Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Meaning of Jesus Not Entrusting Himself in John 2:24

Most English translations of John 2:24 do not make much sense to the average reader. Many Jews, who saw the miracles that Jesus had been performing, “believed in his name”; but Jesus either “did not commit himself” (KJV), “did not trust himself” (ASV), “did not entrust himself” (ESV), or “would not entrust himself” (NIV) to these new believers. But what does it mean that Jesus did not commit or entrust himself to others?

It is good that many people believed in Jesus as a result of the miraculous signs that he had performed. Christians know that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10), yet Jesus in John 2:24 does not seem to have responded to the conversion of a large number of people with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The key to making sense of Jesus’ response here is to note that the word translated as commit or entrust in John 2:24 is from the Greek verb πιστεύω, the same word that is often translated as believe. In fact, the verb πιστεύω occurs in the previous verse: “many believed [ἐπίστευσαν] in his name.” The repetition of πιστεύω in adjacent verses suggests that there is a kind of play on the word πιστεύω at this point. Many believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe in them! These people claimed to be followers of Jesus, but Jesus was not confident in them, and could not confide himself in them.

But why did Jesus not believe in these new converts? A large number of people being converted and coming to faith is surely a time for celebration … but only if such faith is a true faith that endures to the end. Jesus knew, however, that he would end up being rejected by the majority of the Jewish people of his day. He was cognizant of the fact that many of the people who believed in him at the start of his public ministry would end up abandoning him. Jesus knew the fickleness of people’s faith in him.

Further explanation is given in John 2:25. Jesus did not need anyone to tell him what human beings are like, because he himself knows what we are like on the inside. Jesus was well aware of the weakness of human nature, and just how fickle human commitment can be. Jesus knew that in the end he would be rejected by the majority of the Jewish nation, just as God had been rejected by the majority of Israel during the time of the Old Testament, and just as God had been rejected by Adam and the human race more generally throughout the centuries beforehand.

The Jewish rejection of the Messiah is a one of the key themes of John’s Gospel. Many Jews believed in Jesus, but only for a time. Jesus had crowds of people following him around the countryside. This reached fever pitch particularly after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Free food! Exciting preacher! Who wouldn’t want to be one of his disciples?

But when Jesus started teaching the people things that they could not readily accept, or when opposition or persecution arose, many of these believers ended up abandoning him (see John 6:60, 66). We are also told in John’s Gospel that there were many in the Jewish leadership at the time who also believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but sadly they were not prepared to confess this belief out of fear of being ostracized from Jewish society (John 12:42).

The Christian confession of faith that “Jesus is the Christ” is a necessary cause for celebration, but true Christian faith is more than just a momentary conversion experience. The question is how genuine such faith is, and whether or not it will endure till the end.

You say that you believe in Jesus, but does Jesus believe in you?

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus’ Name?

The expression to believe in [Jesus’] name occurs five times in the New Testament, all in the Johannine literature. The expression πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ to believe in his name occurs in John 1:12; 2:23; πιστεύω τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ ’Iησοῦ Xριστοῦ to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ in 1 John 3:23; πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ to believe in the name of the Son of God in 1 John 5:13; and πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ to believe in the name of the unique Son of God in John 3:18. But what does it mean to believe in Jesus’ name?

When John advocates believing in the name of Jesus, it is handy to substitute the word title for name. To believe in Jesus’ name is to acknowledge Jesus’ title, to acknowledge who Jesus really is, and in particular, to acknowledge who Jesus claimed to be, i.e., to accept the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God, the divinely-chosen divine King of salvation.

For John, Jesus’ name or title is twofold. Firstly, Jesus is the Christ; and secondly, Jesus is the Son of God (see John 20:31). These terms are virtual synonyms in John’s usage, although the term the Son of God also implies (for John) that Jesus is divine. This twofold understanding of Jesus’ name can be seen from the terms used by John in connection with the idea of Jesus’ name. In John 1:12, believing in Jesus’ name is paralleled with receiving him. In John 2:23, many people believe in Jesus’ name after seeing the many signs that Jesus performed. The signs presumably convinced them that Jesus was the Christ. In 1 John 3:23, the terms Christ and [God’s] Son are used. In John 3:18 and 1 John 5:13, the term the Son of God is used.

Thus, to believe in Jesus’ name is to confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jesus Is the Eschatological Temple

Jesus’ response in John 2:19 to the Jewish religious authorities who challenged him after he had cleared the temple continues the theme in John 1–2 of Jesus being the eschatological temple. Jesus’ clearing of the temple was a provocative act that challenged the authority of the temple authorities. They responded by asking Jesus on what authority he had been acting in the way that he had: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18).

Jesus answered his opponents by pointing to his resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus’ sign was the sign of the destruction of “this temple” and the rebuilding of it in the space of three days.

The narrator explains in John 2:21 that the phrase this temple was used by Jesus to refer to the “temple” of his body. But at the time, with Jesus still situated in the Jewish temple precincts, Jesus’ words were deliberately ambiguous. John 2:22 indicates that the true meaning of Jesus’ words at this point only became clear with hindsight after the resurrection.

At the time, however, Jesus’ opponents did not understand that Jesus was referring to the “temple” of his own body. Given this lack of insight, it is understandable that the authorities incredulously said to him: “This temple was built over forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). Jesus’ opponents naturally thought that he had been talking about the physical temple. Starting around the year 20–19 B.C., it had taken Herod 46 years to renovate the temple. But Jesus had in mind the destruction of the temple of his body, and its rebuilding in the space of three days. This would be the sign of his authority to reform the worship of God as part of his ministry.

So Jesus was pointing to his resurrection as being proof (yet in the future) of his authority. But at the same time, by picturing his body in the figure of a temple, Jesus was hinting at the fact that he himself is the fulfillment of the temple theme of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the physical temple was a key symbol of God’s presence with his people. God had fellowship with his people at the temple. It was there at the temple that the people’s sins could be forgiven, and the way opened up for them to come into the presence of God. But because of Israel’s disobedience, the first temple (the temple of Solomon) was destroyed. After the Babylonian exile, the temple was rebuilt, but the glory of God never returned to the temple. The second temple was like a shell, waiting for the return of God’s glory. It is significant, therefore, that John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as being the revelation of God’s glory to Israel (see John 1:14). The coming of Jesus constitutes the return of God’s glory to the temple. In addition, the fact that Jesus could talk about his resurrection in terms of the rebuilding of “this temple” suggests that Jesus viewed himself as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament theme of temple.

John’s Gospel forcefully states the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological temple. The building of the eschatological temple of Ezek 40–48, which is a metaphorical picture of the eternal state, would be achieved through the resurrection of Jesus. This is consistent with the view of the Apostle Paul that (through his resurrection) Jesus was the cornerstone of the “holy temple in the Lord … the dwelling place of God in the Spirit,” of which the saints form the ediface, built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20–22). Jesus’ death on the cross represents the destruction of the old symbolic temple, and his resurrection to life represents the creation of the new, true temple. In the light of this temple-building function of resurrection, it makes sense that Jesus would drive people out of the old temple as a sign that, through his death and resurrection, a new temple was about to be built in order to bring about spiritual reformation for the sake of the establishment of the proper worship of God.

The Gospel of John presents Jesus as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament tabernacle/temple theme. Jesus is the eschatological temple through whom full atonement is made for human sin, allowing humanity (as they follow Jesus) to enter into the presence of God and live.