Daily Archives: March 2, 2020

March 2 Life-Changing Moments With God

God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

Blessed be Your name, Almighty God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, You who comfort me in all my tribulation, that I may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which I myself am comforted by You. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in me, so my consolation also abounds through Christ.

Now for a little while, if need be, I have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of my faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You, Lord, stood with me and strengthened me.

When I suffer according to Your will, Father God, I commit my soul to You in doing good, as to my faithful Creator.

In Your economy, God, You use hard times for our good and the good of others. I believe; help my unbelief.

Genesis 41:52; 2 Corinthians 1:3–5; 1 Peter 1:6–7; 2 Timothy 4:17; 1 Peter 4:19[1]

 

[1] Jeremiah, D. (2007). Life-Changing Moments With God (p. 73). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

March—2 The Poor Man’s Evening Portion

The waters of Marah.—Exodus 15:23.

My soul! let thine imagination take wing, and flee thou this evening beside the waters of Marah; and while thou sittest down by the stream, see whether thou wilt be able to gather some of the many improving lessons the Holy Ghost brings before the Church, concerning that memorable transaction wrought there for Israel. We read in the history of that people, that they had just before sung the song of salvation on the borders of the Red Sea, when Israel saw that great sight, themselves redeemed, and the enemy swallowed up: and they were now on their march toward the promised land. Three days they had travelled into the wilderness, and found no water; and when they came to Marah, though water was there in abundance, yet they could not drink of it, for it was bitter. In this situation they cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed the people a tree, which, when cast into the waters, made them sweet. Such are the outlines of the history. Pause now, my soul, and see what improving reflections thou canst gather from it. The Lord thy God hath brought thee also out of spiritual Egypt, he hath led thee through a new and living way, even the red sea of Christ’s blood; and thou hast begun thy song of salvation also, to God and the Lamb. But when, like Israel, he is bringing thee through the wilderness, where dispensations, suited to a wilderness, may be supposed to abound, how art thou manifesting thy faith and submission? Reader, what is your answer to such a question? Methinks I would hope better things of you than I dare say of myself. But I too often find, when the waters of life are like the waters of Marah, when what I proposed for my comfort turns out to my sorrow, and I discover a worm in the very bud of some sweet flower I have been rearing up for myself with great care, I feel rebellion rising within. I blush even now in the recollection of how often I have been tempted to call in question the divine faithfulness, and, like Israel, have taken offence at some little difficulty I have met with, which afterwards, I have discovered, was purposely put there by the Lord himself, to manifest his watchfulness over me, and how sure my dependence upon him might have been placed. Reader! doth your heart find but too much correspondence to this state of mine? Let us both then do as Israel did, when at any time our waters are like the waters of Marah, cry unto the Lord. Let us put the cross of Jesus into the stream, be it what it may, (for that is the tree which the Lord showeth his people,) and never doubt but Jesus’s cross, though to Him more bitter than gall, yet to us will prove the sweetener of all our crosses. Yes! thou dear Lord! thou didst drink the cup of trembling even to the dregs, that in the view of it thy redeemed might take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. Thy cross, if cast into a sea of trouble, will alter the very properties of affliction to all thy tried ones. In every place, and in every state, while my soul is enabled to keep thee in remembrance, and “thy wormwood and thy gall,” the wilderness of all my dispensations will smile and blossom as the rose. I shall then learn to bless a taking God, as well as a giving God, for both are alike from the overflowings of thy mercy; and, like the apostle, I shall then have learnt the blessedness of that state, “to glory in tribulation, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”[1]

 

[1] Hawker, R. (1845). The Poor Man’s Evening Portion (A New Edition, pp. 65–66). Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle.

March 2, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

Conquering

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. (2:1a)

The New Testament makes it clear that Christians, no longer slaves to sin, are given the spiritual means to have victory over sin. Paul’s strong command to believers assumes their resources to conquer the sin that still remains in the unglorified body:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:12–14; cf. 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Peter 2:24)

The law made demands but provided no power or equipping to fulfill them. As a result, it only condemns and does not save.

John’s strong love for his readers and his desire for them to heed his words and not sin comes across in his tender designation, my little children, an expression that occurs six other times in this letter (2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; cf. 2:13, 18). Being faithful, diligent confessors of sin, as an expression of their new creation, made it contrary to their own disposition to abuse God’s grace by indulging in further sin (cf. Rom. 6:1–2; Gal. 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16). John was writing these things to encourage them in consistent holiness, because they were regenerate people indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who had been delivered from habitual sin (cf. Rom. 8:12–13; Titus 2:11–12; 1 Peter 1:13–16). Again John echoes, in a concise way, Paul’s following exhortation from Romans 6,

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (vv. 15–18)

So, at the close of 1 John 1, the aging apostle presents further tests of salvation and a clear picture of who passes those tests. Those who pass are true Christians who embrace God’s forgiveness but are nonetheless constant confessors of their sin. That characteristic is a reality in their lives due to God’s regenerating and sanctifying work in their hearts, by means of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Rom. 8:15) and the Word of truth (John 17:17). Genuine believers are thus people who have been cleansed from all sin, yet feel its presence powerfully and are eager to confess their remaining sins and, by the power of new life in the Spirit, conquer temptation.

Jesus Christ: The Divine Defense Attorney and the Perfect Propitiation

(1 John 2:1b–2)

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (2:1b–2)

People in contemporary society are hooked on courtroom dramas. Television shows and movies dealing with crime and trials hold people spellbound. There are even cable television and satellite channels that broadcast such programming full time. Thousands avidly follow the latest high-profile trials, turning them into the judicial system’s offering of entertainment, pandering to this jaded culture’s appetite.

Infinitely transcending such trifles is a cosmic courtroom drama that dwarfs all human trials in scope and severity. God the Father is the Judge (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 7:11; Heb. 12:23), Satan is the accuser (Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10; cf. Job 1:9–11; 2:4–5), and every person who ever lived is on trial. The issue is how unjust sinners can be justified before a holy God. R. C. Sproul writes,

The doctrine of justification involves a legal matter of the highest magnitude. It involves a matter of judgment before the supreme tribunal of God. The most basic of all issues we face as fallen human beings is the issue of how we as unjust sinners can hope to survive a judgment before the court of an absolutely holy and absolutely just God. God is the Judge of all the earth. Herein lies our dilemma. He is just; we are unjust. If we receive from His hands what justice is due to us, we face the everlasting punishment of hell. (“The Forensic Nature of Justification,” in Don Kistler, ed., Justification by Faith Alone [Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995], 24)

All those standing before the bar of divine justice are guilty of violating God’s holy law; they “are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one’ ” (Rom. 3:9–10), and “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). The just sentence the divine court should hand down is eternal punishment in hell, “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

But all is not hopeless for the guilty, because there is one more character to consider in this divine courtroom scene: the Lord Jesus Christ. He acts as the Advocate, or Defense Attorney, for all those who believe savingly in Him. He is a most unusual defense attorney, however, since He does not maintain His clients’ innocence, but rather acknowledges their guilt. Nonetheless, He has never lost a case—and never will (John 6:39; cf. Rom. 8:29–30). Using the language of the courtroom, Paul declared, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:33–34; cf. Col. 2:13–14). That last phrase is the key to how the Lord Jesus Christ infallibly wins acquittal for those who put their faith in Him. He intercedes with the Father on the basis of His own substitution for sinners in sacrificial death, which fully paid sin’s penalty for all who trust Him for salvation, thus meeting the demands of God’s justice. Because “He … did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for [them] all” (Rom. 8:32) and “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on [their] behalf, so that [they] might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), God “justified [them] freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24, nkjv). The result of the divine verdict is that believers, “having been justified [declared righteous] by faith … have peace with God through [their] Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

The Father’s predetermined design and acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice as payment in full for their sins answers the dilemma of how He can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God’s love and justice were equally satisfied when He accomplished redemption through Jesus Christ.

It is that divine courtroom drama that underlies the apostle John’s thought in this section. Building on the glorious affirmation of 1:9 that God “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” John explains that He can do so because His Son is both the believers’ Defense Attorney and the Perfect Propitiation for their sins. That twofold truth is central to the gospel.

The Divine Defense Attorney

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; (2:1b)

This portrait of Jesus Christ fits perfectly with John’s legal vocabulary. As noted earlier, the apostle’s language pictures a courtroom setting in which accused sinners come before God’s bar and Christ steps up as their legal advocate. With that portrayal in mind, John gave his readers vital instruction on how divine justice relates to salvation.

Sins translates a form of the verb hamartanō, the most common New Testament word for sin, which literally means “to miss the mark.” God’s holiness sets the standard of behavior (Ex. 15:11; Lev. 19:2; 1 Sam. 2:2; Rev. 15:4), and humanity has missed that supreme benchmark (Gen. 6:5; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 5:12; Gal. 3:22a), utterly violating God’s requirements of perfect obedience (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10).

The Greek grammar of the phrase if anyone sins is instructive. The verb is an aorist subjunctive third-class conditional that conveys the strong probability of actual occurrence. John’s expression could be translated “if anyone sins, and it will happen.” Immediately following his emphasis in the first part of verse 1 that believers do not have to sin, the apostle acknowledges that they definitely will (cf. 1:8, 10). (The pronoun we encompasses the apostle with the “little children,” also referred to earlier in verse 1, showing that the apostle has to be referring to the sins of true believers.

In keeping with the imagery, God appears as the supreme Judge of the universe, seated at the heavenly bench and judging all people according to the absolute perfection of His holy law. He is the author (Lev. 26:46), interpreter (Ps. 119:34), and applier (Jer. 31:33) of the law. But believers must view the reality of divine justice with great sobriety and respect (1 Peter 1:17; cf. Acts 17:31; Col. 3:25), since God possesses the power and authority to condemn to hell every sinner who ever lived. Jesus gave this sober admonition: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28; cf. Luke 12:5; 2 Thess. 1:5–9). The Old Testament prophets also gave clear warning about that kind of divine judgment (cf. Amos 5:18–20; Zeph. 1:14–18).

Those who are saved, however, need not fear divine justice because they have an Advocate with the Father, none other than Jesus Christ the righteous. Here Advocate translates paraklētos (“one who comes alongside”) and denotes in legal settings the defender or counselor who comes to aid his client. (In his gospel, John used the same term, translated there as “Helper” or “Comforter” [14:16, 26; 16:7] to refer to the support given to each believer by the Holy Spirit.) Christ is the perfect Advocate, since the Judge is His Father and they are always in perfect harmony (cf. Matt. 26:39; John 4:34). Further, the Son completely understands the saints’ human weaknesses because He came to earth as the fully human Son of Man (Heb. 4:14–15; cf. Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:5–8). He accepts as clients only those who confess their guilt and their desperate need to receive Him as Savior and Lord (cf. Matt. 7:21–23; 25:31–46; John 6:37; 10:3, 14–15); and He becomes for them the incomparable intercessor who always gains acquittal for those who trust in Him. In Old Testament language, He is their great High Priest (Heb. 7:25–28).

The Perfect Propitiation

and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (2:2)

Christ could never make His case for the saints as their divine Defense Attorney if He were not also their Propitiator who completely turned God’s wrath from sinners to Himself, thus removing all their guilt and condemnation. Propitiation through the death of Christ is one of the critical doctrines of the Christian faith, at the very center of God’s redemptive plan (Rom. 3:25; 5:1, 10–11; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:18–19; Col. 1:20–22; 1 Peter 1:18–20; cf. Lev. 10:17; 17:11; Matt. 26:28; Luke 24:47; Acts 20:28; Heb. 12:24; 13:20). An accurate understanding of this truth in all its essential aspects is vital to salvation and the pursuit of a life of holiness.

The term propitiation, in definition and application, is most notably a biblical and theological word. It is a translation of hilasmos, which means “appeasement,” or “satisfaction.” Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s justice, thus appeasing His holy wrath against believers’ sins.

Several related words provide additional understanding of the nature of propitiation. The verb hilaskomai, “to make satisfaction for,” occurs in Luke 18:13 and Hebrews 2:17. Hilastērion refers to the sacrifice of atonement required to placate God’s wrath (cf. Rom. 3:25). The translators of the Septuagint (lxx) used this term to designate the mercy seat, which establishes propitiation’s link to the Old Testament sacrificial system:

They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Ex. 25:10–22; emphases added to indicate uses of hilastērion in the lxx)

The mercy seat was the lid or cover of the ark, situated between the divine Shekinah glory cloud above the ark and law tablets inside the ark. Because the priests sprinkled the seat with blood from the sacrifices, it was the place at which atonement for sin occurred. The sprinkled blood thus stood between God (the Shekinah) and His broken law (the tablets). The sacrificial blood of animals never did placate God (cf. Heb. 7:26–28; 9:6–15; 10:1–18), but it pictured the future sacrifice of Christ that would fully satisfy the Father (Heb. 9:23–28; cf. Isa. 53:6, 10; Matt. 20:28; Eph. 5:2). If the Old Testament sacrificial system had appeased God’s wrath once and for all, the Jews would not have continued endlessly to bring burnt offerings (Lev. 1:3–17; 6:8–13), sin offerings (Lev. 4:1–5:13; 6:24–30), and trespass offerings (Lev. 5:14–6:7; 7:1–10) over the centuries.

Propitiation is necessary because of sins (cf. Ps. 7:11; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 1:18; 3:23; 6:23; 1 Thess. 1:10). Sinners continually shatter God’s perfect law (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:19–20a; John 8:34; Rom. 3:9–19; 5:12–20; James 1:14–15; 2:10–11) and He, as the righteously offended Creator, must react justly in holy anger, wrath, and judgment (Gen. 6:6–7; Deut. 25:16; Job 34:21–22, 25; Ps. 5:4–6; Prov. 6:16–19; Isa. 59:1–2; Jer. 10:10; Nah. 1:2–3; Luke 13:27; 16:15; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 3:17). God’s justice must be satisfied. Every sin ever committed by every person who has ever lived will be punished in one of two ways. Either God’s wrath will be satisfied when all unrepentant and unbelieving sinners suffer eternally in hell (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20:15), or for all who, by the convicting and regenerating power of the Spirit, repent and believe savingly in Jesus, God’s wrath is satisfied by the punishment of Christ Himself on the cross (John 3:14–18). Divine punishment rendered forgiveness according to God’s sovereign love and grace (cf. Rom. 3:24–26).

By God’s design, pictured in the law’s requirement of a lamb without blemish (Num. 6:14), the Lord Jesus Christ had to be sinless (cf. 2:1). Otherwise He would not have been acceptable to the Father (cf. Heb. 9:14) and would have been subject to the judgment of God for His own sins. But He is righteous (Isa. 53:11), holy (Rev. 3:7), innocent (John 8:46; 18:37–38), undefiled (Heb. 7:26), and separate from sinners—not merely the agent who made propitiation for sinners, He is the propitiation. The prophet Isaiah portrayed Him as the ideal sacrifice:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. (Isa. 53:5–10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 5:2; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18)

The entire divine plan of redemption flows from the Father’s love for unworthy and undeserving sinners (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 1:4–7). John made this truth plain when he wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10; cf. Titus 3:5).

The apostle’s words and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world have been understood by many to refer to an unlimited atonement, by which Christ provides a potential salvation for all people without exception. Logically, such an interpretation strips the work of Christ on the cross of any actual atonement for anyone specifically, and it provides only a potential satisfaction for God’s wrath. (For an analysis of other aspects of the extent of the atonement, see John MacArthur, 2 Peter & Jude, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 2005], 72–76.)

To be faithful to the truth revealed in Scripture, the whole world must be comprehended as a generic expression that refers to humanity throughout the earth, but not necessarily to every individual. World simply identifies the earthly realm of mankind to which God directed His reconciling love and provided propitiation (cf. John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; Titus 2:11; Heb. 2:9). The language of Scripture is strong and clear, stating that Christ’s death actually satisfies fully and eternally the demands of God’s wrath for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 8:32, 37; Eph. 5:25). Though the Savior’s death intrinsically had infinite value, it was designed to actually (not potentially) secure the satisfaction for divine justice only on behalf of those who would believe.

Jewish believers would have understood propitiation because they were familiar with the Old Testament sacrificial system, the function of the mercy seat, and the meaning of the Day of Atonement, as recorded in Leviticus 16:15–17:

He [the high priest] shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. When he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel.

However, they now understood “the assembly of Israel” as including proselytes. In Christ all national limitations were abolished (cf. Acts 11:18; Rom. 1:17; 2:28–29). Jesus’ propitiatory death is for all classes of God’s elect, which He is calling out for His name “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; cf. John 10:16; Acts 15:14–18; 26:23; Rom. 9:25–26; Titus 2:14). Christ’s work on the cross atoned for all those who would be sovereignly drawn by God to repent and believe (cf. Rom. 5:18), not for those believers only who constituted the church in John’s day. However, His death did not atone for or satisfy divine justice regarding the unrepentant, unbelieving millions who will appear before the Judge at the great white throne, from where they will be sentenced to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11–15).

Even in planning Jesus’ death, the high priest Caiaphas unwittingly uttered words that providentially affirmed the true extent of Christ’s propitiation. John 11:45–52 records the setting:

Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Caiaphas meant only that Jesus should be executed to spare the nation and the leaders’ positions from Roman reprisals against them because of Jesus. Caiaphas spoke politically, unaware of the weighty theological implications of his words. However, because he was the high priest the Holy Spirit directed his words (cf. 2 Sam. 15:27a) to prophesy that Christ would die for the nation. But obviously “nation” does not mean every individual Jew because virtually the whole nation had rejected Him (John 1:11; cf. Rom. 2:28–29; 9:6–18, 27). The designation is thus limited to those Jews who believed. As the apostle explained in John 11:52, Jesus died not only for the believing Jews but also for the children of God scattered abroad. In the original context of his gospel, John’s reference to “children of God” referred primarily to believing Jews of the dispersion who would be regathered into the kingdom of God (cf. Isa. 43:5; Ezek. 34:12). But in the broader sense, that expression anticipated the outreach to the Gentiles (cf. John 12:32; Heb. 2:9). So as a result of Christ’s atoning work, all throughout the world for whom Christ was the propitiation become, by faith, part of the same body, His church (Eph. 2:11–18; cf. Gal. 3:7–9, 26–29; Eph. 3:1–6).[1]


The Promise of God (v. 1)

The thrust of John’s message is at once evident, both in the appeal itself and in the tone in which it is made: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” It is an endearing appeal and has the effect of reassuring his readers that, whatever may seem to be the implications of his earlier statements, his concern for them is precisely in this, that they might not sin. Nothing he has said should ever be construed as an endorsement of unrighteousness.

A question still remains, however. John obviously wants those to whom he is writing to keep free of sin, but how precisely do the truths about which he has been speaking lead to godliness? What in chapter 1 actually promotes this goal? Or, to put it in different language, to what does “this” refer? It is possible, first, that it refers to nearly everything that comes before it. But it is unlikely that the preface is involved (which narrows the material to vv. 5–10); and, if that is so, then the reference may be even more restricted. It is possible, secondly, that John is referring to the main thesis of the preceding verses; namely, that God is light. If this is so, the logic is obvious. Christians ought not to sin because God is sinless. Third, there is the possibility that John is referring to the statement of verse 9, in which he has said that God will forgive us our sins if we confess them. This reference may be preferred because of the proximity of the two verses and because of the tone and content of 2:1–2, which speaks of forgiveness within a family relationship.

But how does the assurance of forgiveness actually lead to holiness? Is not the opposite the case? If we know that we are forgiven in advance, will we not feel free to sin? The objection sounds logical, but it is not. In fact, it is contradicted by human experience. Actually, the knowledge of such a great love and of such undeserved forgiveness makes the Christian earnestly desirous not to sin against them.

An illustration is necessary to make this point clear. Shortly after World War II, Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was then pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was counseling a certain young man. He was a professor in a major university and had a sad story to recount. He had been a second lieutenant in the American army and had been sent overseas to France where he had fallen in with bad companions. He was not a Christian at the time, and while stationed there he had lived a life of gross sin. Now, however, he had returned home, become a Christian, met a fine Christian girl, and wished to marry her. But he had a problem. He remembered his past sin and feared that he might again fall into it. If so, he would wound the girl he loved. What should he do? Because of his uncertainty he had hesitated to speak of his love for her.

The pastor advised him to speak frankly with the young woman and to tell her briefly of his past life. “She must sense that you love her and that something is holding you back,” he said. “So you must clear the air. If you are going to spend your lives together, there must be no barriers between you.” Still the young man hesitated.

At this point Barnhouse told him a story that is retold here in order to introduce the comment that was wrung from the young professor when he had finished. “Some time ago,” he said, “I dealt with a man whose story was not much different from your own. He too had lived a life of sin and had been converted under conditions similar to those existing in a rescue mission. He had then married a fine Christian woman to whom he had briefly told his sordid story. He said that, after he had told his wife this, she kissed him and replied, ‘John, I want you to understand something very plainly. I know my Bible well, and I know something of the workings of Satan. I know that you are a thoroughly converted man, John, but I also know that you have an old nature to which Satan will certainly appeal. He will do all that he can to put temptations in your way. The day may come—I pray that it never shall—when you shall succumb to temptation and fall into sin. Immediately the devil will tell you that you have ruined everything, that you might as well continue in sin, and that above all you should not tell me because it will hurt me. But, John, I want you to know that this is your home. This is where you belong. I want you to know that there is full pardon and forgiveness in advance for any evil that may come into your life.’ ”

As Dr. Barnhouse told this story, the professor lowered his head into his hands. But when Barnhouse reached the end, the young man lifted his head and said reverently, “My God, if anything could ever keep a man straight, that would be it.”

This is the principle of 1 John 2:1–2: forgiveness in advance for any sin that might come into our lives. This is God’s promise, and it is given to us precisely that we might not sin. God is not shocked by human behavior, as we often are, for he sees it in advance, including the sins of Christians. Moreover, and in spite of this, he sent his Son to die for the sins of his people so that there might be full forgiveness. Such love is unmeasurable. Such grace is beyond human comprehension. But God tells us of that love and grace in order that we might be won by it and determine, God giving us strength, that we will not fail him.

The Work of Christ (vv. 1–2)

Sometimes we do fail him, in spite of his assurance of pardon. What then? In that case, says John, we are to come to God to confess the sin and seek forgiveness, knowing that we are able to approach him through the work of Christ as children approach a father. In this statement the reference to cleansing through the blood of Christ (1:7), the promise of forgiveness and cleansing for those who will confess their sins (1:9), and the call to holiness (2:1–2) are tied together.

Jesus, Our Advocate

The work of Christ is the basis on which the Christian may approach God for full forgiveness and cleansing. John uses three terms to describe it. The first is “advocate,” or “one who speaks … in our defense.” This is a legal term, in Greek as in English; but in the Greek language, unlike English, the word has a passive rather than an active sense. It means literally “one called alongside of” and describes anyone who is called upon to help another, particularly in a court of law. It is easy to see, then, how John can use the word of Jesus; for he simply means that Jesus is the one called in to help us before the judgment bar of God. As Barclay says, “We are not to think of him as having gone through his life upon the earth, and his death upon the Cross, and then being finished with men.” Rather, “He still bears his concern for men upon his heart.”

The word advocate does not occur outside the Johannine writings, but the ministry of Christ to which it refers occurs in many places. Jesus promised Peter that he would intercede for him that his faith might not fail in the aftermath of his denying his Lord (Luke 22:32). John 17 records a prayer to the same effect on behalf of all believers. Jesus declared that “whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). Paul describes Jesus as the one “who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).

There is one thing to be noted in John’s use of “advocate,” however. When the term is used in a legal sense today, we usually think of the work of a lawyer in presenting the full case of the defendant; that is, in defending the accused largely upon the merits of his case. In John the idea of merit on the part of the accused is entirely absent; rather, the merit is on the part of the advocate. The former idea is illustrated by a use of the term in the early rabbinic tractate Pirkē Aboth: “He who does one precept [of the law] gains for himself one advocate, and he who commits one transgression gains for himself one accuser” (4:13). In the New Testament, it is entirely a question of God’s grace.

Jesus, the Righteous One

The second term used by John of Jesus is “righteous.” Indeed, it is this word that is emphasized. In what sense is it used? It is possible that John is referring to that judicial righteousness the Father has applied to believers on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for them, the meaning usually given to the term by Paul, as in Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” But this is unlikely for several reasons. First, it is awkward to understand the word in two senses in such a short space (in 1:9 of the Father and in 2:1 of the Son), which we must do if this interpretation is adopted. In the first case, the word refers to the justice of God’s action in forgiving sin. Second, the idea of the sufficient grounds of our Lord’s advocacy is adequately developed in the clause that follows, which tells us that he is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” So it is not needed here. Finally, the dominant idea in these verses is not justification on grounds of the righteousness of Christ. Rather, it is Christ’s advocacy on the part of the believer who has sinned. For these reasons it therefore seems best to take the word as describing, not the legal righteousness Christ has and is, which is offered to us in the gospel, but rather the righteousness of his character which governs the nature of his advocacy for us.

Not all advocates are like this, as any who have been to court know. Often they are unjust. Many times they serve their own interests rather than those of their client. Some use technicalities to escape the law’s just censure. But Jesus does not work in this fashion. Rather, he is faithful to our cause and presents the case faithfully and with perfection.

Jesus, the Atoning Sacrifice

Finally, John calls Jesus “the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” adding, “and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Instead of the word “propitiation,” which occurs in the kjv, or “atoning sacrifice,” which is used in the niv, the rsv has “expiation,” thereby following a rather modern trend in biblical scholarship. The word propitiation was used extensively in ancient pagan writings of the appeasement of an angry god by offerings. It had the sense of “placation” or “mollification.” In these circles the idea of propitiation was very debased. But this is incompatible with the character of the Christian God, some scholars say. God is not an angry God, according to the Christian revelation. He is gracious and loving. Moreover, it is not God who is separated from us because of sin, but rather we who are separated from God. Or again, it is not he who is to be propitiated, but ourselves. According to such thinking, propitiation is therefore to be referred, not to what Jesus has done in reference to God, but rather to what has been done by God in Christ for our guilt. This has been “covered,” “disinfected” (so Dodd), or “expiated” by his death; hence, the rsv translation and others. Those who adhere to such views note that, strictly speaking, the Bible never makes God the object of the propitiation.

But this is not the whole of the matter, as sympathetic as one may be with the concerns of such critics. In the first place, while it is true that we must not throw the Christian concept of God into the same barrel with the capricious and petulant character of the deities of the ancient world, at the same time neither do we want to forget his just wrath against sin, in accordance with which sin will be punished either in Christ or in the person of the sinner. Here the whole scope of the biblical revelation must be taken into account.

Second, although the word propitiation is used in biblical writings, it is nevertheless not used in precisely the same way it is used in pagan writings. In the pagan rituals the sacrifice was the means by which a man placated an offended deity. In Christianity it is never the man who takes the initiative or makes the sacrifice, but God himself who out of his great love for the sinner provides the way by which his own wrath against sin may be placated. In 1 John 4:10, the only other passage in the New Testament that uses the exact form of the word found in 2:2, God’s love is emphasized. This is the true explanation of why God is never the explicit object of the propitiation in the biblical writings. He is not the object because he is, even more importantly, the subject. In other words, God himself placates his wrath against sin so that his love may go out to embrace and fully save the sinner.

It is in the Old Testament sacrificial system that the true idea of propitiation is most clearly observed, for if anything is conveyed through the system of sacrifices (in the biblical sense of sacrifice), it is that God has himself provided the way by which a sinful man or woman may approach him. Sin means death. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20). But the sacrifices teach that there is nevertheless a way of escape and of approaching God. Another may die in the sinner’s place. This may seem astounding, even (as some have wrongly suggested) immoral; but it is what the system of sacrifices teaches. Consequently, the individual Israelite was instructed to bring an animal for sacrifice whenever he approached God; the family was to kill and consume an animal at the yearly observance of the Passover; the nation was to be thus represented by the high priest annually on the Day of Atonement when the blood of one offering was sprinkled upon the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple. This latter ceremony may be what John is thinking of explicitly in this passage, for a cognate of “propitiation” is used of the very mercy seat upon which the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled (hilastērion, Heb. 9:5). Besides, John referred to the shed blood of Christ just verses earlier (1:7).

Jesus is himself the propitiation, then, and it is by virtue of his being this that he can be our advocate. “Our advocate does not plead our innocence; he acknowledges our guilt and presents his vicarious sacrifice as the ground of our acquittal,” as Ross indicates. Moreover, in this lies the Christian’s confidence, for it is not on the grounds of our merit but solely on the basis of the finished work of Christ that we are bold to approach a righteous heavenly Father. Here Charles Wesley’s “Arise, My Soul, Arise” is an excellent commentary:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;

The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears.

Before the throne my Surety stands;

My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;

His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead;

His blood atoned for all our race,

And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;

They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me.

“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,

“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;

He cannot turn away the presence of His Son:

His Spirit answers to the blood,

And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled, His pard’ning voice I hear;

He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear:

With confidence I now draw nigh,

And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

The last phrase of verse 2 presents us with unusual problems, but it may be that the idea of the propitiatory sacrifice performed on the Day of Atonement, which underlies this passage, explains it. The phrase is “and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” It is added to the description of Jesus as “the propitiation for our sins” to broaden it or somehow universalize it. This much is clear enough; but it is not clear in what sense this may be said to be true. Consequently, commentators have not found it easy to make plain either to themselves or others the precise nature of the universalism found here. They have in general developed one easy answer and one very common answer, but neither is satisfactory.

The easy answer is an affirmation of universalism in its full sense; that is, that Jesus actually died for the sins of every human being and that as a result each and every one is saved by him. All will be in heaven. This is a popular interpretation for those who are disposed to universalism anyway on other grounds, but it is hardly supported by any biblical writer, including John. In fact, it is John who among all the New Testament writers most clearly distinguishes between Christ’s own and the world (John 13:1; 17:9; 1 John 3:1, 10). Not all will be saved. So, whatever the phrase means, it clearly cannot be taken to imply a full-blown universalism.

The most common answer is that the death of Christ applies to the whole world potentially but that it becomes efficacious unto salvation only in the case of those who appropriate it through faith. Those who hold to this view most naturally view the text as an important refutation of the third distinctive tenet of Calvinism, commonly called “limited atonement,” and they oppose it to the idea of election itself. This, however, is not entirely satisfactory. For if the atonement of Christ is to be taken as an atonement in potential only, then it is not actually an atonement. That is, it does not actually atone for any particular sin. Moreover, it is ineffective; for, unless one moves into the camp of the universalists, it does not actually save the world, since many who are in the world will perish.

What is the answer then? One answer is given by B. B. Warfield in an essay entitled “Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the World.” According to Warfield, John is thinking of the salvation of the world in temporal terms rather than spatially. Thus, Jesus “came into the world because of love of the world, in order that he might save the world, and he actually saves the world”—but only eventually as the impact of the Christian message is increasingly proclaimed and believed on widely. “We are a ‘little flock’ now: tomorrow we shall be the world.” At the end, though not at the beginning, Christ shall have a saved world to present to his Father.

Warfield’s answer could be the correct one, though there is reason to doubt whether the Bible teaches that the world as a whole will be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1–2; 2 Tim. 4:3–4; 2 Peter 2:1–3; Jude 18). But a better answer may be possible. If John, as a Jew, is actually thinking of the propitiatory sacrifice as it was practiced in Israel, particularly on the Day of Atonement—and how could he not?—then it may well be of himself and other Jews as opposed to Gentiles that he uses the word “us” or “we” in this phrase. The contrast would therefore be, not between Christians and the as-yet-unsaved world, but between those Jews for whom Christ died and those Gentiles for whom Christ died, both of whom now make up or eventually will make up the church. This use of the first person plural pronoun is not impossible in that John has used it in several different senses already.

According to this view, what John wishes to say is that Jesus fulfilled the pattern set by the Old Testament sacrifices but that he did so in such a way that now Gentiles as well as Jews are saved.

This is a marvel and a cause for great praise, for, as Paul says as he concludes a similar series of observations at the end of the eleventh chapter of Romans,

God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rom. 11:32–36).

Conclusion

The conclusion of this train of thought is evident. If Jesus has done so much for us, and not only for us but also for men and women scattered throughout the whole world, and if this naturally leads us to praise him, should it not also lead us to holiness? Should it not impel us to fulfill John’s desire for his little children that they “not sin”? Of course it should, and as much today as ever. Indeed, we should say with Paul, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14–15).[2]


1 John has just stressed that all people have sinned and bear the guilt of this sin, and he has told believers that God will cleanse them if they confess their sins (1:8–10). Lest this be taken as a license to sin, John immediately clarifies that he is writing “so that you will not sin.” Recognition of God’s grace and forgiveness should lead to obedience, not to further sinning.

Continuing the thought of vv. 8–10, John introduces Jesus as the advocate (paraklētos, GK 4156) of Christians who sin. The term paraklētos, which appears in the NT only in the Johannine literature, is used in the fourth gospel exclusively in reference to the Holy Spirit. Paraklētos literally means “one called alongside” to help someone, highlighting the Spirit’s ministry of teaching and guiding the disciples (Jn 14:26; 16:13), empowering their testimony (15:26), and vindicating Jesus’ self-revelation (16:8–11). Even in the fourth gospel, however, there is a close connection between Jesus and the Paraclete, for the Spirit is the form in which Jesus will come to the disciples and remain with them (14:16–18). For this reason Jesus refers to the Spirit as allos paraklētos, “another Paraclete” (NIV, “another Counselor”), like himself. The Greek allos means “another” of the same type or category, emphasizing the continuity between Jesus and the Spirit. John prefers this term over the Greek heteros, which would indicate “another” helper of a different kind.[3]


2:1 At this point there is a brief pause in the thought, indicated by the writer’s address to his readers as “my dear children.” In the preceding verses he has had his opponents very much in mind, and has been citing the kind of things which they said, by which other members of the church might be led astray. Now he turns his attention more directly to the members of the church and issues an appeal to them. His choice of the term “children” indicates the affectionate concern which he feels for them. When he describes them as God’s children, he uses a different Greek word (3:1). It is interesting that although the disciples were commanded not to call one another “father” (Mt. 23:9), the relation of the pastor to his congregation is often likened to that of a father to his children, and the pastors had no compunctions about addressing their congregations as “children” (e.g. 1 Cor. 4:14, 17; Gal. 4:19; 1 Tim. 1:2; Phm. 10; 3 Jn. 4).

It was possible that the readers might interpret what John had just written with its emphasis on the fact that Christians were not free from sin as a license to sin. If sin was a characteristic of Christians, and forgiveness was freely available, the readers might well have reacted like the people who asked, “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” (Rom. 6:1). John, therefore, had to make it quite clear that his purpose was that Christians should not sin. Unconfessed sin was incompatible with fellowship with God. John’s aim, therefore, was that his readers would both recognize their sin and confess it—and also seek to live without sin. It is easy to live without sin if one denies that one’s acts are really sinful. John wished that his readers would recognize the all-pervasive character of sin—and yet live without sinning.

Having inserted this almost parenthetical note, he returns for the third time to the question of forgiveness. There is a remedy for those who sin and confess it, and it lies in the fact that “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” This is the NIV’s paraphrase of a Greek word which is generally rendered as “advocate.” The English word is based on the Latin advocatus, which in turn corresponds to the Greek word paraklētos, and literally means “one called alongside (to help).” In the present context the word undoubtedly signifies an “advocate” or “counsel for the defense” in a legal context. It means a person who intercedes on behalf of somebody else. That this was one of the meanings of the Greek word is well attested, and the idea of intercession before God was at home in the Old Testament and Jewish background of the New Testament. Paul too speaks of Jesus as the one who is at God’s right hand and makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:34), and he also refers to the work of the Spirit as the one who assists us in our feeble prayers by his intercession for us (Rom. 8:26). This is the idea that is present here. We have nothing that we can plead before God to gain us forgiveness for our sins, but Jesus Christ acts as our advocate and enters his plea for us. He is described as being righteous. John is fond of this adjective with reference to Jesus, especially when he is thinking of Jesus as an example for Christians to follow (2:29; 3:7). Peter also described Jesus in this way when he contrasted the innocence of Jesus with the wickedness of those who put him to death (Acts 3:14; cf. 7:52), but above all he spoke of him as the righteous One who died on behalf of the unrighteous so that he might bring them to God (1 Pet. 3:18). It is this thought which is present here. Jesus Christ not only has no sins of his own for which he must suffer; but as one who is not contaminated by sin he is qualified to intercede for others. He can, as it were, plead his own righteousness before God and ask that sinners be forgiven on the basis of his righteous act.24[4]


2:1 / The first part of v. 1 is parenthetical, intended to remind the readers that what the Elder has written so far, about forgiveness and the purifying death of Jesus (1:7, 9), is not a license to sin. Just because sin is an inevitable reality and forgiveness is available does not mean that the believer should take a lenient attitude toward it. (Paul faced the same concern in Romans 6:1: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”) In fact, the author says that it is one of his purposes in writing (cf. 1:3–4) that the community will not sin, that they will completely reject sin as a way of living. The Christian ideal remains not to sin (John 5:24; 8:11; 1 John 3:6).

He calls his readers my dear children (lit., “my little children”). The Greek teknia is a diminutive expressing affection (Marshall, Epistles, p. 115). It also implies parental authority and is complemented by the possessive pronoun “my.” The Elder is very concerned about his community, not only because of the schism and false teaching, but also for their positive spiritual understanding and maturity. He also uses for the first time the first person singular, “I,” after using “we” throughout chapter 1.

The second half of v. 1 is the answer to 1:10 (just as v. 7 answers the claim in v. 6, and v. 9 responds to v. 8). Rather than assert that one has not sinned, the faithful must acknowledge (if anybody does sin; cf. 1:9) and recognize Jesus Christ as their solution. The rest of vv. 1 and 2 explain (in addition to 1:7) how this is so.

Jesus is described in a formal way with his title, Jesus Christ. This is in part because another descriptive title follows, the Righteous One, and because v. 2 is like a creedal statement. He is the Righteous One (also 2:29; 3:7; cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; and 1 Pet. 3:18; as God is righteous in 1:9), not only in view of his sinless character (John 8:46) but because he saves and advocates for sinners.

He is our paraklētos, translated in the niv as one who speaks … in our defense. The Spirit is the paraklētos in John 15:26 and “another paraklētos” in 14:16–17, in which it is implied that Jesus himself is the original. Before God, or in the presence of the Father (pros ton patera; cf. 1:2), Jesus intercedes for sinners and speaks on their behalf. The same function is attributed to him in Rom. 8:34 and Heb. 7:25.[5]


1. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

John addresses his readers with a term of endearment which can best he translated “dear children.” He is their spiritual father, so to speak, and they are his offspring. The term occurs rather frequently in this epistle; therefore, we conclude that the term reflects John’s authority as an apostle in the church and at the same time reveals his advanced age. He is the person who is able to relate to fathers and young men and address them with a term of endearment.

  • Comfort

John writes in the singular (“I write this”) as a loving pastor who admonishes his readers not to fall into sin. Note that he is not saying that they are living in sin, for their fellowship with God precludes this. John is fully aware of human frailty and Satan’s seductive power. He refers to the matters he stressed in the preceding chapter and says, “I write [these things] to you so that you will not sin.” He stands next to his readers and encourages them in their struggle against sin. He knows that they wish to live a holy life, but occasionally they sin. Sin separates and alienates the sinner from God. John hears the plea of the believer who has fallen into sin: “Pastor, what must I do?”

John speaks words of comfort. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father.” If a believer commits a sin, he still remains a child of God. The fellowship between the Father and his son or daughter is disrupted because of sin, but the Father-child relationship continues unless the child refuses to acknowledge his sin. How, then, is the fellowship restored?

  • Counselor

“We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense,” writes John, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” We have an Advocate. The New International Version broadens the concept advocate and circumscribes it with the phrase “one who speaks … in our defense.” Picture a court of law in which the guilty party is summoned to appear. The sinner needs a court-appointed lawyer to represent him. God, who is the plaintiff, appoints his Son to be the intercessor for and the helper of the defendant.

Our defender is Jesus Christ, whom John describes as “the Righteous One” (compare Acts 3:14). As sinners, we have the best possible helper because he is righteous. That is, in his human nature Jesus is our brother (Heb. 2:11), is acquainted with our frailties (Heb. 4:15), saves us (Heb. 7:25), and is our intercessor. He is also God’s Messiah, the Christ, who has fulfilled the demands of the law for us and therefore has been given the title Righteous One. As a sinless lawyer he represents us in court.

2. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John develops two thoughts in this verse: Jesus’ sacrifice and the extent of this sacrifice. We shall consider the sacrifice of Jesus first.

  1. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Translations of this particular clause differ. Here are some representative versions:
  2. “And he is the propitiation for our sins” (KJV, NKJV, RV, ASV, NASB, Moffatt).
  3. “And he is the expiation for our sins” (RSV)
  4. “He is himself an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (MLB, NIV)
  5. “He is himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins” (NEB)

What is the meaning of this text? The expressions propitiation and expiation are theological terms that belong to earlier times. For this reason, today translators have tried to find modern equivalents for these terms. Some have provided a paraphrase of the text; they attempt to clarify its meaning with the words atoning sacrifice as substitutes for both “propitiation” and “expiation.”

Before we look closely at the wording, we must consider a parallel passage. In this passage, John uses the same wording, but the context emphasizes the love of God. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10; also consult Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17). Therefore we should note that in his love God gave his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God initiated his love to a sinful world by giving his Son to cover sin and remove guilt. This gift resulted in the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus became the acceptable sacrifice for making amends and redeeming man from the curse God had pronounced upon him. With respect to the broken relationship between God and man, Jesus brought peace (Rom. 5:1) and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20–21). And with reference to man’s sin before God, Jesus removed it by paying the debt (1 John 1:7, 9). With his atoning sacrifice, Christ removes sin and guilt, demands a confession of sin from the believer, and intercedes before God in behalf of the sinner.

  • “And not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Here John refers to the extent of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Scholars usually comment that the extent of Christ’s death is universal but the intent is for believers. Or in different words, Christ’s death is sufficient for the whole world but efficient for the elect. John Calvin, however, observes that although these comments are true, they do not pertain to this passage. The phrase the whole world relates not to every creature God has made, for then the fallen angels also would share in Christ’s redemption. The word whole describes the world in its totality, not necessarily in its individuality.

In another context, John distinguishes between the “children of God” and “the children of the devil” (1 John 3:1, 10) and then concludes, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (v. 16). Jesus died for all the people who believe in him and who come “from every nation, tribe, people and language” as a “great multitude that no one [can] count” (Rev. 7:9).

Practical Considerations in 2:1–2

On Sundays at worship you sing the words of hymns and psalms and in the company of fellow church members you recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed. But during the week you fall into sin.

How, then, do you know that you are a Christian? In your weaker moments doubt and uncertainty enter your mind and you question whether you are a member of the family of believers. When you have sinned, you hear the voice of Satan accusing you before God and telling him that you cannot possibly be one of his children. Moreover, the (Christian community is saddened by your sin, and the world questions your Christian sincerity. Because of your sin, you hear the words of the hymn, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” but they are meaningless to you. You lack the assurance of salvation.

For Christians who lack assurance, John writes this message of comfort and confidence: “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1). Jesus is their helper. He died for sinners and represents them as their defense lawyer before the judgment seat of God. And on the basis of his death he pleads for their acquittal.

Jesus has met God’s demands, has defeated Satan and silences his accusations. When sinners come to him in prayer and ask for remission, Jesus offers them salvation full and free. The writer of Hebrews testifies, “For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s [spiritual] descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:16–17).

How do I know I am a Christian? When I accept Jesus’ testimony that he has died for me and has cleansed me from all my sins, then “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). And then in thankfulness I am ready and willing to obey his commands and do his will.[6]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 41–50). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 36–43). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 435). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (pp. 115–117). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 34–35). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 250–254). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 2 Streams in the Desert

Be ready in the morning, and come up … present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. And no man shall come up with thee.” (Exod. 34:2, 8.)

THE morning watch is essential. You must not face the day until you have faced God, nor look into the face of others until you have looked into His.

You cannot expect to be victorious, if the day begins only in your own strength. Face the work of every day with the influence of a few thoughtful, quiet moments with your heart and God. Do not meet other people, even those of your own home, until you have first met the great Guest and honored Companion of your life—Jesus Christ.

Meet Him alone. Meet Him regularly. Meet Him with His open Book of counsel before you; and face the regular and the irregular duties of each day with the influence of His personality definitely controlling your every act.

Begin the day with God!

He is thy Sun and Day!

His is the radiance of thy dawn;

To Him address thy lay.

Sing a new song at morn!

Join the glad woods and hills;

Join the fresh winds and seas and plains,

Join the bright flowers and rills.

Sing thy first song to God!

Not to thy fellow men;

Not to the creatures of His hand,

But to the glorious One.

Take thy first walk with God!

Let Him go forth with thee;

By stream, or sea, or mountain path,

Seek still His company.

Thy first transaction be

With God Himself above;

So shall thy business prosper well,

And all the day be love.

Horatius Bonar.

The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early upon their knees.

Matthew Henry used to be in his study at four, and remain there till eight; then, after breakfast and family prayer, he used to be there again till noon; after dinner, he resumed his book or pen till four, and spent the rest of the day in visiting his friends.

Doddridge himself alludes to his “Family Expositor” as an example of the difference of rising between five and seven, which, in forty years, is nearly equivalent to ten years more of life.

Dr. Adam Clark’s “Commentary” was chiefly prepared very early in the morning.

Barnes’ popular and useful “Commentary” has been also the fruit of “early morning hours.”

Simeon’s “Sketches” were chiefly worked out between four and eight.[1]

 

[1] Cowman, L. B. (1925). Streams in the Desert (pp. 69–70). Los Angeles, CA: The Oriental Missionary Society.

March 2 The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible

March 2.—Morning. [Or May 1.]
“Abstain from all Appearance of Evil.”

Deuteronomy 14:1–21

YE are the children of the Lord your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

See how the Lord honoured Israel, he spoke of their election—“the Lord hath chosen thee;” of their adoption—“ye are the children of the Lord your God;” and of their sanctification,”—“thou art an holy people unto the Lord.” These honours entailed duties, and among them that of maintaining a distinction from the heathen around them. They were not to imitate the superstition of their neighbours, by disfiguring themselves, or by any act indicative of excessive grief.

¶ Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing. (Manifestly disgusting and loathsome.)

These are the beasts which ye shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat,

The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, (or antelope,) and the wild ox, and the chamois.

And every beast that parteth the hoof, and cleaveth the cleft into two claws, and cheweth the cud among the beasts, that ye shall eat.

Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean unto you.

Minute distinctions—God takes note of littles.

And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase. (By these regulations the Jews were kept a separate people, for they could not partake in the feasts of the heathen because some one or other of these unclean creatures would be brought to table. Moreover, the thoughtful Israelite would be daily reminded of sin by the presence of unclean creatures. Neither in his labours, his walks, or his rest, could he be long observant without seeing the representatives of uncleanness, and so being reminded of his need to watch against sin.)

9, 10 These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.

Hence, even in their recreations by the river, or voyages at sea, there were tests for their obedience, trials of their faith, and reminders that sin was in the world.

11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 Of all clean birds ye shall eat. But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, And every raven after his kind, And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten. But of all clean fowls ye may eat.

The air too, had its warnings, its things to be avoided. Even thus, in all places we are in danger of defilement. On the land, on the sea, and in the air, there are evils all around. There are snares everywhere.

Snares tuck thy bed, and snares attend thy board;

Snares watch thy thoughts, and snares attach thy word;

Snares in thy quiet, snares in thy commotion;

Snares in thy diet, snares in thy devotion.”

21 ¶ Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God. (Because the blood had not been thoroughly separated from it, and it was ceremonially unclean. They might, however, sell it if foreigners cared to eat it. God requires his people to be more strict than others. Amusements and habits which might be tolerated in worldlings, would be abominable in Christians.) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk. (It is unnatural to make the mother yield her milk for the seething of her own young, and God’s people are to do nothing which would mar the delicacy and tenderness of their moral feelings. We are to be too sensitive to do anything coarse, brutish, and indelicate. Let young people be mindful of this.)

March 2.—Evening. [Or May 2.]
“Let us not be desirous of vainglory.”

Numbers 16:1–4; 16–24; 26–34

NOW Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:

And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:

And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord? (Moses gained nothing but trial and trouble by his leadership, and yet there were traitors in the camp who would have raised a rebellion against him.)

And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:

16 And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:

17 And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer. (This was an appeal to God that he might himself decide who were the authorised priests and leaders.)

18 And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.

19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.

20, 21 And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.

22 And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation? (How ready they were to intercede! How free from any trace of a revengeful spirit!)

23, 24, 26 ¶ And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. (If we would escape from the doom of the wicked, we must flee from their company.) And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of their’s, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.

27 So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

28, 29, 30 And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.

31, 32 ¶ And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.

33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.

34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.

Thus, by terrible things in righteousness, did the Lord uphold the power of his servants; how much more will he maintain the throne of his Son. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”

With humble love address the Son,

Lest he grow angry, and ye die;

His wrath will burn to worlds unknown,

If ye provoke his jealousy.

His storms shall drive you quick to hell;

He is a God, and ye but dust;

Happy the souls that know him well,

And make his grace their only trust.[1]

 

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1964). The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible (pp. 124–125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Domestic spying included in Coronavirus spending bill? by Ron Paul | Freedom’s Phoenix

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*** Domestic spying included in Coronavirus spending bill? ***

Dear Fellow Patriot,

The Deep State is worried.

The days are numbered for their most intrusive spying powers — especially with the President now seemingly on the same page with most Americans about reining in their domestic spying powers.

BUT NOW, the Deep State has exactly the kind of “must do something” nightmare scenario they’ve always relied on to further their abusive domestic spying powers.

I’m talking of course, about the Coronavirus.

And without your IMMEDIATE action their plot could succeed and keep their domestic spying program running full blast.

You see, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have issued marching orders to RAM through emergency spending in response to the Coronavirus.

Long-time Deep State apologist McConnell (R-KY) declared yesterday he wants it done in the next two weeks.”

Conveniently for the Deep State, that’s just when the so-called “USA Freedom Act” (the phony reform Congress replaced Section 215 of the “PATRIOT Act” with in 2015) is set to expire.

Inside sources tell us Pelosi and McConnell are scheming to slip renewal of the USA Freedom Act into a bill funding the efforts to ward off the Coronavirus.

Senators and congressmen tied to the Deep State won’t hesitate for a second to support this bill, while others who might have reservations about the United States government spying on Americans will be reluctant to vote against a bill that will fund the CDC and other agencies that deal with our nation’s health.

Fellow Patriot, you know as well as I do creatures of the Washington, D.C. “Swamp” will take advantage of ANY CRISIS that comes along.

That’s why I’m counting on you to sign the postcard to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell I’ve prepared for you.

As you’ll see these postcards DEMAND Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell reject any plot to renew the so-called “USA Freedom Act” and the Deep State’s domestic spying powers — including their attempts to tie it to the Coronavirus panic.

Read more: Domestic spying included in Coronavirus spending bill? by Ron Paul

Charles Stanley Explains Why it’s Important to Follow Jesus, Wherever He May Lead | Christian Headlines

Pastor Charles Stanley offered an inside look into his ministry and role as a father in a recent sit-down interview with Christian Headlines.

The time demands of whom some have called “America’s Pastor” caused my sit-down interview with Dr. Charles Stanley to take some time to coordinate. Still, as soon as Dr. Stanley walked in to greet me in his InTouch Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, his calming spirit made me feel valued and like our conversation was just as important for him as it was for me.

Stanley, who turns 88 this year, is still a man with a mission to win and influence people for Christ. He is quiet and fully aligned with the belief that he’s been called to do one thing—follow Jesus, wherever He may lead.

A Global Impact

When asked why he thinks people admire him the way they do, he’s quick to point out that it’s because of Jesus. “I can remember a lady flying from China to Atlanta, just to come watch me preach years ago. That’s when it hit me that God is using me all around the world for Him.” Even as we stood in his office, he received a camera from a woman in Budapest, thanking him of the impact he’s had on her life.

In his wildest dreams, he never thought that he’d be preaching all around the world, yet in his early years at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, he remembers asking himself “How am I going to get this message outside of these four walls?” He added, “You see, you have to understand that when I went to seminary, we didn’t even have a TV.”

According to Stanley, the InTouch program started because a man in the church asked if Stanley would be open to doing a live 30-minute program called the Chapel Hour each week. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Although Stanley realizes InTouch reaches the world, he’s very humble in attributing any success of the program to Jesus. He has held fast to his perspective or years—that if you “Obey God, and leave all the consequences to Him,” things can get very exciting and the story of Jesus can spread.

Dr. Stanley has preached faithfully for the past 50 years at First Baptist, often without notes. When I asked about his sermon preparation, he shared, “I know where I’m going and headed during my preaching time because TV time only allows me thirty minutes. I will place markers in my Bible to remind me of where I need to go.” He also remarked, “I pray and ask God to show me where the subject and specific objective of the text is, and once I have the outline in my head, I feel like I’m ready.”

Even after all these years Stanley still enjoys preaching. “I love and look forward to every Sunday. I know that I’m going to speak the truth and the truth will change people’s lives. And I know that my message is going all around the world.”

A Loving Father

Although Stanley is best known for his pastoring and preaching ministry its quickly noticed that when the word “Dad” is mentioned, his face lights up. This is a title that Stanley loves having. As the father of two children, Becky and Andy – another influential pastor – he clearly loves his children.

“When they were younger and needed something, I would drop everything to listen to them, no matter what was going on,” Stanley recalled.

Stanley’s own father passed away when he was nine months old so he understands first-hand the importance of a father and committed himself to be the best father he could be to his own children.

“I made sure that I played with them as much as I wanted my father to play with me if he had been alive.”

Stanley then recalled family trips sharing, “We would go on vacations and load up the Winnebago and take trips. I gave my children the best that I could.”

Becky is a real estate agent and, as many know, his son Andy pastors the influential North Point Community Church. Stanley sees what both Becky and Andy do as important. When asked if he was surprised when Andy told him that he was going into ministry, he says he wasn’t.

“At one point in his life, Andy got hot with playing the piano and other stuff, but I began to pray for God to open his eyes and he did,” the prominent pastor shared.

Stanley loves his children and is proud of what they’ve both accomplished.

A Man of Focus

Dr. Stanley is very engaged in the direction of the future of the American church and is eager to talk about it when asked. He believes that if churches are going to grow, they have to do it with the infallible word of God and in meeting people’s needs.

“If people’s needs are not met, the church will die. If we don’t meet peoples’ needs where they are, the church will become weaker and weaker,” Stanley urged.

He sees the role of the local church pastor as critical to this.

“It’s a responsibility, to all those who are called, to be sure that [they] are delivering messages that meet people’s needs,” he said.

It’s easy to tell that he’s passionate about the role of the pastor. “The pastor should have a relationship with God, that makes it possible to hear from Him, to know what to speak to people,” Stanley asserts.

There has been one constant drumbeat throughout our conversation, Jesus—being able to hear and obey Him.

Stanley is working on an upcoming book on, “how to pray when you don’t know what to pray.”

This is fitting as Stanley firmly believes that everything comes down to our communication with Jesus.

Many of his fans know and follow his hobby of photography. His pictures are displayed throughout the InTouch building. It’s something that he loves to do. When you look at Stanley’s pictures you can see his eye and focus on what he is taking his picture’s subject matter. The same can be said of his relationship with God, his focus on having the right relationship with his Heavenly Father. This reflationary focus explains why so many people around the world let him into their homes every week.

Photo courtesy: Department of Defense/Sgt. Nancy Lugo/Public Domain

Source: Charles Stanley Explains Why it’s Important to Follow Jesus, Wherever He May Lead

March 2, 2020 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

A Ministry Marked by Concern for the Flock

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (10:11–16)

This section reveals three blessings the Good Shepherd gives to His sheep because He is genuinely concerned for them (cf. v. 13): He dies for them, loves them, and unites them.

the good shepherd dies for his sheep

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” (10:11–13)

Jesus’ identification of Himself as the good shepherd points back to the true shepherd described in verses 2 to 5. It is the fourth “I AM” statement in John’s gospel (see the discussion of v. 7 above). The Greek text literally reads, “the shepherd, the good one,” setting Christ the Good Shepherd apart from all other shepherds. Kalos (good) refers to His noble character (cf. 1 Tim. 3:7; 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Peter 4:10); He is the perfect, authentic Shepherd; in a class by Himself; preeminent above all others.

Being a faithful shepherd entailed a willingness to lay one’s life on the line to protect the sheep. Robbers and wild animals such as wolves, lions, and bears were a constant danger (cf. 1 Sam. 17:34; Isa. 31:4; Amos 3:12). But Jesus, the good shepherd, went far beyond merely being willing to risk or actually risking His life for His sheep; He actually laid down His life for them (cf. v. 15; 6:51; 11:50–51; 18:14). The phrase lays down His life is unique to John’s writings and always refers to a voluntary, sacrificial death (vv. 15, 17–18; 13:37–38; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). Jesus gave His life for His sheep, because they were chosen to become part of His flock. The preposition huper (for) is frequently used in the New Testament to refer to Christ’s substitutionary atonement for the elect (cf. v. 15; 6:51; 11:50–51; 18:14; Luke 22:19; Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 1 Cor. 11:24; 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:14–15, 21; Gal. 1:4; 2:20; 3:13; Eph. 5:2, 25; 1 Thess. 5:9–10; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; Heb. 2:9; 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 1 John 3:16). His death was an actual atonement to provide propitiation for the sins of all who would believe, as they were called and regenerated by the Spirit, because they were chosen by the Father.

Opposite the Good Shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep, is he who is a hired hand (like the doorkeeper of v. 3), and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, who sees the wolf coming (cf. Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29), and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them (cf. Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). The hired hand symbolizes the Jewish religious leaders and, by extension, all false shepherds. They are always mercenaries, doing ministry not for love of the souls of men or even love for the truth, but for money (Titus 1:10–11; 1 Peter 5:2; 2 Peter 2:3). Therefore they flee at the first sign of threat to their well-being, because they are not concerned about the sheep. Their overriding priority is self-preservation, and the last thing they care to do is to sacrifice themselves for anyone.

the good shepherd loves his sheep

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (10:14–15)

It is because the Lord loves His own that He gave His life for them. The word know is used here to denote that love relationship. In Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; 19:8; 24:16; and 1 Samuel 1:19 the term know describes the intimate love relationship between husband and wife (the nasb translates the Hebrew verb “to know” in those verses “had relations with”). In Amos 3:2 God said of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (nkjv), speaking not as if He were unaware of any other nations, but of His unique love relationship with His people. Matthew 1:25 literally reads that Joseph “was not knowing [Mary]” until after the birth of Jesus. On the day of judgment, Jesus will send unbelievers away from Him because He does not know them; that is, He has no love relationship with them (Matt. 7:23). In these verses, know has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus in love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in love knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father. Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 14:21, 23; 15:10; 17:25–26).

the good shepherd unites his sheep

“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (10:16)

The other sheep in view here are Gentiles, who are not of Israel’s fold. They, too, will hear Jesus’ voice calling them to salvation (cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6; Rom. 1:16), and redeemed Jews and Gentiles will become one flock with one shepherd. To suggest that Jews and Gentiles would be united in one flock was a revolutionary concept. The Jews despised Gentiles, and they returned the animosity. Even Jewish believers were so programmed to prejudice that they were slow to accept Gentiles as equal members in the church (cf. Acts 10:9–16, 28; 11:1–18; 15:1–29). But as Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied,

“It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:50–52)

To the Ephesians Paul wrote,

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:11–16)

True unity between Jews and Gentiles defines the church because both are sheep who belong to the same Shepherd.[1]


“I Am the Good Shepherd”

John 10:11–18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The claim of the Lord Jesus Christ to be “the good shepherd” is the fourth of the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel. But if we were to order these sayings in terms of their popularity, I am sure that “I am the good shepherd” would be number one. It is not that we understand it so completely, for there is certainly much about shepherds and their care of sheep in Christ’s time that we do not know. It is rather that there is so much in Christ’s saying that our hearts know intuitively and for which Jesus is loved.

The Good Shepherd

For one thing, Jesus claimed to be the “good” Shepherd. And we know by comparison with other people—particularly with those who are in positions of responsibility, whether parents, pastors, or politicians—that he is uniquely good. That is, he is good in a way that they are not. The word “good” is itself interesting, and we sense its meaning even though we may never have heard of the Greek word it translates or what the Greek signifies. The word means “good” in the sense of being morally good; but it also means “beautiful,” “winsome,” “lovely,” “attractive,” or even “possessing all and whatever qualities make the object described a good thing or the person a good person.” Moreover, if we compare Christ’s “I am the good shepherd” with his parallel claims to be “the true bread” or “the true vine,” we also see that the word means “genuine” or “true,” as opposed to “false” or “artificial.” But we all sense this; that is my point. At least, it is my point as regards all Christians. We sense that by this phrase we are to recognize Jesus as the good, beautiful, winsome, lovely, attractive, true, and genuine Shepherd.

Moreover, we understand that he is claiming to be that exclusively. For he is not a good shepherd, as though he were one of many in that class. He is the Good Shepherd. There have been other shepherds, of course. The Old Testament speaks of both good and bad shepherds of Israel. The New Testament speaks of shepherds for our day; for Jesus is termed the “Chief Shepherd” from whom the leaders of God’s people, the undershepherds, have assigned responsibilities (1 Peter 5:4). But compared to Jesus, we who are shepherds in the lesser sense scarcely seem to be that at all. For who of us could call ourselves “a good shepherd,” much less “the good shepherd.” Yet we instantly confess that he is both and love him for it.

Why does he call himself the Good Shepherd? Or, to put it in other language, what is he like or what has he done that he should bear this title? The verses of John 10 answer the question in two parts. First, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for the sheep. We find that in verse 11. Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he knows his sheep and directs them properly. We find that in verse 14. In both of these aspects Jesus is above all other men or women.

His Death, No Tragedy

I am amazed at the amount of teaching about the death of Jesus that we find in verse 11, and the more so because the teaching is more or less incidental to Christ’s statement. The point Jesus is making is that he can be called the Good Shepherd primarily because he gives his life for the sheep. This is obvious, first, because he repeats it four times—in verses 11, 15, 17, and 18—but also because it is emphasized in contrast to the hired hand who runs away when danger threatens. The good shepherd is the one who sticks by his sheep, who defends them, and who will even die for them if necessary. This is the main point. What is amazing is the amount of teaching about Christ’s death that occurs over and beyond this.

First, we are led to see that the death about which Jesus speaks is voluntary. This is evident in two places: in verse 11, which says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” and in verses 17 and 18, which add, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”

We must never think, in contemplating the death of Christ, that this death was somehow an accident or, even worse, a tragedy. It may or may not have been a tragedy when Alexander the Great fell sick and died at an extremely young age, or when Keats died in his early twenties. But it was most certainly not a tragedy when Jesus died at approximately thirty-three years of age. This was no accident. This was and is the great turning point of history. It was planned before the foundation of the world, for Peter spoke of Christ, saying, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). It was this for which Christ was born, for the angel told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). It was this toward which Jesus’ life consciously and deliberately moved, as these and many other sayings of the Lord indicate. Jesus did not have to come to this earth, any more than a man has to be a shepherd. He did not have to die. Nevertheless, he both came and died voluntarily for our salvation.

Second, we are told that his death was vicarious; that is, Jesus died not for his own sin—he had none—but for ours and in our place. He indicates this by saying, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.

I cannot understand why so many have been urged to deny this. The words are plain enough, both here and elsewhere. They tell us that Jesus died, not only for others in the sense of “on their behalf,” but and even stronger than this, in the sense of “in their place.” The Greek preposition is hyper, the sense of which is given beyond any doubt in Romans 5:6–8, where the same phrases occur: “When we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man some might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The meaning is this: We are sinners; as sinners we deserve to die (both physically and spiritually); but Christ willingly died in our place, taking our punishment, so that we might be set free from sin and its penalty to serve God.

Third, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ was specific; that is, he died for a specified number of people designated in this verse as his sheep. We do not know who these sheep are, of course, and I am glad that we do not. If we could, we would be constantly prying into other persons’ lives to see whether or not the other one is chosen; and in that case we would be little better than spiritual peeping toms. It is not for us to know. We cannot know. If we had lived in Sodom, would we have judged Lot, Abraham’s nephew, to be a saved man? Probably not! Yet the New Testament tells us that he was accounted righteous in the sight of God, though he undoubtedly erred greatly in going to Sodom (2 Peter 2:7). Would we have considered Judas to be saved? Probably yes, in his case. But Jesus told us explicitly that he was a tool of Satan (John 6:70–71).

We cannot know precisely who these are for whom Christ died. But Jesus does know them and died for them. The result of this is that he literally paid the penalty for their sins and theirs only, with the further result that they are now fully justified in the sight of the Holy God and can stand boldly before him.

Finally, we are told the cause of the Shepherd’s death for the sheep. It is because he cares for them (v. 13) or, as we should more properly say, because he loves them.

“What? Love sheep? Do you mean to say that you really love sheep, Jesus, and that you love them enough to die for them?”

“Yes, that is right,” says Jesus. “I really do love them.”

“But they are just sheep, and sinful sheep at that! We would understand if you should say that you felt pity for them, that you hated or were even grieved to see them torn by wild animals or scattered. But surely you would not go so far as to give your life for these poor silly creatures? Your love cannot be as great or as strong as that?”

“But it is,” says Jesus. “I do love them. I love you.”

“Me? Me, with all my sin?”

“Yes,” says Jesus. “You are the one. I love you. I died for you. I want you to become a happy and useful sheep in my flock.”

I do not know about you, but I cannot understand such love. I cannot fathom it. I cannot trace the reasonings of such love. But I do believe it and respond to it rejoicing. That is all we can do after all. David once wrote, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” He answered, “I will lift up the cup of salvation [that is, I will believe God concerning his offer of salvation] and call on the name of the Lord [that is, I will praise him for it]” (Ps. 116:12–13). And so we do, knowing that ours is the loveliest, most glorious song of the universe.

Awake, my soul, in joyful lays,

And sing thy great Redeemer’s praise:

He justly claims a song from me,

His loving-kindness is so free.

He saw me ruined in the fall,

Yet loved me notwithstanding all,

And saved me from my lost estate,

His loving-kindness is so great.

Foolish men may be ashamed of such a song and of such great love. But Jesus is not ashamed of it. It is rather his boast and glory: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” God forbid, then, that we should glory save in that which is his glory, even the cross “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Knowing and Known

In the second place, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he knows the sheep and is known by them. There is comfort in that.

Why is that comforting? It is comforting because we long to be known and know others, and yet are basically incapable of it. It is true that there is a certain amount of knowledge of one another between human beings. Friends know one another. Parents know their children, children their parents. There is often a special and beautiful knowledge between husband and wife. But in spite of these things, for each of us deep in our hearts there is a hunger to be known better, to be known for what we really are, and to share a corresponding and similar knowledge of another. It exists on the human level. It exists above all on the divine level. For though we are sinners and in rebellion there is, nevertheless, a certain emptiness or hunger to know God and be known of God. Augustine called it restlessness, adding, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Moreover, there is comfort in the claim that Jesus knows his sheep because it is precisely as “his sheep” that he knows them. In other words, to be known of him is at the same time to be a member of his flock and thereby to be one for whom he died and who, as he says later, will never be snatched from his hand. This is a permanent relationship, then, and a personal one. I am his sheep? Yes, forever! Then he is my Shepherd, and that is forever too.

Finally, there is comfort in the fact that Jesus knows his sheep. I therefore need not fear that something about me might suddenly rise up to startle him and diminish his love.

There is a wonderful illustration of this point in the nature of sheep themselves. It is because of it, no doubt, that we find the image of the sheep and the shepherd so apt. Think of the characteristics of sheep. For one thing, they are all different. In our time, we are so oriented to mass-produced products and, even in ranching, to such large herds that we seldom think of differences. To us a sheep is a sheep, a cow is a cow, a dog is a dog … yes, even a person is a person. But sheep are different from each other, people are different from each other; and the Good Shepherd recognizes those differences. In fact, it is by their differences that he knows them. If they were all alike, they would be indistinguishable.

I sometimes think that half our problems in the Christian church come from our trying to be exactly like another person, or from other people trying to make us be like them. Sheep are different. Jesus made them different and knows that they are different. So, be yourself, and strive to become all that Jesus wants you personally to be.

Not only are sheep different, they also are helpless. Jesus knows they are helpless, and that is why he has become our Good Shepherd. Did you know, for instance, that a sheep will often get stuck on its back like a turtle, so that it is unable to move, and that in warm weather it can die in that position within a few hours? A sheep in that position is called a “cast” sheep, and it must be rescued. Or again, did you know that a sheep is undiscriminating in its choice of food, so that it will eat anything, even poisonous roots and weeds? Or again, that a sheep is helpless in the face of predatory animals, so terrified, in fact, that it often will simply stand there without uttering a bleat until it is attacked and killed? I see myself in these characteristics, and as I do I am even more grateful for my Good Shepherd.

Jesus knows his sheep! Well, then, he also knows that they are wayward. A sheep can have perfect pasture, all that it needs or can ever need; yet, if there is so much as a tiny opening in an otherwise secure fence, somehow the sheep will find the opening, wriggle through, and wander away to less ample fields and into danger. I am like that, and so are you.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;

Prone to leave the God I love,

reads the hymn; and it is true. All we like sheep have gone astray yet in Jesus we have a Shepherd who is constantly on the alert to keep us from wandering and to seek us out when we succeed (as we often do) in going astray.

Finally, a sheep is useful. Each year, under proper management, it produces a valuable crop of wool. Thus, when we are told that Jesus knows his sheep, we know that he knows that of us also and that he desires to have us be useful both to himself and to others. I know that he does not need us. He who created the heavens and earth and all that is in them does not need sheep for what they can give him. He does not need our good works. He does not need us to convert people, or even to sing his praises. He has angels to do that. But the fact is: he has created us; he has called us into his flock; and he has given us work to do. How, then, will we do it? Will we be useful or useless? Industrious or lazy? Our attitude should be, “Lord, what would you have me do?” To be willing is to express gratitude to the One who is indeed our Good Shepherd.

The Chief Shepherd

John 10:11–18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The parable of the Good Shepherd is a parable in which believers can learn about the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not only that. Like most passages of the Bible that tell us about the Lord Jesus Christ it also is one in which we can learn what we are to be as we are made like him. In other words, as Christ is the Good Shepherd, so, too, are we to be shepherds; and we are to find the standards for our shepherd work in his own.

The Bible points to this truth in an interesting way. Three times in the New Testament Jesus Christ is represented as the Shepherd, but in each case the word “shepherd” is preceded by a different adjective. In John 10, Jesus is called the good Shepherd, as we have seen—“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11). Here the emphasis is upon the voluntary and vicarious death of the Shepherd. In Hebrews 13:20–21 Jesus is called the great Shepherd—“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” In this verse the emphasis is upon Christ’s resurrection and therefore also upon his ability to work through and accomplish his purposes in his sheep. The third passage speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd and stresses his second coming to reward those who have served him as undershepherds. It is 1 Peter 5:4—“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

These passages highlight the focal points of Christ’s ministry. As the Good Shepherd, Christ dies for the sheep. As the Great Shepherd, Christ rises from the dead so he might serve the sheep. As the Chief Shepherd, Christ returns to reward those who have been faithful in the responsibilities to which they have been assigned as undershepherds. It is the last of these that highlights the point I am making.

When Jesus described himself as the Shepherd he revealed many important aspects of what he is to us, but at the same time he also revealed what we should be to others. For we are all shepherds—if we are believers in Christ. To a greater or lesser extent we have all been given an oversight of others. Do we exercise our responsibility as Jesus exercised it—in the family, in business, in the affairs of the church, in government, or in other areas? Do we show Christ’s self-sacrifice and sympathy? Are we faithful? Whether we are or not, we may improve our service by reflecting on the characteristics of the Good Shepherd.

Found Faithful

The first and most obvious characteristic of the Good Shepherd is that he is faithful; that is, he is faithful in his responsibilities, not only when the skies are sunny and the countryside is peaceful but also when times are hard and when danger threatens. This is apparent from Christ’s contrast of himself to the hired hand who, unlike the Good Shepherd, “sees the wolf coming, … abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it” (v. 12).

The hired hand is one who is doing a job primarily for what he can get out of it rather than out of a true sense of responsibility toward the sheep. So the question becomes: Am I a hired hand in relation to those for whom God has made me responsible? Am I faithful or faithless? Do I stay with the work? Or do I abandon it when I see the wolf coming?

Before we try to excuse our conduct in this area (and we do try to excuse it), we need to hear one other thing said about the hired hand. It is in the next verse: “The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (v. 13). At first reading this may seem trite, but it is not at all trite. It reflects a profound principle: a man does what he does because of what he is. Pink writes, “The drunkard drinks because he is a drunkard. But he is a drunkard before he drinks to excess. The liar lies because he is a liar; but he is a liar before he tells a lie. The thief steals because he is a thief. When the testing time comes each man reveals what he is by what he does. Conduct conforms to character as the stream does to the fountain.” Therefore, before we try to excuse ourselves, let us learn that our conduct in testing proves what we are. Let us ask God for the character that proves faithful.

There is much in the Word of God about faithfulness. Jesus spoke of stewards who proved that they were faithful by the way they handled their master’s goods (Matt. 24:45–46; 25:14–30; Luke 12:42–43; 19:11–27). Paul wrote, “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). He also encouraged Timothy to commit the gospel “to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). He calls Onesimus a “faithful and dear brother” (Col. 4:9). Peter calls Silvanus “a faithful brother” (1 Peter 5:12). In Revelation, Antipas is called “my faithful witness” (Rev. 2:13). Faithfulness is of primary importance in Scripture. So whatever good characteristics we may have, we will prove of little value to the work of Christ if we do not possess this primary and essential characteristic.

Hardworking

Second, we must be hardworking and diligent. Nothing worthwhile is done without hard work. Yet many Christians act as though they have been saved by Christ merely to be transported to heaven on “flowery beds of ease,” as the hymn acknowledges. Our standard is to be that of the Good Shepherd who works hard for his sheep.

In our study of John 10:10 we had occasion to look at Psalm 23, which tells us that the one who has God for his Shepherd does not lack any good thing. Specifically, he does not lack rest, guidance, safety, provision, or a heavenly home. These provisions are worth reflecting on in themselves—we did reflect on them earlier—but they also lead us to ask: Why does the sheep of the psalm not lack them? The answer obviously is that the Shepherd provides them and that he does so through much diligence and hard work. The sheep does not lack rest because the Shepherd seeks out green pastures in which he may lie down. He does not lack guidance because “he leads me beside quiet waters” and because “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He does not lack safety because the Shepherd defends him against natural disasters and wild animals. He does not lack provision because the Shepherd finds all that he needs and spreads it before him. He does not lack a heavenly home because the Shepherd has gone to prepare it for him and will return to lead him to it. All these items are provided through the hard work of the Shepherd.

In the same way, the needs of God’s people—whether in families, homes, or churches—are provided by the hard work of those whom the Lord has appointed as undershepherds. This includes most of us. If God’s people do not receive good spiritual food, it is usually because some minister is not working hard enough to provide it. If a family lacks love and security, it is because the parents are not working hard to provide these things in the home. If the widows are not cared for, it is because the deacons are slothful. If the church is not given proper spiritual direction, the elders are failing in their responsibility. The list could be carried on indefinitely.

Are we diligent? Do we work hard? One very hard worker, Watchman Nee of China, once wrote, “Only a diligent servant is of use to [the Lord. So] do not let us regard this matter lightly.… We shall have to deal with ourselves unsparingly before the Lord if we are to become workers who are not ‘unprofitable’ in his service.”

Patient

Third, we need to be patient—not with ourselves, of course, but with the sheep. This arises from the fact that sheep are sheep and that they need to be dealt with patiently.

A Christian humorist once said, “To look at the behavior of some ministers you would think that instead of having said, ‘Feed my sheep,’ the Lord had actually said, ‘Teach my trained dogs new tricks.’ ” This stimulates an interesting train of thought, for it is true that some regard God’s people as anything but sheep. Some, as the humorist indicated, act as though God’s people were circus dogs. Others act as though they were attack dogs; so they are always telling them to “Go, get the liberals” or “Go, get the Communists.” Some treat Christians like horses, getting them to charge some obstacle. Still others regard them as robots—they don’t have to think; they just need to be programmed. But we are not dogs or horses or robots. God calls us sheep, and sheep need patience.

Moreover, sheep are different, as I pointed out before. Some go too fast; we need to be patient with those. Others are too slow; we need to be patient with those who fall behind. In this as in other matters we need to learn from the Chief Shepherd.

A Good Example

Fourth, we need to be a good example. This is what Peter is talking about primarily in the verses in which Jesus is called the “Chief Shepherd.” He is writing to elders in these verses, though his words also apply more widely. He says, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:1–4). Are we like that? Are we examples of mature Christian understanding, faithfulness in the midst of persecution, Christian morality, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and all the other virtues? The point of these words is that we should be such and that we also should be examples in our careful feeding of the sheep.

Self-Sacrificing

A shepherd must be self-sacrificing. This is the fifth characteristic. What is it that characterizes the good shepherd in Jesus’ description of him in John 10? Above all, that he gives his life for the sheep. We will never be able to give our lives as Jesus gave his life for us—he died for us as our sin-bearer—nevertheless, there are other ways in which we can give our lives for others. We can give our time in order to help them. We can sacrifice things that we would rather do or rather have in order to serve and give to others. In other words, we must put others ahead of ourselves. Our primary desire must be for their spiritual well-being and comfort.

The world says, “Me first; others second; God last.” The order for believers should be, “God first; others second; myself last.” It does not sound like a very attractive order to the natural mind, but the truth is that this is the way to a full life and a joyful existence. It takes self-sacrifice if a parent is to raise children properly, if a pastor is to guide and teach his people effectively, if a Sunday school teacher is to help her pupils, or if any worthwhile thing is to be accomplished. But it is rewarding. It is a source of great joy.

Moved by Love

Finally, the shepherd needs to be moved by love. Jesus loves us; he cares for his sheep. So ought we to love one another and care for one another. By this men should know that we are his disciples (John 13:34–35).

But where are we to learn this love? The only answer is: from Jesus. Therefore, we must learn to love him first of all, for it is only after this that we shall be able to love those whom he entrusts to our care. This was the last lesson the Lord Jesus Christ had for Peter. Peter had denied him three times, and the Lord wished to recommission Peter for service. So he came to Peter with the question: “Peter, do you love me?” It was repeated three times. On each occasion Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus then replied, “Feed my sheep.” He knew that once Peter had come to love him he would love others also and would care for them.

So it is with all the lessons we are to learn. It is from Jesus himself that we learn them. Take the men from the Old Testament who are known as having been shepherds, and ask them where they learned to be shepherds.

Look at Jacob. He was not a particularly praiseworthy character. He was a cheat and a coward. But in one respect he was praiseworthy—he was a good shepherd. He was known for his faithful care of the sheep (Gen. 30:31; 31:36–42). Moreover, later (after the Lord had dealt with him), he was known for his care of his family in exactly the same way. We say to him, “Jacob, where did you learn to be a good shepherd? Where did you learn to care for the sheep?”

Jacob replies, “Well, it is true that I did care for the sheep; but I did not learn it of myself. It was not that I was faithful. I learned it rather from the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd of Bethel, who revealed himself to me and who cared for me during the years of my exile.”

We turn next to Joseph and say to him, “Joseph, you too were a shepherd in your youth; it is said of you that you were faithful in feeding the sheep (Gen. 37:2). Moreover, you were used by God later to feed people; for as ruler in Egypt you were used to store up grain that helped preserve millions of people during a great famine. Where did you learn that? Where did you learn to be faithful in feeding the sheep?”

Joseph answers, “From the God of my fathers, who fed me during the years of my slavery and imprisonment.”

“Moses, even you were a shepherd. You were raised in Egypt in the court of Pharaoh, but you spent the next forty years of your life in the deserts of Midian caring for the flocks of Reuel. It is said of you that you watered, protected, and guided the sheep (Exod. 2:16–17; 3:1), just as under God you later watered, protected, and guided the people of Israel during the forty years of their desert wandering. Where did you learn to do that? Where did you learn to give such care?”

Moses tells us that it was not from himself that he learned it, but rather from God’s protection and guidance of him as he fled from Egypt.

Finally, we see David. “David, you are preeminently the shepherd of Israel, the great shepherd king. As a boy you cared for the sheep; for you were the youngest in the family, and it was the job of the youngest to care for them. During those years you showed prowess in defending the sheep, for we read that you killed both a lion and a bear in rescuing them (1 Sam. 17:34–36). Later you showed similar prowess in defending Israel against even greater enemies. Where did you learn such courage?”

David says he learned it from the Great Shepherd about whom he had written. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:4–5).

Each one learned what he learned from the Shepherd of Israel. We can be good shepherds too if we can first say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and then learn from him.[2]


14–15 Again Jesus declares that he is “the shepherd,” i.e., “the good one” (the repetition of the article places the adjective in apposition). Consequently, his sheep know him. The verb ginōskō (“to know,” GK 1182) occurs four times in vv. 14–15: Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him, the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father. Of the 222 occurrences of the verb in the NT, 82 are found in the Johannine literature (57 in the fourth gospel alone). While the Greeks held that knowledge of God was attainable by philosophical-theological contemplation of the divine reality, the Hebrews viewed knowledge as the result of entering into a personal relationship with God. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is like that between Father and Son. They know one another in the fullest sense of the word. Three times in a span of eight verses Jesus stresses that, as the good shepherd, he lays down his life for his sheep (vv. 11, 15, 17). It is the willingness of the shepherd to put his own welfare aside and to give himself without reservation for the benefit of his flock that defines what it means to be a good shepherd. This “goodness” is the self-emptying concern for others that was modeled by Jesus in his life and death. It is the expected lifestyle of all who bear his name. Whether or not we are in the family of God is evident by the degree of family likeness we bear.[3]


14–15 Again comes the majestic assertion that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, this time not directly linked with his laying down of his life. Instead there is first put forward the relationship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep and arising from that a reiteration of his determination to lay down his life for them. Being the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep. And his sheep know him (cf. v. 4). There is a relationship of mutual knowledge, a reciprocal knowledge that is not superficial but intimate. It is likened to the knowledge wherewith Jesus knows the Father and the Father knows him. It may be that the love implied in this relationship elicits the following statement that Jesus lays down his life for the sheep.46 Or it may be a simple addition. Either way it is the culmination of this part of the discourse. Jesus here speaks directly in the first person, “I lay down my life,” whereas in verse 11 he has used the third person, “the good shepherd lays down his life.”[4]


14–15 Again (as in v. 9) Jesus repeats the “I am” expression: “I am the good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Here the metaphor of shepherd and sheep begins to give way to the characteristic pairing of Jesus with “the Father.” We have heard nothing of “the Father” since 8:54, but from here to the end of the chapter he will be very much a part of the discussion (see vv. 17, 18, 25, 29, 30, 32, 36, 37, 38). That “I know mine and mine know me” builds (albeit vaguely) on the notion in the introductory parable that “the sheep hear his voice,” and that the shepherd summons them “by name” (v. 3). The neuter pronoun for “mine” probably has as its antecedent “the sheep” or “his own sheep” from that scene (vv. 3, 4) and from the later contrast between the shepherd and the hireling (v. 12; see also v. 27). Yet “the Father” is no necessary part of the imagery of shepherd and sheep, and the analogy between the mutual knowledge of Father and Son and of the Son and his disciples is by no means dependent on the Son being visualized as Shepherd and the disciples as sheep (see, for example, Mt 11:27 and Lk 10:22). It is the Father, in fact, who makes it possible for Jesus to make the role of a “good shepherd” (v. 11) his own: “And I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15). But this time Jesus is not simply telling what any “good shepherd” customarily does for his sheep (as in v. 11), but is instead revealing what he himself does as “good Shepherd.” The verb “I lay down” is present (as in v. 11), but points toward the future, when Jesus will give himself over to arresting authorities in order to spare his disciples (18:8), and eventually give himself up to death on the cross (19:30). Still, it is not exactly a futuristic present, for Jesus’ life is already at risk, and has been ever since “the Jews began pursuing” him (5:16), and “kept seeking all the more to kill him” (5:18; see also 7:1, 19, 25; 8:37, 40).[5]


I Am the Good Shepherd

John 10:11–21

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

From early in the Bible, the shepherd symbolized the faithful man of God. Abel, Adam and Eve’s son whose offering was accepted by God, was “a keeper of sheep” (Gen. 4:2). Jacob, the father of the nation Israel, was a shepherd, as was his trusted son Joseph. Moses was shepherding the flocks of Midian when God called to him from the burning bush (Ex. 3:1–2). David was the great shepherd-king of Israel, from whose house the Messiah was promised to come. Isaiah foretold, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11). It is no surprise, therefore, that Jesus identified himself with words recalling this image of the divinely ordained leader: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

The Good Shepherd

Jesus spoke these words to contrast himself with the false shepherds of Israel, especially the hard-hearted Pharisees. Accordingly, he contrasts the Good Shepherd with those who watch the sheep for hire: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:12).

Phillip Keller, who as we have noted was himself a former shepherd, wrote a number of books recounting his experiences. He recalls his own first flock:

They belonged to me only by virtue of the fact that I paid hard cash for them. It was money earned by the blood and sweat and tears drawn from my own body during the desperate grinding years of the depression. And when I bought that first small flock I was buying them literally with my own body which had been laid down with this day in mind. Because of this I felt in a special way that they were in very truth a part of me and I a part of them.… [This] made those thirty ewes exceedingly precious to me.

But this is not at all how a hired hand feels about the flock. Keller remembers a ranch operated by a tenant sheepman. “He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep,” Keller writes. “His stock were always thin, weak and riddled with disease or parasites.” The reason was that the hired shepherd had no personal interest in the sheep and did not expend himself in preparing green pastures.

As Jesus says, the hireling may serve fairly well when things are safe. It is when danger comes that the hireling flees. “He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13). J. C. Ryle states, “He feeds the flock for money and not for love—for what he can get by it, and not because he really cares for the sheep.” The same thing happens in the church when its ministers serve only for money or other gain, to the detriment of the flock.

This makes the point that each of us acts according to our character. We do according to what we are. The false shepherd flees because he is a hireling, whereas the true Shepherd lays down his life because of the love in his heart. Moreover, our character is especially tested in times of crisis and trouble. Many a paid shepherd is revealed as a hireling only when the wolf appears, just as many a good shepherd is recognized only when he sacrifices for the good of the flock. Given this, character should always be a prime consideration whether you are selecting someone for a job opening, deciding on someone to marry, or choosing a spiritual leader to follow. Character matters.

This is how Jesus revealed himself as the Good Shepherd: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). William Barclay writes, “Jesus was the good shepherd, who so loved His sheep that for their safety He would risk, and one day give, His life.”

There are two Greek words for good. One is the word agathos, which speaks of moral goodness. But it is the second word, kalos, that Jesus uses here. Kalos denotes beauty or excellence. The Good Shepherd is attractive and genuine. One old writer remarks, “It is possible to be morally upright repulsively.” But Jesus is the genuine, lovely, attractive, and true Shepherd to whom others can only dimly be compared.

Seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd gives comfort to every Christian. To be saved is to enjoy a personal relationship as a sheep to the most wonderful, trustworthy Shepherd of our souls. Whatever is happening in our lives, we can know that we are the sheep of God’s pasture and that God’s own Son is watching over, guiding, and protecting us.

Jesus highlights two features of his shepherding ministry that sum up his care for his own. First, he is the Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for the sheep. Second, the Good Shepherd gathers all his sheep into one flock for intimate fellowship with himself.

Lays Down His Life

First, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). In a general sense, this may refer to the way in which a shepherd pours out his time and energy for the well-being of his flock. But it is clear that Jesus specifically refers to his sacrificial death on the cross. Indeed, Jesus’ description provides a valuable summary of the Christian doctrine of the atonement.

The first thing we should observe is the centrality of the cross for the Christian faith. The one thing above all else that makes Jesus the Good Shepherd is that he lays down his life for the sheep. Some consider the cross to be an embarrassment and would like to emphasize something else about our faith. But the distinctive and central feature of Christianity is its teaching of the cross of Christ.

We can see this throughout the New Testament. The angel told Joseph what to name his expected son: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). At the end of Jesus’ ministry, we see the same emphasis. During his last meal with the disciples, Jesus established a sacrament by which he would be remembered, the Lord’s Supper, the elements of which specifically point to his coming death. Handing out the bread, Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then passing the cup, he told them, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (26:26–28).

Given this clear emphasis, a purported Christianity that downplays the problem of sin and the remedy of Christ’s death is not the Christianity that Jesus taught. The same can be said of Paul’s teaching: “I decided to know nothing among you,” he said, “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). He added, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

Second, Jesus emphasizes the voluntary nature of his sacrificial death. The Good Shepherd does not merely suffer death, but “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). “No one takes it from me,” he says, “but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up” (10:18). The resurrection, whereby Jesus rose from the grave, is the proof of his authority to lay down his own life.

It is true that Jesus died because the Jewish authorities arrested him and Pontius Pilate directed the Roman soldiers to nail him to the cross. But none of these things could have happened without Jesus’ consent. Barclay comments: “Jesus was not the victim of circumstance. He was not like some animal, dragged to the sacrifice, unwilling to go, struggling against the hands of the priest, unknowing what was happening. Jesus voluntarily laid down His life because He chose to do so.” Jesus came into the world for the primary purpose of laying down his life for the sheep, and he did so by his own will.

This points to the third feature of Jesus’ teaching: his death was a vicarious sacrifice. Vicarious describes something performed or suffered in the place of others. Jesus says that he died “for the sheep.” He offered himself as a Substitute for sinners before the holy justice of God. He accepted the guilt that our sins deserved and received God’s just wrath in our place.

The famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth was once asked to give the most important word in the Bible. He answered with the Greek word hyper. This is the word that is translated as “for.” The Good Shepherd lays down his life “for” the sheep. The word may also be translated as “on behalf of,” or “in the place of.” This shows us that Christian salvation comes not by what we do for ourselves or even what we might do for God. Rather, the heart of the gospel is what Jesus did for us and on our behalf. Paul wrote: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6, 8). James Montgomery Boice explains the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death: “We are sinners; as sinners we deserve to die (both physically and spiritually); but Christ willingly died in our place, taking our punishment, so that we might be set free from sin and its penalty to serve God.” Oh, the wonder that Jesus, God’s Son, should suffer and die for us. Let us exalt him in faith and with praise!

Jesus teaches a fourth thing about his cross, namely, that it was planned in advance according to God’s will. He explains that he laid down his life because “this charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). Not only did God know that Jesus was going to die, but he permitted it to happen. And not only did he permit it to happen, but he planned it. Peter preached that Jesus died “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). And according to that same plan, Jesus rose from the dead to give eternal life to his sheep. So not only did Jesus die for us, but it was also for us that God gave his divine Son.

Fifth, Jesus’ atoning death was personal and particular in its design. That is, Jesus died for specific, particular people whom he was saving. Jesus does not say that he died for the whole world. Of course, it is true that his death offers salvation to everyone (see 1 John 2:2). But he died “for the sheep,” that is, for the elect people whom God had given him from all eternity. Later in this chapter, Jesus says, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish.… My Father … has given them to me” (John 10:28–29). Later in John’s Gospel, we read of Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (17:9). “I know my own,” he asserts (10:14), and he died with each and every one of his own sheep upon his heart.

This should make all the difference to a believer’s devotion to Jesus. We admire someone who dies for a principle, as the philosopher Socrates did when he refused to escape execution in ancient Athens. We extol a martyr who dies for a cause. When Nathan Hale was captured by the British during the American Revolution, he gained lasting fame by declaring, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” But the Christian can look to the cross and say something greater than that Jesus died for the principle or the cause of salvation. We can say, “He died for me.” Nothing warrants greater love or higher praise than knowing this truth.

This leads to one last, and sixth, point that Jesus makes about his atoning death: it was born of his great love. There is no greater love than that which offers its own life. The Good Shepherd loves his sheep, and that is why he lays down his life for them.

In the First World War, a young French soldier was wounded and his arm had to be amputated. The surgeon struggled to tell the soldier as he awoke. “I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm,” he finally said. But the soldier replied, “Sir, I did not lose it; I gave it—for France.” Likewise, Jesus did not lose his life on the cross. He gave it out of love for his sheep. A. W. Pink writes, “It was not the nails, but the strength of His love to the Father and to His elect, which held Him to the Cross.”9

One Shepherd, One Flock

Besides the fact that he laid down his life, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he gathers his sheep into the one flock of God:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:14–16)

Just as Jesus’ Good Shepherd teaching gives a primer on the atonement, it also sums up much of the Bible’s teaching on his church.

The first thing we notice is that the flock of Christ is where his sheep find belonging. This is one of mankind’s greatest needs, and it is an especially great need for people today. We long to be known and really to know others. So many people have no place to belong, but Christians find belonging in the flock of Christ. “I know my own and my own know me,” he says. This is the answer for what C. S. Lewis termed the “God-shaped hole” in every person’s life. Every heart sometimes wonders, “Who am I? What does my life mean? What destiny is there for me?” Jesus answers with the intimate fellowship between man and his Maker, the sheep and his Shepherd. As St. Augustine so memorably put it in prayer to God: “Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Those who are redeemed through faith in the blood of Christ enter into this fellowship with God together with all the flock.

Jesus notes that this was not just an offer made to the ancient people of Israel or even to his hearers at that time. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold,” he says (John 10:16). This is where you and I enter into the gospel: Jesus foretells that sheep will be gathered not just from Judaism as the first converts were, but from every fold in the world. The spread of Christianity across the globe validates this prophecy, as does the conversion of every person from different races and lands on the earth.

Notice, too, how definite this is. Jesus does not declare that he merely hopes for more sheep. He does not merely desire that his flock should extend into other racial and national folds. Nor does he merely predict that this will happen. He says, “I have” other sheep (John 10:16). Every Christian, including those not yet saved, was known to Jesus and belonged to him from all eternity. Jesus calls them all “my own” (10:14). He says not that he plans to bring in his sheep, but that “I must bring them also.” He promises not that some may listen and come, but that “they will listen to my voice” (10:16). It is hard to imagine stronger terms to declare the sovereignty of Christ’s saving plans and his certainty of success in gathering all his own sheep.

Yet we also notice that Jesus’ flock is gathered in a particular way: “They will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). This is why gospel proclamation is always at the heart of Christian ministry. It is always by hearing the good news that Christ’s sheep come to him. Paul therefore exhorts us to the ministry of preaching and witnessing the gospel of Christ, asking: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Christ gathers his sheep for salvation as his gospel is proclaimed and heard unto faith. “So faith comes from hearing,” Paul concludes, “and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14–17).

Our intimate relationship with God shapes our relationships with one another. Jesus speaks of the unity of the flock he has gathered: “There will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This teaches that all true Christians are joined by the Good Shepherd into one flock. This unity is based on the loving union within the Godhead. Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (10:17). The Father has loved the Son from all eternity, but the faithful obedience of Jesus on the cross only stirs up the Father’s love all the more. So it is among believers. We love each other because of the love of God in us and because of what Jesus has done for each of us. And as we serve one another in his name, that loving unity grows more and more.

Many people believe that Christian unity is something that we have to achieve. But Jesus tells us that the unity of his flock is something that he has achieved. The unity of all Christians is a fact, not a mere hope. It is true that Christians today are not gathered in a single visible hierarchy. Some people are troubled by the presence of denominations, but Jesus does not say that there will be only one sheepfold; he says that there will be only one flock. In fact, the worst times for the church—the times when the gospel has been most corrupted and muted—were times when Christians were organized into a single religious and political institution. Instead, ours is a spiritual unity.

It is natural for like-minded Christians and churches to band together in denominations and other associations. Much of our work is likely to take place within such unions. Moreover, Christian leaders have a duty to oppose false teaching and expose wolves among the sheep. But we should always avoid a spirit of disunity and party factionalism. We must be happy to work alongside other believers who profess the gospel of the cross of Christ. Christians need one another and have an obligation to manifest the love-union that we have together in Christ.

A good example of this took place in the ministry of Egerton Young, the first missionary to the Native Americans in Saskatchewan. On one occasion, Young explained to an old Indian chief the love of God as the Father of all who believe in Jesus. This idea amazed the chief. “That is very new and sweet to me,” he said. “We have never thought of the great Spirit as Father. We heard Him in the thunder; we saw Him in the lightning, the tempest and the blizzard, and we were afraid. So when you tell us that the great Spirit is our Father, that is very beautiful to us.” He then paused as another thought came to him. “Missionary, did you say that the great Spirit is your Father?” “Yes,” Young answered. “And did you say that He is the Indians’ Father?” “I did,” said the missionary. “Then,” cried the old chief, with a look of great joy, “you and I are brothers!”

This is Jesus’ point exactly. Here is the only hope for unity among mankind. No other power can remove the hatred between nations and men than the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Only in Christ can we overcome the divisions of race, class, and nationality, and our union of love is one of the greatest blessings that believers now enjoy. All Christians have the same Lord and Savior in Jesus, and the same God as our Father. We have been redeemed from the same condemnation of sin and have all gained forgiveness at the same cross. All believers are joined in one flock with one Good Shepherd, we all partake of similar trials and hardships in this life, and all Christians are destined for the same eternal glory. What a privilege it is for us to experience this unity now together in the church.

A Divided World

There remains, however, a great division within mankind as a whole. It is the division between those who are members of Christ’s flock and those who are not. We see this in the conclusion of this episode: “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ ” (John 10:19–21).

To the unbelieving world, Jesus’ teaching about sacrificial love—a Good Shepherd who lays down his life—is sheer madness. This is what some of Jesus’ listeners were saying: “He has a demon, and is insane.” But others were drawn by Jesus’ teaching and understood the meaning of his miracles. The true division is over Jesus and his gospel; Paul explained that it is “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:16).

So the world is divided into those who reject Christ’s gospel as madness and those who receive it as the aroma of life. This division will continue for all eternity, as those who believe enter everlasting life and those who reject Jesus receive everlasting condemnation. But thank God that time remains for many still to pass from life to death. There are still “other sheep” of whom Jesus spoke. Is he calling you? If you are already one who has come, Jesus calls you to spread the good news. We must spread it with our lips, telling all who will hear about the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. And we must spread it with our lives, through the love of God that binds us as precious, purchased sheep in one flock destined together for everlasting glory.[6]


14, 15. I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me, just as my Father knows me and I know my Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Here we have an emphatic repetition and amplification of the preceding. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” This is a repetition of 10:11 (see explanation of that verse). Here (in verse 14 and 15), however, the matter is not merely stated but fully set forth. Jesus—and he alone—is the good shepherd, for:

  • in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as strangers (10:5), he knows his sheep. Note: “I know.” See 10:27; 2 Tim. 2:19. He knows the name (10:3) and nature of each sheep, and the sheep have an experiential knowledge of their shepherd (10:3, 4).
  • in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as thieves and robbers (10:1, 8, 10), he owns his sheep. He calls them: “my own.” See 6:37, 39; 17:6, 24.
  • in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as hirelings (10:12, 13), he loves his sheep, even to the point of offering himself as a sacrifice in their behalf and in their stead. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” For explanation of this sublime statement see on verse 11. (Note, however, the difference: in verse 11 the third person is used; here in verse 15 the first person; hence verse 15 explains verse 11).

Note also the chiastic arrangement of the parallelism which we have in these verses:

  1. I know my own
  2. my own know me
  3. (just as) my Father knows me, and
  4. I know the Father.

In a. and d. Jesus, the good shepherd, is the subject: the action proceeds from him. In b. and c. he is the object: the action proceeds from the sheep and from the Father.

What Jesus states in these verses cannot mean that the fellowship which is found on earth (between good shepherd and sheep) is just as close as is that which is found in heaven (between the Father and the Son), but that the former is patterned after (is a reflection of) the latter. For the closeness of the fellowship between the Father and the Son see 10:30, 38; 14:11, 17, 21; also Matt. 11:27.

Four times in these two verses the verb know (γινώσκω) occurs. See on 1:10, 31; 3:11; 8:28. It is here a knowledge of experience and of loving fellowship. Jesus acknowledges his own (as his true disciples); they acknowledge him (as their Lord). Nothing could be more wonderful! Thus also the Father acknowledges the Son; the Son acknowledges the Father.[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 431–434). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 753–764). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 503). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (p. 455). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (pp. 587–588). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[6] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 643–652). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[7] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 112–113). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

An Evangelical Case for Four More Years — Blog & Mablog

Introduction

As the field of candidates on the Democratic side starts to shape up, if you can call it that, one’s thoughts turn naturally to what the heck we are supposed to do in the fall, when our autumnal apocalypse arrives. This thing called “a general election with the brakes smoking” is barreling down upon us, and at some point we as hapless pedestrians are going to have to bolt for the sidewalk to our right, the only alternative being the sidewalk to our left. For various reasons, as I will describe below, I intend to break to the right, as in, you know—“A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left” (Eccl. 10:2, ESV).

And as you should also know by now, according to our moderate betters, compromising to the right like this is deep compromise, pure and simple, a betrayal of all evangelical values, while compromise to the left is realistic compassion, or compassionate realism, I forget which.

I used the phrase “our moderate betters.” These people are identified by the constant hectoring lectures they give us about our political compromises, as well as by the weepings and lamentations they send up to the various local baals of respectability, not to mention their bootless cries addressed to no one in particular.

This being the case, those who intend to do as I intend to do need to give some account of themselves. So watch me go.

Voting is No Sacrament

But first I need to clear some things out of the way, and I will begin with the observation that voting is not a sacrament. That being the case, I can participate (or not participate) in the process of voting without subscribing to the system of doctrine set forth by the magisterium of Our Holy Mother Democracy.

I can participate, or not, for reasons of my own. I can push this way or that way, just as we can push this way or that way, on the basis of our own agenda. We are not attending the religious services of another religion in order to partake of their sacrament, all the while assigning our own private meaning to it. We all have authority over the content of our vote, but we also all have authority over the meaning of it. Advocates of secular democracy would like to have authority over the meaning of our participation, and they sometimes talk as though they do, but alas for them. It is not the case. We can vote for whom we want, and we can vote for whatever reasons we want.

As a matter of fact, as Christians, we are prohibited from treating such a vote as partaking in a civic sacrament. To think of it that way would be idolatrous. And I will go further. There can be idolatry in the adverb as well as in the direct object. So a person could vote for Luther’s apocryphal wise Turk without idolatry, and somebody else could vote for a telegenic Sunday School superintendent from an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and do so idolatrously. Everything else being equal, we should always prefer the godly ruler to the ungodly ruler (Ex. 18:21), of course and certainly. But suppose our choice is going to be between the one who will not remove all the high places over against the one who will set up a bunch of new ones?

A Signing Statement

When a magistrate is going to sign a massive bit of legislation, but there is a section of the bill that is obnoxious to him, and which he would like to repeal first chance he gets, a custom has arisen wherein he signs the legislation, making it a law, while at the same time issuing what is called “a signing statement” that registers his objections to the noxious bit.

So this section of this post is my signing statement. Unless something drastic changes, like the Democratic convention going completely off the rails, becoming the Mother of All Brokered Conventions, and resulting in them nominating Ted Cruz on the 28th ballot, I intend to vote for Donald Trump in the fall, as I did not do in 2016.

But this is what such an action does not mean. It does not mean that I have gotten on the Trump train, it does not mean that I own a MAGA hat, it does not mean I have abandoned my conservative principles, it does not mean that I have any sympathy for his grotesque comments on the Access Hollywood tape, it does not mean that I think Stormy Daniels was an innocent diversion, and it does not mean that I intend to tell lies on anyone’s behalf. None of that stuff. Put not your trust in princes (Ps. 118: 9; Ps. 146:3).

For a principled Christian conservative, Donald Trump’s failings and shortcomings are obvious, and to vote for him in the fall is in no way any kind of endorsement of those shortcomings or failings. If you ask me how this could possibly be the case, I would just pull out this signing statement and show it to you. See? The media is not in charge of what my vote means. I have authority over what my vote means. I have registered my dissent over any number of things, and will continue to do so.

For example, he does not give a rip about the sexual integrity of his appointees, and has said that he could happily vote for an openly gay candidate. If someone like Richard Grenell is loyal to him, it does not matter to him that he is disloyal to the sexual order that God established in the world.

But, some of his defenders say, he fights. Yes, he does, and given the times we live in, a bunch of that fighting has actually had a salutary effect. He does fight, but there is more than a bit of eye-gouging and ear-biting involved. He fights, and when people fight dirty against him, he fights dirty back, much to their dismay and astonishment. And when people fight clean against him, he fights dirty back. I would urge you to remember his allegation about Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the assassination of JFK, and his appalling attack on Heidi Cruz’s looks. But, some might say, we need a junk yard dog for this junkyard culture of ours. Yes, but not a junk yard dog on the surly end of the spectrum, one which has had a migraine headache for about three days to boot.

But the central issue that needs to be registered for me, the glaring issue, is the fact that Donald Trump is a proud and self-defining man. He is a self-promoter, and almost the last thing we need in this Age of Self is a self-promoter-in-chief. But note that I said almost, about which more in a minute. When he gets on a roll, he touts himself as the “best” president ever, an unbelievable presidential apotheosis in a long line of slackers. This kind of promotion would not be so bad if he were a carnival barker trying to lure ten-year-old boys into seeing the “biggest elephant ever.”

But he is not a carnival barker. He is Nebuchadnezzar on the wall, looking down on the greatness of Babylon, not knowing that he was also looking down on the meadows where he would shortly be grazing like a cow for the next seven years. The Lord’s judgment on this was not a statement that Babylon was somehow not great, but rather that Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance was great. Many of the things that Trump wants to brag about are things that delight me. But rulers must not vaunt themselves. It is dangerous for rulers to vaunt themselves.

“The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”

Dan. 4:30 (KJV)

The God in Heaven is more than a divine place-holder whose purpose is to do nice things for America. Or Babylon.

“While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.”

Dan. 4:31–32 (KJV)

As Nebuchadnezzar recognized when his sanity returned, the Lord Almighty does as he pleases. No one can stay His hand and say, “What are you doing?” (Dan. 4:35).

I am going to say something a bit risky, because I realize I am saying it from a great distance. Donald Trump does give glory to God, sometimes in surprising ways. And so I don’t think he is in danger of the Herodian worm treatment, but he reminds me of someone saying a phrase he has memorized out of a foreign language, not knowing what it really means. Whenever he starts speaking in his native language, it is all about him, and that is a hazardous place for any ruler to be.

Now some might say, “Wow, that’s quite a signing statement. How are you going to see your way to a vote for Trump out of this one? Talk about damning with faint praise.”

I want Donald Trump to prevail in his current battles with the deep state, and I am very glad that if he does, it will be with the indispensable help of evangelical voters. But I can want that to happen, without wanting any given Downstream Trumpian Ideal, as touted by his most ardent and loyal supporters. I still want the same things for the republic I have always wanted. But I believe that it will be far easier to get there when Trump leaves office in 2024 than it would have been to get there when Hillary left office in 2024. After eight years of Hillary, in my view, there would have been no getting there.

I have said before, using Victor David Hanson’s metaphor, that Trump is chemo-therapy. He is toxic, but he is more toxic to the disease that has been killing our body politic than he is to the body politic, which is the whole idea behind chemo. At the same time, once that disease is gone, evangelicals should be fully prepared to fight the downstream effects of that toxicity. And they will not be inconsistent or hypocritical in doing so. In the meantime, they should not fall in love with some of the bad side effects. If that happens, then they were in fact guilty of political idolatry, but that is the opposite of what is being urged here.

So if you can read the foregoing and say that my upcoming vote for The Donald is any way a capitulation to the voices urging compromise, then you are not paying close enough attention. And that is without taking into consideration the positive reasons outlined below.

Deciding on a Direction

When I determined not to vote for Trump in 2016, it was because I did not believe that he intended to go in a different direction than the country had already been going. I thought he was a New York liberal with a handful of conservative slogans scrawled onto post-it notes and stuck onto his campaign, like so many yellow afterthoughts.

I now have a basis for believing that the two directions we are deciding on will be very different directions — and not just a matter of the speed we might take in going the same old direction. If the Democrat wins, we will be in a very different place in 2024 than we will be if Trump wins. And I can see a route to where we ought to be from a post-Trump era, in a way that I cannot see from, say, a post-Sanders administration.

An Evangelical Case for Four More Years

Here are my reasons for what I intend to do, positively stated. There are not a ton of them, but I think they matter.

If Donald Trump is reelected, the chances are excellent that the federal judiciary will be completely remade for at least a generation, and in a decidedly conservative direction, up to and including the Supreme Court. This will have ramifications for life and liberty in every area of life, but the crown jewel of a remade judiciary will be the possible reversal of Roe. And if Roe is reversed, this will mean that one great pro-life battle will be transformed into fifty smaller pro-life battles, the majority of them winnable within the first year.

Second, if Donald Trump is reelected, the corruption that has permeated the intelligence community will be uprooted, and a number of people who ought to be in jail will be given a fair trial toward that end. The intelligence community of the United States has far too much power to be allowed any tincture of corruption, and it would be better not to have intelligence agencies at all than to have our corrupt ones. The FISA court needs to be abolished, and we need to recognize that congressional oversight has the basic deficiency of not being able to oversee. What the last three years have demonstrated in spades is that it takes approximately thirty seconds for the deep state and the complicit media to turn any attempts to clean out corruption as examples of corruption.

And last, the Trump era has exposed the real divide in America. This divide is not between Republican and Democrat (although the two parties have served as platforms wherein different factions try to manipulate the divide. The real divide has been between an elite and unaccountable ruling class, on the one hand, and the ruled taxpayer, on the other. But the problem is not the existence of elites, which is inescapable. The problem is the existence of unaccountable elites, which is the kind of thing our original constitutional framework was designed to prohibit and exclude. For every check, there must be a balance, and for every balance there must be a check. Our divided America is not an America divided between to rival political parties. Our America is now divided between two rival constitutions. One is the Constitution drafted by the Founders, and the other is an upstart constitution assembled out of various bits and pieces — erratic decisions by progressive judges, the implicit tyranny of the regulatory agencies, the apparatus that has been built up on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a kennel-fed media, and so on. While Trump does not represent the originalist approach, he does represent an existential threat to the other approach, which explains the state of high panic, and all the dirty deeds being done out in the open. Trump represents that kind of threat for all kinds of reasons, mostly having to do with the divine sense of humor.

My vote in the fall represents my little attempt simply to laugh along.

via An Evangelical Case for Four More Years — Blog & Mablog