Notes on the Gospel of John's ChronologyI love how John teaches using a series of vignettes from the life of Christ, illustrating seven miracles and seven signs. For a great overview of how John writes, see the videos below. While we modern audiences expect a story to be told in a linear fashion, it wasn't really the practice back then. None of the gospels seems to be organized exactly chronologically. As Lynn Wilson puts it, "John’s Gospel mentions three Passovers during Jesus’ adult ministry—thus providing evidence for a three-year mortal ministry. On the other hand, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are organized geographically rather than chronologically. After Jesus’ baptism, the setting moves to Galilee and everything happening in Galilee is placed together. At the end of Jesus’ life, the setting moves to Jerusalem and telescopes everything together into Jesus’ last week. This is helpful as we look at Jesus cleansing the temple. No Gospel mentions it happened twice. It only happened once, and John’s timing is probably more accurate."
Putting the timing of the cleansing of the temple aside (it is also possible that it did happen twice), it has been helpful for me to ask why John puts certain stories next to each other. The story of Nicodemus is followed by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and I believe placing the two stories together is meant to help us learn by the contrast between them.
The Marriage in Cana
|From the New Testament Student Manual|
This is an interesting event that is placed by John as the first sign of Christ's power. A few things I learned about this wedding:
- When Christ addresses his mother as "woman" is unusual as a form of address from a son, but it was in no way disrespectful. It really meant something more like "lady." Christ also uses it to address her on the cross in John 19:26, "Woman, behold thy son!"
- I'm still trying to understand why Christ says, "mine hour is not yet come." I wish we had more context to understand exactly what he means. Was this before he was ready for his public ministry? Perhaps this took place before his baptism.
- I love that the simple needs of guests received Christ's attention. Homemaking today is often discounted and looked down on, and yet the first miracle Christ did in John's record was to help his mother in her hosting duties (presumably the marriage was for a relative).
- I've been trying to teach my kids lately about how to be a second miler. "Why don't you try to see how much you can get done instead of how little?" I will ask as they start their five minutes in the kitchen for example. I love that Christ's turning of the water into wine was not a "bare minimum" job. Lynn Wilson says that "A firkin holds 10.8 gallons of water, so each pot held 22 to 33 gallons. All six pots could hold 132–198 gallons of water—enough for the wedding, plus a year’s supply gift for the couple!"
- Also from Wilson, " John brings our attention to the fact that the stone pots were
specifically used in Jewish purification for ceremonial washings. (Leviticus 11:29–38, explains that purification requiredstone pots, rather than clay pots which were unclean.) John emphasized the number six, too. In contrast to seven, John uses six to represent incomplete or not perfect (i.e. Rev 13:18). The symbolism points to the Mosaic ritual cleaning as incomplete, or not whole/perfect. Later Jesus taught that lasting purification comes through His blood, which He connects symbolically with wine at the Last Supper (John 6:54; Matt 26:27–28)"
- It seems that Christ was foreshadowing the abundance of His grace and His love, as well as showing his power over creation.
- The ruler of the feast says "Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now." (John 2:10). I love that we worship a God who makes the end better than the beginning. He saves the best for last, and those who hold on will one day see him "dry all the tears from our eyes."
- It reminds me of this beautiful devotional by Michael Wilcox (you can also read it). In an interview, Wilcox says,
"The phrase “the fourth watch” comes from the account in Mark, and others in the New Testament, where the Savior during the day has fed the 5,000 and He sends the Apostles down to the Sea of a Galilee while He’s going to dismiss the multitude. Then He will pray, and the Savior will often pray a long time. So it’s late afternoon, early evening, when the Savior sends the Apostles down to the ship and they get in it and a storm comes up.
The phrase that Mark uses is “the wind was contrary to them and they toiled in rowing against the wind.” That expression is so fit for so many of us in our lives, I know in my own life, and I look at my children’s lives; we toil in rowing against the wind. There’s blessing we want but don’t have, there’s a trial we want over that isn’t over yet. In John’s account they row for about the equivalent for 75 football fields against the wind, and they’re discouraged, they’re tired. Hope is starting to wane. In Mark’s account I think one of the first things that really gives me comfort is that he says He saw them toil in rowing, He saw them. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee a number of times and you can see the hills around the lake. I picture Him up there looking down on them, but they don’t know He’s looking down on them. Sometimes in our own lives He’s looking, He’s watching, He sees us toiling and rowing–we may not always realize that He sees us. And then it says that in the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the water.
The Hebrew day is roughly divided into 12 hours; six in the morning, roughly, was the first hour, so the sixth hour is noon, the ninth hour is about three in the afternoon. The night was divided into four watches; roughly six at night to nine at night, nine to midnight, midnight to three, the fourth watch–three in the morning to sunrise. And it’s in the fourth watch that He comes.
So I often say to myself and to others, we worship a Fourth-Watch God. In many areas of our lives He seems to allow us to toil in rowing against the wind. There must be something good in developing spiritual muscle. The problem is that I’m usually a first-watch person, or a second-watch person. And when the third watch starts, and He’s not come and my trial is not over and my blessing is not arrived, we may begin to make some assumptions that are dangerous. We may begin to assume that He’s not there, or that He’s there but doesn’t care, or He’s not listening, or maybe the most dangerous assumption ‘I’m not worthy.’ And I think the correct assumption I try to make–in my own fourth-watch times or with my children or friends–He’s there, He listens, He cares, we’re as worthy as we can be. We’ve not yet reached the fourth watch, and when we reach the fourth watch, He will come.
The Cleansing of the Temple
- There is some question as to when this cleansing took place. Was it at Christ's first Passover, as John seems to imply? Or at his last? Or were there two cleansings?
- Verse 17 says, "And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." I'm not quite sure what that means, but the student manual says it refers to Psalm 69:9. In reading that Psalm, it is about David's lament over his "foolishness" and "sins." He laments that he is crying, that he is feeling shame, and has "become a stranger unto my brethren and an alien unto my mother's children." (verse 8) I am not sure how this connects in the disciples' minds immediately to the cleansing of the temple, but I do see some parallels in that just as King David did not live up to his Anointing as king, so those that turned the temple into a marketplace were desecrating what should have been most sacred. They both failed in their faithfulness and fell far short of their sacred responsibility.
- The student manual says, "This scripture teaches that Jesus’s “zeal”—meaning His fervent love—for His Father and His Father’s house had aroused in Him a righteous indignation that the temple was being used as a house of merchandise."
- This event reminds me that I need to take seriously my own temple attendance. When I go, do I prepare myself for the experience of being close to God? Do I turn my thoughts to sacred things and try to touch heaven? Or do I let my thoughts dwell on lesser things, like my to-do list?
- I love how President Eyring and Elder Holland approach a question about prayer in the video below (the entire event can be viewed here). It is not a casual thing to approach the throne of God in prayer. We don't have "chats" or "conversations" with the Father of us all. I love how Elder Holland says, "not every prayer is going to be able to be so carefully focused, but some prayers should be if you want this depth. And it won't be casual. It won't be overly familiar." and President Eyring says that he approaches God as if he is approaching a throne. "The way you do that is different than if you just say, 'I'd like a chat,' or 'I'd like a conversation.'"
- I've studied a lot about the ancient temple and its symbolism. Understanding what it represented for the high priest to approach the throne of God in the Holy of Holies just once in a year to make atonement for all the people gives me so much more reverence for the temple today and for the fact that Christ felt a need to cleanse it during his ministry.
Encounter with Nicodemus at Night
- Much is made of Nicodemus, "a ruler of the Jews," and whether or not he was sincere in approaching Christ. There are three times Nicodemus is mentioned in John's gospel. The second time, in John 7:45-53, he defends Christ among the chief priests and Pharisees. The last time is when he brings spices for Christ's burial, "about a hundred pound weight" (not stingy at all). This third time, it says of him, "which at the first came to Jesus by night," which may imply that he grew in understanding over time and was no longer in the darkness as he was "at the first." I love that we are dealing with complex human beings who may have been a mixture of both sincere and hesitant.
- This article does an excellent job in laying out the case both ways:
"These overviews constitute the two major approaches to understanding Nicodemus. For those who favor a committed convert the following is significant:
1. Nicodemus is a powerful “ruler” but he still comes. (3:1)
2. He comes at night to receive quality, uninterrupted instruction. (3:2)
3. Nighttime was a traditional time for deep study. (3:2)
4. Nicodemus’ reference to Christ is very close to a “prophet.” (3:2)
5. Nicodemus boldly and publicly defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin. (7:51)
6. He shows symbolic respect by anointing Jesus with a regal portion of spices. (19:39)
7. Nicodemus makes his discipleship public as he assists Joseph of Arimathea with the burial. (19:39)
On the other hand, there are some persuasive arguments for Nicodemus as a hesitant, non-committal type:
1. Nicodemus comes after dark to protect his social/political position. (3:2)
2. His use of the title Rabbi shows respect but stops short of worship. (3:2)
3. He refuses full responsibility for his question by addressing Jesus with a plural subject. (3:2)
4. His questions to the Savior are blunt, defensive, and resistive. (3:4, 9)
5. Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus is terse and condemns him for a lack of faith. (3:11)
6. Nicodemus questions the Sanhedrin in a bold move, but then he backs down even after they give a flimsy answer. (7:52)
7. He teams with Joseph of Arimathea in a secretive manner to give the body of Jesus a proper burial. (19:38–39)"
- The same article then goes on to outline the fact that since John emphasizes the fact he came in darkness every time Nicodemus is mentioned and that since he links Nicodemus to Joseph of Arimathea, who comes secretly "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38), it is more likely that Nicodemus was a hesitant convert who wasn't able to move fully into the light during Christ's life.
- I think the placement of this episode followed by the one with the woman of Samaria is done deliberately to highlight the differences. Nicodemus came at night while the woman at the well happened around noon. We don't hear anything of Nicodemus calling others to follow Christ or of being awed by Christ, as we do the woman. She proclaims him openly and invites others to follow him, while Nicodemus just kind of drops quietly out of view in the chapter. It reminds me of the contrasts Luke uses with Zacharias versus Mary and their responses to the visions they experience. One is powerful and experienced and should recognize and believe right away but hesitates, while the other is inexperienced and yet follows wholeheartedly. Which one do we most resemble?
- It is certainly understandable why Nicodemus would hesitate to follow Christ openly, and yet he still does some good in keeping Christ from being condemned (John 7) and in providing abundantly for his burial (John 19). It reminds me that God allows people to do what good they will, even if they are less than fully committed.
- I love this talk by Elder Maxwell along those lines: "A second group of members are “honorable” but not “valiant.” They are not really aware of the gap nor of the importance of closing it. These “honorable” individuals are certainly not miserable nor wicked, nor are they unrighteous and unhappy. It is not what they have done but what they have left undone that is amiss. For example, if valiant, they could touch others deeply instead of merely being remembered pleasantly."
- This more recent address by Elder Cook outlines several stumbling blocks that can keep us from that committed discipleship: the philosophies of men, refusing to see sin in its true light, and looking beyond the mark.
Christ's Words and Testimony
- In Greek, there is a double meaning in three parts of Christ's address.
- The first, as Lynn Wilson explains, "the phrase, “born again” has a double meaning in Greek: “anew” as well as, “down from above,” or “from the top.” The KJV translators missed the original Greek meaning by following the later the Latin translation by Jerome, giving the reader the understanding from Nicodemus’s flippant answer rather than what Jesus refuted. To say “a man must be born from on high” or from heaven is the higher law in comparison to the lower Law. The symbolism of a rebirth is clear and powerful. Being "born again" also means being "born from above.""
- The second is in the word wind. From Wilson again: "Nicodemus did not understand, so Jesus gave him an example from nature—which again has a double meaning in Greek. Wind/pneuma also means “spirit” (both God’s Spirit and the spirit of man). The KJV 89 | P a g e translates pneuma 111 times as “spirit,” 89 times as “Holy Ghost,” and 26 times as “Spirit of” God. Every other time the word wind is used in the KJV Gospels, it is the word anemos, or physical tempest. Here the KJV chose the double meaning of spirit/wind because Jesus used the double image for the Spirit—something felt and only indirectly seen. Interestingly, the Hebrew word ruach, also shares the same multiple meanings, “breath, wind, spirit.” Ezekiel 36:25- 26 taught that in Messianic times God would cleanse His people and give them a new spirit."
- I love how Christ describes the spirit as being like the wind. We can feel and sense it, but not see it, except by its effects. Likewise with spiritual things -- they are felt and known and experienced, but not always seen.
- The third is in verses 14-15: "“Lifted up” refers to on the cross and into heaven (He uses “Son of Man being lifted up” three times). Jesus alluded to the familiar story when the children of Israel looked at the brazen serpent on the staff to be saved from the poisonous serpents. The stories from the Exodus cycle and Moses’ prophetic life foreshadow Christ’s mission. Paul uses the same themes in 1 Corinthians10:1–6 and Hebrews 8:14–15)" (Wilson again)
- I love the imagery of birth and rebirth. Birth itself involves great sacrifice and pain on the part of the mother, and leads her through the shadow of death. Many times, especially anciently, it even brought death to the mother. It involves water, blood, and the birth of a new creature into the world. So many times people lament how few women are referred to in scripture, but I see womanly symbolism often in the most fundamental of ways. We must be "born again from above" in order to enter Christ's kingdom. Christ, like a mother, suffers and sheds his blood on our behalf in order to create a new creature.
- It's hard to add much more to the beautiful words of Christ in John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
John the Baptist's Sermon and Testimony
- I love that we have one final testimony from John. "He must increase, but I must decrease."
Christ's Encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well
- We know that the Samaritans and Jews weren't exactly allies. The history of why that is is important to know so that this encounter makes more sense. From the Bible dictionary:
"The title is used to describe the people who inhabited Samaria after the captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were the descendants of (1) foreign colonists placed there by kings of Assyria and Babylonia (2 Kgs. 17:24; Ezra 4:2, 10); (2) Israelites who escaped at the time of the captivity. The population was therefore partly Israelite and partly gentile. Their religion was also of a mixed character (see 2 Kgs. 17:24–41), though they claimed, as worshippers of Jehovah, to have a share in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1–3). This claim not being allowed, they became, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show, bitter opponents of the Jews, and started a rival temple of their own on Mount Gerizim. When Nehemiah ejected from Jerusalem a grandson of the high priest Eliashib on account of his marriage with a heathen woman (Neh. 13:28), he took refuge with the Samaritans, taking with him a copy of the Pentateuch, and according to Josephus became high priest at Gerizim. There are several references in the New Testament to the antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans (see Matt. 10:5; Luke 9:52–53; 10:33; 17:16; John 4:9, 39; 8:48); but the people of Samaria were included among those to whom the Apostles were directed to preach the gospel (Acts 1:8), and a very successful work was done there by Philip (Acts 8:4–25).
- Some additional information about the interactions between the Samaritans and the Jews can be found in the Student Manual:
"Toward the end of the sixth century B.C., the Jews rejected the Samaritans’ offer to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:1–10). Shortly thereafter, Manasseh, a priest from Jerusalem who had married the daughter of Sanballat, the Gentile governor of Samaria, was expelled from the priesthood. He then built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. This was the mountain referred to by the woman at the well (see Bible Dictionary, “Gerizim and Ebal”). During the Hasmonean (Jewish) revolt against the Seleucids in the late second century B.C., the Samaritans refused to aid the Jewish cause. Perhaps as retaliation for this lack of solidarity, John Hyrcanus, a leader of the Hasmonean Jews, destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, and it was never rebuilt. The destruction of this temple added to the animosity that already existed between the Samaritans and Jews."
When the Samaritan woman came to understand that Jesus was indeed a prophet, she desired to know how she could worship. The Samaritan temple had been destroyed, Samaritans were not welcome in the temple in Jerusalem, and she did not know where she could worship (see John 4:19–20). The Savior taught her that true worship is not limited to a certain place; rather, it is a matter of knowing the truth about who to worship and of having one’s heart devoted to the true God.
- Not only is the woman a Samaritan, but she is also probably a social outcast, given that she has had five "husbands" and is now living with one she is not married to. I read that Jews were limited to three marriages, so her multiple spouses were probably both frowned upon in society and likely symbolic of the corruption of the Samaritan religion.
- The fact that the woman comes alone to the well at about noon could indicate that she is not welcome to come with the women who would likely come together during the mornings or evenings.
- Given the above, no wonder Christ's disciples "marvelled that he talked with the woman." I love that the scripture goes on to say, "yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her." It makes me smile to think of these disciples feeling a little horrified at Christ's social faux pas, but being hesitant to bring it up to him.
- Christ's response to the woman's question about the proper place to worship is to teach her that yes, the religion she has been taught is not quite right by saying, "ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews," But he also tells her that there will come a day when there won't be worship at the mountain or at Jerusalem but that "true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth."
- I love that he adds "for the Father seeketh such to worship him." It is both a nod to how he sought her out to declare himself to her and teach her of living water, and also a reminder that God will seek us out, if we are willing to worship him truly. I love the image of a God who reaches out to us in our fallen state. The Samaritan woman was certainly one who was fallen but she was not beyond the reach of Christ and His Father.
- Christ not only speaks lovingly and compassionately to this Samaritan woman, he also proclaims himself to be the Christ.
- The woman calls to the town and testifies of Christ, unlike Nicodemus in the preceding chapter. Then I love that the people come to him and then say, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." They came to believe and know for themselves, as we all must.
- The Savior spent two days with the people of Samaria and had success.
- The chapter speaks of both water and food, with Christ proclaiming himself the source of living water and then later saying"my meat is to the will of him that sent me." This shows both Christ's willingness to teach using everyday symbols and of him being our own source of water and daily bread. We need constant nourishment from spiritual sources as much as we need physical nourishment.
Healing of the Nobleman's Son
- Interesting that Christ condemns those who wait to see signs and wonders before they believe, perhaps to foreshadow that this was a miracle that would be done at a distance, with only the man's word as to the cause of his son's healing.
- I love that all Christ says is "Go thy way; thy son liveth" and the man believed. It wasn't what he was asking for, which was for Christ to come down and physically heal his son, but it was what he wanted. It reminds me that God answers us in His way and in His time, and that sometimes He gives us what we didn't even consider possible. The man probably thought at first that the only way for his son to be healed was for Christ to come to his home, but he was able to believe Christ's word even without any way of verifying it. That is faith.
- See above map for the locations of Cana and Capernaum. They seem close enough that it wouldn't have been a huge problem for Christ to come down, but in this case, He chooses not to go in person.
- John likes to put in references to what hour and what day things take place. I wonder if he sees some symbolism in meeting the woman of Samaria in the sixth hour, or of this son being healed in the seventh? Or of the wedding of Cana being on the third day of the week? Something to think about.
- John says this is Christ's second miracle. His first was the changing of the water pots at the wedding at Cana.