8. The Cross in John’s Gospel
It is easy to overlook the fact that the Gospel records are essentially transcripts of the Gospel message preached, e.g., by John. The point of this present study is to show how John’s Gospel is full of both conscious and unconscious allusion to the crucifixion. His words are capable of a simple, surface level interpretation; but it is apparent that he is using simple language with deep meaning below that surface. 1 Cor. 1:18 speaks of the “preaching of [‘which is’, Gk.] the cross". John did just this- he preached his Gospel, but throughout there is reference to the cross. Quite rightly, he saw this as the centrepiece of the Gospel message. And also, it shows how much it played upon his mind, consciously and unconsciously. Would that our words and writing were likewise saturated with the cross and all that it stands for. Admittedly, the power of some of the following suggestions only becomes apparent when the whole weight of the argument has been considered collectively. It may he helpful, therefore, to read the following commentary through twice.
1:1In the beginning was the logos...The logos was with God and the logos was God
The essential logos of the Gospel is the message of Christ crucified. There in the cross is the kernel of everything; there was the “beginning" of the new creation. John later speaks of the Lord Jesus as being the ‘faithful martyr’ in His death, and thereby being “the beginning [s.w.] of the [new] creation of God" (Rev. 3:14). The beginning was not only at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry; the essential beginning of the new creation was when the blood and water came out of His side. And we have shown at length in God Manifestation In The Cross that Yahweh Himself was totally bound up in the death of His Son. God was there with Him and in Him, to the extent that He was in Christ there, reconciling the world unto Himself. In this sense, the logos of Christ and the death of the cross “was God". There the Father “was with" the Son [see notes under 16:25,32].
1:1 All things were made by him
The very same Greek words are used in 19:36 [cp. Lk. 24:21] in describing the cross: “these things were done [s.w. ‘made’]". All things of the new creation were made on account of His cross.
1:5,9 The light shineth in darkness...That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
3:19-21 and 12:32-46 [see later commentary] suggest that one level of meaning of Jesus as “light of the world" was that in the darkness that came over the land at the crucifixion, He upon the cross was the light of a darkened world. The Lord was “the beginning of the [new] creation of God" (Rev. 3:14); each believer who enters the spiritual world is enlightened by the light of Christ crucified.
1:10,11 The world was made by him and the world knew him not...his own received him not.
The new creation was brought into being by the cross. The Jewish world’s rejection of the Lord was crystallised in the crucifixion.
1:13 Which were born , not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God
The Lord’s death was as a result of Him being given over “to their [man’s] will" (Lk. 23:25 s.w.), but the birth of the new creation was by the will of God. This phrase is frequently associated with the Lord’s death (e.g. Acts 2:23; Lk. 22:22; Mt. 26:42; Jn. 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:9,10; Gal. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:17,18). We were born by the will of God, i.e. the death of the Lord fulfilling that will. The later references in John to the Lord coming to do God’s will refer to His coming in order to die the death of the cross. John’s account of how blood and water issued from the Lord’s pierced side is an evident allusion to childbirth; he saw the ecclesia as being born out of the pierced body of the Lord at the time of His death.
1:14 The word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled / was manifested] among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father)
The essential logos of God in Christ was articulated not only in the birth of the Lord, not only at the start of His ministry [the two interpretations most common amongst us], but supremely in His death. John’s Gospel is packed with allusion to Moses. Here the reference is to Moses cowering in the rock, beholding the glory of Yahweh and hearing the declaration of the Yahweh Name. Speaking of His forthcoming death, the Lord was to say: “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). This second declaration of the Name was to be in His death. The same allusion back to the declaration of Yahweh in Ex. 34 is to be found in John 12:27-28: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again". This second glorifying of the Name was surely in the Son’s declaration of the Name in His death. And this connects will with the evidence elsewhere presented that the Yahweh Name was closely connected with the Lord’s death, in that ‘Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews’ in Hebrew would have used words, the first letters of which spelt ‘Yahweh’.
John’s claim that he beheld the glory of God’s Son may therefore be a specific reference to the way he describes his own ‘seeing’ of the crucifixion in John 19:35: “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe". He seems to be saying: ‘I saw Him there. I really and truly did’. He uses the same kind of language in 1 Jn. 4:14: “we have seen and do testify [cp. “his record is true"] that the Father sent the son to be the saviour of the world" in the cross. “The only begotten of the Father" is a phrase nearly always used in the context of the Lord’s death (e.g. Jn. 3:16). The love of God was defined in the way the Lord laid down His life in death (1 Jn. 3:16); but it is equally defined in that “God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live" (1 Jn. 4:9). God sending His son into the world was therefore in His death specifically [see notes under 3:14-18]. And it was through this that life was won for us. As He hung covered in blood and spittle, as He gasped out forgiveness for His enemies, God’s Son as it were came into the hard world of men. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not and does not overcome it. There, the word, the essential love and grace and judgment and mercy of Yahweh, was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us. The common translation “dwelt" can give the sense that John is merely saying ‘Jesus lived in Israel’; but there is far more to it than that. In clear allusion to his Gospel, John opens his first letter by speaking of the Lord Jesus, whom “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled [a reference to the taking down of the body and embalming?], of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness [cp. 19:35] , and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us" (I Jn 1:1-3). The manifestation of the Son was supremely in His death (1 Jn. 3:5,8; 4:9 cp. Jn. 3:16; Heb. 9:26 Gk.; 1 Tim. 3:16; Jn. 17:6 cp. 26). And John exalts that they saw this, and now they too declare / manifest it to the world. One cannot behold the cross of Christ and not witness it to others.
John says that he beheld “his glory". Christ’s glory is elsewhere used by John with reference to the glory He displayed on the cross (Jn. 12:38-41; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1,5,24). However, it is also so that John “saw his glory" at the transfiguration; and yet even there, “they saw his glory" (Lk. 9:32) as “they spake of his decease which he should accomplish". His glory and His death were ever linked. The fullness of grace and truth is one of John’s many allusions to Moses’ experience when the Name was declared to him- of Yahweh, a God full of grace and truth (Ex. 34:6 RV). The Name was fully declared, as fully as could be, in the cross. The Law gave way, through the cross, to the grace and truth that was revealed by Christ after the Law ended (Jn. 1:17). In His dead, outspent body grace and truth finally replaced law. John goes on to say that the Son has declared the invisible God (Jn. 1:18)- another reference to the cross. The implication may be that as Moses cowered before the glory of the Lord, even he exceedingly feared and quaked; we likewise should make an appropriate response to the glory that was and is (note John’s tenses) displayed to us in the cross. All of God’s word was made flesh in the crucified body of the Lord Jesus. The very essence of Yahweh and all His self-revelation was epitomised there. Therefore when the Son of man was lifted up, men knew the truth of all God’s words [see notes on 8:21-28].
The Lord was “full of grace and truth". Yet according to Phil. 2:7 RV, on the cross the Lord emptied Himself. Yet there He was filled with the essence of Yahweh’s own character; for the RV of Ex. 34 stresses that Yahweh is a God whose name is full of grace and truth. On the cross He was emptied of self and yet totally filled.
The fact that the word was made flesh in the crucifixion explains why the atonement is described time and again with metaphors, as if it is a struggle for language alone to convey what happened. In the person of the crucified Christ, the ideas, the language, the words… became real and concretely expressed in a person. There is far more revealed by meditation upon the cross than can ever be put in words. There, the word, all the words, were made flesh.
It is possible to see the fulfilment of the idea of the word being made flesh in Pilate's mocking presentation of the bedraggled Saviour: " Behold the man!" . Rudolph Bultmann commented: " The declaration " the Word became flesh" has become visible in its extremest consequence" (1) .There in the spat upon Son of God we see humanity as it is meant to be; " the flesh" , " the man" as God intended, unequalled and unmatched in any other human being.
1:29 John sees Jesus and says “Look! The lamb of God…".
The three underlined words for “see", “says" and “Look!" are uniquely repeated in Jn. 19:26, where again we have the lamb of God, now sacrificed, on the cross.
1:51 ...you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man
This was a prophecy of what was to happen “hereafter", and it seems relevant to the cross. Heaven, in the sense of the Most Holy place, was opened by the veil being torn down at the Lord’s death. By the blood-shedding of Jesus, the way into the Holiest was made manifest. There is evident allusion to Jacob’s vision of the ladder reaching to Heaven; and surely the Lord is saying that He is going to become the ladder to Heaven, linking Heaven and earth, when Heaven is opened by Him in the future. And that point was surely the crucifixion. Significantly, He says: “You will see...", another hint that the disciples, especially John, saw the crucifixion. They may well have “seen" in the Johanine sense of perceiving that there, unseen, Angels were ascending and descending in ministration. John also records how the Lord saw Himself as the gate / door (10:9), just as Jacob described what he had seen as “the gate of heaven". The stone upon which he slept, lifted up and anointed with oil to become the corner-stone of the house of God, Beth-el, was all prophetic of the Lord’s death and rising up again (Eph. 2:20-22).
2:4 mine hour is not yet come
This evidently refers to the ‘hour’ of the cross, whereby the true wine / blood would be outpoured, that which had been offered before being inadequate. The governor of the feast, cp. the Jewish elders, “knew not whence it was" (2:9), using the same words to describe how they knew not from whence was the Lord, and didn’t ‘know’ / comprehend to where He was going in His death (7:27; 8:14; 19:9).
2:11 He manifested forth his glory
Just as the cross was to be a greater manifestation of his glory (see under 1:14).
2:13,17 And the Jews' Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem... And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up
Just as He “went up" at the final Passover. A Psalm evidently relevant to the crucifixion is then applied to the Lord’s behaviour; as if the disciples later realized that this early visit to Jerusalem was a living out in the Lord of the final one.
2:19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
3:13-14 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
This follows straight on from the discourse about being born again. We earlier suggested that John very much saw the new birth of the believer as a coming out of the Lord’s pierced side; this was what enabled the new birth [see under 1:1 and 1:13]. 2 Cor. 5:17 likewise speaks of the new creation in the context of expounding the Lord’s death. “Lifted up" translates a Greek word usually translated “exalt", and is used about the Lord’s exaltation after His resurrection (Acts 2:33; 5:31). Although “no man hath ascended up to heaven" uses a different word, the idea is just the same. The word is usually used by John to describe the Lord’s ‘going up’ to Jerusalem to keep and finally fulfil the Passover (2:13; 5:1; 7:8,10,14; 11:55; 12:20). John’s comment that only the Lord Jesus has “ascended up to heaven" may therefore be a reference to both His crucifixion and ascension. His ‘coming down’ may have a hint of how John records His body being ‘taken down’ from the cross.
3:14-18 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him [i.e. Him hanging there in victory over sin, not just in Him as a historical person] should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
‘Belief in Him’ therefore specifically refers to looking upon the cross in understanding, and believing it. ‘He’ was and is His cross. There we see the epitome of Him. Jesus “by himself purged our sins" (Heb. 1:3) and yet it was by His cross and His blood that sin was purged. But He Himself was epitmized in His blood / cross. And so to believe in Him is to believe in Him crucified (Jn. 3:15,16). God’s so loving the world was in the giving of His son to die. His sending His Son into the world was specifically through the cross [see under 1:14]. One wonders whether we gaze enough upon the cross. Jn. 3:14 uses the Greek word semeion for the standard / pole on which the serpent was lifted up, representing as it did the cross of Christ. But semeion is the word which John seven times uses to describe the sign-miracles worked by the Lord in His ministry. Interestingly, the Jewish Midrash on Num. 21:9 likewise associates the pole with something miraculous: “Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it up by a miracle. He cast it into the air and it stayed there" (Soncino translation). Surely John’s point is the same as Paul’s in 1 Cor. 1:22-25: the Jews want signs / miracles, but Christ crucified is the power of God, the greatest sign. And maybe this is why John alone of the Gospel writers doesn’t record any miracle within the narrative of the crucifixion. The simple, actual death of Jesus was and is the greatest and most convicting sign.
3:19-21 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God
The light coming into the world is parallel with God’s son coming into the world in the cross [see under 1:5,9]. Men “came to that sight" and turned away from it (Lk. 23:48). Our natures likewise resist us concentrating upon the cross. Something in us makes our minds wander at the breaking of bread. There our deeds are manifested. Thus the breaking of bread naturally brings forth self-examination as we focus upon and reconstruct His death. There are our deeds reproved, and also made manifest. In murdering the Son of God, Israel showed how they hated the light; the same word is used in describing how “they hated me without a cause" (Jn. 15:25). John develops the idea in 1 Jn. 2:9,11, in teaching that to hate our brother is to walk in darkness; whereas if we come to the light of God’s glory as shown in the cross, we will love our brother. The cross is the ultimate motivator to love our brethren; this was one of the reasons why the Lord died as He did (Jn. 17:26). The light of the cross is the light of all men in God’s world (1:4). The Lord later associates His being the light of the world with following Him; and ‘following him’ is invariably associated with taking up the cross and following Him. To follow the light is to follow Christ crucified (8:12).
4:10-14 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?...Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life".
It was from the smitten rock that springing water came out. There is an endless inspiration in the cross, an endless source of that spirit of new life. And the influence of the cross cannot be passive; we will also give out living water, we will become as the smitten rock, and through our share in His crucifixion we will give out to others that same new and eternal life.
4:21-23 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father...But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
The Lord’s ‘hour’ which was to come was His death (2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23,27; 13:1; 16:32 Gk.; 17:1; 19:27). Yet in a sense the essence of His death was ongoing throughout His life, as discussed at length in the section Ongoing Death. This the ‘hour’ was to come, and yet was. Then, through the cross, true worship of the Father in spirit and in truth was enabled, when the veil of the temple was torn down, and the system of Mosaic worship ended. The ‘true’ worship of the Father doesn’t imply necessarily a ‘false’ worship prior to it; it is the ‘true’ in contrast to the shadow that had existed before it (cp. the true vine, the true manna).
4:32-34 But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of...Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work
The finishing of the Father’s work was accomplished in the cross- hence the final cry of triumph, “It is finished!" (19:30). But this meat was not appreciated by them in His lifetime. The work of sharing in Christ’s cross should be our meat and drink, to the eclipsing of the pressing nature of material things. For this was the context in which the Lord spoke; His men were pressing Him to attend to His humanity, whereas His mind was filled, even in tiredness and dehydration, with the living out of the cross unto the end. He saw that “meat" in the conversion of the Samaritan woman. He saw the connection between His cross and the conversion of that woman; thus “the meat...the will...[God’s] work" was the cross, and yet it was also the conversion of the woman. The cross is essentially the converter of men and women, and thereby our crucifixion-lives are likewise the power of conversion.
5:25-29 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live...the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
As noted under 2:4 and 4:21-23, the hour that was coming and yet was refers to the Lord’s death. There, the voice of the Son of God was made clear. We have shown elsewhere how the Lord’s blood is personified as a voice crying out. Those who truly hear that voice will be raised to life. The way the graves opened at His death was surely a foretaste of this. See too notes on 16:25.
The Lord’s discourse about the Himself as the bread / manna must be understood in the light of His explanation that “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (6:51).
6:33-58 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world...
Life was given to the world not only in the sense of eternal life. A way of life was shown to us, the only way of life- the life of the cross. It is a frequently found paradox in Scripture that life comes through death. The Lord’s cross and resurrection are the prime example. However, it is not simply that His death opened the way to eternal life for us at His coming. It gives us spiritual life now, in that all that we do in our being and living should be motivated by the spirit of the cross. Each of the myriad daily decisions we take should be impacted by our knowledge of the cross. In this way, the cross gives life right now.
I am the bread of life:
Several times the Lord stresses His personal identification with the manna / bread. But this was His flesh, which He gave for the life of the world. The cross epitomised the man Jesus. Thus He could take the bread and deftly insist: “This is my body". There and then, He was to be identified with the slain body that hung upon the cross. In death, in life, this was and is and will be Him.
He that cometh to me shall never hunger
A reference to men and women ‘coming to’ the cross to behold “that sight", just as men came to the lifted up snake.
and he that believeth on me shall never thirst
Only in a personal appropriation of the cross to ourselves can we find an inspiration that is utterly endless. No wonder the Lord insists we remember His cross at least weekly in the breaking of bread.
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me...
He accomplished the will of God on the cross (see 4:32-34 notes). On the cross He came down from Heaven, there He manifested Yahweh in the greatest theophany of all time. The darkness over Him is to be read in the context of the OT theophanies which involved darkness.
And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day...
This is similar language to that concerning the lifted up snake. God’s will is that we should look upon the cross, with the faith that comes from a true understanding, and accept that great salvation. This is why the cross must be central to our whole living and thinking and conception of our faith and doctrine. The comment that “Every one that beholdeth the Son and believeth on him [shall] have eternal life" (Jn. 6:40) is another allusion to the serpent lifted up on the pole, where everyone who “looked upon the serpent of brass… lived" (Num. 21:9).
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day...
The drawing power is surely in the cross itself. There was and is a magnetism about Him there.
It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
We are taught of God by the display of His very essence which we see in the cross. We have emphasised the degree of ‘seeing God’ which is possible through the cross in ‘God manifestation in the cross’.
Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.
We see God in the crucified Christ, just as Moses saw God in the glory which was announced before him. And we have shown that John saw this as a prototype, in essence, of the crucifixion.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world...
As the manna was regularly eaten of, so the Lord’s cross should be our daily inspiration and food. We must ask whether we personally and collectively have appreciated this. We obtain eternal life from the cross in the sense that we see there the definition of the true life; the life of crucifying self, slowly and painfully, for others; of enduring injustice and lack of appreciation to the very end, of holding on in the life of forgiveness and care for others in the face of their bitterest rejection...we see there the life we must lead, indeed the only true life. For all else is ultimately only death. And it is “eternal" in its quality more than in its length, in that this is the type of life which will be lived eternally in the Kingdom. It is in this sense that John later comments that eternal life is “in" Christ (1 Jn. 5:11,20 cp. 3:14,15).
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
There is nothing else of meaning in human experience. His life, as shown in His death, is the only true and lasting sustenance for the believer.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him...This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
There is evident reference here to the breaking of bread. In our absorption of the bread and wine into our bodies, we symbolise our desire to appropriate His life and death into the very fabric of our lives. It is a symbol of our total commitment to living life as He did, and as it was epitomised in His time of dying. The breaking of bread is therefore not something which can be separated from the rest of our lives; it is a physical statement of how our whole lives are devoted to assimilating the spirit of this Man.
7:3-8 Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world....Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come [i.e. to die on the cross]: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth [through crucifying Him], because I testify of it [especially through the cross], that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.
The cross was the open exhibition of who Jesus really was. This He understood to be His greatest “work"; and this was His shewing of Himself unto the world. And this is why we should preach Christ crucified to the world. The cross was in every way the naked exhibition of Jesus.
7:18-19 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him...Why go ye about to kill me?
This is the language of Jn. 17 concerning the Lord’s upcoming death. The cross was and is the declaration of God’s glory, the ultimate truth of life. Men sought to kill Him because He was the truth (8:40). In the cross the Lord spoke not of Himself, but only of His Father’s glory. The perfection and Divinity that exuded from Him eclipsed the humanity of the man from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, the man who spoke through the larynx of a Palestinian Jew.
7:33-34 Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me:
His going unto the Father was how He understood going to the cross (13:1,3 make the connection clear). Later, the Jews would recollect Golgotha’s scene and seek Him, but not find Him. There was a time for them to accept the cross, but there would come a time when they would not be able to accept it. This surely cannot refer to their mortal lives; for whoever comes to the Son, He will in no wise cast out. So it presumably means that at the judgment, as they wallow in the wretchedness of their condemnation, they will recall the cross and wish desperately to appropriate that salvation for themselves. They will seek Him, but be unable then to find Him.
and where I am, thither ye cannot come.
We expect: ‘Where I will be...’. But He was in principle already with the Father, the cross was ongoing, and He had already reached and was living the spirit of the cross.
8:12 I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness
See under 3:19-21. The “light" was a lifted up torch of fire, exactly as He was to be lifted up on the cross. But He saw Himself as there and then lifted up as the light of the world. The principles of the cross must be the light, the only light, of our lives. When the Lord speaks of Himself as the light / burning torch of the Jewish world, He continues: “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness" (Jn. 8:12). Nobody follows the sun when they walk- so the “light" referred to is hardly the sun. Surely the reference is back to the fiery pillar in the wilderness, which gave light by night so that the Jews could walk in the light even when darkness surrounded them.
And there's an upward spiral in all this. If " the light" is specifically a reference to God's glory manifested through the crucifixion, then this must provide the background for our understanding of Jn. 12:35-50. Here the Lord teaches that only those who walk in the light can perceive who He really is, and " the work" which was to be " finished" on the cross. It is the light of the cross which reveals to us the essence of who the Lord really is... and this in turn leads us to a keener perception of the light of the cross. Which in turn enables us to see clearer the path in which we are to daily walk.
8:21-28 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
“I go my way" was to the cross. He was and is the way, the cross is the only way to the true life, both now and eternally. “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know" (14:4) further cements the connection between His “way" and the cross.
Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come...I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins...
When they had lifted up the Son of man in crucifixion, then they would “know that I am he" (v. 28). Unless they saw the manifestation of the great “I am" there, Yahweh Himself, they would die eternally. Eternal life therefore depends upon an appreciation of the cross. For this reason, the atonement must be the central doctrine of the Gospel, and those who believe it must feel it and know it personally if they are to be saved in the end. This is why 20:27-29 seems to show that the Lord understood the essence of faith in all His people as meaning that they would discern and believe the marks in His hands where the nails were.
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
The cross would confirm all He had spoken. There the words of Jesus were made flesh (1:14). In the lifted up Jesus, we see all His words, God’s words, brought together in that body.
10:4-18 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice...
The idea of ‘following’ Jesus is invariably associated with the carrying of the cross. Why do this? because of the voice / word of Jesus. This must be the ultimate end of our Bible study; a picking up of the cross. For there we see God’s words made flesh.
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them...
This is usually stated about the Lord’s prediction of His death.
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
It was the smitten rock that gave abundant, springing life. “I am come" seems to refer to His ‘coming down’ on the cross, as if it was already happening.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep...The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
The Lord’s care was shown in the death of the cross. Any care we may show, to the aged or ill or poor, is to be a reflection of the cross which we must see as the true and ultimate care.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
The cross is the basis of unity amongst us. We cannot be focused upon “that sight" and be divided.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
The Lord knows His sheep according to whether they follow Him, i.e. whether they take up His cross and follow Him. The question of cross carrying therefore reveals a man to his Lord for what he is. And it also reveals the Lord to His would be followers for who He really is.
11:50-52 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation [cp. 18:14]
The death of Jesus was primarily for Israel; and that whole nation need not have perished, due to the cross. Here we see the depth of grace; their rejection of Him, their doing of their Saviour to death, was actually the means for their salvation. We would have made it the basis of their condemnation, were we in the Father’s position. But potentially, it was the means of their salvation. But such grace was incomprehensible to them. The whole nation, or many of them, did perish. And thereby we learn that the extent of the Lord’s victory is dependent upon our response to it; so much was made possible through it, but human response is still required. John evidently intended us to see the connection with his earlier comment that the Lord was lifted up that whosoever believeth on Him should “not perish" but have eternal life.
And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
Again, the basis of our unity is a sustained, individual appreciation of the cross.
12:23-28 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
The son of God, naked, covered in blood and spittle...was the Son of man glorified. And likewise when we are fools for Christ’s sake, then we know His glory.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
Again, the power of conversion, the fruit of many converts / sons (as in Is. 53:10-12) is the cross.
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
He speaks of our death in the context of His death. Baptism is a statement that we are prepared to identify with His death as the guiding principle for the rest of our eternal existence.
If any man serve me, let him follow me;
“Follow me" is usually used by the Lord in the context of taking up the cross and following Him. True service is cross-carrying. It cannot be that we serve, truly serve, in order to advance our own egos. It is all too easy to “serve" especially in an ecclesial context without truly carrying the Lord’s cross.
and where I am, there shall also my servant be:
We can know something of the spirit of His cross. We can be where He was and where He is, in spirit. The life of cross carrying, devotion to the principles of the cross, will lead us to be with Him always wherever He leads us.
if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The second glorifying was in the cross.
12:31-41 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
The cross is what converts men; this must therefore be the essence of our preaching.
This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.
He had earlier spoke of Himself as the light of the world, meaning a torch lifted up, just as the snake was lifted up on a standard pole. And He had spoken this in evident anticipation of the manner of His death. Yet He speaks as if He was in His life the light of the world, by which men must walk. He was, in that His life exhibited the spirit of His final death. And this is the light, lifted up, by which we must live. There can be no sense of direction to life unless it is guided by the principles of the cross- we will know not whither we go. For those whose lives seems a long tunnel, through reason of their jobs or family burdens, let His cross enlighten our darkness.
These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.
Here the Lord combines quotations from Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6, applying them to His cross. There He was lifted up in glory, with the power to both convict Isaiah of his sinfulness and also inspire his service of the Gospel. Yet Is. 53:1 also applies to Israel’s refusal to hear the “report" of the Lord’s miracles. The Lord saw His death as summing up the message of all the “works" of miracles which He had done, at least those recorded by John. This opens up a fruitful line of investigation of the miracles; they all show something of the spirit of the cross, and find their final fulfilment in the cross. In 4:34 [see notes there] He had spoken of His death as the final, crowning “work" of His ministry. If men understand the cross, then they see with their eyes, understand with their heart, and are converted.
13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
“As I have loved you" is another example of how the Lord spoke of His impending sacrifice as if He had already achieved it in His life. Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end in His death (13:1). 15:12-13 says the same: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". Only the cross can be a strong enough power to inspire a love between us quite different to anything known in previous times; a love so powerful that it in itself could convert men and women.
14:3-6 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
The way He was going was to the cross- not to Heaven. There our place was prepared.
And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Here we have our typical problem- we know the way of the cross, but in practice we don’t know- or rather, we don’t want to know.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
We have earlier commented that “the way" was to the cross, and there we find and see the only true kind of life. That “way" of crucifixion life leads us to the Father, just as the Lord understood His death on the cross as a going to the Father. Because the cross so supremely manifested the Father, there we find Him, if we will live the life of Christ crucified. Yet if we keep His commandments, the Father and Son come to us (14:23), and we come to them. The cross enables a mutuality of relationship between us all. Note too that “the way" is now another term for “the cross". They were asking where He was going; was He going to die on a cross? And He replies that “I am the way"- that they ought to have realized that His whole way of life was a cross carrying, and so of course, He would be literally going to die on the cross; He would follow His “way" to the end.
14:21 I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him.
The love of Christ is nearly always associated, throughout the New Testament, with His death. In the perception of that personal love of the Son for us, we have Him manifested unto us personally. This is why personal meditation upon the cross is so crucial.
15:8 Herein is my father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.
The Father is glorified in our fruit bearing; but it is a major theme of John that it is the cross of Christ which brings glory to Him. The connection is in the fact that a true response to the principles of the cross brings forth true spiritual fruit. The glory of God is His Name and the characteristics associated with it; and we will bear these if we respond to the spirit of the cross. In this sense the Lord Jesus could say that through His death, He would be glorified in us (Jn. 17:10). By beholding and perceiving His glory on the cross, we glorify Him (Jn. 17:24,10)
15:24-25 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.
This hating without a cause surely refers to their crucifixion of Him “without a cause". He again seems to use the past tense to describe His yet future death. There men would see the Father and Son, which has to be connected with John’s recurring theme that in the cross men saw what Moses so wanted to see- Yahweh Himself manifested.
16:2-3 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
Not knowing the Father and Son was the reason why they killed the Lord (Acts 13:27,28). Because they killed Him, we must expect persecution at their hands. John stresses that because they knew not the Father nor Son, they crucified Jesus (8:19,28; 15:21). This sheds light on 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent". Knowing the Father and Son means to discern the meaning of the cross. And this is life eternal, in the same way as water of life comes from the smitten rock, and as the bread of life is in the flesh that was given on the cross for the life of the world.
16:25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time [Gk. ‘hour’] cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.
As noted under 2:4; 4:21-23 and 5:25-29, the hour that was to come is a reference to the cross. There, we see and hear the preaching / word of [‘which is’, Gk.] the cross. There on the cross, there was no allegory. There we were shown plainly the Father (2). He went on: “Behold, the hour [s.w. “time"] cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (16:32). The disciples scattered at the crucifixion, probably they came to see it and then scattered in fear after the first hour or so. But He was not left alone; for the Father was with Him there. Just as John began his Gospel by saying that “the word was with God", with specific reference to the cross. Philip had just asked to be shown the Father, just as Moses had asked (14:9,10). And the Lord is saying that in the cross, they will see plainly of the Father. And perhaps therefore we are to understand 17:24 as meaning that Jesus prayed that the disciples would physically see and spiritually understand His cross: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world". “I am", “my glory", given by the Father, and the lamb slain from “the foundation of the world"...these is all language of the cross.
21:17-23 concludes the Gospel with a detailed call to stop worrying about the weakness of our brethren, and follow our Lord in cross carrying to the end. The following study investigates the context in depth, as it would seem that in this final epilogue John is giving us his mature summing up of the message of the cross.
There is a clear link between following Christ and carrying His cross. Mt. 10:38; Mk. 8:34; 10:21 make it apparent: “Whoseoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me". To follow Christ was to leave all, to give our wealth to others, to carry the cross (Mt. 19:21,223,27,28). But there are other less evident connections. The man following his father’s coffin was told to break off and come follow Christ instead (Mt. 8:22)- as if following Him involved following Him unto the place of death. The faithful women who literally followed Him to the cross are described as also having followed Him in Galilee (Mk. 15:41), as if their following then and their literal following of Him to Golgotha were all part of the same walk. The blood-soaked warrior Saviour is followed by His people (Rev. 19:13,14). “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it…if any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am (in the agony of decision in Gethsemane), there shall my servant be" (Jn. 12:25,26). The Gospel records, Luke especially, often record how the Lord turned and spoke to His followers- as if He was in the habit of walking ahead of them, with them following (Lk. 7:9,44,55; 10:23; 14:25; 23:28; Mt. 9:22; Jn. 1:38). As we saw above, Peter thought that following the Lord was not so hard, because he was literally following Jesus around first century Israel, and identifying himself with His cause. But he simply failed to make the connection between following and cross carrying. And we too can agree to follow the Lord without realizing that it means laying down our lives. The Lord brought Peter to face this with a jolt in Mt. 16:22-25. Peter was following Jesus, after He had predicted His crucifixion (for Jesus “turned, and said unto Peter"). He thought he was following Jesus. But he was told: “Get thee behind me…if any man will come after me (s.w. ‘behind me’), let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (s.w.)". The italicized words are all the same in the original. Peter didn’t want the Lord to die by crucifixion at Jerusalem, because he saw that as a follower of Jesus this required that he too must die a like death. Peter needed to get behind Jesus in reality and really follow, in the sense of following to the cross, although he was there physically behind Jesus, physically following at that time. The Lord was saying: ‘Don’t think of trying to stop me dying. I will, of course. But concentrate instead on really getting behind me in the sense of carrying my cross’. John’s record stresses that the key to following Jesus to the cross is to hear His word, which beckons us onwards (Jn. 10:4,27). All our Bible study must lead us onwards in the life of self-sacrifice. But Peter loved the Lord’s words (see Peter: Bible Student); but, as pointed out to him at the transfiguration, he didn’t hear those words of Christ deeply. And so he missed the call to the cross. He had just stated that Jesus was Messiah; but soon afterwards he is recorded as saying that it was intrinsic within Jesus’ Messiahship that He mustn’t die or suffer. The confession of Messiahship and this incident of trying to stop the Lord dying are juxtaposed in Mark’s Gospel, which seems to be Mark’s transcript of the Gospel account Peter usually preached [note, e.g., how Peter defines the termini if the Lord’s life in Acts 1:21,22; 10:36-42- just as Mark does in his gospel]. Surely Peter is saying that yes, he had grasped the theory that Jesus of Nazareth was Messiah; but the import of Messiahship was totally lost upon him. For he had utterly failed to see the connection between Messianic kingship and suffering the death of the cross. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer because he knew that what was true of his Lord must be true of him. And this is why we too don’t want to focus too much upon the Lord’s sufferings; it demands too much of us. Which is why we turn away from our study of the cross. It was why as the disciples followed Jesus on the Jerusalem road [with all the connection between following Him and carrying His cross], they “were afraid" (Mk. 10:32). The Lord’s comment ‘Get behind me’ was exactly the same phrase He had earlier used to the ‘satan’ in the wilderness when the same temptation to take the Kingdom without the cross had been suggested. It could even be that Peter was the ‘satan’ of the wilderness conversations; or at least, in essence he was united with that satan. Hence the Lord told him that he was a satan. And interestingly, only Mark [aka Peter] describes the Lord as being tempted in the wilderness of satan [rather than the devil]. And he records how he was a satan to the Lord later on.
But Peter, to his credit, did learn something from the Lord’s rebuke and directive to follow Him in the sense of laying down his life. For when it became apparent that the Lord was going to actually die, he asked: “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake". He saw the connection between following and laying down life in death. He had heard the Lord saying that He would lay down His life for them (Jn. 10:15,17). And Peter thought he could do just the same for his Lord- but not, it didn’t occur to him, for his brethren. He didn’t then appreciate the weight or extent of the cross of Christ. The Lord replied that he was not yet able to do that, he would deny Him rather than follow Him, but one day he would be strong enough, and then he would follow Him to the end (Jn. 13:36,37). Peter thought he was strong enough then; for he followed (s.w.) Christ afar off, to the High Priest’s house (Mt. 26:58). But in ineffable self-hatred he came to see that the Lord’s prediction was right. After Peter’s ‘conversion’, the Lord told Peter in more detail how he would die: “when thou shalt be old (i.e. more spiritually mature?), thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee (as Christ was carried to the cross) whither thou wouldest not (even at that last moment, Peter would flinch from the cross). This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (as Christ’s death also did: Jn. 7:39; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1). Having said this, the Lord invited Peter: “Follow me" (Jn. 21:19). Live the life of cross carrying now, Peter. And they went on walking, with Peter walking behind Jesus. But he couldn’t concentrate on the crucifixion life. Like Lot’s wife, he turned around, away from the Lord, and saw John also following, the one who had leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper (is this detail included here to suggest that this was a cause of jealousy for Peter?). And he quizzed the Lord as to His opinion of John. Peter got distracted from his own following, his own commitment to self-crucifixion, by the powerful fascination human beings have in the status of others and the quality of their following. The Lord replied that even if John lived until His return, without ever having to die and follow Him to the literal death which Peter would have to go through, well, so what: “What is that to thee? Follow thou me". This was the same message the Lord had taught Peter through the parable of the 1st hour labourer getting distracted by the reward of the 11th hour one.He had that tendency to look on the faults of others (Mt. 18:21), to compare himself with others (Mt. 19:21 cp. 27; 26:33). And so, so many tragic times we do the same. We are distracted from the quintessence of our lives, the following, to death, of the Lord, by our jealousy of others and our desire to enter into their spirituality rather than personally following. Remember that it is so often recorded that multitudes followed the Lord wherever He went. But they missed the whole point of following Him- to die the death of the cross, and share His resurrection life.
John’s Gospel has a somewhat strange ending, on first sight. The synoptics end as we would almost expect- the Lord ascends, having given His last commission to preach, and the disciples joyfully go forth in the work. But John’s Gospel appearrs to have been almost truncated. Christ walks away on His own, with Peter following Him, and John walking some way behind Peter. Peter asks what the Lord’s opinion is of John, and is told to ignore that and keeping on following Him. John inserts a warning against possible misunderstanding of this reply- and the Gospel finishes. But when we appreciate that the language of ‘follow me’ is the call to live the life of the cross, to follow the Man from Nazareth to His ultimate end day by day, then this becomes a most impressive closing scene: the Lord Jesus walking away, with His followers following Him, in all their weakness. John’s Gospel was originally the good news preached personally by John, and there is an impressive humility in the way in which he concludes with a scene in which he follows the Lord He has preached, but some way behind Peter. An awareness of our frailty and the regrettable distance with which we personally follow the Lord we preach is something which ought to be stamped on every witness to the Lord. To follow the Lord in cross bearing is indeed the end of the Gospel. And Peter understood this when he wrote that “hereunto were ye called [i.e. this is the bottom line of life in Christ]: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). Fellowshipping His sufferings and final death is following Him. Little would Peter have realized that when he first heard the call “Follow me", and responded. And so with us. The meaning of following, the real implication of the cross, is something which can never be apparent at conversion.
This study could be extended by analyzing John’s allusions to the cross in Revelation. At the end, he twice says that when he had heard and seen all things, he realized that he was the one who had seen them, and he fell down to worship (Rev. 22:8). ‘Heard and seen’ is the very language he uses about seeng the cross (Jn. 19:35). His feelings as he beheld the crucified Jesus were those which he had on surveying the whole wonder of God’s purpose in Him; it was all made possible by that naked, tortured body.
All this reference to the cross throughout the Lord’s ministry enables us to appreciate how for Jesus, the shadow of the cross was constantly before Him. With a Biblically attune mind as He had, He would have seen the significance of so many things in the light of the death He had to die. A window into His wonderful mind is provided by the account of the Greeks ‘coming to’ Him. He responds that He must be glorified, i.e. in the cross, and that a grain of wheat must first be buried in the earth and ‘die’ before it can bring forth many other seeds (Jn. 12:21,23,32). As He saw Gentiles coming to Him in order to ‘see’ Him, He would have thought of the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole / standard, and the way so many passages in Isaiah speak of the Gentiles coming together to behold the ensign / standard / pole. My point is that just one incident- a few Gentile guys coming to Him and wanting to see Him- triggered off within Him whole chains of Biblical thought relating to His forthcoming death on the pole / standard / ensign. And this must be one of literally thousands of such associations and thought processes that were going on within that altogether lovely mind.
Summing up, John’s Gospel contains tremendous emphasis upon the cross. Much of the Gospel is concerned with the final week of the Lord’s life, and chapters 13-19 almost totally focus upon the language and circumstances of His death. I have underlined in a Bible all the verses in John that have some reference to the cross. I found 317 out of John’s 879 verses. This means that once every two or three verses, John is referring to the cross. And let us be aware that His gospel is but a transcript of the presentation of the Gospel which he normally gave. There can be no doubt at all that the cross was consciously and unconsciously His predominant theme. And so it should be with us. And in John’s follow up letters to his converts who had believed that Gospel, he likewise appeals for them to live a spiritual life on the basis of the historical reality of the cross and the atonement achieved there. And our lives likewise must be walked and lived in the same light. For all else is darkness.
(1) Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) p. 659.
(2) See God Manifestation In The Cross for further extension of these ideas.