The author of the book of John is believed to have been the disciple by that name. It is understood that in addition to this book, he also authored three letters and that book of prophecy known as the Revelation.
It seems that John was a fisherman by livelihood. He was among the inner circle of friends, the closest disciples of Jesus during the period of time covered by this book. Some time after the crucifixion we know that he was exiled to the island of Patmos off of the coast of Asia Minor (present day Turkey). This makes him unique amongst his peers, in that most of them were executed, that is martyred.
The accounts of the life of Jesus are referred to as Gospels, which being translated means "Good News". This word represents the essence of the efforts of this man, and it is said that his ministry was that of freedom. Freedom from the crippling effects of the various diseases and conditions that seem to hold humanity in its grip. These crippling factors included physical ailments as well as mental and spiritual bondage. He taught that liberation for captives and slaves had arrived, although the understanding of this must be inferential as he rarely spoke directly. Clearly, however, the good news is this freedom which was preached.
There are four accounts of the life of Jesus which are generally accepted as the most accurate - these are the well-known by Matthew, Mark, Luke and this one. These were not written during the time of Christ's ministry, but some time later. These accounts were named after their authors, who were all contemporaries of Jesus. Each of the authors brings a unique perspective to the events that they record.
Matthew was a Levite, that priestly tribe of Hebrew culture, who prior to his meeting Jesus, was considered a co-conspirator with the occupying Romans, for whom he was collecting taxes at the time. Tax collectors were infamous for dipping deeper than required, for personal gain. Tax collectors were considered traitors by many fellow countryman, Hebrews who had sold out to foreign gods. However, as a Hebrew, and as an articulate accountant, Matthew placed the events into the context of prophecy. It seems clear that he was educated in Greek, as many of the texts he quotes seem to stem from the wording found in the Septuagint. Matthew was a disciple and his audience seems to be the Jewish people.
Mark, is John Mark the missionary which Paul speaks of. His account seems to be centered on the core events of Christ's ministry. It seems that this core represents the perspective of Peter, however, it is unknown whether Mark was present for the events about which he writes. It is unclear, to me at least, whether Mark was a Hebrew, or not - probably not. ...MORE... Mark was not a disciple, probably not even an eyewitness, and his audience seems to have been the Romans as it has this almost military order to it.
Luke, was a Greek physician and is referred to in Colossians 4:14. Since the ministry of Jesus was almost entirely focussed on his own people during the years preceding the crucifixion, Luke was not in the immediate circle we refer to as disciples. Although not a disciple in that sense, Luke's account seems sufficiently detailed for him to have witnessed these things first hand, however, he does not seem to make that claim directly. Rather, he states that his objective in writing this gospel was to produce an orderly and authoritative account of those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses. His perspective does bring a focus on miraculous healing, and parables spoken by Jesus, and he does so in impressive detail. Luke was a Greek and he seems to address the academic in his account.
John's perspective is distinct from the other three, in several ways. Although himself a Jew, he seems to address an audience which is not. Although, John as not only a disciple, but one of the three which accompanied Jesus nearly everywhere, would have been able to write at levels of detail far beyond the others, for some reason, he chooses not to. He is very selective in what he chooses to include, and seems to convey a sense of meaning for each of these - for him it seems that why something happened is of far greater importance, than the many cases of what. In spite of his apparent focus on meaning, his language is simple and unencumbered. These features make the study of John popular among people trying to make sense of the scriptures.
The author states that this Word (Gr. Logos) preexisted creation. That in fact this Word was responsible for all created things as the Word itself is God. In Genesis it states that God spoke creation into being. God breathed into man and made him a living being. God is the author of light and life.
There is probably more significance that could be taken from this passage, which in spite of its apparent simplicity, seems to convey a profound truth of a somewhat mystical nature. Much subtle connotative meaning is difficult to retain in translation.
This Word becomes the man Jesus, and John the Baptist attests to this. The well-known ascetic of the Jordan cites that it was his primary purpose in life to make this attestation.
The first disciples are called. The fact that John (the author) was among first to be called is noted, however, the call of Nathanael is remarkable. Nathan is skeptical when told that this Messiah came out of Nazareth, the cause of his skepticism can only be surmised out of a reading of that period's history and an understanding of Hebrew prophecy. But, the moment Jesus makes contact, the relationship clicks.
There seems to be a veiled reference to Jacob's ladder in the dialog with Nathan, in verse 51 and in verse 47. The name Jacob which is a word out of Hebrew vocabulary with a connotation of deceiver (sometimes translated "guile"). What connection is, and why, eludes me, but there is undoubtedly a very good reason for it being recorded here.
Jesus is at a wedding in Cana in Galilee, where he is cornered by his mother to do something about the fact that the hosts have run out of wine. As his first recorded miracle, Jesus has the staff draw fresh water from the well in a rather large quantity and serve it to the master of ceremonies. By the time the MC receives it, he pronounces that this is the finest wine that he has ever tasted, not knowing whence it came.
I don't know why his first miracle involved wine, yet it did and was specifically selected by the many that John had witnessed, as one that he would record for posterity.
The significance of this new wine must have some context given Joel 3:18, although it is not commonly referenced as such in English literature. The revivalist movements of the Western world has heavily emphasized abstention from all substances containing alcohol, in contrast with the balanced moderation enjoined in the scriptures themselves. In the other Gospels, new wine is often used as a metaphor for the followers of Christ.
Again, there is a significance here that I think is being lost, and that I am not sure that I fully understand myself.
The zeal for my house will overwhelm him, it is predicted by the Hebrew prophets of old. Jesus' purge of the Temple is indicative of such prophetic zeal.
The Hebrews were required to return to Jerusalem three times a year, according to the laws prescribe by Moses and the prophets. Now, some discrepancy occurs between the Hebrews of the north, and those of the south, as to whether Moses was referring to the place in Jerusalem, or the place near Shechem (more on this later). The Law prescribed Passover as one of those occasions.
By the time of the Roman occupation, the Jews were fairly dispersed, having been repeatedly as it were, lead captive into foreign lands over the previous six centuries approximately. Together with converts to Judaism from foreign lands, many folks from international locations would gather in Jerusalem at this time of year. These would not normally travel with livestock, one might expect and would look to purchase the requisite Passover lamb once they arrived at the destination. But there is more to it than that.
At the time of the Roman occupation, the leaders of the Temple had become very opportunistic and corrupt. Rather than sell livestock outside of the city, and one presumes compete with the other farmers out there, the priesthood granted lucrative concessions to aggressive vendors, to sell within the Temple courts. Specifically, it is expected that these sales would have taken place in the relatively expansive Court of the Gentiles, the area of the Temple originally designated as the area for non-Hebrews. To exclude the non-Hebrews from the Temple in order to line their pockets on the backs of special prices, made Jesus irate. He acted on his anger in a manner to be expected by one consumed with the zeal of the Temple.
Some are offended by the violence of the act, even some well-intentioned Christians it seems. What becomes apparent through this incident, however, is that he valued truth and correctness more than some superficial pseudo-peace that does not have as its foundation these principles.
When challenged, by whose authority does he do this, he launches into a prophecy about the destruction of the Temple which is later understood to mean his body. The Temple being the dwelling place of God (the shikina glory) in the early days, now compared to the human body as the dwelling place for God, opens up a large mystery and opportunity for discussion.
It is significant that Jesus did not depend on others during his ministry - it does seem a statement on our own trustworthiness, does it not?
Nicodemus was a member of the ruling council of the Jews. As such he would have had significant say in the matters of the Temple. It seems interesting that such a powerful man would visit with Jesus at night - one only presumes that he is trying to avoid losing influence with his peers for having consulted with such a controversial character, as Jesus must have been judging from the previous chapter.
What we discussed at great length, probably greater than it deserves is: What was Nic's motivation? After all, he seems to have significant risk, politically, for doing so. We identify two possibilities that exist.
First, perhaps Nic is acting as a representative of the council to gather intelligence, perhaps even subvert this Jesus movement that is gathering momentum. However, it begs the question would the council have sent someone of such standing to achieve these ends? It is possible, when one considers the fact that the council had on various occasions sent people out for exactly those purposes - plausible, yet why one of their inner circle?
A second possible explanation might be that Nic is acting out of genuine personal interest. This answers the said question, it does, but if a seeker, why does he not seem to get it when Jesus teaches? A genuine seeker, someone who is well read like Nic, surely would be more perceptive than he seems to be in this dialog.
The real answer to the above might well be somewhere in the middle - Nic was curious, but did not fully comprehend the depth of what he was in for.
The course of the dialog represents a major thesis distinguishing evangelical theology from some of the very traditional churches we find in modern times. Jesus tells Nic that one "must be born again". Let us delve a little into this dialog.
... water and spirit
... Moses and the serpent
... proclamation of salvation ...
... repulsion of evil
... question of baptism and John the Baptist's testimony
Sychar is near Shechem, the place where the northern kingdom of Israel chose to worship after they became separated from Jerusalem which was in the southern kingdom then known as Judah.
The scene opens with Jesus greeting a strange woman - seemingly they were alone at this well in the middle of the day. Drawing water is usually something I would expect that would have happened early in the day, or late in the evening - what is this woman doing here in the middle of the day when no one else is? Isn't it too hot in the heat of the day to do this?
She is amazed at this. You Jews look down on us half-Jews, you think that I will overlook that fact when you need me to fetch you a drink...
The northern kingdom if you recall, was created after the King Solomon's son refused to relent on the impossibly high taxes which had financed his father's excess. The split caused the dilemma of where to worship for a geographically tied system of worship that Judaism was. As a result, two locations in the northern kingdom were chosen, including the mountain at Shechem, a place where Abraham had worshipped (Gen 33:17). It is possible that this is where Jacob had the vision of the heavenly staircase.
During the era of the northern kingdom of Israel, however, these places took on forms of worship which were unworthy of Jahweh. The erection of gold bovine statues were reminiscent of forms of worship that existed in pre-Israeli times, that existed in Egypt and in neighboring lands, and in fact the form of worship that their forefathers had been reprimanded for in the desert at the time Moses was receiving the Commandments.
The history of the northern kingdom was littered with examples of such audacity most notably during the reign of Queen Jezebal and King Ahab during the time of Elijah. Jezebel, was Sidonian, and not Hebrew by lineage nor faith. The epitome of the northern kingdom's tendency towards intermarriage was eclipsed by their defeat by Syria, and later Assyria to which many were then exiled. By the time Babylon rose and defeated Jerusalem, the northern kingdom had long been dispersed and those in exile intermarried with the victors races.
Subsequent skirmishes between the generations of Alexander's generals, the Seluecids and the Ptolomies, and then the Romans, had made Samaria a haven of non-Hebrew falsehood, as seen by the Jews of the time. As a result, there was very little kindness bestowed on the Samaritans by the Jews.
So now Jesus finds himself about to be engaged in a religious argument with a woman of probable reputation. But, first the woman is going to rub in the fact that your religion doesn't allow you to have any dealings with me, and not just because I am a woman.
Jesus doesn't miss a beat, in spite of her apparent cheek, he tells her if she had a clue about matters of religion she would have asked him for water also, living water. Yet a another metaphor of immense potential depth. Water is essential to life on earth, and if the properties of water were to change ever so slightly life as we know it would cease to exist. But, that is not all.
In the Old Testament the water metaphor was used to compare the effects of God's word on the people of the Earth - it is like a gently falling rain that nourishes the plants and the crops through which they grow and thrive and bear fruit. Eventually, through evaporation the waters return to the heavens having accomplished what God has intended.
In the Old Testament water imagery is also used for its cleansing metaphor, as in the New Testament ordinance of Baptism.
The woman seems half curious but hasn't totally lost her intent on making this a religious argument - what is this living water, certainly it can not come from this well from which he is not capable of drawing for himself. Jesus clearly states that the water that is living would not be drawn from the earth, but seems to have a mystical origin.
Intent on calling his bluff, so she thinks, she insists on getting some of this living water. Who do you think you are kidding, he seems to respond, I know something about your life-style that will need to be altered, and goes to confront the fact that she is living with someone who is not her husband. The fact that she was married five times before is brought into the discussion, which convinces her that this stranger from abroad is indeed speaking the truth - how could he possibly know of all these details of her life without the benefit of supernatural insight?
She almost convinced, launches into her last stronghold of religious argument, whether Jerusalem, whether Shechem? To this Jesus makes it clear, the worship that is pleasing to God is not tied to tradition or to geography, but to the state of one's heart. Worship is primarily spiritual in nature, not physical. This latest insight convinces her that this is indeed the prophet promised by Moses (Deuteronomy).
Convinced, she returns to the city with her story. It said many were convinced because of her. In the King James translations it is said that she told her story to the men of the town, which seems to lend some support for the thesis that this was a woman who was of such ill repute that the women of the town shunned her as a result. Things seem to be changed after this as many of the town folk too, are convinced of this identity.
Copyright © E. J. Ritzmann.
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