear John’s preaching. It seems that he had competition from a minister that he had recently blessed and recommended.
Purification and Baptism
The baptism of John was seen as a purification ceremony, as it was based on the purification laws set forth by Moses. The priests purified themselves at the laver by washing their hands and feet before entering the sanctuary.
This purification question is connected also to the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. It suggests that Jesus’ miracle not only pictured the transformation of believers in their nature but also served to purify them. Hence, this discussion about purification helps to construct the sequence of events in John’s gospel that explains the first day of Tabernacles. When that day is fulfilled historically, the overcomers will become sinless and their nature will be changed.
But such prophecy remains in the background. The surface issue was about competition between ministers, which is common and, frankly, is rooted in carnal impurity in need of purification.
John’s answer shows his humility and perhaps shows us why John, who performed no miracles, was not at all inferior to the best prophets before him (Luke 7:28). We read in John 3:27-30,
27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John was building Christ’s ministry, not his own. This ought to be the attitude of all ministers. It is so easy to slip back into building one’s own kingdom in the name of Jesus. It is often hard to discern the difference between building the church and building one’s own church. In fact, this is the key problem of denominations themselves. Denominations often begin with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit departs, they try to give it immortality by turning it into an organization ruled by men.
Few people understand the underlying problem of this, because they do not know how the story of King Saul is prophetic of church history. Saul started out well enough but began to show signs of carnality just two years into his reign (1 Samuel 13:1 KJV). Each year of Saul’s reign portrays a Jubilee cycle in church history. Hence, the early church began to show signs of carnality after just two Jubilee cycles (49 x 2 years), when leaders began to assert that believers had to be in submission to a church bishop in order to be a genuine believer.
This was how the spirit of denominationalism crept into the church unawares. Men claiming to represent Christ began to usurp the position of Christ. At first, the change seemed reasonable—and, indeed, if those leaders themselves had remained as humble as John the Baptist, seeing themselves as stewards, the church would not have degenerated into its later corrupt condition. Unfortunately, more and more church leaders began to seek power over others.
Their desire was to increase, not decrease. They forgot the example of John the Baptist and put themselves in the place of Christ, rather than John.
Herein it is helpful to see the contrast between the reigns of Saul and David. Saul usurped power and treated the kingdom as if he owned it; David remained in submission to God. Each occupied the throne of Christ, but only one did so in a godly manner. The underlying reason is that Saul had come to the throne after the people desired a man to rule them (1 Samuel 8:7). God gave them their desire in order to show them their rebellion and the outcome of their carnal desire.
This is the underlying purification question that is at the root of the Jews’ question to John.
The Bridegroom and the Best Man
John was honored to be the friend of the bridegroom, a position now called the “Best Man” at the wedding. In John’s day, the friend of the bridegroom was expected to promote the bridegroom, not to usurp his position as if he himself were the main focus of the wedding.
This wedding metaphor also links this discussion back to the wedding of Cana and to Jesus’ first miracle. At that wedding, neither the bridegroom nor the best man are identified. The apostolic silence itself turns all attention upon Jesus Himself, as if to prophesy that Jesus were the real Bridegroom.
He Who Comes from Above
John the Baptist continues his answer in John 3:31, saying,
31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.”
This is very similar to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:47-49,
47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
The name Adam literally means “earthy,” for he was named after the ground from whence he was taken. The “earthy” man was made a living soul; the “heavenly” man was a life-giving Spirit. We are born naturally as “souls,” because our identity comes from our earthy parents. It is only later, when we are born of the Spirit that our identity changes from earthy to heavenly.
John appears to identify himself as being among the earthy, for he contrasts his own calling with the calling of Jesus, the heavenly Man. In so doing, however, he sets forth the distinction between earthy and heavenly, between soul and spirit, and between the soulish identity we were born with and the spiritual identity that must be obtained in order to be the sons of God.
I believe that before Paul was executed in 67 A.D., he entrusted the apostle John with his letters that were to form part of the New Testament canon. (See Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1, chapters 23 and 24.) Hence, John had read and had studied Paul’s inspired writings for a long time before he finished his gospel. It is likely, then, that the words he put in John the Baptist’s mouth (John 3:31) were meant to be interpreted according to Paul’s revelation.
In John 3:32, 33 John the Baptist continues his response, saying,
32 “What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. 33 He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.”
In other words, Jesus, the heavenly man, bore witness to the words of God, even as John the Baptist himself bore witness to Jesus as being that heavenly Man. Each bore witness to that which he had seen and heard.
On the surface it appears to be an exaggeration to say that “no man receives His witness,” for he immediately speaks of those who have indeed “received His witness.” On one level, this may indeed be an example of exaggeration to make the point that only the few are able to accept the heavenly Man’s witness. It is not so different from John 1:11, 12, where we read,
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God….
This was the Hebrew manner of speaking that was meant to show that the people as a whole rejected Jesus, but individuals among them accepted Him. So also in John 3:32, 33 we see that the nation of Judah itself rejected Jesus’ witness of the message from God, and yet a few individuals, inspired by the Spirit, did indeed receive His words.
John 3:34 continues,
34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.”
To put it another way, giving cause and effect, the Spirit was given to Jesus “without measure,” and because of this, Jesus “speaks the words of God” fully and accurately (or faithfully). He is “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Revelation 3:14). But the soulish mind, which is the “old man” within, is carnal and cannot receive or accept the things spoken by the inner spiritual man (1 Corinthians 2:14). Hence, no soulish man receives His witness.
It is only when our identity is transferred to the New Creation Man, which is the spiritual man within, that one’s soul, being in submission to one’s spirit, is able to receive the revelation of the word.
John 3:35, 36 concludes John’s admonition to the group of Jews, saying,
35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal [aionian] life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
John understood that the true Messiah was the King of the Earth. As the apostle Paul affirms, all things have been put under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:27). Jesus is the divine Agent representing the Father in every way. Therefore, all are expected to believe Jesus’ witness as if it were coming from the Father Himself. To reject His witness is to meet with God’s disapproval and “wrath.”
This is John’s summation of the objection that Jesus was baptizing disciples and thereby eroding John’s ministry. The apostle tells us that John the Baptist understood clearly that his role was subordinate to Christ.
This is part 10 of a series titled "Jesus' First Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.