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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Preface to the Gospel According to St. JohnWith A Short Account of His Life
John, the writer of this Gospel, was the son of a fisherman named Zebedee, and his mother's name was Salome. Compare Matthew 27:56, with Mark 15:40, and Mark 16:1. His father Zebedee was probably of Bethsaida, and with his sons James and John followed his occupation on the sea of Galilee. The call of these two brothers to the apostleship is related, Matthew 4:21, Matthew 4:22; Mark 1:19, Mark 1:20; Luke 5:1-10. John is generally supposed to have been about 25 years of age when he began to follow our Lord.
Theophylact makes him one of the relatives of our Lord, and gives his genealogy thus: "Joseph, the husband of the blessed Mary, had seven children by a former wife, four sons and three daughters-Martha, (perhaps, says Dr. Lardner, it should be Mary), Esther, and Salome, whose son John was; therefore Salome was reckoned out Lord's sister, and John was his nephew." If this relationship did exist, it may have been, at least in part, the reason of several things mentioned in the Gospels: as the petition of the two brothers for the two chief places in the kingdom of Christ; John's being the beloved disciple and friend of Jesus, and being admitted to some familiarities denied to the rest, and possibly performing some offices about the person of his Master; and, finally, our Lord's committing to him the care of his mother, as long as she should survive him. In a MS. of the Greek Testament in the Imperial Library of Vienna, numbered 34 in Lambecius's Catalogue, there is a marginal note which agrees pretty much with the account given above by Theophylact: viz. "John the evangelist was cousin to our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh: for Joseph, the spouse of the God-bearing virgin, had four sons by his own wife, James, Simon, Jude, and Joses, and three daughters, Esther, and Thamar, and a third who, with her mother, was called Salome, who was given by Joseph in marriage to Zebedee: of her, Zebedee begot James, and John also the evangelist." The writer of the MS. professes to have taken this account from the commentaries of St Sophronius.
This evangelist is supposed by some to have been the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana in Galilee: see John 2:1.
John was with our Lord in his transfiguration on the mount, Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28; during his agony in the garden, Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33; and when he was crucified, John 19:26.
He saw our Lord expire upon the cross, and saw the soldier pierce his side with a spear, John 19:34, John 19:35.
He was one of the first of the disciples that visited the sepulchre after the resurrection of Christ; and was present with the other disciples, when Jesus showed himself to them on the evening of the same day on which he arose; and likewise eight days after, John 20:19-29.
In conjunction with Peter, he cured a man who had been lame from his mother's womb, for which he was cast into prison, Acts 3:1-10. He was afterwards sent to Samaria, to confer the Holy Ghost on those who had been converted there by Philip the deacon, Acts 8:5-25. St. Paul informs us, Galatians 2:9, that John was present at the council of Jerusalem, of which an account is given, Acts 15:4, etc.
It is evident that John was present at most of the things related by him in his Gospel; and that he was an eye and ear witness of our Lord's labors, journeyings, discourses, miracles, passion; crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. After the ascension he returned with the other apostles from mount Olivet to Jerusalem, and took part in all transactions previously to the day of pentecost: on which time, he, with the rest, partook of the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, by which he was eminently qualified for the place he afterwards held in the apostolic Church.
Some of the ancients believed that he went into Parthia, and preached the Gospel there; and his first epistle has been sometimes cited under the name of the Epistle to the Parthians.
Irenaeus, Eusebius, Origen, and others, assert that he was a long tune in Asia, continuing there till Trajan's time, who succeeded Nerva, a.d. 98. And Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, a.d. 196, asserts that John was buried in that city. Jerome confirms this testimony, and says that John's death happened in the 68th year after our Lord's passion.
Tertullian and others say that Domitian having declared war against the Church of Christ, in the 15th year of his reign, a.d. 95, John was banished from Ephesus, and carried to Rome, where he was immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil, out of which however he escaped unhurt; and that afterwards he was banished to the isle of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, where he wrote the Apocalypse. Domitian having been slain in a.d. 96, his successor Nerva recalled all the exiles who had been banished by his predecessor; and John is supposed to have returned the next year to Ephesus, being then about ninety years of age. He is thought to have been the only apostle who died a natural death, and to have lived upwards of 100 years. Some say, having completed 100 years, he died the day following. This Gospel is supposed by learned men to have been written about a.d. 68 or 70; by others, a.d. 86; and, by others, a.d. 97; but the most probable opinion is that it was written at Ephesus about the year 86.
Jerome, in his comment on Galatians 6, says that John continued preaching when he was so enfeebled with old age that he was obliged to be carried into the assembly; and that, not being able to deliver any long discourse, his custom was to say, in every meeting, My dear children, love one another! The holy virgin lived under his care till the day of her death, which is supposed to have taken place fifteen years after the crucifixion.
John is usually painted holding a cup in his hand, with a serpent issuing from it: this took its rise from a relation by the spurious Procorus, who styles himself a disciple of St. John. Though the story is not worth relating, curiosity will naturally wish to be gratified with it. Some heretics had privately poisoned a cup of liquor, with which they presented him; but after he had prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross over it, the venom was expelled, in the form of a serpent!
Some of the first disciples of our Lord, misunderstanding the passage, John 21:22, John 21:23, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? believed that John should never die. Several in the primitive Church were of the same opinion; and to this day his death is doubted by persons of the first repute for piety and morality. Where such doctors disagree, it would be thought presumption in me to attempt to decide; otherwise I should not have hesitated to say that, seventeen hundred years ago he went the way of all flesh, and, instead of a wandering lot in a miserable, perishing world, is now glorified in that heaven of which his writings prove he had so large an anticipation, both before and after the crucifixion of his Lord.
Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. lib. iii. cap. 24) treats particularly of the order of the Gospels, and especially of this evangelist: his observations are of considerable importance, and deserve a place here. Dr. Lardner has quoted him at large, Works, vol. iv. p. 224.
"Let us," says he, "observe the writings of this apostle which are not contradicted by any. And first of all must be mentioned, as acknowledged of all, the Gospel according to him, well known to all the Churches under heaven. And that it has been justly placed by the ancients the fourth in order, and after the other three, may be made evident in this manner. Those admirable and truly Divine men, the apostles of Christ, eminently holy in their lives, and, as to their minds, adorned with every virtue, but rude in language, confiding in the Divine and miraculous power bestowed upon them by our Savior, neither knew, nor attempted to deliver the doctrine of their Master with the artifice and eloquence of words. But using only the demonstration of the Divine Spirit, working with them, and the power of Christ performing by them many miracles, they spread the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven all over the world. Nor were they greatly concerned about the writing of books, being engaged in a more excellent ministry, which was above all human power. Insomuch that Paul, the most able of all in the furniture both of words and thoughts, has left nothing in writing, beside some very short (or a very few) epistles; although he was acquainted with innumerable mysteries, having been admitted to the sight and contemplation of things in the third heaven, and been caught up into the Divine Paradise, and there allowed to hear unspeakable words. Nor were the rest of our Savior's followers unacquainted with these things, as the seventy disciples, and many other beside the twelve apostles. Nevertheless, of all the disciples of our Lord, Matthew and John only have left us any memoirs: who too, as we have been informed, were compelled to write by a kind of necessity. For Matthew having first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other people, delivered to them in their own language the Gospel according to him, by that writing supplying the want of his presence with those whom he was then leaving. And when Mark and Luke had published the Gospels according to them, it is said that John, who all this while had preached by word of mouth, was at length induced to write for this reason. The three first written Gospels being now delivered to all men, and to John himself, it is said that he approved them, and confirmed the truth of their narration by his own testimony; saying there was only wanting a written account of the things done by Christ in the former part, and the beginning of his preaching. And certainly that observation is very true. For it is easy to perceive that the other three evangelists have recorded only the actions of our Savior for one year after the imprisonment of John, as they themselves declare at the beginning of their history. For, after mentioning the forty days' fast, and the succeeding temptation, Matthew shows the time of the commencement of his account in these words: When he had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed out of Judea into Galilee. In like manner, Mark: Now after that John, says he, was cast into prison, Jesus came into Galilee. And Luke, before he begins the account of the acts of Jesus, gives a like hint in this manner: that Herod added yet this, above all, that he shut up John in prison. For these reasons, as is said, the Apostle John was entreated to relate, in the Gospel according to him, the time omitted by the four evangelists, and the things done by our Savior in that space, before the imprisonment of the Baptist; And they add, farther, that he himself hints as much, saying, This beginning of miracles did Jesus: as also in the history of the acts of Jesus he makes mention of the Baptist as still baptizing in Aenon, nigh unto Salem. And it is thought that he expressly declares as much, when he says, For John was not yet cast into prison. John, therefore, in the Gospel according to him, relates the things done by Christ while the Baptist was not yet cast into prison. But the other three evangelists relate the things that followed the Baptist's confinement. Whoever attends to these things will not any longer think the evangelists disagree with each other, forasmuch as the Gospel according to John contains the first actions of Christ, while the others give the history of the following time. And for the same reason John has omitted the genealogy of our Savior according to the flesh, it having been recorded before by Matthew and Luke; but he begins with his divinity, which had been reserved by the Holy Ghost for him, as the most excellent person." The whole of this chapter, with the preceding and following, may be profitably consulted by the reader. See also Lardner, Works, vol. iv. 224, and vi. 156-222.
Besides the Gospel before us, John is generally reputed to have been the author of the three epistles which go under his name, and of the Apocalypse. The former certainly breathe the genuine spirit of this apostle; and are invaluable monuments of his spiritual knowledge and deep piety, as well as of his Divine inspiration: as the Gospel and Epistles prove him to have been an evangelist and apostle, his book of Revelations ranks him among the profoundest of the prophets.
Learned men are not wholly agreed about the language in which this Gospel was originally written. Some think St. John wrote it in his own native tongue, the Aramean or Syriac, and that it was afterwards translated, by rather an unskilful hand, into Greek. This opinion is not supported by strong arguments. That it was originally written in Greek is the general and most likely opinion.
What the design of St. John was, in writing this Gospel, has divided and perplexed many critics and learned divines. Some suppose that it was to refute the errors taught by one Cerinthus, who rose up at that time, and asserted that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the real son of Joseph and Mary; that, at his baptism, the Christ, what we term the Divine nature, descended into him, in the form of a dove, by whose influence he worked all his miracles; and that, when he was about to suffer, this Christ, or Divine nature, departed from him, and left the man Jesus to suffer death. See Irenaeus, advers. Haereses.
Others suppose he wrote with the prime design of confuting the heresy of the Gnostics, a class of mongrels who derived their existence from Simon Magus, and who formed their system out of Heathenism, Judaism, and Christianity; and whose peculiar, involved, and obscure opinions cannot be all introduced in this place. It is enough to know that, concerning the person of our Lord, they held opinions similar to those of Cerinthus; and that they arrogated to themselves the highest degrees of knowledge and spirituality. They supposed that the Supreme Being had all things and beings included, in a certain seminal manner, in himself; and that out of Him they were produced. From God, or Bythos, the infinite Abyss, they derived a multitude of subaltern governors, called Aeons; whom they divided into several classes, among which we may distinguish the following nine. Πατηρ, Father; Χαρις, Grace; Μονογενης, First-begotten; Αληθεια, Truth; Λογος, Word; Φως, Light; Ζωη, Life; Ανθρωπος, Man; and Εκκλησια, Church; all these merging in what they termed Πληρωμα, Fulness, or complete round of being and blessings: terms which are of frequent occurrence in John's Gospel, and which some think he has introduced to fix their proper sense, and to rescue them from being abused by the Gnostics. But this is not very likely, as the Gnostics themselves appealed to St. John's Gospel for a confirmation of their peculiar opinions, because of his frequent use of the above terms. These sentiments, therefore, do not appear to be tenable.
Professor Michaelis has espoused the opinion, that it was written against the Gnostics and Sabians, and has advanced several arguments in its favor; the chief of which are the following.
"The plan which St. John adopted, to confute the tenets of the Gnostics and the Sabians, was first to deliver a set of aphorisms, as counterpositions to these tenets; and then to relate such speeches and miracles of Christ as confirmed the truth of what he had advanced. We must not suppose that the confutation of the Gnostic and Sabian errors is confined to the fourteen first verses of St. John's Gospel; for, in the first place, it is evident that many of Christ's speeches which occur in the following part of the Gospel, were selected by the evangelist with a view of proving the positions laid down in these fourteen verses; and, secondly, the positions themselves are not proofs, but merely declarations made by the evangelist. It is true that for us Christians, who acknowledge the Divine authority of St. John, his bare word is sufficient; but as the apostle had to combat with adversaries who made no such acknowledgment, the only method of convincing them was to support his assertion by the authority of Christ himself.
"Some of the Gnostics placed the 'Word' above all the other Aeons, and next to the Supreme Being: but Cerinthus placed the 'Only begotten' first, and then the 'Word.' Now St. John lays down the following positions: -
"1. The Word and the Only begotten are not different, but the same person, John 1:14. 'We beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father.' This is a strong position against the Gnostics, who usually ascribed all the Divine qualities to the Only begotten. The proofs of this position are: the testimony of John the Baptist, John 1:18, John 1:34; John 3:35, John 3:36; the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus, John 3:16, John 3:18, in which Christ calls himself the only begotten Son; the speech delivered by Christ to the Jews, John 5:17-47; and other passages, in which he calls God his Father.
"2. The Word was never made, but existed from the beginning, John 1:1. The Gnostics granted that the Word existed before the creation; but they did not admit that the Word existed from all eternity. The Supreme Being, according to their tenets, and, according to Cerinthus, the only begotten Son likewise, as also the matter from which the world was formed, were prior in existence to the Word. This notion is contradicted by St. John, who asserts that the Word existed from all eternity. As a proof of this position may be alleged perhaps what Christ says, John 8:58.
"3. The Word was in the beginning with God, John 1:1, John 1:2. The Gnostics must have maintained a contrary doctrine, or St. John, in confuting their tenets, would not have thought it necessary to advance this position, since God is omnipresent, and therefore all things are present with him.
"4. The Word was God, John 1:1. The expression, God, must be here taken in its highest sense or this position will contain nothing contrary to the doctrine of the Gnostics. For they admitted that the Word was an Aeon, and therefore a deity in the lower sense of the word. The proofs of this position are contained in the 5th, 10th, (John 10:30), and 14th (John 14:7, John 14:11) chapters.
"5. The Word was the creator of all things, John 1:3, John 1:10. This is one of St. John's principal positions against the Gnostics, who asserted that the world was made by a malevolent being. The assertion, that the Word was the creator of the world, is equivalent to the assertion, that he was God in the highest possible sense. In whatever form or manner we may think of God, the notion of Creator is inseparable from the notion of Supreme Being. We argue from the creation to the Creator; and this very argument is one proof of the existence of God.
"6. In the Word was life, John 1:4. The Gnostics, who considered the different attributes or operations of the Almighty, not as so many separate energies, but as so many separate persons, considered Life as a distinct Aeon from the Word. Without this Aeon, the world, they said, would be in a state of torpor; and hence they called it not only Life, but the Mother of the living; from this Aeon, therefore, might be expected the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. The proofs of this position are in John 3:15, John 3:21; the whole of the sixth, and the greatest part of the eighth chapter, as also John 14:6, John 14:9, John 14:19. But no part of St. John's Gospel is a more complete proof of this position than his full and circumstantial account of the resurrection of Lazarus, which the other evangelists had omitted." - See more in Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament. And, for a general account of the Logos, see John 1, at the end.
Though it is likely that the Gnostics held all these strange doctrines, and that many parts in John's Gospel may be successfully quoted against them, yet I must own I think the evangelist had a more general end in view than the confutation of their heresies. It is more likely that he wrote for the express purpose of giving the Jews, his countrymen, proper notions of the Messiah and his kingdom; and to prove that Jesus, who had lately appeared among them, was this Christ. His own words sufficiently inform us of his motive, object, and design, in writing this Gospel: These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name, John 20:31. This is a design as noble as it is simple; and every way highly becoming the wisdom and goodness of God.
The eternity of the Divine Logos, or Word of God, the dispenser of light and life, John 1:1-5. The mission of John the Baptist, John 1:6-13. The incarnation of the Logos or Word of God, John 1:14. John's testimony concerning the Logos, John 1:15-18. The priests and Levites question him concerning his mission and his baptism, John 1:19-22. His answer, John 1:23-28. His farther testimony on seeing Christ, John 1:29-34. He points him out to two of his disciples, who thereupon follow Jesus, John 1:35-37. Christ's address to them, John 1:38, John 1:39. Andrew invites his brother, Simon Peter; Christ's address to him, John 1:40-42. Christ calls Philip, and Philip invites Nathanael, John 1:43-46. Christ's character of Nathanael, John 1:47. A remarkable conversation between him and this disciple, John 1:48-51.
John's introduction is from John 1:1-18. Some harmonists suppose it to end with John 1:14. but, from the connection of the whole, John 1:18 appears to be its natural close, at it contains a reason why the Logos or Word was made flesh. John 1:15 refers to John 1:6-8, and in these passages John's testimony is anticipated in order of time, and is very fitly mentioned to illustrate Christ's pre-eminence. John 1:16, John 1:17 have a plain reference to John 1:14. See Bp. Newcome.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the beginning - That is, before any thing was formed - ere God began the great work of creation. This is the meaning of the word in Genesis 1:1, to which the evangelist evidently alludes. This phrase fully proves, in the mouth of an inspired writer, that Jesus Christ was no part of the creation, as he existed when no part of that existed; and that consequently he is no creature, as all created nature was formed by him: for without him was nothing made that is made, John 1:3. Now, as what was before creation must be eternal, and as what gave being to all things, could not have borrowed or derived its being from any thing, therefore Jesus, who was before all things and who made all things, must necessarily be the Eternal God.
Was the Word - Or, existed the Logos. This term should be left untranslated, for the very same reason why the names Jesus and Christ are left untranslated. The first I consider as proper an apellative of the Savior of the world as I do either of the two last. And as it would be highly improper to say, the Deliverer, the Anointed, instead of Jesus Christ, so I deem it improper to say, the Word, instead of the Logos. But as every appellative of the Savior of the world was descriptive of some excellence in his person, nature, or work, so the epithet Λογος, Logos, which signifies a word spoken, speech, eloquence, doctrine, reason, or the faculty of reasoning, is very properly applied to him, who is the true light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world, John 1:9; who is the fountain of all wisdom; who giveth being, life, light, knowledge, and reason, to all men; who is the grand Source of revelation, who has declared God unto mankind; who spake by the prophets, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19:10; who has illustrated life and immortality by his Gospel, 2 Timothy 1:10; and who has fully made manifest the deep mysteries which lay hidden in the bosom of the invisible God from all eternity, John 1:18.
The apostle does not borrow this mode of speech from the writings of Plato, as some have imagined: he took it from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and from the subsequent style of the ancient Jews. It is true the Platonists make mention of the Logos in this way: - καθ' ὁν, αει οντα, τα γενομενα εγενετο - by whom, eternally existing, all things were made. But as Plato, Pythagoras, Zeno, and others, traveled among the Jews, and conversed with them, it is reasonable to suppose that they borrowed this, with many others of their most important notions and doctrines, from them.
And the Word was God - Or, God was the Logos: therefore no subordinate being, no second to the Most High, but the supreme eternal Jehovah.
2The same was in the beginning with God.
3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
All things were made by him - That is, by this Logos. In Genesis 1:1, God is said to have created all things: in this verse, Christ is said to have created all things: the same unerring Spirit spoke in Moses and in the evangelists: therefore Christ and the Father are One. To say that Christ made all things by a delegated power from God is absurd; because the thing is impossible. Creation means causing that to exist that had no previous being: this is evidently a work which can be effected only by omnipotence. Now, God cannot delegate his omnipotence to another: were this possible, he to whom this omnipotence was delegated would, in consequence, become God; and he from whom it was delegated would cease to be such: for it is impossible that there should be two omnipotent beings.
On these important passages I find that many eminently learned men differ from me: it seems they cannot be of my opinion, and I feel I cannot be of theirs. May He, who is the Light and the Truth, guide them and me into all truth!
4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
In him was life - Many MSS., versions, and fathers, connect this with the preceding verse, thus: All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made. What was made had life in it; but This Life was the light of men. That is, though every thing he made had a principle of life in it, whether vegetable, animal, or intellectual, yet this, that life or animal principle in the human being, was not the light of men; not that light which could guide them to heaven, for the world by wisdom knew not God, 1 Corinthians 1:21. Therefore, the expression, in him was life, is not to be understood of life natural, but of that life eternal which he revealed to the world, 2 Timothy 1:10, to which he taught the way, John 14:6, which he promised to believers, John 10:28, which he purchased for them, John 6:51, John 6:53, John 6:54, which he is appointed to give them, John 17:2, and to which he will raise them up, John 5:29, because he hath the life in himself, John 5:26. All this may be proved:
1. From the like expressions; 1 John 5:11, This is the promise that God hath given unto us, eternal life, and this life is in his Son: whence he is styled the true God and eternal life, 1 John 5:20; the resurrection and the life, John 11:25; the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6.
2. From these words, John 1:7, John came to bear witness of this light, that all might believe through him, viz. to eternal life, 1 Timothy 1:16; for so John witnesseth, John 3:15, John 3:36.
And hence it follows that this life must be the light of men, by giving them the knowledge of this life, and of the way leading to it. See Whitby on the place. Is there any reference here to Genesis 3:20 : And Adam called his wife's name Eve, חוה chava, Ζωη, Life, because she was the mother of all living? And was not Jesus that seed of the woman that was to bruise the head of the serpent, and to give life to the world?
5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
And the light shineth in darkness - By darkness here may be understood:
1. The heathen world, Ephesians 5:8.
2. The Jewish people.
3. The fallen spirit of man.
Comprehended it not - Αυτο ου κατελαβεν, Prevented it not - hindered it not, says Mr. Wakefield, who adds the following judicious note: - "Even in the midst of that darkness of ignorance and idolatry which overspread the world, this light of Divine wisdom was not totally eclipsed: the Jewish nation was a lamp perpetually shining to the surrounding nations; and many bright luminaries, among the heathen, were never wanting in just and worthy notions of the attributes and providence of God's wisdom; which enabled them to shine in some degree, though but as lights in a dark place, 2 Peter 1:19. Compare Acts 14:17; Acts 17:28, Acts 17:29."
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Whose name was John - This was John the Baptist; see his name and the nature of his office explained, Mark 1:4 (note), and Matthew 3:1-3 (note).
7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
That all men through him might believe - He testified that Jesus was the true light - the true teacher of the way to the kingdom of glory, and the lamb or sacrifice of God, which was to bear away the sin of the world, John 1:29, and invited men to believe in him for the remission of their sins, that they might receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost, John 1:32-34. This was bearing the most direct witness to the light which was now shining in the dark wilderness of Judea; and, from thence, shortly to be diffused over the whole world.
8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
Which lighteth every man - As Christ is the Spring and Fountain of all wisdom, so all the wisdom that is in man comes from him; the human intellect is a ray from his brightness; and reason itself springs from this Logos, the eternal reason. Some of the most eminent rabbins understand Isaiah 60:1, Rise and shine, for thy Light is come, of the Messiah who was to illuminate Israel, and who, they believe, was referred to in that word, Genesis 1:3, And God said, Let there be Light; and there was light. Let a Messiah be provided; and a Messiah was accordingly provided. See Schoettgen.
That cometh into the world - Or, coming into the world - ερχομενον εις τον κοσμον: a common phrase among the rabbins, to express every human being. As the human creature sees the light of the world as soon as it is born, from which it had been excluded while in the womb of its parent; in like manner, this heavenly light shines into the soul of every man, to convince of sin, righteousness, and judgment; and it is through this light, which no man brings into the world with him, but which Christ mercifully gives to him on his coming into it, that what is termed conscience among men is produced. No man could discern good from evil, were it not for this light thus supernaturally and graciously restored. There was much light in the law, but this shone only upon the Jews; but the superior light of the Gospel is to be diffused over the face of the whole earth.
The following not only proves what is asserted in this verse, but is also an excellent illustration of it.
The Gayatri, or holiest verse of the Vedas, i.e. the ancient Hindoo Scriptures.
"Let us adore the supremacy of that divine Sun, the Godhead who illuminates all, who re-creates all; from whom all proceed; to whom all must return; whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright, in our progress towards his holy seat."
The ancient comment.
"What the sun and light are to this visible world, that are the supreme good and truth to the intellectual and invisible universe; and, as our corporeal eyes have a distinct perception of objects enlightened by the sun, thus our souls acquire certain knowledge by meditating on the light of truth, which emanates from the Being of beings; that is the light by which alone our minds can be directed in the path to blessedness." Sir Wm. Jones's works, vol. vi. p. 417.
Sir William observes that the original word Bhargas, which he translates Godhead, consists of three consonants, and is derived from bha, to shine; ram, to delight; and gam, to move: - the Being who is the light, the source of happiness, and the all-pervading energy.
10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He was in the world - From its very commencement - he governed the universe - regulated his Church - spake by his prophets - and often, as the angel or messenger of Jehovah, appeared to them, and to the patriarchs.
The world knew him not - Αυτον ουκ εγνω - Did not acknowledge him; for the Jewish rulers knew well enough that he was a teacher come from God; but they did not choose to acknowledge him as such. Men love the world, and this love hinders them from knowing him who made it, though he made it only to make himself known. Christ, by whom all things were made, John 1:3, and by whom all things are continually supported, Colossians 1:16, Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3, has way every where, is continually manifesting himself by his providence and by his grace, and yet the foolish heart of man regardeth it not! See the reason, John 3:19 (note).
11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
He came unto his own - Τα ιδια - to those of his own family, city, country: - and his own people, οἱ ιδιοι - his own citizens, brethren, subjects.
The Septuagint, Josephus, and Arrian, use these words, τα ιδιοι and οἱ ιδιοι, in the different senses given them above.
Received him not - Would not acknowledge him as the Messiah, nor believe in him for salvation.
How very similar to this are the words of Creeshna, (an incarnation of the Supreme Being, according to the theology of the ancient Hindoos!) Addressing one of his disciples, he says: "The foolish, being unacquainted with my supreme and divine nature, as Lord of all things, despise me in this human form; trusting to the evil, diabolic, and deceitful principle within them. They are of vain hope, of vain endeavors, of vain wisdom, and void of reason; whilst men of great minds, trusting to their divine natures, discover that I am before all things, and incorruptible, and serve me with their hearts undiverted by other beings." See Bhagvat Geeta, p. 79.
To receive Christ is to acknowledge him as the promised Messiah; to believe in him as the victim that bears away the sin of the world; to obey his Gospel, and to become a partaker of his holiness, without which no man, on the Gospel plan, can ever see God.
12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Gave he power - Εξουσιαν, Privilege, honor, dignity, or right. He who is made a child of God enjoys the greatest privilege which the Divine Being can confer on this side eternity. Those who accept Jesus Christ, as he is offered to them in the Gospel, have, through his blood, a right to this sonship; for by that sacrifice this blessing was purchased; and the fullest promises of God confirm it to all who believe. And those who are engrafted in the heavenly family have the highest honor and dignity to which it is possible for a human soul to arrive. What an astonishing thought is this! The sinner, who was an heir to all God's curses, has, through the sacrifice of Jesus, a claim on the mercy of the Most High, and a right to be saved! Even justice itself, on the ground of its holy and eternal nature, gives salvation to the vilest who take refuge in this atonement; for justice has nothing to grant, or Heaven to give, which the blood of the Son of God has not merited.
13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Which were born, not of blood - Who were regenerated, ουκ εξ αἱματων, not of bloods - the union of father and mother, or of a distinguished or illustrious ancestry; for the Hebrew language makes use of the plural to point out the dignity or excellence of a thing: and probably by this the evangelist intended to show his countrymen, that having Abraham and Sarah for their parents would not entitle them to the blessings of the new covenant; as no man could lay claim to them, but in consequence of being born of God; therefore, neither the will of the flesh - any thing that the corrupt heart of man could purpose or determine in its own behalf; nor the will of man - any thing that another may be disposed to do in our behalf, can avail here; this new birth must come through the will of God - through; his own unlimited power and boundless mercy, prescribing salvation by Christ Jesus alone. It has been already observed that the Jews required circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice, in order to make a proselyte. They allow that the Israelites had in Egypt cast off circumcision, and were consequently out of the covenant; but at length they were circumcised, and they mingled the blood of circumcision with the blood of the paschal lamb, and from this union of bloods they were again made the children of God. See Lightfoot. This was the only way by which the Jews could be made the sons of God; but the evangelist shows them that, under the Gospel dispensation, no person could become a child of God, but by being spiritually regenerated.
14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
And the Word was made flesh - That very person who was in the beginning - who was with God - and who was God, John 1:1, in the fullness of time became flesh - became incarnated by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin. Allowing this apostle to have written by Divine inspiration, is not this verse, taken in connection with John 1:1, an absolute and incontestable proof of the proper and eternal Godhead of Christ Jesus?
And dwelt among us - Και εσκηνωσεν εν ἡμιν, And tabernacled among us: the human nature which he took of the virgin, being as the shrine, house, or temple, in which his immaculate Deity condescended to dwell. The word is probably an allusion to the Divine Shechinah in the Jewish temple; and as God has represented the whole Gospel dispensation by the types and ceremonies of the old covenant, so the Shechinah in the tabernacle and temple pointed out this manifestation of God in the flesh. The word is thus used by the Jewish writers: it signifies with them a manifestation of the Divine Shechinah.
The original word, σκηνοω, from σκια, a shadow, signifies:
1. To build a booth, tent, or temporary hut, for present shelter or convenience; and does not properly signify a lasting habitation or dwelling place; and is therefore fitly applied to the human nature of Christ, which, like the tabernacle of old, was to be here only for a temporary residence for the eternal Divinity.
2. It signifies to erect such a building as was used on festival occasions, when a man invited and enjoyed the company of his friends. To this meaning of the word, which is a common one in the best Greek writers, the evangelist might allude, to point out Christ's associating his disciples with himself; living, conversing, eating, and drinking with them: so that, while they had the fullest proof of his Divinity by the miracles which he wrought, they had the clearest evidence of his humanity, by his tabernacling among, eating, drinking, and conversing with them. Concerning the various acceptations of the verb σκηνοω see Raphelius on this verse.
The doctrine of vicarious sacrifice and the incarnation of the Deity have prevailed among the most ancient nations in the world, and even among those which were not favored with the letter of Divine revelation. The Hindoos believe that their god has already become incarnate, not less than nine times, to save the wretched race of man.
On this subject, Creeshna, an incarnation of the supreme God, according to the Hindoo theology, is represented in the Bhagvat Geeta, as thus addressing one of his disciples: "Although I am not in my nature subject to birth or decay, and am the Lord of all created beings, yet, having command over my own nature, I am made evident by my own power; and, as often as there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world, I make myself evident; and thus I appear from age to age, for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of virtue." Geeta, pp. 51, 52.
The following piece, already mentioned, Luke 1:68, translated from the Sanscreet, found on a stone, in a cave near the ancient city of Gya in the East Indies, is the most astonishing and important of any thing found out of the compass of the Sacred Writings, and a proper illustration of this text.
"The Deity, who is the Lord, the possessor of all, Appeared in this ocean of natural beings, at the beginning of the Kalee Yoog (the age of contention and baseness.) He who is omnipresent, and everlastingly to be contemplated, the Supreme Being, the eternal One, the Divinity worthy to be adored - Appeared here, with a Portion of his Divine Nature. Reverence be unto thee in the form of (a) Bood-dha! Reverence be unto the Lord of the earth! Reverence be unto thee, an Incarnation of the Deity, and the Eternal One! Reverence be unto thee, O God! in the form of the God of mercy! the dispeller of Pain and Trouble, the Lord of All things, the Deity who overcometh the sins of the Kalee Yoog, the guardian of the universe, the emblem of mercy towards those who serve thee! (b) O'M! the possessor of all things, in Vital Form! Thou art (c) Brahma, (d) Veeshnoo, and (e) Mahesa! Thou art Lord of the universe! Thou art under the form of all things, movable and immovable, the possessor of the whole! And thus I adore thee! Reverence be unto the Bestower of Salvation, and the ruler of the faculties! Reverence be unto thee, the Destroyer of the Evil Spirit! O Damordara, (f) show me favor! I adore thee who art celebrated by a thousand names, and under various forms, in the shape of Bood-dha, the God of mercy! Be propitious, O most high God!" Asiatic Researches, vol. i. p. 284, 285.
(a) Bood-dha. The name of the Deity, as author of happiness.
(b) O'M. A mystic emblem of the Deity, forbidden to be pronounced but in silence. It is a syllable formed of the Sanscreet letters a, o o, which in composition coalesce, and make o, and the nasal consonant m. The first letter stands for the Creator, the second for the Preserver, and the third for the Destroyer. It is the same among the Hindoos as יהוה Yehovah is among the Hebrews.
(c) Brahma, the Deity in his creative quality.
(d) Veeshnoo. He who filleth all space: the Deity in his preserving quality.
(c) Mahesa. The Deity in his destroying quality. This is properly the Hindoo Trinity: for these three names belong to the same God. See the notes to the Bhagvat Geeta.
(f) Damordara, or Darmadeve, the Indian god of virtue.
We beheld his glory - This refers to the transfiguration, at which John was present, in company with Peter and James.
The glory as of the only begotten - That is, such a glory as became, or was proper to, the Son of God; for thus the particle ὡς should be here understood. There is also here an allusion to the manifestations of God above the ark in the tabernacle: see Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89; and this connects itself with the first clause, he tabernacled, or fixed his tent among us. While God dwelt in the tabernacle, among the Jews, the priests saw his glory; and while Jesus dwelt among men his glory was manifested in his gracious words and miraculous acts.
The only begotten of the Father - That is, the only person born of a woman, whose human nature never came by the ordinary way of generation; it being a mere creation in the womb of the virgin, by the energy of the Holy Ghost.
Full of grace and truth - Full of favor, kindness, and mercy to men; teaching the way to the kingdom of God, with all the simplicity, plainness, dignity, and energy of truth.
15John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
Of him - The glorious personage before mentioned: John the Baptist, whose history was well known to the persons to whom this Gospel came in the beginning, bare witness; and he cried, - being deeply convinced of the importance and truth of the subject, he delivered his testimony with the utmost zeal and earnestness, - saying, This is he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me - for I am no other than the voice of the crier in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3, the forerunner of the Messiah.
Was before me - Speaking by the prophets, and warning your fathers to repent and return to God, as I now warn you; for he was before me - he was from eternity, and from him I have derived both my being and my ministry.
16And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
This verse should be put in place of the fifteenth, and the 15th inserted between the 18th and 19th, which appears to be its proper place: thus John's testimony is properly connected.
And of his fullness - Of the plenitude of his grace and mercy, by which he made an atonement for sin; and of the plenitude of his wisdom and truth, by which the mysteries of heaven have been revealed, and the science of eternal truth taught, we have all received: all we apostles have received grace or mercy to pardon our sins, and truth to enable us so to write and speak, concerning these things, that those who attend to our testimony shall be unerringly directed in the way of salvation, and with us continue to receive grace upon grace, one blessing after another, till they are filled with all the fullness of God. I believe the above to be the meaning of the evangelist, and think it improper to distract the mind of the reader with the various translations and definitions which have been given of the phrase, grace for grace. It is only necessary to add, that John seems here to refer to the Gospel as succeeding the law: the law was certainly a dispensation both of grace and truth; for it pointed out the gracious design of God to save men by Christ Jesus; and it was at least a most expressive and well-defined shadow of good things to come: but the Gospel, which had now taken place, introduced that plenitude of grace and truth to the whole world, which the law had only shadowed forth to the Jewish people, and which they imagined should have been restrained to themselves alone. In the most gracious economy of God, one dispensation of mercy and truth is designed to make way for, and to be followed by, another and a greater: thus the law succeeded the patriarchal dispensation, and the Gospel the law; more and more of the plenitude of the grace of the Gospel becomes daily manifest to the genuine followers of Christ; and, to those who are faithful unto death, a heaven full of eternal glory will soon succeed to the grace of the Gospel. To illustrate this point more fully, the following passage in Philo the Jew has been adduced: "God is always sparing of his first blessings or graces, (πρωτας χαριτας), and afterwards gives other graces upon them, (αντ' εκεινων), and a third sort upon the second, and always new ones upon old ones, sometimes of a different kind, and at other times of the same sort." Vol. i. p. 254, ed. Mang. In the above passage the preposition αντι for, is used thrice in the sense of επι, upon. To confirm the above interpretation Bp. Pearce produces the following quotations. Ecclus 24:15: Χαρις επι χαριτι γυνη αισχυντηρα - A modest woman is a grace upon a grace, i.e. a double grace or blessing. Euripides uses the very same phrase with John, where he makes Theoclymenus say to Helena. Χαρις αντι χαριτος ελθετω, May grace upon grace come to you! Helen v. 1250. ed. Barn.
17For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
The law was given by Moses - Moses received the law from God, and through him it was given to the Jews, Acts 7:38.
But grace and truth - Which he had already mentioned, and which were to be the subject of the book which he was now writing, came to all mankind through Jesus Christ, who is the mediator of the new covenant, as Moses was of the old: Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Galatians 3:19. See a fine discourse on this text by Mr. Claude, "Essay on the Composition of a Sermon," vol. i. p. 119, etc. edit. Lond. 1788.
The law of Moses, however excellent in itself, was little in comparison of the Gospel: as it proceeded from the justice and holiness of God, and was intended to convict men of sin, that the way of the Gospel might be the better prepared, it was a law of rigour, condemnation, and death: Romans 4:15; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:8. It was a law of shadows, types, and figures: Hebrews 10:1, and incapable of expiating sin by its sacrifices: Romans 8:3; Hebrews 7:18, Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:11. But Christ has brought that grace which is opposed to condemnation: Romans 5:15, Romans 5:20, Romans 5:21; Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:10; and he is himself the spirit and substance of all those shadows: Colossians 2:19; Hebrews 10:1.
Jesus Christ - Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, or anointed prophet, priest, and king, sent from heaven. To what has already been said on the important name Jesus, (See Matthew 1:21 (note), and the places there referred to), I shall add the following explanation, chiefly taken from Professor Schultens, who has given a better view of the ideal meaning of the root ישע yasha, than any other divine or critic.
He observes that this root, in its true force, meaning, and majesty, both in Hebrew and Arabic, includes the ideas of amplitude, expansion, and space, and should be translated, he was spacious-open-ample; and, particularly, he possessed a spacious or extensive degree or rank: and is applied,
1. To a person possessing abundance of riches.
2. To one possessing abundant power.
3. To one possessing abundant or extensive knowledge.
4. To one possessing abundance of happiness, beatitude, and glory.
Hence we may learn the true meaning of Zechariah 9:9 : Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion - behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is Just, and having Salvation: - הושיע - he is possessed of all power to enrich, strengthen, teach, enlarge, and raise to glory and happiness, them who trust in him. Man by nature is in want and poverty: in abjectness and weakness: in darkness and ignorance: in straits and captivity: in wretchedness and infamy. His Redeemer is called ישועה Jesus - he who looses, enlarges, and endows with salvation.
1. He enriches man's poverty:
2. strengthens his weakness:
3. teaches his ignorance:
4. brings him out of straits and difficulties: and
5. raises him to happiness, beatitude, and glory.
And the aggregate of these is Salvation. Hence that saying, His name shall be called Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. See Schultens Origines Hebraeae, p. 15.
18No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
No man hath seen God at any time - Moses and others heard his voice, and saw the cloud and the fire, which were the symbols of his presence; but such a manifestation of God as had now taken place, in the person of Jesus Christ, had never before been exhibited to the world. It is likely that the word seen, here, is put for known, as in John 3:32; 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:6, and 3 John 1:11; and this sense the latter clause of the verse seems to require: - No man, how highly soever favored, hath fully known God, at any time, in any nation or age; the only begotten Son, (see on John 1:14 (note)), who is in the bosom of the Father, who was intimately acquainted with all the counsels of the Most High, he hath declared him, εξηγησατο, hath announced the Divine oracles unto men; for in this sense the word is used by the best Greek writers. See Kypke in loco.
Lying in the bosom, is spoken of in reference to the Asiatic custom of reclining while at meals; the person who was next the other was said to lie in his bosom; and he who had this place in reference to the master of the feast was supposed to share his peculiar regards, and so be in a state of the utmost favor and intimacy with him.
19And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
And this is the record of John - He persisted in this assertion, testifying to the Jews that this Jesus was The Christ.
20And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
He confessed, and denied not; but confessed - A common mode of Jewish phraseology. John renounces himself, that Jesus may be all in all. Though God had highly honored him, and favored him with peculiar influence in the discharge of his work, yet he considered he had nothing but what he had received, and therefore, giving all praise to his benefactor, takes care to direct the attention of the people to him alone from whom he had received his mercies. He who makes use of God's gifts to feed and strengthen his pride and vanity will be sure to be stripped of the goods wherein he trusts, and fall down into the condemnation of the devil. We have nothing but what we have received; we deserve nothing of what we possess; and it is only God's infinite mercy which keeps us in the possession of the blessings which we now enjoy.
21And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
Art thou Elias? - The scribes themselves had taught that Elijah was to come before the Messiah. See Matthew 17:10; and this belief of theirs they supported by a literal construction of Malachi 4:5.
Art thou that prophet? - the prophet spoken of by Moses, Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18. This text they had also misunderstood: for the prophet or teacher promised by Moses was no other than the Messiah himself. See Acts 3:22. But the Jews had a tradition that Jeremiah was to return to life, and restore the pot of manna, the ark of the covenant, etc., which he had hidden that the Babylonians might not get them. Besides this, they had a general expectation that all the prophets should come to life in the days of the Messiah.
I am not - I am not the prophet which you expect, nor Elijah: though he was the Elijah that was to come; for in the spirit and power of that eminent prophet he came, proclaiming the necessity of reformation in Israel. See Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:10-13.
22Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
That we may give an answer to them that sent us - These Pharisees were probably a deputation from the grand Sanhedrin; the members of which, hearing of the success of the Baptist's preaching, were puzzled to know what to make of him, and seriously desired to hear from himself what he professed to be.
23He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
I am the voice of one crying - See the notes on Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:4, Mark 1:5.
24And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
Why baptizest thou then? - Baptism was a very common ceremony among the Jews, who never received a proselyte into the full enjoyment of a Jew's privileges, till he was both baptized and circumcised. But such baptisms were never performed except by an ordinance of the Sanhedrin, or in the presence of three magistrates: besides, they never baptized any Jew or Jewess, nor even those who were the children of their proselytes; for, as all these were considered as born in the covenant, they had no need of baptism, which was used only as an introductory rite. Now, as John had, in this respect, altered the common custom so very essentially, admitting to his baptism the Jews in general, the Sanhedrin took it for granted that no man had authority to make such changes, unless especially commissioned from on high; and that only the prophet, or Elijah, or the Messiah himself; could have authority to act as John did. See the observations at the conclusion of Mark.
26John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
I baptize with water - See on Mark 1:8 (note). I use the common form, though I direct the baptized to a different end, viz. that they shall repent of their sins, and believe in the Messiah.
There standeth one among you - That is, the person whose forerunner I am is now dwelling in the land of Judea, and will shortly make his appearance among you. Christ was not present when John spoke thus, as may be seen from John 1:29.
27He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Is preferred before me - Ὁς εμπροσθεν μου γεγονεν, Who was before me. This clause is wanting in BC*L, four others, the Coptic, Ethiopic, Slavonic, and two copies of the Itala, and in some of the primitive fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is likely that it was omitted by the above, because it was found in John 1:15 and John 1:30. At the end of this verse, EG, and ten others, with some copies of the Slavonic, add, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
28These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
These things were done in Bethabara - It is very probable that the word Bethany should be inserted here, instead of Bethabara. This reading, in the judgment of the best critics, is the genuine one. The following are the authorities by which it is supported: ABCEGHLMSX, BV, of Matthai, upwards of a hundred others, Syriac, Armenian, Persic, Coptic, Slavonic, Vulgate, Saxon, and all the Itala, with some of the most eminent of the primitive fathers, before the time of Origen, who is supposed to have first changed the reading. Bethabara signifies literally the house of passage, and is thought to be the place where the Israelites passed the river Jordan under Joshua. There was a place called Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem, at the foot of the mount of Olives. But there was another of the same name, beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Reuben. It was probably of this that the evangelist speaks; and Origen, not knowing of this second Bethany, altered the reading to Bethabara. See Rosenmuller.
29The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
The next day - The day after that on which the Jews had been with John, John 1:19.
Behold the Lamb of God, etc. - This was said in allusion to what was spoken Isaiah 53:7. Jesus was the true Lamb or Sacrifice required and appointed by God, of which those offered daily in the tabernacle and temple, Exodus 29:38, Exodus 29:39, and especially the paschal lamb, were only the types and representatives. See Exodus 12:4, Exodus 12:5; 1 Corinthians 5:7. The continual morning and evening sacrifice of a lamb, under the Jewish law, was intended to point out the continual efficacy of the blood of atonement: for even at the throne of God, Jesus Christ is ever represented as a lamb newly slain, Revelation 5:6. But John, pointing to Christ, calls him emphatically, the Lamb of God: - all the lambs which had been hitherto offered had been furnished by men: this was provided by God, as the only sufficient and available sacrifice for the sin of the world. In three essential respects, this lamb differed from those by which it was represented.
1st. It was the Lamb of God; the most excellent, and the most available.
2nd. It made an atonement for sin: it carried sin away in reality, the others only representatively.
3rd. It carried away the sin of the World, whereas the other was offered only on behalf of the Jewish people. In Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 30, it is said, "The Messiah shall bear the sins of the Israelites." But this salvation was now to be extended to the whole world.
30This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And I knew him not, etc. - John did not know our Lord personally, and perhaps had never seen him, at the time he spoke the words in John 1:15. Nor is it any wonder that the Baptist should have been unacquainted with Christ, as he had spent thirty years in the hill country of Hebron, and our Lord remained in a state of great privacy in the obscure city of Nazareth, in the extreme borders of Galilee.
But that he should be made manifest to Israel - One design of my publicly baptizing was, that he, coming to my baptism, should be shown to be what he is, by some extraordinary sign from heaven.
32And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
I saw the Spirit descending, etc. - See the notes on Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17.
33And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
He that sent me - said unto me - From this we may clearly perceive that John had a most intimate acquaintance with the Divine Being; and received not only his call and mission at first, but every subsequent direction, by immediate, unequivocal inspiration. Who is fit to proclaim Jesus, but he who has continual intercourse with God; who is constantly receiving light and life from Christ their fountain; who bears a steady, uniform testimony to Jesus, even in the presence of his enemies; and who at all times abases himself, that Jesus alone may be magnified! Reformation of manners, and salvation of souls, will accompany such a person's labors whithersoever he goeth.
34And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
35Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
The next day - After that mentioned John 1:29.
Two of his disciples - One of them was Andrew, John 1:40, and it is very likely that John himself was the other; in every thing in which he might receive honor he studiously endeavors to conceal his own name.
36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
And looking upon Jesus - Attentively beholding, εμβλεψας, from εν, into, and βλεπω, to look - to view with steadfastness and attention. He who desires to discover the glories and excellencies of this Lamb of God, must thus look on him. At first sight, he appears only as a man among men, and as dying in testimony to the truth, as many others have died. But, on a more attentive consideration, he appears to be no less than God manifest in the flesh, and, by his death, making an atonement for the sin of the world.
Behold the Lamb of God! - By this the Baptist designed to direct the attention of his own disciples to Jesus, not only as the great sacrifice for the sin of the world, but also as the complete teacher of heavenly truth.
37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
And the two disciples heard him - And they perfectly understood their master's meaning; in consequence of which, they followed Jesus. Happy they who, on hearing of the salvation of Christ, immediately attach themselves to its author! Delays are always dangerous; and, in this case, often fatal. Reader! hast thou ever had Christ as a sacrifice for thy sin pointed out unto thee? If so, hast thou followed him? If not, thou art not in the way to the kingdom of God. Lose not another moment! Eternity is at hand! and thou art not prepared to meet thy God. Pray that he may alarm thy conscience, and stir up thy soul to seek till thou have found.
38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
What seek ye? - These disciples might have felt some embarrassment in addressing our blessed Lord, after hearing the character which the Baptist gave of him; to remove or prevent this, he graciously accosts them, and gives them an opportunity of explaining themselves to him. Such questions, we may conceive, the blessed Jesus still puts to those who in simplicity of heart desire an acquaintance with him. A question of this nature we may profitably ask ourselves: What seek ye? In this place! In the company you frequent? In the conversation you engage in? In the affairs with which you are occupied? In the works which you perform? Do you seek the humiliation, illumination, justification, edification, or sanctification of your soul? The edification of your neighbor? The good of the Church of Christ? Or, The glory of God? Questions of this nature often put to our hearts, in the fear of God, would induce us to do many things which we now leave undone, and to leave undone many things which we now perform.
Rabbi - Teacher. Behold the modesty of these disciples - we wish to be scholars, we are ignorant - we desire to be taught; we believe thou art a teacher come from God.
Where dwellest thou? - That we may come and receive thy instructions.
39He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
Come and see - If those who know not the salvation of God would come at the command of Christ, they should soon see that with him is the fountain of life, and in his light they should see light. Reader, if thou art seriously inquiring where Christ dwelleth, take the following for answer: He dwells not in the tumult of worldly affairs, nor in profane assemblies, nor in worldly pleasures, nor in the place where drunkards proclaim their shame, nor in carelessness and indolence. But he is found in his temple, wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, in secret prayer, in self-denial, in fasting, in self-examination. He also dwells in the humble, contrite spirit, in the spirit of faith, of love, of forgiveness, of universal obedience; in a word, he dwells in the heaven of heavens, whither he graciously purposes to bring thee, if thou wilt come and learn of him, and receive the salvation which he has bought for thee by his own blood.
The tenth hour - Generally supposed to be about what we call four o'clock in the afternoon. According to John 11:9, the Jews reckoned twelve hours in the day; and of course each hour of the day, thus reckoned, must have been something longer or shorter, according to the different times of the year in that climate. The sixth hour with them answered to our twelve o'clock, as appears from what Josephus says in his life, chap. liv.
That on the Sabbath day it was the rule for the Jews to go to dinner at the sixth hour, (ἑκτῃ ὡρᾳ). The Romans had the same way of reckoning twelve hours in each of their days. Hence what we meet with in Hor. lib. ii. sat. vi. l. 34: ante secundam signifies, as we should express it, before eight o'clock. And when, in lib. i. sat. vi. l. 122, he says, ad quartam jaceo, he means that he lay in bed till ten o'clock. See Bishop Pearce on this place. Dr. Macknight, however, is of opinion that the evangelist is to be understood as speaking of the Roman hour, which was ten o'clock in the morning; and as the evangelist remarks, they abode with him that day, it implies that there was a considerable portion of time spent with our Lord, in which, by his conversation, he removed all their scruples, and convinced them that he was the Messiah. But, had it been the Jewish tenth hour, it would have been useless to remark their abiding with him that day, as there were only two hours of it still remaining. Harmony, vol. i. p. 52.
40One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
Findeth his own brother Simon - Every discovery of the Gospel of the Son of God produces benevolence, and leads those to whom it is made to communicate it to others. Those who find Jesus find in him a treasure of wisdom and knowledge, through which they may not only become rich themselves, but be instruments, in the hand of God, of enriching others. These disciples, having tasted the good word of Christ, were not willing to eat their bread alone, but went and invited others to partake with them. Thus the knowledge of Christ became diffused - one invited another to come and see: Jesus received all, and the number of disciples was increased, and the attentive hearers were innumerable. Every man who has been brought to an acquaintance with God should endeavor to bring, at least, another with him; and his first attention should be fixed upon those of his own household.
42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone - Πετρος signifies a stone, or fragment of a rock. The reason why this name was given to Simon, who was ever afterwards called Peter, may be seen in the notes on Matthew 16:18, Matthew 16:19, and particularly in Luke, at the end of chap. 9.
43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
Philip - This apostle was a native of Bethsaida in Galilee. Eusebius says he was a married man, and had several daughters. Clemens Alexandrinus mentions it as a thing universally acknowledged that it was this apostle who, when commanded by our Lord to follow him, said, Let me first go and bury my father, Matthew 8:21, Matthew 8:22. Theodoret says he preached in the two Phrygias; and Eusebius says he was buried in Phrygia Pacatiana. He must not be confounded with Philip the deacon, spoken of Acts 6:5.
44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Nathanael - This apostle is supposed to be the same with Bartholomew, which is very likely, for these reasons
1. That the evangelists who mention Bartholomew say nothing of Nathanael; and that St. John, who speaks of Nathanael, says nothing of Bartholomew.
2. No notice is taken any where of Bartholomew's vocation, unless his and that of Nathanael mentioned here be the same.
3. The name of Bartholomew is not a proper name; it signifies the son of Ptolomy; and Nathanael might have been his own name.
4. St. John seems to rank Nathanael with the apostles, when he says that Peter and Thomas, the two sons of Zebedee, Nathanael, and two other disciples, being gone a fishing, Jesus showed himself to them, John 21:2-4.
Moses in the law - See Genesis 3:16; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:18.
And the prophets - See Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:5; Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 53:1, etc.; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:14, Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24; Daniel 9:24; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 6:12; Zechariah 9:9; Zechariah 12:10.
46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? - Bp. Pearce supposes that the τι αγαθον of the evangelist has some particular force in it: for, in Jeremiah 33:14, God says, I will perform that good thing which I promised, etc.; and this, in Jeremiah 33:15 is explained to mean, his causing the branch of righteousness (i.e. the Messiah) to grow up unto David, from whom Jesus was descended: in this view, Nathanael's question seems to imply, that not Nazareth, but Bethlehem, was to be the birth-place of the Messiah, according to what the chief priests and scribes had determined, Matthew 2:4-6. If this conjecture be not thought solid, we may suppose that Nazareth, at this time, was become so abandoned that no good could be expected from any of those who dwelt in it, and that its wickedness had passed into a proverb: Can any thing good be found in Nazareth? Or, that the question is illiberal, and full of national prejudice.
Come and see - He who candidly examines the evidences of the religion of Christ will infallibly become a believer. No history ever published among men has so many external and internal proofs of authenticity as this has. A man should judge of nothing by first appearances, or human prejudices. Who are they who cry out, The Bible is a fable? Those who have never read it, or read it only with the fixed purpose to gainsay it. I once met with a person who professed to disbelieve every tittle of the New Testament, a chapter of which, he acknowledged, he had never read. I asked him, had he ever read the Old? He answered, No! And yet this man had the assurance to reject the whole as an imposture! God has mercy on those whose ignorance leads them to form prejudices against the truth; but he confounds those who take them up through envy and malice, and endeavor to communicate them to others.
47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
Behold an Israelite indeed - A worthy descendant of the patriarch Jacob, who not only professes to believe in Israel's God, but who worships him in sincerity and truth, according to his light.
In whom is no guile! - Deceitfulness ever has been, and still is, the deeply marked characteristic of the Jewish people. To find a man, living in the midst of so much corruption, walking in uprightness before his Maker, was a subject worthy the attention of God himself. Behold this man! and, while you see and admire, imitate his conduct.
48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
Whence knowest thou me? - He was not yet acquainted with the divinity of Christ, could not conceive that he could search his heart, and therefore asks how he could acquire this knowledge of him, or who had given him that character. It is the comfort of the sincere and upright, that God knows their hearts; and it should be the terror of the deceitful and of the hypocrite, that their false dealing is ever noticed by the all-seeing eye of God.
Under the fig tree - Probably engaged in prayer with God, for the speedy appearing of the salvation of Israel; and the shade of this fig tree was perhaps the ordinary place of retreat for this upright man. It is not A fig tree, but την συκην, The fig tree, one particularly distinguished from the others. There are many proofs that the Jewish rabbins chose the shade of trees, and particularly the fig tree, to sit and study under. See many examples in Schoettgen. How true is the saying, The eyes of the Lord are through all the earth, beholding the evil and the good! Wheresoever we are, whatsoever we are about, may a deep conviction of this truth rest upon our hearts, Thou God seest Me!
49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
Rabbi - That is, Teacher! and so this word should be translated.
Thou art the Son of God - The promised Messiah.
Thou art the King of Israel - The real descendant of David, who art to sit on that spiritual throne of which the throne of David was the type.
50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
Because I said - I saw thee, etc. - As thou hast credited my Divine mission on this simple proof, that I saw thee when and where no human eye, placed where mine was, could see thee, thy faith shall not rest merely upon this, for thou shalt see greater things than these - more numerous and express proofs of my eternal power and Godhead.
51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Verily, verily - Amen, amen. The doubling of this word probably came from this circumstance: that it was written both in Hebrew אמן and in Greek αμην, signifying, it is true.
Heaven open - This seems to be a figurative expression:
1. Christ may be understood by this saying to mean, that a clear and abundant revelation of God's will should be now made unto men; that heaven itself should be laid as it were open, and all the mysteries which had been shut up and hidden in it from eternity, relative to the salvation and glorification of man; should be now fully revealed.
2. That by the angels of God ascending and descending, is to be understood, that a perpetual intercourse should now be opened between heaven and earth, through the medium of Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh. Our blessed Lord is represented in his mediatorial capacity as the ambassador of God to men; and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man, is a metaphor taken from the custom of despatching couriers or messengers from the prince to his ambassador in a foreign court, and from the ambassador back to the prince.
This metaphor will receive considerable light when compared with 2 Corinthians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:20 : God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself: - We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God. The whole concerns of human salvation shall be carried on, from henceforth, through the Son of man; and an incessant intercourse be established between heaven and earth. Some have illustrated this passage by the account of Jacob's vision, Genesis 28:12. But though that vision may intimate that God had established at that time a communication between heaven and earth, through the medium of angels, yet it does not appear that our Lord's saying here has any reference to it; but that it should be understood as stated above.
What a glorious view does this give us of the Gospel dispensation! It is heaven opened to earth; and heaven opened on earth. The Church militant and the Church triumphant become one, and the whole heavenly family, in both, see and adore their common Lord. Neither the world nor the Church is left to the caprices of time or chance. The Son of man governs as he upholds all. Wherever we are praying, studying, hearing, meditating, his gracious eye is upon us. He notes our wants, our weakness, and our petitions; and his eye affects his heart. Let us be without guile, deeply, habitually sincere, serious, and upright; and then we may rest assured, that not only the eye, but the hand, of our Lord shall be ever upon us for good.
Happy the man whose heart can rejoice in the reflection, Thou God seest me!