Week 1 ‘Come and See’ in a chapter each week during 2021

‘Come and See’ follows Jesus’ journey as seen through the eyes of his disciple John. It examines the evidence for Jesus’ claim to be the promised Messiah and the Saviour of the world and invites us to reach a decision. The 52 chapters of the book will be posted week by week during the course of this year together with a reflection and a suggested prayer. This complete Revised Edition can be purchased on this site at cost price (£6.50 +p&p) or direct from me .

This initial blog contains the Introduction and chapter 1.

If you wish you can make a comment or ask a question as you proceed on the journey.

The Journey

In July 1969 Neil Armstrong completed the first stage of an epic journey and touched down safely on the surface of the moon. He had lived in a very different kind of world for all of his previous existence. The lunar environment in which he now found himself was bleak and barren and colourless and was devoid of the life and beauty of the world from which he had come. Neil Armstrong’s visit coincided with his strong personal desire to make the journey, but the mission had its origins elsewhere: in the mind of President John F Kennedy. Armstrong was a volunteer, but he was also an agent of a higher authority and his mission was on behalf of the human race, as expressed in his historic words, “One small step for [a] man, but one great leap for mankind”. When his mission had been completed, he ascended from the surface of the moon and returned to the ‘parent world’, where he was received with honour and glory.

This historical sequence has many features in common with the journey of Jesus as John describes it in his Gospel. Jesus, the Word through whom all things were made, came from another world which was the source of this one. He repeatedly stated that He came on the initiative of the Father and with His authority. Jesus stayed in communication with the Father and closely followed His instructions, for His ambition was to fulfil the purposes of the One who had sent Him. He travelled an inner and spiritual path in parallel to His outer and physical journey, as He was constantly guided by the Father through the Holy Spirit. When He had completed His assignment, climaxing in His death and resurrection, He returned to the glory that He had had with the Father before the world was made.

This is the heart of the journey that John describes, but within it he includes carefully selected events and particular milestones that provide a map for the journey. These milestones consist of a series of visits to Jerusalem in order to participate in the annual festivals, as was required of a Jewish man. It was in this context that most of the recorded events took place. This alerts us to the fact that the journey of Jesus was the culmination of a much longer journey, stretching back to Abraham and encompassing the entire history of the Jewish people. In fact, it also extended back to creation and the great disaster that overtook mankind and the world when man the creature disobeyed his Creator.[1]

As Come and See was approaching completion, I read Tom Wright’s biography of the apostle Paul, and I realised that John viewed the nature and purpose of Jesus’ life on earth in a similar way to Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and in his epistles.[2] Both John and Paul understood that Jesus was the culmination of the story of Israel, with all its covenant promises and all the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Jesus was the embodiment of all that Israel should have been but failed to be, and He was also its hope of ultimate deliverance and of becoming the channel of blessing for the world.

Tom Wright identified the Torah (strictly speaking the first five books in the Bible but sometimes used more loosely to include the remainder of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the Temple as the two loci around which the narrative of Jesus’ life turns. This is clearly the case with John’s Gospel in the context of major confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders. Representatives of the two main factions appear early in John’s record as they each interrogate John the Baptist about his identity. First to come were the senior priests who regarded the Temple as ‘our place’, followed by the Pharisees who considered themselves as experts in interpretation of the Torah. Much of John’s Gospel focuses on interactions between these two groups of protagonists and Jesus, on the issue of His identity and authority.

As was required of a Jewish man, Jesus attended the great pilgrim feasts in the Temple. These festivals recalled seminal events in the nation’s history and were also enacted prophecies concerning the coming Messiah who would redeem His people from oppression and would pour out the Holy Spirit on Israel. It was in the context of these festivals that controversy was stirred as Jesus revealed Himself as Lord of the Temple and of the Sabbath, as the source of the living water of the Spirit, as the Light of the world, as the Good Shepherd (in contrast to the bad shepherds), as the Passover Lamb, as the Messiah King, and as the Resurrection and the Life. In the context of Passover season He also revealed Himself as the One greater than Moses and as the true manna. He was thus claiming to be the culmination and goal of all of Israel’s history and hope, the living Temple and the embodiment of Torah.

John described five distinct stages in this journey. Jesus’ incarnation was the first stage, when, ‘The Word became flesh’.[3] His subsequent growth to mature manhood was documented in Luke’s Gospel but not explicitly by John.[4]

The second stage began when Jesus visited with John the Baptist. In this context He was baptised and anointed with the Holy Spirit, and He also received His first disciples. This second stage, lasting for almost three years, continues to the end of John chapter 12. During this period many other people were on journeys that interconnected with Jesus’ journey. Those who were open to receive His words remained with Him, and their inner and spiritual journeys gradually bent and converged towards His. In Jesus’ own words, they became ‘children of light’.[5]

Also during this second stage, Jesus interacted with a number of individuals whose reactions revealed the varying conditions of their hearts. All came and saw the same person but with differing and contrasting responses. One was a highly esteemed Pharisee and teacher whose initial and tentative inquiry finally blossomed into committed faith over a period of three years. Another was a complete outsider, a Samaritan woman with a troubled background, whose heart opened to Jesus when He revealed Himself to her as the Messiah for whom she had been waiting. A third was a beggar who moved, in the course of a single day, from physical blindness to physical and spiritual sight, worshipping Jesus as the Son of God.

Others, principally from the ruling religious elite, were incensed by what they saw and heard. Jesus performed a number of miracle-signs that pointed to His identity as the Son of God. In the light of this evidence He challenged them to believe in Him as the One whom the Father had sent into the world. (Most of Jesus’ recorded words in this section were primarily directed towards this group, although they also contained excellent instructions for the disciples who were also present.) Sadly, the majority of the leaders refused the light that Jesus brought and they became increasingly hostile towards Him, determined to stop Him in His tracks. By rejecting His words in favour of a version of truth that was convenient to themselves, they moved progressively, and ultimately irreversibly, into ever-increasing spiritual darkness. This choice, of darkness rather than light and power rather than truth, would finally lead to the destruction of everything that those leaders treasured and cherished.

This stage of the journey concluded with a final appeal from Jesus to the Jewish leaders. It fell on deaf ears and their time of opportunity was now at an end. John’s Gospel acts as a warning that to encounter Jesus on the journey of life is not a neutral experience. We are either drawn closer to the light in company with Jesus, or plunged deeper into darkness if we choose to reject or ignore Him.

The third stage of the journey was very short but intense. It lasted for only a few hours but it occupies five chapters, from 13 to 17. Jesus’ entire focus was now on the faithful disciple band, as He prepared them for immediate challenges and also for the subsequent mission that they would undertake after being empowered by the Holy Spirit. At the conclusion of this stage Jesus was able to say to the Father, ‘I glorified you on the earth. I have accomplished the work which you have given me to do.’[6] At that time He prayed for His followers as they faced a traumatic few days without Him, and contemplated His return in glory to the world from which He had come. Sadly, Judas, who had closely observed Jesus and had seen much evidence for His identity, left the company of the disciples and went out into the night, having previously chosen the path of darkness.

The fourth stage was the most challenging of all for Jesus and His followers. Jesus was betrayed and arrested and the disciples were scattered and devastated. Peter suffered additional emotional trauma, for he denied Jesus after having promised to remain faithful at any cost to himself. Jesus was put on trial before Pilate, the Roman Governor, during which time He was scourged, mocked and rejected by the leaders of Israel. As the trial neared its end, the contest between truth and power and between light and darkness reached its crescendo in the shocking words of the High Priest, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’[7] This part of Jesus’ journey was one of agony and deep darkness, both physical and spiritual, but as it ended He re-emerged into the light with a cry of completion and victory: ‘It is finished!’[8]

The last stage of the journey involved Jesus’ resurrection and reunion with His followers, when He reassured and restored their troubled hearts. Thomas, who had been absent when Jesus appeared to the others, demanded visible proof before he would believe. Jesus graciously extended the invitation to come and see, to physically inspect the wounds in His hands and feet and side, and Thomas responded in worship.

After Jesus had ascended to the Father the disciples would continue the same journey that they had begun in company with Jesus, for that had always been His intention from the time that He had called them. He commissioned them for their task with the words, ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’, and He then breathed on them saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’[9]

These words and the accompanying action were in token of the promise of the Father to pour out the Holy Spirit upon them. Jesus’ earthly mission had now been completed and He would soon ascend to the glory at the Father’s right hand, but He would continue His work in and through them. When He had spoken of the coming of the Spirit, He informed them that this would be equivalent to His own presence within them. They, together with those who would receive their words, would continue His journey until the end of the age and would thus complete the mission that the Father had entrusted to Him.

John recorded a final and very touching incident, describing how Peter was fully restored and recommissioned for the journey ahead. This is a sign of hope for any of us who have faltered and assumed, incorrectly, that our journey with Jesus is all over.

[1] Gen. 1:27; 1 Tim. 2:13-14.

[2] Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography (SPCK, 2018).

[3] John 1:14.

[4] Luke 2:40-52; 3:23.

[5] John 12:36.

[6] John 17:4.

[7] John 19:15.

[8] John 19:30.

[9] John 20:21-22.

Chapter 1

John 1:1-5

In the Beginning Was the Word

1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made.

With these majestic words John commenced his account of the man whose disciple he had been for more than three years. John had been present at all the significant events and teachings of those years, and he was one of only three apostles who were chosen to accompany Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and also to stay close to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He stood at the cross in company with Jesus’ mother and he was the first apostle to arrive at the empty tomb. He had been in a close and intimate relationship with Jesus and had come to understand that He is the only begotten Son of God.[1]

The opening phrase in Greek, en arche, echoes the first word in the Hebrew Bible, b’reshit (‘in the beginning’), announcing the unfolding events of creation by the Word and the Spirit of God. The events that John was about to describe were nothing less than the beginning of the new creation through that same agency of the Word and the Spirit. John’s opening statement, ‘In the beginning was the Word’, was made without context or explanation, provoking questions that demand answers. Who or what is this Word and what is His/Its relationship to the God of Genesis 1? Was John simply saying that God communicates and that He created the world by speaking it into existence? Was it just a description of how God had chosen to act in creating the universe?

The second statement, ‘the Word was with God’, implies that God and the Word are not identical but are in an association of some kind. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom made a similar claim in the context of creation:

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed … then I was the craftsman by his side. I was a delight day by day, always rejoicing before him.[2]

As in John’s introduction of the Word, Wisdom appears to be a person rather than merely a personal attribute. The motif of Wisdom personified as a royal counsellor at God’s side continues throughout Jewish wisdom literature, and is the context within which Jesus is identified here in John’s Gospel and also throughout the New Testament as the wisdom of God.

John’s third statement – ‘the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made’ – clearly indicates that the Word is none other than the Creator God Himself. Does this mean that ‘Word’ is simply a synonym for ‘God’, or does this statement express some complex and more profound truth? John would have been mindful of the outlook of first-century Jewish readers and their passionate belief in the truth that God is one. Their core creedal assertion was expressed in the Shema: ‘Hear, Israel: the LORD is our God. The LORD is one.[3] Many of their forefathers had died as martyrs as a result of persecution by a Greek king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167–164 bce). In order to sanctify the name of God they had accepted death rather than agree to worship pagan gods. Any suggestion of polytheism would thus have been anathema to John’s contemporaries.[4]

This creedal statement can be understood in a different way that is also consistent with the Hebrew text: ‘The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.’[5]This insists that there is only one God but does not define His personal nature. The Scriptures contain many allusions to relationship within the Godhead.[6] This was recognised by Jewish scholars prior to the time of Jesus and also at the time when John wrote his Gospel.[7] John’s purpose in writing was to reveal that Jesus is the mysterious person to whom those writings referred, the Son of God and the One whose mission on earth was to give eternal life to all who would believe in Him:

Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.[8]

In the process John would reveal how the religious leaders, who held to a rigid and exclusive interpretation of the Shema, had rejected Jesus and had dismissed His claims as blasphemous.[9]

The opening verses of Genesis 1 indicate that God launched the whole process of creation with the command, ‘Let there be light.’John was giving a radically new interpretation of this scripture. God the Father did not create the universe simply by a spoken word but through the willing agency of His Son, of whom John wrote, ‘All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made.’He it was who had released all the energy that was required for the universe to come into existence in all its grandeur and complexity.[10] In his Gospel, John describes the Father’s purpose to restore the broken creation, again through His Son, now revealed in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.

1:4-5 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.

In John’s understanding, life and light are intimately connected. The light that flooded the primeval darkness flowed from the eternal and self-sustaining life of God. As human creatures our lives are contingent on sources outside of ourselves, such as food, air, water, other people, and ultimately on God Himself. Jesus was fully human and His biological life was sustained from the resources of the earth, but He also possessed the same life as the Father for, ‘In him was life’.[11]

As the eternal Word, Jesus created the physical light that still pervades the universe. As the incarnate Word, He radiated the glory of God and brought spiritual illumination to all those who would receive Him, for ‘the life was the light of men’. In this way John identified Jesus as the great light that had come in order to shine on those who sat in darkness, as the fountain of life and in whose light we see light, as the Lord who is our light and our salvation and who would also shine His light upon the Gentiles.[12]

John made twenty-four references to light in the first twelve chapters of the Gospel, but there are none at all in the subsequent ones. Life features thirty-nine times in the first twelve chapters but only seven times in the remainder. Love occurs twelve times in the first twelve chapters and forty-five times in the final nine chapters. This change of emphasis occurs at the point when Jesus switched His attention from what John calls ‘the world’, those who haveresisted and rejected His word, to His disciples, who are ‘not of this world’,because they have believed and received His word. Jesus spoke repeatedly of love to those who gladly received the light that He brought to them through His words and actions. The true light, which enlightens everyone, had indeed come into the world.[13]

The apostle Paul used the same imagery of light and darkness, creation and new creation, in a way that mirrors John’s introduction to his Gospel: ‘seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’.[14]The disciples in the Upper Room did not require further instruction about light and darkness, but they did need to know how to live in relationship with Jesus and with one another in the context of the surrounding hostile world.[15]

The Jewish leaders were exposed to the same light as the disciples but were so blinded by their own prejudices and agendas that they did not perceive Jesus as light. They did not comprehend (understand) His words because those words did not fit with their understanding of reality and truth, thus precipitating a collision between light and darkness. Paul also wrote:

Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who are dying, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them.[16]

Light ultimately prevailed over darkness, for Jesus fulfilled the Father’s purpose when, in perfect obedience, He laid down His life and was raised again in triumph.[17]

We live at a time in history when there is increasing hostility to the Gospel and severe persecution from those who love darkness rather than light. Those who remain true to the light may suffer for their faithfulness, but they too will ultimately be vindicated.[18]

[1] Luke 9:28-29; John 13:21-26; Mark 13:32-34; John 19:25-27; 20:1-10.

[2] Prov. 8:22-23, 30.

[3] Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:28-34.

[4] 1 Maccabees 1:10-63.

[5] Deut. 6:4 ESVUK alternative translation.

[6] For example, Prov. 30:4; Isa. 48:16; Ps. 110:1, c.f. Matt. 22:41-45.

[7] Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit 1992), pp. 86-92.

[8] John 20:30-31.

[9] John 8:58-59; 10:30-31.

[10] Gen. 1:3; Heb. 1:1-3.

[11] See also John 1:14; 5:25-27; 8:42, 58, 10:30; 11:25-26; 15:1-5; 17:24.

[12] John 1:4-5, 8:12, 9:5; Ps. 36:9; Isa. 9:2; 49:6.

[13] John 1:9.

[14] 2 Cor. 4:6.

[15] John 14:23; 15:4-10, 17, 18; 16:26-28; 17:20-26; 21:15-17.

[16] 2 Cor. 4:3-4.

[17] John 19:30; 20:14-17; Phil. 2:5-11.

[18] 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Rev. 2:10; Rev. 6:9-11; Rev. 7:9-17.

Question: If the evidence for the identity of Jesus being the true Messiah and Son of God proves to be convincing, what will you do in response? How will it change your life and behaviour?

Prayer: (as appropriate)

a) God, I genuinely want to know the truth and I believe that you are willing to make yourself known to me. Please guide me in this journey of discovery. Help me to be honest and unprejudiced as I examine the evidence that John offers in this Gospel, whatever the consequences for my future life.

b) Lord, I already believe that you are the Son of God and have begun to follow you. Please reveal yourself to me, as I read this account of your life, and enable me to become more fully your disciple and friend.

Copyright © Roy Millar 2019, 2020.

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