A short recap of where we have been so far. This study is an endeavor to look at the book of John through the lens of the Jewish Passover. John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” is primarily seen, in today’s theology, as an announcement of a guilt offering. It is primarily taken as a premonition of Jesus’ death on the cross. But this is not the prevailing message of the text. Repeatedly the writer is talking about life, God’s-life-breathed-into-man sort of life, but the source of this life is not related to the cross. What the writer had to say is tied to various Jewish ceremonies, predominantly Passover. The consistent message has been that this life comes by hearing and obeying the voice of the Son. In hearing the Son’s voice, by walking in obedience to the Son’s voice, we are caused to passover from death to life.
In the original incident, Israelite families were protected from the Angel of Death by painting the lamb’s life (or blood) on their door post. Any families who did not paint, lost their first-born to the Angel of Death.
After 60 some years of knowing this story, it has finally occurred to me to ask, “Why the first-born?” The answer to my question, as given below, heightens my sense of urgency that this message needs to be made known.
Throughout man’s recorded history, the first born is seen as the initial blessing of God upon a marriage. Let’s take that concept a little deeper. God’s first blessing on mankind was not offspring, but something else. “And God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living being.” This is the first blessing that is at risk here. Those who fill themselves with the Lamb’s life, as I have discussed in previous posts, do not lose their first born. Those who turn away from the reproof and guidance of the light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world, these lose the breath of life and are no longer living beings. They have lost their first born. There is a lot at stake here, things that can’t be fixed by a sacrificial lamb theology.
This, in the briefest possible form is the outcome, so far, of looking at this text through the lens of Passover. Let us now look at chapters 7 and 8.
To understand the book of John, one must read the teachings on two levels. First there is the text as explicitly stated. But beyond that there is the relationship between the words and the context against which those words are set. The context of chapters 7 and 8 is the festival of Tabernacles, which plays a significant role in grasping the central message of this portion of the book. During this festival, the Jews were to build themselves temporary houses, i.e. booths or tabernacles, in which to live. These booths represented, in part, the temporary shelters of the exodus when the Israelites had no permanent abode. Hold onto this while I set the stage, so to speak.
Chapter seven opens with a discussion between Jesus and his brothers about going to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus says he is not going, but later goes in “private”. The mood of the crowd at Jerusalem was one of debate, the events of Jesus’ healing and teaching being the subject.
In the middle of the week, Jesus entered the temple and began teaching the people, which added to the confusion of the public. “Is this the Christ?” “Is this the prophet?” “How are we to know?” these were the questions running through the crowd. You will recall the Deuteronomy 18 passage about God raising a prophet like Moses, into whose mouth He would put His words. This prophet would then speak these words to the people. This is “the prophet” the people were asking about. Look at Jesus’ statements in this portion:
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (7:16-17)
…he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him. (8:26)
…I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. (8:28)
Jesus’ statements are a direct claim to be that prophet promised by Moses. The promise was that the people of God are to live by the words of this prophet. By the end of this festival, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. His remarks from verse 8:31 to the end of chapter 8 are addressed to this group of believers. This brings us to the pivotal passage of these two chapters:
Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to any one; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (8:31-36)
I am going to ignore many things of importance in these chapters and concentrate on those things that pertain to the theme of the Passover, i.e. that which brings life.
First, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about the efficacy of belief. Christendom, as commonly practiced today, is a belief-centered religion. Now, I will grant you that believing that Jesus has something vital to impart that is not to be had from any other source is an important step. But it is only a first step, as it were, not the entire process. Remember the quote from the Evangelical pastor from part two of this series?
Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.
Does belief make us a disciple? Does belief make us free? Does belief make us any less sons of the devil? The answer is “No,” on all counts.
Second is this word “abide.” Jesus is calling would-be-disciples to take up their habitation in His teaching. He is not talking about a multi-volume set containing the sayings and teachings of some great master. On the contrary, “Abide in My word” is a call to an ongoing relationship between master and pupil. It is to be a permanent dwelling rather than the ephemeral dwellings of this festival.
The third thing is this statement? “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Free from what? Death. The truth shall make you passover from death to life. How did death come upon us? By taking up our habitation in the serpent’s teaching. How do we get this truth? By abandoning our habitation in the serpent’s teaching and taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching. This festival is a recreation of and a reminder of the experience of enslavement in Egypt — the old dwelling — and the exodus and life as nomads — the temporary dwelling. Taking up our abode in Jesus’ teaching is the permanent dwelling — the land of promise. Thus Jesus is the fulfillment of this festival.
By making the claim to be the prophet foretold by Moses, Jesus is not laying down his role as Messiah. Moses was many things to the Israelites, and from the standpoint of Deuteronomy looking forward, we can say that God’s chosen spokesman will be like Moses. However, looking back from the standpoint of Jesus, we can say that Moses was somewhat like Jesus, who is Messiah, Prophet, Shepherd, Counselor, King, Priest, and more. His messianic character is not divorced from the character of the one who brings to us the word of God. Our salvation is inseparable from hearing and abiding in the teaching of the one who is the Word. This, I state again, is our permanent dwelling, and in this dwelling we are free from the bondage endured in the old dwelling, we are delivered from the continual work of the temporary dwelling, and we are made sons of God who remain in the house forever.
Let me say again, the central message of this portion of scripture is that belief is not enough to make you a disciple of Jesus, to make you free from being a slave of sin, or to make you a son of God who remains in God’s house forever. Taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching, “abide in my word…” brings us into the truth that makes us free from slavery to sin, taking up our habitation makes us disciples and makes us sons. (Look again at John 1:12-13.) This abode in Jesus’ teaching is our permanent dwelling place rather than a makeshift booth designed to last the week of the festival. It is by this teaching that the Son makes you free from the slavery of death.