For an introduction to this series, click here.
April 11, 2007
As I wrote yesterday, John is different from the other Gospels. He was writing specifically to address doctrinal error which had crept into the church just a few decades after the church started. Thus it should not be surprising that John's Gospel starts differently from the others: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (1:1)
The first 14 verses of John's Gospel is one of the most doctrinally rich passages in the entire Bible. I mentioned yesterday about John specifically pointing out that the Word (Jesus) was made flesh and dwelt among us.
I want to point out one specific passage: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (1:12-13) Lots of people know verse 12, but not too many people focus on verse 13, which is a continuation of the thought and is an important affirmation of God's sovereignty in salvation. Most of us as believers understand and are thankful for the fact that we are not saved by blood - that is, no one is born a Christian. But sometimes we wish we could save others by our own will. But, as we will discuss later in John's Gospel, it is God who draws people to salvation.
The Apostle John then briefly tells us the story of John the Baptist. As John began his ministry, large crowds came to hear him and be baptized. "And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.' And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'" (1:19-21) Contrast this with this statement by Jesus about Elijah and John: "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased (referring to his execution)." (Matthew 17:11-12) Luke tells us that John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah." (1:17, ESV)
A lot of conservative dispensationalists teach that Elijah will literally come during the Tribulation and will be one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation. Many often add that the other is Enoch. I have heard it said that these men did not "die" - they were taken into heaven - and so they will return to die their natural deaths. But think about this: there will be millions of Christians taken in the Rapture who will not die a natural death, and they will not be returning to earth. The simple answer to these questions is that John was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah coming to Israel. This does not preclude a reappearance of Elijah, but it is not necessary to fulfill Scripture.
John includes a story next that sheds some light on the other Gospels. John tells the story of himself and Andrew, who were disciples of John, beginning to follow Jesus. Andrew gets his brother Simon and introduces him to Jesus. The Synoptics (the name given to the first three Gospels) record that Peter began to follow Jesus after the first miraculous catch of fish. From John's gospel we learn that Peter had met Jesus before and was intrigued, but had not yet made the decision to follow Him.