John (Part 37): Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (ch 11)
God created us to reflect his truth, goodness, and beauty. But that image bearing that we hold is not mere unthinking imitation. He created us with characteristics of apprehension, approbation, and articulation. Therefore, it is not merely understanding his truth, goodness, and beauty that leads to expressing it in articulation, but to articulate it truly and well, we must first approbate—approve, consent to, endorse—that truth, goodness, and beauty. When Jesus says, “The Father and I are one,” he is saying not simply that he dutifully acts in God’s truth, goodness, and beauty out of obedience, but rather than his reflection of God is so because his relationship with God yields the same heart purpose. This then emphasizes the focal point of this mini-section that Jesus is the dedicated temple. He is the one in which humankind can truly meet God in all his glorious truth, goodness, and beauty. Relationship is possible between humanity and God because Jesus is the perfect image bearer who comes to reconcile from a heart of love perfectly reflecting God’s.
We have mentioned that Jesus’ statement that he and the Father are one was understood by the Jews to be the same as saying that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. And that’s true. They do mean the same thing regarding that oneness of purpose which Jesus reflects. But there is a third phrase—a title, actually—that also means the same thing. That title is “Son of God.” Notice verse 36 of chapter 10. There Jesus asks why they think he is blaspheming if he says he is the Son of God. We’ll get to the logic of Jesus’ reply in a minute. But right now the question is why Jesus is bringing up that title. Did the Jews object to that in the previous verses? Well, we don’t find that phrase at all in the previous verses. In fact, Jesus hasn’t used the phrase since chapter 5. So why does he bring it up now? It is because this oneness of purpose mentioned in 10:30 is what it means to be the son of God. A son reflects his father. Therefore, whenever we speak of the son of something, we use that expression because we are saying that that thing looks like something else just as a son looks or acts like his father.
For example, look back in Daniel 3. Nebuchadnezzar has just tossed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace for failing to bow before his statue. But suddenly Nebuchadnezzar is amazed as he looks in at them. He asks his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” They answer yes, and the king that exclaims, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). That fourth man—that angel or Christophany—was called “son of the gods,” not because Nebuchadnezzar had some insight that this was, in fact, the second person of the Trinity, but rather simply because he was shining brilliantly as you would expect a god to do. This intent is the same as in Psalm 89:22. Although many modern translations leave out “son of” in this verse, KJV and NASB follow the Hebrew in speaking of the “son of wickedness.” The verse first personifies wickedness, and then it speaks of a person acting wickedly as a son of wickedness. The intent is to show reflection.
This is the reason Jesus speaks of “Son of God” in verse 36. He had said that he and the Father were one. We discovered that meant that Jesus reflected perfectly the Father’s truth, goodness, and beauty in purpose. And that is what a son does. So in his perfect reflection, Jesus shows himself to be the son of the Father—the Son of God.
With this perfect reflection activity revealed by Jesus’ statements, we may now proceed to understanding his reply to the Jews wanting to stone him. At their accusation, Jesus does not try to weasel around his claim. If, in saying, “the Father and I are one,” he had meant to claim deity, this explanation by Jesus would appear as if he were trying to weasel his way out of trouble with a technicality. But that’s not what is going on. Jesus intent all along was to say that he perfectly images God in his actions—his works. That’s why, when the Jews grab rocks to stone him, Jesus asks for which of the good works from the Father they are stoning him. Jesus ties his statement to his good works. If the Jews were upset with his statement and his statement is tied to his works, it is perfectly logical for Jesus to conclude that they must be stoning him for one of his works.
But they answer that it is not for his works, but rather for his claim of deity that they want to stone him. And so, Jesus attempts to explain his statement so that the Jews can rightly understand it. Jesus gives them an example from Psalm 82. In that Psalm, God is upset with the leaders of the people. He tells them that they judge unjustly in verse 2. He says they walk in darkness in verse 5. Then, in verse 6, he explains that he had said they are gods, that is, sons of the Most High. By that God was telling them that as sons—image bearers—they should be acting as he acts. But they were not. They were not acting as true image-bearing sons. And therefore, they would be cursed. So back in John 10, Jesus uses this Psalm essentially to say, “If you find nothing wrong with my works—if my works are good and appear to be consistent with and therefore coming from God—I am acting as a true image bearer. If God in Psalm 82 called those leaders “gods,” meaning, leaders who were supposed to reflect God, then how can you Jews be upset that I, the true image-bearing reflector of God’s good works, am called the Son of God?”
Jesus goes on to tell them that if they don’t believe him merely on his words, look at those works. Are they good works? Yes? Well then, must they not be from God? Yes? Well, then, believe that he is the Son of God—the true image bearer of God—based on those works that he performs. And he concludes saying that if they get that connection, then they will see the oneness of purpose, the perfect reflection, in other words, that the Father is in him and he is in the Father.
But, of course, the hard-hearted, unseeing Jews fall back to their false reasoning and false conclusions, believing that Jesus is claiming deity in this statement, and again they want to kill him. But Jesus eludes their grasp.
The chapter (and the first part of the book) come to a close in the next three verses. Jesus departed to the place across the Jordan where his ministry first began—where John had been baptizing. The people that came to him there realized that what John the Baptist had said about him was true. And many believed.
It is interesting to see how John the Apostle concludes this first part of his Gospel. Several elements here at the end are the second bookend to the events at the beginning.
10:40 “So he departed again across the Jordan.”
1:28 “All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan.”
10:36 “The One the Father set apart [sanctified].”
1:32 “Spriti descending from heaven like a dove.”
10:31 “The Jews picked up rocks to stone him.”
2:19 “Destroy this sanctuary, and I’ll raise it up in three days.”
10:41 “Everything John said about this man was true.”
1:29 “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
10:27 “My sheep” – “I give them eternal life.”
3:3 “Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
10:38 “Believe the works” and 10:42 “And many believed in Him there.”
1:23 “Many trusted . . . when they saw the signs.”
John perfectly balances his approach to show the fulfillment of Jesus as the Way.
The Gospel of John can be divided into three main parts (besides the Prologue, 1:1-18, and the Epilogue 21:1-25). As mentioned, we have just concluded part one, which began at 1:19 and continues through 10:42. Part 1 may be called “Jesus is the Way.” Part 2, “Jesus is the Truth,” is short, covering only from 11:1 through 12:11. Finally, Part 3, “Jesus is the Life,” extends from 12:12 through 20:31.
We enter now, therefore, into Part 2 – Jesus is the Truth. The introduction to this section is contained in the first two verses. There are several ideas that we need to grasp in these two short verses. The first, of course, is that the action mostly takes place in Bethany, a village only about two miles east of Jerusalem, down across the Kidron valley and up over the Mount of Olives. This, we are told, is the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It appears that John is making an assumption of his readers. Of course, Mary is a common name. We know of several Marys mentioned in the Gospels. So John clarifies it a bit by saying that this is the Mary who anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.
It is interesting that John’s clarification concerns an incident that he hasn’t even gotten to yet in his Gospel. Why is he identifying the particular Mary he speaks of with information he hasn’t even told his readers yet? It appears that he assumes his readers already know the story of Mary. After all, the story of the woman anointing Jesus with oil is included in Matthew and Mark. And especially important, I think, is Jesus’ statement recorded in both those Gospels: “I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mt 26:13). Therefore, it is with good reason that John expects his readers to know this story. They already had Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels for about 20-30 years before John wrote his.
But this raises another point. The three Synoptic Gospels had indeed already been around for 20-30 years. And we find that John doesn’t repeat a lot of the details of those Gospels unless there is some specific purpose in making the points of his own discussion. So the repetition of the anointing scene that we will find in John 12 will not be a rehash merely to present the story again. John will have a pointed purpose that fits in with the truth ideas of this passage.