Category Archives: Verse of the day

January 22, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Characteristics

(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing the Lord. (5:9–10)

In what appears to be a parenthetical statement, the manifest characteristics of the children of light are given in what Paul here calls the fruit of the light. (The better Greek manuscripts have “the fruit of the light,” as here, rather than “the fruit of the Spirit,” as in the Authorized Version.) The three supreme characteristics, or fruit, of our walk as children of light are all goodness and righteousness and truth.

These are the tests of true faith, of a true saving relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. A “decision” for Christ, church membership, faithful attendance at worship services, being baptized, financial support of the Lord’s work, and many other such things are often used as evidence of salvation. The faithful Christian should do all of those things, but they are behaviors that are easily done in the flesh and are therefore unreliable in themselves as evidence. On the other hand, the three characteristics Paul mentions here are spiritual works that cannot be achieved in the flesh. The all reflects the perfection of the divine standard.

The first characteristic is all goodness (cf. “all malice” in 4:31). A number of Greek words are translated “good” or “goodness” in the New Testament. Kalos denotes that which is intrinsically right, free from defects, beautiful, and honorable. Both John the Baptist and Jesus used the term for the “good fruit” without which a tree “is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10; 7:19). Paul uses the term when he tells Timothy that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). It is also used of that which is morally good (see Gal. 4:18; 1 Tim. 5:10, 25; Titus 2:7, 14). Chrēstos, also often translated “good,” refers to that which is pleasant, useful, suitable, or worthy. Paul uses this word when he declares that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).

But in the present passage Paul uses agathōsunē, which refers to moral excellence, to being good in both nature and effectiveness. Like agapē love, agathōsunē goodness finds its fullest and highest expression in that which is willingly and sacrificially done for others. “Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men,” Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:15). In his next letter to that church the apostle prays “that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thess. 1:11, emphasis added). This goodness that is a fruit of light is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

The second result, or fruit, of our walk as children of light is righteousness and has to do first of all with our relationship to God. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5; cf. Eph. 4:24; Phil. 3:9). But righteousness also has to do with how we live. Those who are made righteous are commanded to live righteously, to present themselves “to God as those alive from the dead, and [their] members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). Because Christ has given us His own righteous nature, we are to “pursue righteousness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Because we know that Christ is righteous, John says, we also “know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).

The third fruit of the light is truth. Truth has to do with honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, and integrity—in contrast to the hypocritical, deceptive, and false ways of the old life of darkness.

We see therefore that goodness pertains primarily to our relationship with others, righteousness primarily to our relationship to God, and truth primarily to personal integrity. In those three things and in those three ways the fruit of the light consists.

Without that fruit there is no evidence of the life of God. “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,” Jesus warned, “but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?” (Matt. 7:15–16). Every person bears fruit of some kind. Those who are darkness bear bad fruit, and those who are light bear good fruit. The person, therefore, who does not bear some fruit of righteousness in his life has no claim on Christ. There is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. Where there is life, there is evidence of life, just as where there is death, there will be evidence of death. The child of light produces the fruit of the light and is called to increase in that production (Col. 1:10).

A Christian can fall into sin, and when he does the fruitfulness of his life suffers. Righteous fruit cannot flourish from sin. But the complete absence of any fruit of goodness and righteousness and truth proves the complete absence of salvation (cf. 2:10).

The Christian life, just as every other kind of life, is only healthy when it is growing. As far as the walk of the believer is concerned, the primary focus is to be a concern about continually trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. As we are obedient to what we know, our knowledge of the Lord and of His will increases and deepens. As we are faithful to the light, we are given more of this light.

Dokimazō (from which comes trying to learn) also carries the idea of proving or testing. As Christians learn and grow in goodness and righteousness and truth, they will give verification or evidence that they are who they claim to be, children of God and of light. The child of God will bear resemblance to the heavenly Father, who is his “light and … salvation” (Ps. 27:1).

Assurance of salvation cannot be reliably determined by what has happened in the past, no matter how dramatic or meaningful at the time. It can only be based with certainty on the evidence of present fruit being produced by a spiritual life (see 2 Pet. 1:5–11).

Because they are not carrying weapons, hand grenades, explosives, or other illegal items, most people have no fear of sending their luggage through an X-ray machine at the airport. In the same way, as Christians we should not be afraid to be scrutinized either under the light of God’s Word or under the critical eye of a world that is constantly looking for inconsistencies between our profession and our life-style. We should have nothing to hide.[1]

9. For the fruit of the light. This parenthesis is introduced, to point out the road in which the children of light ought to walk. A complete description is not given, but a few parts of a holy and pious life are introduced by way of example. To give them a general view of duty, their attention is again directed to the will of God. Whoever desires to live in a proper and safe manner, let him resolve to obey God, and to take his will as the rule. To regulate life entirely by his command is, as he says in another Epistle, a reasonable service, (Rom. 12:1,) or, as another inspired man expresses it, To obey is better than sacrifice. (1 Sam. 15:22.) I wonder how the word Spirit (πνεύματος) has crept into many Greek manuscripts, as the other reading is more consistent,—the fruit of the light. Paul’s meaning indeed is not affected; for in either case it will be this, that believers must walk in the light, because they are “children of the light.” This is done, when they do not live according to their own will, but devote themselves entirely to obedience to God,—when they undertake nothing but by his command. Besides, such obedience is testified by its fruits, such as goodness, righteousness, and truth.[2]

9 Confirming this analysis Paul inserts an explanatory parenthesis that illustrates the results or fruit (to mix the metaphor, as Paul does) of light (karpos tou phōtos). When people walk in the light, certain traits emerge—a positive triad instead of the sinful triads of vv. 3, 4, and 5 (which are “fruitless deeds of darkness,” v. 11). Again “all” (cf. 1:8, 21; 3:19; 4:2, 10, 19, 31; 5:3) modifies these fruit: they should be abundantly present. “Goodness” (agathōsynē, GK 20) may also mean “generosity” or “kindliness to others.” The Greek dikaiosynē (GK 1466), which here means “upright behavior” (cf. Ro 6:16, 18–20), not saving righteousness, has both personal and interpersonal applications—avoiding the evils just enumerated and showing justice toward others (cf. BDAG, 248). Finally, “truth” (alētheia, GK 237) here implies sincerity, dependability, and genuineness. Paul clearly depicts the corporate implications of the life lived in the light. It is a life that generates a positive impact on the lives of others.[3]

5:9 / Just as a seed, plant, or tree fulfills its true nature by producing fruit, a believer, who is light in the Lord, will produce the virtues of goodness, righteousness and truth—quite the opposite of the fruit of darkness in 5:3, 5. By insisting on the moral implications of light, the author would be opposing any false theories, such as those in the Gnostic system, that made enlightenment a mystical experience and viewed the ethical life with indifference and even disdain. To be light is to walk in the light (John 3:19, 20; 1 John 1:5–7; 2:8–11).

The fruit of light is similar to the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22, although goodness is the only concept that occurs there. The items on this list are probably selected for their relevance to the theme of unity within the body of Christ. The virtues of goodness, righteousness, and truth are essential to healthy personal and social relationships.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 209–211). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 309–310). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 136). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 259–260). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


January 22, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

1 Qohelet’s encouragement to remember one’s Creator while still young is put into a time frame. This is to be done “before” the “evil” (rāʿâ) days come. What is not clear here is exactly how one is to remember the Creator, and for what reason. While it is possible that there may be a measure of piety in the statement, it seems more likely that the remembering is for the purpose of reminding oneself that the Creator will also one day be the De-creator, that the One who made you from the dust of the earth and breathed into you the breath of life (Ge 2:7) is the same One who will recall that life, return your body to the dust, and take back his breath (Ecc 12:6). So if you are going to follow Qohelet’s advice to “follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see” (11:9), you had better be sure to do so while you’re young—before God sends upon you the evil days, when it will be too late to take any pleasure in life.[1]

12:1 / Your Creator: While some emend (Qohelet never explicitly refers to God as Creator elsewhere, although the concept of God’s creative role pervades the book), your Creator here and God who gave it in 12:7 form an inclusion for the poem. Thus “Creator” is the preferable meaning.[2] 

Live responsibly before the miseries of old age come (12:1)

12:1. The command Remember your Creator means to revere God, to keep His laws faithfully, to serve Him responsibly, remembering that because He created people, everyone owes Him his life. This meaning is obvious (a) from the preceding verses (11:9–10) on living joyously but responsibly, (b) from the final advice at the end of the book to “fear God and keep His commandments” (12:13), and (c) from the meaning of the verb “remember” (in Deut. 8:18 and Ps. 119:55 “remember” is parallel to keeping the Law; in Jud. 8:34 it is contrasted with self-reliance and worship of other gods; in Ps. 63:6 it is parallel to meditating on and faithfully following God).

The epithet for God, “your Creator,” emphasizes Him as the Author of life, who gives it and takes it away (cf. Ecc. 12:7; and the allusion to Gen. 2:7; 3:19).

Using a wordplay on the word “troubles” in Ecclesiastes 11:10 (“the troubles of your body”), Solomon advised responsible living in one’s youth, before the days of trouble come, that is, the days of old age whose troubles he figuratively depicted in 12:2–5, the years in which he said they would find little or no pleasure.[3]

12:1 The doleful picture of age and senility is a warning to young people to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Notice Solomon does not say their Lord or Savior or Redeemer but their Creator. That is the only way Solomon could know God from his vantage point under the sun. But even at that, the advice is good. Young people should remember their Creator … before the sunset time of life, when the days are difficult and cruel and the years are totally lacking in pleasure and enjoyment. The aspiration of every young person should be that which is expressed in the following lines:

Lord, in the fullness of my might,

I would for Thee be strong;

While runneth o’er each dear delight,

To Thee should soar my song.

I would not give the world my heart,

And then profess Thy love;

would not feel my strength depart,

And then Thy service prove.

I would not with swift winged zeal

On the world’s errands go:

And labor up the heav’nly hill

With weary feet and slow.

O not for Thee my weak desires,

My poorer baser part!

O not for Thee my fading fires,

The ashes of my heart.

O choose me in my golden time,

In my dear joys have part!

For Thee the glory of my prime

The fullness of my heart.

Thomas H. Gill[4]

12:1 Remember now your Creator: Solomon does not call for mere mental cognizance of the person of God; in robust biblical terms he calls for the appropriate actions that go along with that recollection of the living God. For example, when the Lord “remembered” Hannah (1 Sam. 1:19), He did more than call her to mind; He acted on her behalf and she conceived a child. Our “remembering” of Him is to be in thought, word, and act.[5]

12:1 — Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them.”

Toward the end of his life, Solomon did not walk with God, and so he dreaded growing old. Let us strive to be more like Moses, who at the end still had bright eyes and a zest for life (Deut. 34:7).[6]

12:1 Remember … your Creator … evil days. Remember you are God’s property, so serve Him from the start of your years, not the end of your years, when service is very limited.[7]

12:1 In this context, evil days refers not to the consequences of wicked living but rather to the unpleasantness of physical deterioration in old age (see vv. 2–7).[8]

12:1 Creator Emphasizes God’s sovereignty in relation to the limits of human wisdom (see note on Job 38:1–41:34).

the days of trouble The author encourages people to enjoy life while they are young—before the troubles of old age described in Eccles 12:2–7.[9]

12:1 evil days. If pleasure is unrestrained in youth, both pleasure and the Creator will be unknown in later years.[10]

12:1 “Difficult days” are times of trouble. Pleasureless years refer to the time of life during which disabilities and infirmities, perhaps even old age, hinder the enjoyment of pleasures. There is little time for repentance and faith and no time for a lifetime of obedience. Since there is no certainty of life, the admonition is to “remember now your Creator,” not only in youth but more specifically in the present part of youth in order to allow days for a fruitful life.[11]

12:1 God is called the Creator here for two reasons. First, as maker of heaven and earth he is our judge; we must remember him in the sense that we live in fear of him and never forget that we are accountable to him for our actions. Second, God as Creator calls us to enjoy life; he made the light, the earth and sky, food and drink, man and woman, and all the other things that in Gn 1 he calls “good.” The days of adversity, as described in the verses that follow, are the days when a person is feeble and failing.[12]

[1] Shepherd, J. E. (2008). Ecclesiastes. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 356–357). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Huwiler, E. (2012). Ecclesiastes. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (p. 216). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1004). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 912). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 791). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[6] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ec 12:1). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[7] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ec 12:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[8] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1208). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ec 12:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[10] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 934). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[11] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Ec 12:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[12] Garrett, D. A. (2017). Ecclesiastes. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1017). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

January 22, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Let Justice Roll Down
18  Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, and not light,
19  as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20  Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21  “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23  Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24  But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Am 5:18–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

5:21–24 / The purpose of worship is to nurture the relationship with God by means of praise and prayer, offering and intercession and petition. Israel in Amos’s time apparently felt that its lavish cult ensured its peaceful relation with its deity, just as modern worshipers sometimes believe that going to church always puts them right with God.

Judging from the cultic practices described in this passage, the northern kingdom was not neglecting its worship life. The feasts referred to in verse 21 were the three great festivals—Tabernacles, Passover or Unleavened Bread, and Weeks (Exod. 23:14–17; 34:22, 25; Deut. 16:1–16)—which Israelites celebrated with pilgrimages, probably to Bethel or Gilgal (see the comment on 4:4). “Solemn assemblies” (rsv) were feast days celebrating sabbaths, new moons, and other less important occasions, when all work ceased and the people gathered together to worship and sometimes to eat (cf. 8:5; Lev. 23:36; Num. 29:35; 2 Kgs. 10:20; Isa. 1:13; Joel 1:14).

The listing of sacrifices is quite comprehensive, verse 22. Burnt offerings were those entirely consumed by fire and sent up in smoke to the deity (Lev. 1:3–17). Minḥâ, which the niv translates as grain offerings, could refer to any type of sacrifice (Lev. 2). “Peace offerings” (supplied in the niv margin as an alternative to fellowship offerings) were only partially consumed by fire, the remainder being eaten at a communion meal (Lev. 3). And the latter could include singing, accompanied by the lute, which had an angular yoke and a bulging resonance chamber and was the oldest musical instrument known in Israel (Wolff, Joel and Amos, p. 264).

Amos details Israel’s worship life only to announce that God rejects it all. The three verbs that the prophet employs in verses 22b–23b are significant. God will not accept the burnt offerings; literally, the verb means “savor” or “smell,” as in Genesis 8:21, so God closes his nostrils to Israel’s offering. God will have no regard for the grain offerings; that is, God will not “look upon” them, so he closes his eyes. And God will not listen to the singing and playing on lutes, so he closes his ears. Indeed, the festal songs are nothing but noise. Of the worship that Israel believes wins favor in God’s sight, God says, I hate, I despise them, verse 21, and he closes himself off from it all (cf. Isa 1:10–15).

As long as Israel will not practice justice and righteousness in its courts and commerce, fulfilling its covenant obligations toward the poor and oppressed, its worship is not acceptable to its God. The Lord wants mišpāṭ (justice) and edāqâ (righteousness) literally to “cascade” through Israel’s daily life like a mighty river; God does not expect them to dry up like some desert wadi that runs full only during the rainy season, verse 24.

In short, what we do in our relations with our fellow human beings always affects our relations with God, and we cannot love God if we do not also love our neighbor: the first and the second great commandments are inextricably joined (Mark 12:28–31 and parallel), and from beginning to end, the Scriptures affirm that joining. (See, e.g., Mal. 2:13–16 or Matt. 5:23–24 or James.)[1]

23 Yahweh has already rejected the cult’s feasts and its sacrifices. Here he rejects even its praise. Vocal and instrumental music were integral to worship in OT time (Ps 150; Ezra 2:65; 1 Chr 15:16–24; 2 Chr 5:13; 23:13; Isa 5:12; Dan 3:5–15). But now Israel’s God will neither look at (נבט, hiphil, v 22) or listen to (שמע) his people’s worship (cf. Deut. 31:17, 18; 32:20).

24 Israel’s God requires regular, consistent keeping of the covenant. Sacrifices and other elements of worship (vv 22, 23) constituted occasional, intermittent righteousness and were rejected because they were not complemented by proper living in general. A society truly in harmony with Yahweh’s will must practice justice (משפט) and righteousness (צדקה; on this standard combination, cf. 5:7; 6:12) routinely: always and everywhere. It is in the nature of a covenant that it cannot be kept merely now and again. For example, no one can say, “I keep my marriage covenant; I commit adultery only every few days and the rest of the time am completely faithful to my spouse.” Likewise the Israelite’s implicit argument was ludicrous: “I keep Yahweh’s covenant. I misuse and abuse others only some of the time and otherwise faithfully worship Yahweh.”

Canaanite cultic religion allowed people to be personally immoral and unethical; they could still be right with the gods if they merely supported the cult enthusiastically. Yahweh’s covenant denied his people any such option (cf. Matt 7:21–23). Justice and righteousness cannot stop and start like a wilderness wadi that flows with water only during the rainy seasons and otherwise is just a dry stream bed. They must instead continue night and day, all year, like the נחל איתן (lit., “strong stream”) that never goes dry.[2]

5:23–24. In contrast to vv. 21–22 (which use plural pronouns), vv. 23 and 24 use a singular pronoun your, indicating a call for individuals to repent. Negatively, their celebrations in songs must cease as so much noise in God’s ears. He would not listen, shutting His ears as well as His nostrils. Positively, the Lord wanted justice and righteousness (cf. Mc 6:8) rather than religiosity and external rituals. Token practices of justice and righteousness do not honor God.[3]

call for individual repentance (5:23–24)

In verses 23–24 the verbs “away” and “let … roll” are singular, whereas in verses 21–22 the pronouns “your” and “you” are plural. This indicates a shift from national accusation (vv. 21–22) to individual invitation (vv. 23–24).

5:23. God appealed to individuals to take away the burdensome noise of their praise songs. He would not listen to the accompanying music of their harps. Having shut His nostrils (as noted in v. 21b, “stand” means “smell”), He would also stop His ears.

5:24. Instead of ritual and performance, God wanted a relentless commitment to justice and righteousness (see comments on v. 7). He wanted a passionate concern for the rights of the poor, a concern that would roll on like an ever-flowing river … like a never-failing stream that did not run dry. God wanted a day-to-day life of surging integrity and goodness. Only this outer evidence of inner righteousness could offer the Israelites the possibility of survival in the day of the Lord (cf. vv. 6, 14–15).[4]

5:21–23 God had promised that if the Israelites honored Him with their lives, He would savor, accept, and regard Israel’s sacrifices and hear their words. By stating He would no longer accept Israel’s sacrifices or listen to them, God was rejecting Israel’s worship as hypocritical, dishonest, and meaningless. Feast days and sacred assemblies refers, in general, to all of Israel’s worship of God. burnt offerings … grain offerings … peace offerings: For more details on the sacrificial system, see Lev. 1–3.

5:24 After dismissing Israel’s empty worship as noisy and tumultuous, God called for the honest tumult of the rolling waters of justice and the perennial stream of righteousness, the only foundation for true praise and worship of the Lord.[5]

5:24 — “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

God intends for our personal righteousness to prompt us to actions of community justice. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is liar,” John said (1 John 4:20).[6]

5:21–24 When performed with a corrupt heart, even the savored festivals and offerings were despised by the Lord (cf. Lv 26:27, 31; Ps 51:16, 17, 19).[7]

5:18–24 Amos says that the “Day of the Lord,” for which the people longed, would not be a day of gladness and “light” but of treacherous “darkness” and “gloom” (v. 20). The people’s desire for the Day and the context, which refers to feasts and worship assemblies (vv. 21–22), suggest that the prophet was referring not only to the final day of judgment but also to a popular festival observance. Scholars have suggested that the “Day of the Lord,” or “Yahweh’s Day,” may have been the annual festival of the new year, which, because it celebrated the kingship of the Lord, was associated with His role as Judge of the people. (Commentators who hold this view find extensive evidence for it in the psalms.)

If a particular worship festival was not in view, it is difficult to see why the prophet would move immediately from a terrifying description of the Day to an indictment of the community’s hypocritical worship. Amos preached during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II of Israel, but the national prosperity was limited to the wealthier families and came at the expense of the poor who were victims of injustice (5:10–13). It was this inequity that rendered the people’s worship repulsive to the Lord, for it violated His covenant in which justice and fairness for all were supposed to prevail.[8]

[1] Achtemeier, E. (2012). Minor Prophets I. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 210–212). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Stuart, D. (2002). Hosea–Jonah (Vol. 31, pp. 354–355). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[3] Jelinek, J. A. (2014). Amos. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1351). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[4] Sunukjian, D. R. (1985). Amos. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 1441–1442). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1054). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[6] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Am 5:24). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[7] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Am 5:21–24). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[8] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1328). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

January 21, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Treasure in Heaven


Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (6:19–24)

Human beings are naturally thing-oriented. We are strongly inclined to be wrapped up in seeking, acquiring, enjoying, and protecting material possessions. In prosperous cultures such as those in which most Westerners live, the propensity to build our lives around things is especially great.

The leading religionists of Jesus’ day were preoccupied with things. They were materialistic, greedy, avaricious, covetous, grasping, and manipulative. That “the Pharisees … were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14) was not incidental to the other sins for which Jesus rebuked them. Because they did not have a right view of themselves (see Matt. 5:3–12), of their relation to the world (5:13–16), of the Word of God (5:17–20), of morality (5:21–48), and of religious duties (6:1–18), it was inevitable they would not have a right view of material things.

Jesus first shows how their view of nonessential material things was perverted (vv. 4–24) and then how their view of essential material things was also perverted (vv. 25–34). Their views both of luxuries and necessities were warped.

False doctrine leads to false standards, false behavior, and false values, and hypocritical religion seems always to be accompanied by greed and immorality (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1–3, 14–15). Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli the high priest, had no regard for the things of God, but they eagerly took advantage of their father’s exalted office as well as their own priestly positions. They “were worthless men; they did not know the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12). They took more than their prescribed share of the sacrificial meat for themselves, and they committed adultery “with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (vv. 13–17, 22).

Annas and Caiaphas, who were high priests during Jesus’ ministry, became extremely wealthy from the many concessions they ran or licensed in the Temple. It was of those concessions that Jesus twice cleansed His Father’s house (John 2:14–16; Matt. 21:12–13).

Throughout the history of the church to the present day, religious charlatans have used the ministry as a means to garner wealth and to provide opportunity to indulge their sexual lusts.

Often such people, like the scribes and Pharisees, have used their material prosperity as imagined evidence of their spirituality, proclaiming without shame that they are materially blessed because they are spiritually superior. They turn upside down teachings such as those in Deuteronomy 28: “Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country” (vv. 1–3). Those blessings are clearly and repeatedly contingent on obedience to the Lord. Material or other earthly benefits that are accumulated by greed, dishonesty, deceit, or in any other immoral way are not to be conceived of as blessings from the Lord. To claim God’s approval simply on the basis of one’s wealth, health, prestige, or any other such thing is to pervert His Word and use His name in vain.

The Old Testament gives many warnings against accumulating wealth for its own sake. “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it” (Prov. 23:4).

Economic problems such as inflation, recessions, and depressions involve many complex factors—monetary, political, military, social, climatic, and so on. But with the exception of the climatic, over which men have little control, the root cause behind most economic difficulty is greed. The problems are brought about in the first place because of greed, and they are often seemingly impossible to solve for the same reason. As John Stott observes, “Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us. The spell of materialism is very hard to break” (Christian Counter-Culture [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978], p. 154). Paul established the proper attitude when he said that “godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:6–8).

In the present passage Jesus looks at materialism—particularly in regard to luxuries—from the three perspectives of treasure, vision, and master.

A Single Treasure

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (6:19–21)

Layup (thēsaurizō) and treasures (thēsauros) come from the same basic Greek term, which is also the source of our English thesaurus, a treasury of words. A literal translation of this phrase would therefore be, “do not treasure up treasures for yourselves.”

The Greek also carries the connotation of stacking or laying out horizontally, as one stacks coins. In the context of this passage the idea is that of stockpiling or hoarding, and therefore pictures wealth that is not being used. The money or other wealth is simply stored for safekeeping; it is kept for the keeping’s sake to make a show of wealth or to create an environment of lazy overindulgence (cf. Luke 12:16–21).

It is clear from this passage, as well as from many others in Scripture, that Jesus is not advocating poverty as a means to spirituality. In all of His many different instructions, He only once told a person to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21). In that particular case, the young man’s wealth was his idol, and therefore a special barrier between him and the lordship of Jesus Christ. It provided an excellent opportunity to test whether or not that man was fully committed to turning over the control of his life to Christ. His response proved that he was not. The problem was not in the wealth itself, but the man’s unwillingness to part with it. The Lord did not specifically require His disciples to give up all their money and other possessions to follow Him, although it may be that some of them voluntarily did so. He did require obedience to His commands no matter what that cost. The price was too high for the wealthy young ruler, to whom possessions were the first priority.

Both testaments recognize the right to material possessions, including money, land, animals, houses, clothing, and every other thing that is honestly acquired. God has made many promises of material blessing to those who belong to and are faithful to Him. The foundational truth that underlies the commandments not to steal or covet is the right of personal property. Stealing and coveting are wrong because what is stolen or coveted rightfully belongs to someone else. Ananias and Sapphira did not forfeit their lives because they kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of their property, but because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Holding back some of the money was selfish, especially if they had other assets on which to live, but they had a right to keep it, as Peter makes plain: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (v. 4).

God expects, in fact commands, His people to be generous. But He also expects, and even commands, them not only to be thankful for but to enjoy the blessings He gives—including the material blessings. The Lord “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). That verse is specifically directed to “those who are rich in this present world,” and yet it does not command, or even suggest, that they divest themselves of their wealth, but rather warns them not to be conceited about it or to trust in it.

Abraham was extremely rich for his day, a person who vied in wealth, influence, and military power with many of the kings in Canaan. When we first meet Job he is vastly wealthy, and when we leave him—after the testing that cost him everything he possessed outside of his own life—God has made him wealthier still, in flocks and herds, in sons and daughters, and in a healthy long life. “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12–17).

The Bible gives considerable counsel for working hard and following good business practices (cf. Matt. 25:27). The ant is shown as a model of the good worker, who “prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6–8). We are told that “in all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (14:23) and “by wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (24:3–4). “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty” (28:19).

Paul tells us that parents are responsible for saving up for their children (2 Cor. 12:14), that “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), and that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

During his exceptionally long ministry, which spanned most of the eighteenth century, John Wesley earned a considerable amount of money from his published sermons and other works. Yet he left only 28 pounds when he died, because he continually gave what he earned to the Lord’s work.

It is right to provide for our families, to make reasonable plans for the future, to make wise investments, and to have money to carry on a business, give to the poor, and support the Lord’s work. It is being dishonest, greedy, covetous, stingy, and miserly about possessions that is wrong. To honestly earn, save, and give is wise and good; to hoard and spend only on ourselves not only is unwise but sinful.

Some years ago, I happened to have contact with two quite wealthy men during the same week. One was a former professor at a major university who, through a long series of good investments in real estate, had accumulated a fortune of possibly a hundred million dollars. But in the process he lost his family, his happiness, his peace of mind, and had aged far beyond his years. The other man, a pastor, also acquired his wealth through investments, but they were investments to which he paid little attention. Because of his financial independence, he gave to his church over the years considerably more than he was paid for being its pastor. He is one of the godliest, happiest, most fruitful, and contented persons I have ever met.

The key to Jesus’ warning here is yourselves. When we accumulate possessions simply for our own sakes—whether to hoard or to spend selfishly and extravagantly—those possessions become idols.

It is possible that both our treasures upon earth and our treasures in heaven can involve money and other material things. Possessions that are wisely, lovingly, willingly, and generously used for kingdom purposes can be a means of accumulating heavenly possessions. When they are hoarded and stored, however, they not only become a spiritual hindrance but are subject to loss through moth, rust, and thieves.

In ancient times, wealth was frequently measured in part by clothing. Compared to our day of mass-produced clothes, garments represented a considerable investment. Rich people sometimes had golden threads woven into their clothing, both to display and to store their wealth. But the best clothes were made of wool, which the moth loves to eat; and even the richest persons had difficulty protecting their clothes from the insects.

Wealth was also often held in grain, as we see from the parable of the rich farmer who said, “I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12:18). Brōsis (rust) literally means “an eating,” and is translated with that meaning everywhere in the New Testament but here (see Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 8:4, “eating”; 2 Cor. 9:10, “food”; and Heb. 12:16, “meal”). It seems best to take the same meaning here, in reference to grain that is eaten by rats, mice, worms, and insects.

Almost any kind of wealth, of course, is subject to thieves, which is why many people buried their nonperishable valuables in the ground away from the house, often in a field (see Matt. 13:44). Break in is literally “dig through,” and could refer to digging through the mud walls of a house or digging up the dirt in a field.

Nothing we own is completely safe from destruction or theft. And even if we keep our possessions perfectly secure during our entire lives, we are certainly separated from them at death. Many millionaires will be heavenly paupers, and many paupers will be heavenly millionaires.

But when our time, energy, and possessions are used to serve others and to further the Lord’s work, they build up heavenly resources that are completely free from destruction or theft. There neither moth nor rust destroys, and … thieves do not break in or steal. Heavenly security is the only absolute security.

Jesus goes on to point out that a person’s most cherished possessions and his deepest motives and desires are inseparable, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. They will either both be earthly or both be heavenly. It is impossible to have one on earth and the other in heaven (cf. James 4:4).

As always, the heart must be right first. In fact, if the heart is right, everything else in life falls into its proper place. The person who is right with the Lord will be generous and happy in his giving to the Lord’s work. By the same token, a person who is covetous, self-indulgent, and stingy has good reason to question his relationship with the Lord.

Jesus is not saying that if we put our treasure in the right place our heart will then be in the right place, but that the location of our treasure indicates where our heart already is. Spiritual problems are always heart problems. Sinful acts come from a sinful heart, just as righteous acts come from a righteous heart.

When the exiles who came back to Jerusalem from Babylon began turning to God’s Word, a revival also began. “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people” and various leaders took turns reading “from the law of God” (Neh. 8:5–8). Through hearing God’s Word the people became convicted of their sin, began to praise God, and determined to begin obeying Him and to faithfully support the work of the Temple (chaps. 9–10).

Revival that does not affect the use of money and possessions is a questionable revival. As the Tabernacle was being built, “everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments” (Ex. 35:21). As plans were being made to build the Temple, David himself gave generously to the work, and “the rulers of the fathers’ households, and the princes of the tribes of Israel, and the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with the overseers over the king’s work, offered willingly.… Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chron. 29:2–6, 9).

  1. Campbell Morgan wrote:

You are to remember with the passion burning within you that you are not the child of to-day. You are not of the earth, you are more than dust; you are the child of tomorrow, you are of the eternities, you are the offspring of Deity. The measurements of your lives cannot be circumscribed by the point where blue sky kisses green earth. All the fact of your life cannot be encompassed in the one small sphere upon which you live. You belong to the infinite. If you make your fortune on the earth—poor, sorry, silly soul—you have made a fortune, and stored it in a place where you cannot hold it. Make your fortune, but store it where it will greet you in the dawning of the new morning. (The Gospel According to Matthew [New York: Revell, 1929], pp. 64–65)

When thousands of people, mostly Jews, were won to Christ during and soon after Pentecost, the Jerusalem church was flooded with many converts who had come from distant lands and who decided to stay on in the city. Many of them no doubt were poor, and many others probably left most of their wealth and possessions in their homelands. To meet the great financial burden suddenly placed on the church, local believers “began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).

Many years later, during one of the many Roman persecutions, soldiers broke into a certain church to confiscate its presumed treasures. An elder is said to have pointed to a group of widows and orphans who were being fed and said, “There are the treasures of the church.”

God’s principle for His people has always been, “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9–10). Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). Paul assures us that “he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). That is God’s formula for earning dividends that are both guaranteed and permanent.

At the end of His parable about the dishonest but shrewd steward, Jesus said, “I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Our material possessions are “unrighteous” in the sense of not having any spiritual value in themselves. But if we invest them in the welfare of human souls, the people who are saved or otherwise blessed because of them will someday greet us in heaven with thanksgiving.

A Single Vision

The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (6:22–23)

These verses expand on the previous three, and the eye becomes an illustration of the heart. The lamp, or lens, of the body is the eye, through which all light comes to us. It is the only channel of light we possess, and therefore our only means of vision.

The heart is the eye of the soul, through which the illumination of every spiritual experience shines. It is through our hearts that God’s truth, love, peace, and every other spiritual blessing comes to us. When our hearts, our spiritual eyes, are clear, then our whole body will be full of light.

Haplous (clear) can also mean single, as it is translated in the King James Version. An eye that is clear represents a heart that has single-minded devotion. Bishop John Charles Ryle said, “Singleness of purpose is one great secret of spiritual prosperity” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew [London: James Clarke, 1965], p. 56).

Words that are closely related to haplous mean “liberality” (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 9:11) and “generously” James 1:5). The implication in the present verse is that if our heart, represented by the eye, is generous (clear), our whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding, or light.

If our eye is bad, however, if it is diseased or damaged, no light can enter, and the whole body will be full of darkness. If our hearts are encumbered with material concerns they become “blind” and insensitive to spiritual concerns. The eye is like a window which, when clear, allows light to shine through, but, when dirty, or bad, prevents light from entering.

Ponēros (bad) usually means evil, as it is translated here in the King James Version. In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) it is often used in translating the Hebrew expression “evil eye,” a Jewish colloquialism that means grudging, or stingy (see Deut. 15:9, “hostile”; Prov. 23:6, “selfish”). “A man with an evil eye,” for example, is one who “hastens after wealth” (Prov. 28:22).

The eye that is bad is the heart that is selfishly indulgent. The person who is materialistic and greedy is spiritually blind. Because he has no way of recognizing true light, he thinks he has light when he does not. What is thought to be light is therefore really darkness, and because of the self-deception, how great is the darkness!

The principle is simple and sobering: the way we look at and use our money is a sure barometer of our spiritual condition.

A Single Master

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (6:24)

The third choice relates to allegiance, to masters. Just as we cannot have our treasures both in earth and in heaven or our bodies both in light and in darkness, we cannot serve two masters.

Kurios (masters) is often translated lord, and refers to a slave owner. The idea is not simply that of an employer, of which a person may have several at the same time and work for each of them satisfactorily. Many people today hold two or more jobs. If they work the number of hours they are supposed to and perform their work as expected, they have fulfilled their obligation to their employers, no matter how many they may have. The idea is of masters of slaves.

But by definition, a slave owner has total control of the slave. For a slave there is no such thing as partial or part-time obligation to his master. He owes full-time service to a full-time master. He is owned and totally controlled by and obligated to his master. He has nothing left for anyone else. To give anything to anyone else would make his master less than master. It is not simply difficult, but absolutely impossible, to serve two masters and fully or faithfully be the obedient slave of each.

Over and over the New Testament speaks of Christ as Lord and Master and of Christians as His bondslaves. Paul tells us that before we were saved we were enslaved to sin, which was our master. But when we trusted in Christ, we became slaves of God and of righteousness (Rom. 6:16–22).

We cannot claim Christ as Lord if our allegiance is to anything or anyone else, including ourselves. And when we know God’s will but resist obeying it, we give evidence that our loyalty is other than to Him. We can no more serve two masters at the same time than we can walk in two directions at the same time. We will either … hate the one and love the other, or … hold to one and despise the other.

John Calvin said, “Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority” (A Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], p. 337). Our treasure is either on earth or in heaven, our spiritual life is either full of light or of darkness, and our master is either God or mammon (possessions, earthly goods).

The orders of those two masters are diametrically opposed and cannot coexist. The one commands us to walk by faith and the other demands we walk by sight. The one calls us to be humble and the other to be proud, the one to set our minds on things above and the other to set them on things below. One calls us to love light, the other to love darkness. The one tells us to look toward things unseen and eternal and the other to look at things seen and temporal.

The person whose master is Jesus Christ can say that, when he eats or drinks or does anything else, he does “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). He can say with David, “I have set the Lord continually before me” (Ps. 16:8), and with Caleb when he was eighty-five years old, “I followed the Lord my God fully” (Josh. 14:8).[1]

Who Owns Your Possessions?

Matthew 6:19–24

After the great teachings in the first half of Matthew 6 about the spiritual life of the Christian, the Lord Jesus Christ turned to warnings about the personal failures that most often deprive a believer of spiritual victories and nullify his witness. In these verses, beginning with Matthew 6:19 and continuing through Matthew 7:5, Jesus warns against a love of possessions, anxiety, and a judgmental attitude toward others.

Love of Money

It is not really difficult to find examples of people who have allowed the love of money to ruin their spirituality and to nullify the effect of their witness. History is full of such examples, and they come from our time also. In the Book of Joshua we are told of the sin of Achan that caused the defeat of the armies of Israel at Ai. Israel had just been victorious at Jericho and had dedicated the spoil of the battle to God, as God had indicated. But there was a scar on the victory. During the battle a soldier called Achan had come upon a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred pieces of silver and an ingot of gold. Because he coveted them, he took them and hid them in his tent. It was a small thing, but it was disobedience to God. Thus Israel was defeated in their next engagement, and judgment came upon Achan and his household.

Solomon allowed the love of money and women to ruin his spiritual life. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Lord about money, pretending that they had given the full price of a sale to the church while actually keeping back a portion. They were struck dead. Paul wrote in one of his letters about a young man named Demas, who, he said, “hath forsaken me having loved this present world.” We see the same problem today when people put their home and the care of it above the need for biblical teaching and mow the grass on Sunday when they should be at church, or when they direct all their efforts toward amassing a fortune (or part of one) while neglecting their families and the essential spiritual life of their home. No wonder that Paul wrote to Timothy to remind him that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Remember that the Bible nowhere teaches that money itself is evil. It is not money or possessions that are at fault; it is the men who use them. Before God created men and women he created a vast world of pleasant and useful things for them. They were meant for man’s use in every joyful and constructive way. But when man sinned, the things that were to be helpful to him came to usurp a place in his heart which they were never meant to have. Soon men began to fight and steal and cheat and do countless other things to possess them. Today, when a man surrenders to God and allows him to redirect his life, a process begins in which money and things are removed from the center and God once again is reinstated on the throne.

There have been sensitive souls in the history of the Christian church who have recognized the evils that accompany possessions and who have sought to eliminate the evils by doing away with the possessions collectively. Using the example of the early church in Jerusalem, which pooled its possessions and distributed to those who had need, these Christians have argued against the right of private property among believers and have sometimes even advocated a form of Christian communism. That is not right. If some Christians are led of the Lord to sell their possessions and give to others and they do so, particularly in a time of need, this is a great blessing. But it does not therefore follow that all Christians must follow their example.

Actually, if you examine the Bible carefully, you will see that far from condemning the possession of private property the Bible actually assumes the rightness of it. For instance, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15). However, that verse teaches not only that I am not to take those things belonging to another person, but that neither is he to take mine. In the story of Ananias and Sapphira mentioned earlier, Peter said when speaking to the husband, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3–4). Peter was stating that God recognizes the right of private property and does not force any Christian to dispose of his money.

Now, someone will ask, “Didn’t the Lord Jesus instruct the rich young ruler that he was to sell all that he had and give to the poor?” Yes, he did. But we must also note that he did not say it to Mary or Martha or Lazarus or to John the evangelist or to Zebedee. He said it to “the rich young ruler” because his chief obstruction to a life of following Christ lay in his possessions. He proved that by turning away. For such a person—and there are many today—the loss of their possessions would be the most significant blessing of their lives. The best thing they could do would be to give them away. This does not mean, however, that possessions in themselves are wrong or, for that matter, that poverty is a particularly blessed form of Christianity.

In this as in all the other areas of the Christian life the true solution does not lie in abstinence or withdrawal. It lies in the proper use and proper estimate of the things which God has provided. In other words, we are not called upon to relinquish things but rather use them under God’s direction. We are to use them for the health and well-being of our family, for material aid to others, and for the great task of proclaiming the gospel and promoting Christian verities.

Treasure in Heaven

That is precisely what Jesus himself was teaching in the verses concerned with money in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was not speaking against possessions. He was speaking against a ruinous preoccupation with them. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).

These verses also take us one step farther, for they contain the first of the reasons given by Jesus why worldliness in regard to our possessions is foolish and detrimental to our spiritual lives. The reason is that one day all earthly possessions will perish and will be gone forever, and since that is the case, a man who has spent his life accumulating them may himself be saved, but he will have nothing to show for what should have been a lifetime of profitable service. Thus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. … If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:12–15). This means that it is only as a man uses his possessions for spiritual ends that he is able to accumulate true treasure.

Then, too, there is another reason why a preoccupation with material things is foolish for the follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that if a man’s treasure is on earth, his heart will be on earth also, and therefore things will rule him.

There is a great illustration of this in the linguistic development of the Hebrew word mammon which occurs several verses farther on in this chapter, where it says, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 kjv). Mammon was a word for material possessions, but it had come into Hebrew from a root word meaning “to entrust,” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” Mammon therefore meant the wealth that one entrusted to another for safekeeping. At this time the word did not have any bad connotations at all, and a rabbi could say, “Let the mammon of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.” When a bad sense was meant an adjective or some other qualifying word was added. So we have the phrase “the mammon of unrighteousness” or “unrighteous mammon.”

As time passed, however, the sense of the word mammon shifted away from the passive sense of “that which is entrusted” to the active sense of “that in which a man trusts.” In this case, of course, the meaning was entirely bad, and the word mammon which was originally spelled with a small “m” came to be spelled with a capital “M” as designating a god.

This linguistic development repeats itself in the life of anyone who does not have his eyes fixed on spiritual treasures. Is that true of you? Have things become your god? Don’t forget that these things are written to Christians, and that they are therefore meant to make you ask whether the Lord God Almighty occupies the central place in your life or whether things obscure him. If you think most about your home, car, vacation, bank account, clothes, or investments, then you are building your treasure on earth; and, according to Jesus, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Distorted Vision

The third reason why Jesus Christ warns his followers about an improper concern for possessions occurs in verses 22 and 23. It has to do with our spiritual vision. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

William Barclay writes of these verses: “The idea behind this passage is one of childlike simplicity. The eye is regarded as the window by which the light gets into the whole body. The color and state of a window decide what light gets into a room. If the window is clear, clean, and undistorted, the light will come flooding into the room, and will illuminate every corner of it. If the glass of the window is colored or frosted, distorted, dirty, or obscure, the light will be hindered, and the room will not be lit up. … So then, says Jesus, the light which gets into any man’s heart and soul and being depends on the spiritual state of the eye through which it has to pass, for the eye is the window of the whole body.”

Let me ask you a question. Do you see spiritual things clearly? Or is your vision of God and his will for your life clouded by spiritual cataracts or near-sightedness brought on by an unhealthy preoccupation with things? I am convinced that this is true for many Christians, particularly those living in the midst of Western affluence. Now and then people like this complain to me that they cannot understand the Bible, or that God seems far away. Sometimes they are confused about the Christian life or about God’s will for them. Well, it is not surprising. And, what is more, it always will be this way for one who knows his way around a supermarket or a brokerage house more than he knows his way around the New Testament. Although Jesus did not direct us away from possessions themselves, he did warn us against losing our spiritual vision because of them.

There is another thought in this section, coming from the word which the King James’ translators rendered “single” and the translators of the Revised Standard Version, Phillips, and the New English Bibles rendered “sound.” It is the word haplous, related to the noun haplotēs. In some texts the words mean “simple” or “simplicity,” but there are other texts in which the only possible translation is “generosity.” The translators of the New Scofield Bible recognized this truth when they came to the twelfth chapter of Romans, verse 8, for in that verse the word “simplicity” (used in the King James Version) is changed to “liberality” so that the text now reads: “He that giveth, let him do it with liberality.” In James 1:5, we read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally.” The word occurs in this same sense at least three times in 2 Corinthians (8:2; 9:11, 13) and once in Colossians (3:22).

I believe that it is this sense of the word that is present here in Christ’s teaching. The “single eye” is the “generous eye.” And if that is the case, then Jesus is promoting a generous spirit in regard to our money. How can you tell whether riches have clouded your spiritual vision? The answer may be determined by the extent to which you are generous with the goods which you have been given.

Do not tell me that you cannot be generous this year because it is a bad year financially or because your stocks have declined. I once received a report of alumni giving to Harvard University for the fiscal year 1969–70. It was the second highest record of annual giving in the history of the university, and it occurred in a year in which the Dow Jones average dropped from a high near 1000 to below 700. No, liberality is not closely linked to affluence, unless it is an inverse relationship, and we all need to learn the secret of the Philippian Christians who out of “the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto … liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2).

God and Mammon

The final verse of our section (v. 24) deals with the mutually exclusive nature of serving God and riches. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Nothing could be said more clearly, or be more obvious. It should be a heart-searching question for all Christians. Ask yourself this: Can anything be more insulting to God, who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin, put us in Christ, and given us all things richly to enjoy than to take the name of our God upon us, to be called by his name, and then to demonstrate by every action and every decision of life that we actually serve money?

In discussing this verse in The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who one day reported to his wife with great joy that his best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I have been led of the Lord to dedicate one of the calves to him. We will raise them together. Then when the time comes to sell them, we will keep the proceeds that come from one calf and we will give the proceeds that come from the other to the Lord’s work.”

His wife asked which calf he was going to dedicate to the Lord, but he answered that there was no need to decide that then. “We will treat them both in the same way,” he said, “and when that time comes we will sell them as I have said.”

Several months later the man entered the kitchen looking very sad and miserable. When is wife asked what was troubling him he said, “I have bad news for you. The Lord’s calf is dead.” “But,” his wife remonstrated, “you had not yet decided which was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes” he said. “I had always determined that it was to be the white one, and it is the white calf that has died.”

It is always the Lord’s calf that dies—unless we are absolutely clear about our service to him and about the true nature of our possessions. Who owns your possessions? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that either God owns them and you serve him, or else your possessions own you, and you serve them. In any case, no one ever really possesses them himself, although many persons think they do. May God give us each the victory that comes when our gifts, wealth, time, friends, ambitions, and talents are turned over to him and we use them to establish indestructible riches in heaven.[2]

God or Mammon

Matthew 6:19–24

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matt. 6:24)

For some years, the arbiters of taste have informed the culture that conspicuous consumption is out of favor, that the wealthy ought to be fairly discreet in their displays of wealth and in their talk about it. During the 1980s, American culture went through a different period. The stock market rocketed upward in value. The media celebrated wealth. In a major movie, the star delivered a pivotal speech with the theme “Greed is good.” People spoke about their desire for money with remarkable candor. One poll asked people what they would do for a million dollars. Forty-two percent said they would be willing to spend time in jail, never see their best friend again, move permanently to a foreign country, or throw their pet off a cliff. When people wanted to inquire about another person’s wealth, they asked, “How much is he worth?”—as if his worth and his net assets were the same.

This awe of wealth was widespread. When Philippine kleptocrat-dictator Ferdinand Marcos fell in 1987, the Filipinos discovered that his palace was filled with the plunder of a nation, valued at billions of dollars. Throngs of Filipinos descended on the palace, but they did not burn or pillage. No, they filed past his fabulous possessions, not with indignant shouts, but with hushed silence. Although Marcos had amassed his fortune at their expense, the people remained in awe of the wealth.

Jesus taught more about wealth than about any other social issue—more than marriage, politics, work, sex, or power. His teaching about money stands in a discussion of discipleship and loyalty to God. Few people set out to live for wealth. No one wants to serve wealth; we want wealth to serve us! Yet the love of money can gradually take control of our hearts. This is the danger, the false god, that Jesus addresses.

Two Treasures

Treasures on Earth

Jesus begins with two simple commands: Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth. Do store up treasures in heaven. Next, he offers two reasons not to store up treasures on earth: There moth and rust destroy (two evil agents do one evil thing). There thieves break in and steal (one evil agent does two evil things).

Jesus forbids the hoarding of treasure, whether the hoarding is for selfish indulgence today or for the future. He forbids the forms that hoarding took in antiquity: valuable clothes, which moths might eat, and precious metals, which might corrode. If he spoke today, he would address our houses, cars, furnishings, and retirement plans.

Jesus mentions two kinds of loss. First, we suffer the passive harm of rust, moths, and decay. Things fall apart. Entropy is relentless. Wood rots, threads fray, metal rusts, and inflation erodes savings. There is a worm, one millimeter in length, with a fourteen-day life span. Researchers have determined that necrosis sets in after eleven or twelve days, and the worm begins to get flabby. Worms, like everything else, fall apart.

Second, we suffer active harm. Jesus says thieves break in and steal. Thievery represents all violent acts that destroy property: wars, fires, floods, and all the rest. Burglar alarms, rust-proof paint, and hedge funds can slow the decay of wealth, but they cannot stop it. Money flies from our hands. Even if it grows in this life, it leaves us when we die. Solomon said, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and … so he departs” (Eccl. 5:15). Therefore, we should store up treasures in heaven, where they are safe, guarded by the God who also guards us.

Jesus does not ban savings or financial planning or ownership of property. Indeed, the Bible praises those who work and prepare for winter, for the lean season (Gen. 41; Prov. 6:6–10). Parents should save for their children (2 Cor. 12:14). The Bible expects us to use God’s good creation joyfully. God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17).

But Jesus does ban the godless, selfish accumulation of goods—heaping up possessions and savings beyond the ability to enjoy or spend them. James warns those who live in luxury and self-indulgence, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter”—that is, judgment day (James 5:5). The same godlessness that leads to hoarding also leads to a hard heart—to neglect of the needy and exploitation of the poor (James 5:4–6).

Jesus also forbids the dream that life consists in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15). He warns us not to tether our hearts to this world. When Jesus says, “Don’t lay up treasures,” he does not forbid joyful living or financial planning. He does forbid greed and love of money and selfish luxury.

Some people are confused by this. They ask, “How do I enjoy this world without loving it? How do I enjoy wealth without living for it?” Jesus says, “Store up treasures in heaven.” The New Testament stresses that we store up treasures in heaven by giving generously of them on earth. If we live in covenant faithfulness, in loyalty to the Lord, we will be Christlike and give sacrificially. The Bible says:

  • “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice” (Ps. 112:5).
  • “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25).
  • “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Prov. 22:9).
  • The rich should “be rich in good deeds, … generous and willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
  • “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Give “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6–7).

Because God is generous and full of grace, we must be generous (2 Cor. 9:8). The motivation is not duty or compulsion, but joy in God’s gifts. God gives liberally and provides for us daily. Our generosity keeps the cycle going. That does not mean that if we give money away, we will automatically receive yet more in return (no matter what certain advocates of the prosperity gospel say). But liberality is part of the blessed life. God makes us “rich in every way,” so that we “can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11). By our generosity, we lay up treasures in heaven. When we give our money to God’s causes, we show where our heart is.

Treasures in Heaven

Jesus says that we ought to store up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth. The reasons, he says, are the positive counterparts of the reasons not to store up treasures on earth. Moth and rust do not destroy there, and thieves do not break in and steal. Heaven is the safest place to store our treasures. Our treasures are safe there, and we are safer when we put them there, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). If we place our treasure in heaven, our heart will follow and be as safe as the treasure.

We lay up treasures in heaven by investing in God’s causes and God’s people. The effects of such investments last forever. We store treasures in heaven by worshiping God, growing in knowledge and grace, and growing in love for God and neighbor. Financially, we store treasures in heaven by using money for kingdom causes, by giving money to the church, to missions, to Christian schools, to the poor. When we store treasures in heaven by investing our money in God’s people, our investment will bear dividends for eternity. The Greek roots of the word “philanthropy”—meaning “love” and “mankind”—are apt. By giving, we demonstrate our love for mankind.

The value of stocks and real estate rolls up and down. The only truly safe investment is in the kingdom and the people of God. People live forever. If we put our effort into accumulating this world’s treasures, the heart probably will not be satisfied. Some years ago I gave a talk on money at a men’s retreat. A friendly, well-dressed fellow in his early forties approached me afterward. His career had gone very well, he told me without pride. “In fact,” he added, with a wry grin, “I find that I am making twice as much money as I ever dreamed possible. But somehow it still isn’t enough.”

It is unusual to earn twice as much money as one could dream possible, but it is not unusual to confess, “It still isn’t enough.” Solomon said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.… Yet when I surveyed all that … I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (Eccl. 2:10–11). Cooks like to say that hunger is the best seasoning. If so, then a simple hamburger tastes better to a hungry man than a gourmet meal tastes to a well-fed man. As Solomon says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough” (Eccl. 5:10). But if wealth never satisfies us, how can it become a god? Jesus explores that in the next verses. There he shifts from the question “Where shall we put our treasure?” to “Where shall we fix our eyes?”

Two Visions

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus addresses the inner attitude, the heart. In verses 22–23, he speaks of the eye when he says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It might seem that Jesus is changing subject, as he shifts from the heart that desires to the eyes that see. But the terms “heart” and “eyes” can both refer to the inner person that sets life’s direction. Notice how the words “heart” and “eyes” are almost interchangeable in Psalm 119:

I seek you with all my heart;

do not let me stray from your commands. (v. 10)

Open my eyes that I may see

wonderful things in your law. (v. 18)

Turn my heart toward your statutes

and not toward selfish gain. (v. 36)

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

preserve my life according to your word. (v. 37)

The Bible says the issues of life proceed from the heart. Here Jesus says the body finds its direction, for good or ill, through the eyes. A person with good sight walks in the light. A healthy eye gives direction to all of life. The eye affects the whole body, just as the heart directs all of life. Ambition to serve God throws light on everything. Ambition to serve oneself plunges all into darkness. It creates pride, makes us self-indulgent, and crushes charity.

Where We Set Our Heart

Jesus urges us to examine our eyes: “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:23). Greed flows from a greedy heart. If we see someone hoarding wealth, living for wealth, Jesus wants us to focus our attention on his heart. If the eye sees little but material wealth, why so? Because the eyes are dark, because the heart is set on this earth.

We expect unbelievers to live for money. Atheists cannot store treasures in heaven. If there is no God and no heaven, why store wealth there? It would be absurd. Secular people inevitably store their treasures on earth. How could it be otherwise? They cannot trust God to protect or reward them when they deny his existence. Unbelief destroys the capacity to heed this command. Secular people believe that they must provide for themselves, for no one else will. If there is no personal God, no Father in heaven, hoarding is perfectly sensible. Who wants to run out of money in their one and only life?

This passage is diagnostic. If a man cannot tear his eyes away from money, if he lives for wealth, it is because his eye and heart are corrupt. If the eye is dark, there is no hope, unless God grants renewal. No one can do what is right unless he can see what is right. Therefore, Jesus’ message is not “Try harder,” but “Examine yourself.” So if you fail to follow Jesus, if you hoard and do not give, examine yourself! You cannot do what is right without the ability to see it. On the other hand, if you know that you belong to Jesus, and yet you act as if you live for money, that is neither your true heritage nor your true self. You know better. God has set your heart on better things. You will find peace and rest when your heart goes where it belongs. Yet there is another side of the issue.…

In the original Greek of Matthew 6:22–23, there is a deliberate ambiguity. A literal translation of Jesus’ words brings out the issue: “The light of the body is the eye. If, therefore, your eye is good [or ‘sound’], your whole body will be light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be darkness.”

The words for “good” and “evil” can both have different meanings that make sense here. The word translated “good” is haplous. Its most basic meaning is “whole” or “healthy,” and it can also mean “clear” or “simple” or “generous” (see 2 Cor. 8:2; 9:13; James 1:5). The meanings “simple” and “generous” overlap: the generous person gives simply, not expecting any favor in return. The word translated “evil” is ponēros. It can mean “sick, in bad condition,” or “evil, wicked,” or “jealous, envious.” Jesus has chosen words that might merely describe an eye that is healthy or unhealthy. But he has also chosen words that apply to attitudes toward wealth—generosity or jealousy.

So we could translate 6:22–23 two ways. First, if your eye is “healthy,” or if your eye is “generous,” then the whole body will be full of light. Second, if your eye is bad, or if your eye is “evil” or “jealous,” then your whole body will be full of darkness. In first-century Palestine, as in many cultures, the “evil eye” was the jealous or covetous eye, the grudging spirit, that looks with envy on the possessions of others. Thus, Jesus warns against the jealous eye while inviting us to hear him in two ways:

Where We Fix Our Eyes

First, Jesus poses a diagnostic question: if your eye is perpetually set on riches, ask yourself, “Why am I fixated on material things?” The answer is, “Because you have given your heart to material things.” It is right, therefore, to repent and ask God to redirect your heart toward him.

Second, Jesus warns us about the danger of jealousy or envy. He commands, “Do not set your eye upon material treasures or upon the riches of others.” It is a sin and can corrupt your heart.

The first point is surely the central one. If we find that our eyes are fixed on wealth, we must examine ourselves. Some people focus their lives on wealth because money is their god. But others love God and have fallen into bad habits. We spend too much time looking at the wrong things. We spend too much time in the mall or poring over mail-order catalogues. We behold costly homes, cars, furniture, and clothes.

To be practical, when an advertisement directs a man to “picture yourself behind the wheel” of the latest, greatest car or truck, or hybrid vehicle, he should not so picture himself. When a magazine directs a woman to consider a kitchen renovation, she should not begin to plot out every purchase. Remember, the Bible says that we should flee temptation. Therefore, we should not stir up envy by eyeing our friends’ cars or fabrics or vacations. Let us be careful where we set our eyes. Let us be careful with advertisements and with visits to our more prosperous friends. It is one thing to admire a beautiful home, another to envy it.

In Christ, we have a good, clear, generous eye. The child of God, renewed by the Spirit, has no divided loyalties and no ulterior motives. We seek our neighbor’s good, not his goods. When Jesus commends the clear eye, he urges disciples to live out their true identity. One way to do that is to set our eyes on the right things. The discipline of the eye reflects a heart that is set on the kingdom.

There are two lessons here. First, if you cannot take your eyes and heart off material things, if you live only for this world and its satisfactions, you must ask, “How is my heart?” Second, by setting your eyes in the wrong place, on the possessions of others, on graphic displays of affluence, you can harm your soul. Rather, let us be content with what we have.

Two Masters

Gordon Dahl once said, “We worship our work. We work at our play. And we play at our worship.” Of course, if we worship our work, we will serve it, heart and soul. Using a Hebrew poetic form (chiasm), Jesus states this as a choice in Matthew 6:24:

No one can serve two masters.

Either he will hate the one and love the other,

or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

You cannot serve both God and Money.

Many people doubt this statement. The antithesis—God versus money (traditionally translated “mammon”)—seems inappropriate. They wonder why God and prosperity cannot coexist. Why must they choose between God and money?

To be sure, some people try to serve two masters. They honor God on Sunday (if convenient), serve mammon from Monday to Friday, and reserve Saturday for themselves. But this mind-set regards faith as a hobby, like gardening. One can certainly have a job and a hobby or two. Or they view God as an employer, not a master. Surely a man can work for two employers, schedule permitting. But no one can belong to two masters. No slave can be the property of two owners, “for single ownership and full-time service are of the essence of slavery.” By definition, a master can demand service at any time. Therefore, we cannot serve two masters.

This is suggested by the name Jesus chooses for money. The term “mammon,” means “trusted thing” or “that which one trusts.” The name is apt, for we are prone to trust money. Remember the prayer, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.… Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ ” (Prov. 30:8–9; cf. Hos. 13:6). Jeremiah commands, “Let not … the rich man boast of his riches” (Jer. 9:23). Ezekiel says, “Because of your wealth your heart has grown proud” (Ezek. 28:5). Job says a man can speak to gold and say, “You are my security” (Job 31:24). It is all too easy to set the heart on riches (Ps. 62:10).

Living for Money

Money is not the kind of god that demands exclusive loyalty or direct worship; no prostration is necessary. Money is a god in a polytheistic land. It just wants a spot in the pantheon; a few other demigods can reside there too: status, power, pleasure. It is satisfied with casual worship and a few holy days.

Few people openly live for money, but I did encounter one while in grad school. Hoping to locate a summer job that paid enough to cover the next year’s tuition, I searched for unpalatable seasonal work and decided to try pest extermination. I got an interview with a young, energetic owner. He shook my hand, sat me down, and asked, “What is your purpose in life?” Momentarily speechless at this opportunity to share my faith, I quickly launched into an explanation of a Christian’s purpose in life. A minute later, the exterminator interrupted, “Listen,” he lectured, “my purpose in life is to make money, and I want to know if you want to make money.” At one level, I understood perfectly. After all, no one starts a pest-control business in inner-city Philadelphia to meet interesting people and visit interesting places. But his bluntness was exceptional. Not many declare, “I live for mammon.” Most people prefer to mask their allegiance. They live for mammon, but they say, “I look at my house as an investment” and “I only want to provide the best for my family.” It is no sin to produce or gain wealth by honest means, for God created the world with the capacity for wealth creation. The problem is making wealth a god, and serving it with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Jesus presents a choice between two ways of life. Will we store treasure on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be light or dark? Will we serve God or mammon? This question speaks equally to the rich and the poor, for both can look to wealth for security. Everyone is susceptible to greed. Anyone can think that he would be happy if he had just a little more.

This is why Jesus calls money a rival god. People trust in their trust funds. They find security in their securities. They expect wealth to grant them the blessed life. Some even give money a divine name—“the Almighty Dollar.” But like every false deity, money disappoints its worshipers. One day its devotees awaken and say, “I have it all, but it isn’t enough. I still don’t know the meaning of life.”

Living for the Lord

To be a Christian is to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). In Matthew 6, Jesus names two great idols that threaten to separate us from God. When he taught about praying, giving, and fasting to impress people, he named reputation and status as rival gods. We cannot serve God and status. It is hypocrisy (6:1–6, 16–18).

Here Jesus labels another choice. God and mammon offer alternative ways of life, and they battle for our loyalty. Jesus forces a choice: Will we store up treasures on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be generous or envious? Will we serve God or mammon? We know whom the Lord wants us to serve. He has told us where the lasting treasure lies. But, for the moment, he presents a choice, not a command: You can store up treasures on earth or in heaven, but not both. You can serve God or mammon, but not both.

Certain traits identify those who live for mammon. Some save and save, for they feel secure only when they have a hoard of wealth. Others spend and spend, because they believe money, well spent, can gain them the good life, a life of peace and pleasure. They give away very little—perhaps 1 to 4 percent of their income—just enough to avoid feeling guilty about their greed.

Another set of traits marks those who live for God. They like to give money away, and like it better if no one notices. They are generous with their skills, giving them away (as volunteers) when appropriate, instead of charging for everything. They give the basic tithe and more, if possible.

Not many, even among the noblest disciples, can entirely avoid the love of money. What shall we say when we detect service to mammon in ourselves? The same self-examination that reveals a disciple’s sin also reveals deeper truths. Every believer knows and is known, loves and is loved, by God.

Money also seeks our love. It attempts to bind us to itself with promises of wealth. But wealth is an elusive lover; the object of affection slips just out of reach. As Hosea says, “She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.” Devotees of mammon forget that God provides our grain, wine, and oil (Hos. 2:7–8).

The prosperity gospel does us no favors in our battle with mammon. But even the apparently innocuous interest in stewardship can be problematic. The concept of stewardship is sound, but it can lead us to think of ourselves as “the one to whom God (wisely) entrusted his wealth” and the ones entrusted to administer it.

To love God rather than wealth, we must trust him, rather than worrying. We must not hoard, and must instead give freely to the church and to the poor. By giving, we show that our heart is fixed on the Lord, not on a corruptible cache here on earth (Luke 12:33). Consider the heart issue this way: If an agent dragged you into court and accused you of loving Jesus, could your checkbook and credit cards be summoned as evidence against you? If auditors examined your finances, would they find proof of your love of God? If our vacation and restaurant bills exceed our giving, what might that signify?

To give our heart to God means to trust him to provide for our needs. We can scan a dark future and worry, or we can consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and become calm, because God cares for us much more (Matt. 6:25–32). If we love God rather than mammon, it will show in each sphere of life—in our heart, mind, and strength.

Mind, Strength, Heart … and Money

To love God with our minds, we first strive to think God’s thoughts about wealth. The Bible says, “Everything God created is good, and … to be … received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). Yet Christians should never be engrossed in money (1 Cor. 7:31–35). We should believe that riches are a good servant, but a bad master, and that there is profit in learning contentment whether with a little or with much (Phil. 4:11–12; 1 Tim. 6:6).

To love God with the mind is, second, to accept his laws about money. Mammon tries to establish its own laws, of course. When it supplants God, it reduces everything to buying and selling, value and profit. Money says people can be bought and sold as slaves (Rev. 18:13). We still say, “Everyone has his price.” Even Jesus had a price tag: thirty pieces of silver. We give our mind to God when we know and live by his laws for wealth. We use it to meet basic needs: “If we have food and covering, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:8). We give generously because God said that “those who are rich in this world … [should] be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:17–18).

To love God with the mind means, third, to speak about money in ways that reiterate his truth. For example, we should not start to make our financial decisions with “Can we afford it?” Instead, we should ask, “Does this glorify God? Does it make me a better servant?” Parents must especially take care not to answer their children’s petitions for toys and games simply by declaring, “We can’t afford it.” Those four words end the conversation very effectively at some ages and keep parents from seeming insensitive. But the subliminal message is, “The adults don’t make the decisions in this family, money does.” When we make decisions, we should let God and his law have the final word, not money. Wealth makes a useful servant, but a poor master.

We serve God with our strength by refusing to select a career designed strictly to make us rich (James 4:1–4; 1 Tim. 6:6–10). We love God with our strength, first, by laboring to supply our needs (2 Thess. 3:6–10). Second, we accept only those jobs that are constructive and lawful. No Christian should be a professional gambler, for example. Third, we should do good to all in our work, by offering them something of value.

Christians, by nature, love God more than money. We have committed our hearts to the Lord by entering into his covenant. The challenge comes in the realm of diligence and consistency. We can lose sight of the antithesis between God and money. We can drift, a little bit at a time, toward loving and serving money. We can lose our discernment and our clarity and make one decision, and then another, on the basis of money and possessions. Let us pray, therefore, that the Lord keeps our eyes clear, that he fills us with his light and truth and love. May he finish the good work that he has begun in us.[3]

20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. They are said to do so, who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life. In Luke’s narrative, no mention is made of the contrast between laying up treasures on the earth and laying up treasures in heaven; and he refers to a different occasion for the command of Christ to prepare bags, which do not grow old: for he had previously said, Sell what you possess, and give alms. It is a harsh and unpleasant thing for men to strip themselves of their own wealth; and with the view of alleviating their uneasiness, he holds out a large and magnificent hope of remuneration. Those who assist their poor brethren on the earth lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, according to the saying of Solomon, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again,” (Prov. 19:17.) The command to sell possessions must not be literally interpreted, as if a Christian were not at liberty to retain any thing for himself. He only intended to show, that we must not be satisfied with bestowing on the poor what we can easily spare, but that we must not refuse to part with our estates, if their revenue does not supply the wants of the poor. His meaning is, “Let your liberality go so far as to lessen your patrimony, and dispose of your lands.”[4]

20–21 By contrast, the treasures in heaven are forever exempt from decay and theft (cf. Lk 12:33). The words “treasures in heaven” go back to Jewish literature (m. Peʾah 1:1; T. Levi 13:5; Pss. Sol. 9:9). Here it refers to whatever is of good and eternal significance that comes out of what is done on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake, forgiving one another—all these have the promise of “reward” (see comments at 5:12; cf. 5:30, 46; 6:6, 15; 2 Co 4:17). Other deeds of kindness also store up treasure in heaven (10:42; 25:40), including willingness to share (1 Ti 6:13–19).

In the best MSS, the final aphorism (v. 21) reverts to second person singular (cf. vv. 2, 6, 17; see comments at 5:23). The point is that the things most highly treasured occupy the “heart,” the center of the personality, embracing mind, emotions, and will (cf. NIDNTT, 2:180–84), and thus the most cherished treasure subtly but infallibly controls the whole person’s direction and values. “If honor is rated the highest good, then ambition must take complete charge of a man; if money, then forthwith greed takes over the kingdom; if pleasure, then men will certainly degenerate into sheer self-indulgence” (Calvin). Conversely, those who set their minds on things above (Col 3:1–2), determining to live under kingdom norms, discover at last that their deeds follow them (Rev 14:13).[5]

6:19–21 / The natural human tendency is to store up material possessions here on earth. Jesus advises laying up treasures in heaven, where the uncertainties of life cannot affect them. Where people put their treasure reveals where their hearts really are. Unless “moth and eating” (the niv follows Tyndale’s translation of brōsis as rust, which lacks support from the lxx) is a grammatical expression meaning “eaten by moths,” we have three ways in which earthly possessions are destroyed. In the ancient East elaborate clothing was viewed as part of a person’s treasure. Such material was easily devastated by moths. “Eating” could refer to the gnawing of mice and other vermin (McNeile, p. 84) or in a more general sense to what Weymouth calls “wear-and-tear.” Since houses were normally made of mud brick or baked clay, it was relatively easy for a thief to dig through (dioryssō; niv, break in) and steal possessions. Very little protection existed in the ancient world; this highly contrasts the security of treasures laid up in heaven.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 407–415). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 213–218). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Doriani, D. M. (2008). Matthew & 2. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 1, pp. 242–254). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 332–333). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 212). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 59). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

January 21, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Purpose: to Glorify God

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (5:16)

The word (kalos) for good that Jesus uses here does not so much emphasize quality—though that obviously is important—as it does attractiveness, beautiful appearance. Letting our light shine before men allows them to see our good works, the beauty the Lord has worked in us. To see good works by us is to see Christ in us. That is why Jesus says, let your light shine. It is not something we create or make up, but something we allow the Lord to do through us. It is God’s light; our choice is whether to hide it or let it shine.

The purpose of letting our light shine and reveal our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to God. Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God in order that they may glorify [our] Father who is in heaven. Jesus’ speaking of the Father emphasizes God’s tenderness and intimacy, and speaking of His being in heaven emphasizes His majesty and holiness, as He is pictured dwelling in the splendor of His eternal holy home. Our good works are to magnify God’s grace and power. This is the supreme calling of life: glorifying God. Everything we do is to cause others to give praise to the God who is the source of all that is good. The way we live should lead those around us to glorify (doxazō, from which we get doxology) the heavenly Father.

When what we do causes people to be attracted to us rather than to God, to see our human character rather than His divine character, we can be sure that what they see is not His light.

It is said of Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister of the last century, that his face carried such a hallowed expression that people were known to fall on their knees and accept Jesus Christ as Savior when they looked at him. Others were so attracted by the self-giving beauty and holiness of his life that they found his Master irresistible.

It was also said of the French pietist Francois Fenelon that his communion with God was such that his face shined with divine radiance. A religious skeptic who was compelled to spend the night in an inn with Fenelon, hurried away the next morning, saying, “If I spend another night with that man I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.”

That is the kind of salt and light God wants His kingdom people to be.[1]

16. Let your light shine before men. After having taught the apostles that, in consequence of the rank in which they are placed, both their vices and their virtues are better known for a good or bad example, he now enjoins them so to regulate their life, as to excite all to glorify God. That they may see your good works: for, as Paul tells us, believers must “provide for honest things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men,” (2 Cor. 8:21.) The command, which he gives shortly afterwards, to seek concealment and a retired situation for their good works, (Matth. 6:4,) is intended only to forbid ostentation. In the present instance, he has quite a different object in view, to recommend to them the glory of God alone. Now, if the glory of good works cannot be properly ascribed to God, unless they are traced to him, and unless he is acknowledged to be their only Author, it is evident, that we cannot, without offering an open and gross insult to God, extol free will, as if good works proceeded wholly, or in part, from its power. Again, we must observe, how graciously God deals with us, when he calls the good works ours, the entire praise of which would justly be ascribed to himself.[2]

16 Jesus drives the metaphor home. What his disciples must show is their “good works,” i.e., all righteousness, everything they are and do that reflects the mind and will of God. And people must see this light. It may provoke persecution (vv. 10–12), but that is no reason for hiding the light others may see and by which they may come to glorify the Father—the disciples’ only motive (cf. 2 Co 4:6; 1 Pe 2:12). Witness includes not just words but deeds; as Stier (Words of the Lord Jesus) remarks, “The good word without the good walk is of no avail.”

Thus the kingdom norms (vv. 3–12) so work out in the lives of the kingdom’s heirs as to produce the kingdom witness (vv. 13–16). If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14–16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven. “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 106).[3]

5:16 Let your light so shine: Whereas salt passively affects its environment for good, light must be properly placed so as to best glorify the Father. As Jesus was “the light of the world” … “As long as I am in the world” (John 9:5), the believer now takes that place as the only “light of the world” to glorify the Father. The believer does not have inherent light; we have reflective light. As we behold the glory of the Lord, we reflect it. Therefore, we need to make sure that nothing comes between us and the Lord’s light (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 2:14–16).[4]

5:16 — “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Does anyone know that you are a light burning with the fire of heaven? What “good works” do they see you doing that reflect well on your heavenly Father? How does your faith cause you to behave differently from anyone else?[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 246–247). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 274–275). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 170). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1148). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[5] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Mt 5:16). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

January 21, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

6. Come ye, let us worship. Now that the Psalmist exhorts God’s chosen people to gratitude, for that pre-eminency among the nations which he had conferred upon them in the exercise of his free favour, his language grows more vehement. God supplies us with ample grounds of praise when he invests us with spiritual distinction, and advances us to a pre-eminency above the rest of mankind which rests upon no merits of our own. In three successive terms he expresses the one duty incumbent upon the children of Abraham, that of an entire devotement of themselves to God. The worship of God, which the Psalmist here speaks of, is assuredly a matter of such importance as to demand our whole strength; but we are to notice, that he particularly condescends upon one point, the paternal favour of God, evidenced in his exclusive adoption of the posterity of Abraham unto the hope of eternal life. We are also to observe, that mention is made not only of inward gratitude, but the necessity of an outward profession of godliness. The three words which are used imply that, to discharge their duty properly, the Lord’s people must present themselves a sacrifice to him publicly, with kneeling, and other marks of devotion. The face of the Lord is an expression to be understood in the sense I referred to above,—that the people should prostrate themselves before the Ark of the Covenant, for the reference is to the mode of worship under the Law. This remark, however, must be taken with one reservation, that the worshippers were to lift their eyes to heaven, and serve God in a spiritual manner.

7. Because he is our God. While it is true that all men were created to praise God, there are reasons why the Church is specially said to have been formed for that end, (Isa. 61:3.) The Psalmist was entitled to require this service more particularly from the hands of his chosen people. This is the reason why he impresses upon the children of Abraham the invaluable privilege which God had conferred upon them in taking them under his protection. God may indeed be said in a sense to have done so much for all mankind. But when asserted to be the Shepherd of the Church, more is meant than that he favours her with the common nourishment, support, and government which he extends promiscuously to the whole human family; he is so called because he separates her from the rest of the world, and cherishes her with a peculiar and fatherly regard. His people are here spoken of accordingly as the people of his pastures, whom he watches over with peculiar care, and loads with blessings of every kind. The passage might have run more clearly had the Psalmist called them the flock of his pastures, and the people of his hand; or, had he added merely—and his flock—the figure might have been brought out more consistently and plainly. But his object was less elegancy of expression than pressing upon the people a sense of the inestimable favour conferred upon them in their adoption, by virtue of which they were called to live under the faithful guardianship of God, and to the enjoyment of every species of blessings. They are called the flock of his hand, not so much because formed by his hand as because governed by it, or, to use a French expression, le Troupeau de sa conduite. The point which some have given to the expression, as if it intimated how intent God was upon feeding his people, doing it himself, and not employing hired shepherds, may scarcely perhaps be borne out by the words in their genuine meaning; but it cannot be doubted that the Psalmist would express the very gracious and familiar kind of guidance which was enjoyed by this one nation at that time. Not that God dispensed with human agency, intrusting the care of the people as he did to priests, prophets, and judges, and latterly to kings. No more is meant than that in discharging the office of shepherd to this people, he exercised a superintendence over them different from that common providence which extends to the rest of the world.

To-day, if you will hear his voice. According to the Hebrew expositors, this is a conditional clause standing connected with the preceding sentence; by which interpretation the Psalmist must be considered as warning the people that they would only retain possession of their privilege and distinction so long as they continued to obey God.4 The Greek version joins it with the verse that follows—to-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, and it reads well in this connection. Should we adopt the distribution of the Hebrew expositors, the Psalmist seems to say that the posterity of Abraham were the flock of God’s hand, inasmuch as he had placed his Law in the midst of them, which was, as it were, his crook, and had thus showed himself to be their shepherd. The Hebrew particle אם, im, which has been rendered if, would in that case be rather expositive than conditional, and might be rendered when, the words denoting it to be the great distinction between the Jews and the surrounding nations, that God had directed his voice to the former, as it is frequently noticed he had not done to the latter, (Ps. 147:20; Deut. 4:6, 7.) Moses had declared this to constitute the ground of their superiority to other people, saying, “What nation is there under heaven which hath its gods so nigh unto it?” The inspired writers borrow frequently from Moses, as is well known, and the Psalmist, by the expression to-day, intimates how emphatically the Jews, in hearing God’s voice, were his people, for the proof was not far off, it consisted in something which was present and before their eyes. He bids them recognise God as their shepherd, inasmuch as they heard his voice; and it was an instance of his singular grace that he had addressed them in such a condescending and familiar manner. Some take the adverb to be one of exhortation, and read, I would that they would hear my voice, but this does violence to the words. The passage runs well taken in the other meaning we have assigned to it. Since they had a constant opportunity of hearing the voice of God—since he gave them not only one proof of the care he had over them as shepherd, or yearly proof of it, but a continual exemplification of it, there could be no doubt that the Jews were chosen to be his flock.

Harden not your heart, as in Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness.

When your fathers tempted me, they proved me, though yet they had seen my work.

10 Forty years I strove with this generation, and said, They are a people that err in heart, and they have not known my ways.

11 Wherefore I hate sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest.[1]

The Lord as Good Shepherd (95:6–7a)

95:6–7a. Here David called the people of Israel to express submission to the Lord by their posture and attitude in worship: Come, let us worship and bow down … kneel before Him. To bow down and kneel is to do homage to and acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Again the Lord is presented as Creator, our Maker (cf. vv. 4–5), and the Great Shepherd, for we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (cf. 23; 28:9; 80:1). This highlights not so much god’s sovereign power over creation as His specific, intimate, and consistent role in caring for His covenant people, Israel. To emphasize this concept of relationship, the psalmist referred to Israel as the people of God’s pasture.

This term is employed elsewhere in two ways: (1) by metonymy it substitutes pasture for “sheep” since the two are closely related, and designates the focus of the shepherd’s action (i.e., the flock that is in the pasture, as in Jr 10:21); and (2) as the shepherd’s action itself (pasturing the sheep), it entails the provision of all that is necessary for the well-being of the flock (i.e., land, ample food, protection from enemies). This OT imagery of God as the Shepherd of Israel was applied by Jesus to Himself (Jn 10:11–17, 26–30) in one of the few NT passages where He explicitly affirmed His co-equality with God the Father. See the comments on Jn 10.[2]

95:6–7a. In these verses, which conclude the praise section of the psalm, the psalmist exhorted the congregation to worship … the Lord … for He is their God, and they are His sheep (cf. 74:1; 79:13; 100:3). The title of Maker may refer to His formation of the nation (cf. Deut. 32:6). The flock suggests again that the Lord, the Shepherd of His people Israel, leads and provides for them.[3]

95:6, 7a But now a second invitation to worship rings out, and it becomes even more personal and intimate. We should worship and kneel before the Lord our Maker, because He is our God. He is our God by creation and then by redemption. He is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for us. Now we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep who are led, guided, and protected by His nail-pierced hand.[4]

95:6, 7 Each of the key verbs in this sentence describes a physical posture of humility before the Lord. The Hebrew word translated worship means literally “to prostrate oneself.” When bow down, kneel, and worship occur together as in this verse, they amplify each another and call for a reflective, humble approach to God. Worship is joyful and can be done with abandon (vv. 1–5); but at other times worship may be quiet reverence of the Almighty (Ps. 134). people of His pasture: These words seem to be an inversion of the wording of 100:3, expressing the loving care the Father has for His children.[5]

95:6 — Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

In most churches the accommodations discourage us from physically bowing down before God in worship; but why not kneel before Him in private worship at home? A humble posture can help to remind us of God’s majesty.[6]

95:6–7 The psalmist calls the people to worship Yahweh, their Creator and sustainer. He focuses on the image of shepherd and sheep, which sets up the focus on Yahweh’s guidance in the second half of v. 7 and 95:10–11.[7]

95:6 The same God who created the world created humanity as well. Both the cosmos and humanity kneel before their Creator.

95:7 The Lord, who created the world, also created Israel. On people of his pasture, compare 79:13. He serves a dual role as Creator and Shepherd in Is 43:1, 15. Those who truly belong to the Lord will hear his voice and respond to him.[8]

95:6 “I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.” A. W. Tozer[9]

[1] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 4, pp. 34–39). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Rydelnik, M., Vanlaningham, M., Barbieri, L. A., Boyle, M., Coakley, J., Dyer, C. H., … Zuber, K. D. (2014). Psalms. In The moody bible commentary (p. 837). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 862–863). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 695). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 712). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[6] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ps 95:6). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 95:6–7). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[8] Warstler, K. R. (2017). Psalms. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 902). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[9] Comfort, R. (2003). The Evidence Bible: Irrefutable Evidence for the Thinking Mind, Notes. (K. Cameron, Ed.) (p. 772). Orlando, FL: Bridge-Logos.

January 20, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Nature of God

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1:5)

The message, preached by John and the other apostles, was one they heard from Him [Jesus] and announce[d] to their audience. As God in human flesh (John 1:1–4, 18; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:20; cf. John 4:26; 8:24, 28, 58; 18:5), Jesus Christ is the perfect source of revelation regarding the nature and character of God. The apostle earlier recorded Jesus’ statement, “God is spirit” (John 4:24); here in his first letter he declared, God is Light and later would affirm, “God is love” (4:8).

The description of God as Light captures the essence of His nature and is foundational to the rest of the epistle. However, unlike the straightforward expressions “God is spirit” (meaning that God is immaterial in form; compare John 4:24 with Luke 24:39) and “God is love” (meaning that the persons of the Trinity love one another and mankind; cf. 3:17; 4:7, 16; Mic. 7:18; Zeph. 3:17; John 5:42; 15:10; Rom. 5:5, 8; 8:39; Eph. 2:4; Titus 3:4), the idea that God is Light (cf. Ps. 78:14; Isa. 60:19–20; John 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46; Acts 9:3; Rev. 21:23) is more complex.

Throughout the Scriptures, God and His glory are often described in terms of light. For example, during the exodus God appeared to the Israelites in the form of light:

The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (Ex. 13:21–22; cf. 40:34–38; 1 Kings 8:11)

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after meeting with the Lord, his face glowed with a reflection of God’s light (Ex. 34:29–35; cf. 2 Cor. 3:7–8). In Psalm 104:1–2, the psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:14–16). Not only is God light in His essence, but He also is the source of the believer’s light (Ps. 27:1; John 1:9; 12:36).

At the transfiguration, when Jesus gave the three apostles a glimpse of His full glory, He manifested Himself as light: “He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2). Second Corinthians 4:4–6 summarizes well the importance of God as light and its role in a Christian’s life:

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (cf. Matt. 5:14–16; Eph. 5:8–10; Phil. 2:15; Col. 1:12–13; 1 Peter 2:9)

Although the foregoing passages describe the significance of divine light, they do not define it. However, Psalm 36:9 does: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). Here the psalmist employed a Hebrew parallelism, using two statements to say the same thing. He equates light and life—God is light in the sense that He is life, and He is the source and sustainer of both physical and spiritual life.

John expressed that truth in the prologue to his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1–13; cf. 2:23–3:21; Col. 1:15–17)

“I am the Light of the world,” Jesus declared; “he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12; cf. 12:45–46). God, the source of true light, bestows it on believers in the form of eternal life through His Son, who was the light incarnate.

Scripture reveals two fundamental principles that flow from the foundational truth that God is light. First, light represents the truth of God, as embodied in His Word. The psalmist wrote these familiar words: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.… The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:105, 130; cf. Prov. 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19). The light and life of God are inherently connected to and characterized by truth.

Second, Scripture also links light with virtue and moral conduct. The apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth)” (Eph. 5:8–9; cf. Isa. 5:20; Rom. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:5–6).

Those two essential properties of divine light and life are crucial in distinguishing genuine faith from a counterfeit claim. If one professes to possess the Light and to dwell in it—to have received eternal life—he will show evidence of spiritual life by his devotion both to truth and to righteousness, as John writes later in this letter:

The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (2:9–11; cf. Matt. 5:16; 25:34–40; Luke 1:6; 11:28; Rom. 6:17; 16:19; Phil. 1:11; Titus 2:7; James 2:14–20)

If truth and righteousness are absent from one’s life, that person, no matter what he or she says, does not possess eternal life (Matt. 7:17–18, 21–23; 25:41–46). They cannot belong to God, because in Him there is no darkness at all. God is absolutely perfect in truth and holiness (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2; Pss. 22:3; 48:10; 71:19; 98:2; Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8; 15:4). Obviously, believers fall far short of that perfection, but they manifest a godlike desire for and continual striving toward heavenly truth and righteousness (cf. Phil. 3:7–16).[1]

God is Light (v. 5)

None of the other biblical writers tells us so much about what God really is as does the apostle John. All of them tell what he does. Some describe the glory that surrounds him. But John tells what God is in his true nature. He does this in three striking definitions: God is spirit (John 4:24), God is light (1 John 1:5), and God is love (1 John 4:8). It is a characteristic of these three definitions that the predicates occur without the definite article. We are told, then, not that God is the Spirit, the light, and the love or even, in all probability, a spirit, a light, and a love, but rather spirit, light, and love themselves. In this we have the broadest and most comprehensive definition of God that can probably be devised in human language.

The Positive Statement

John’s definition of God is stated both positively and negatively, but he offers the positive statement first: God is light. This statement carries the reader into a world of imagery that is as old as religion and that would have been quite familiar and agreeable both to John’s readers and to his opponents.

It is found in the Old Testament, for instance. David writes in one psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Another psalm declares, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). In Psalm 104 we read, “You are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vv. 1–2). Isaiah wrote concerning God’s plan for the Messiah, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). In each of these verses light seems strikingly appropriate as an image of God, for it points to God as the true source of revelation, intelligence, stability, ubiquity, excellence, vision, and growth. It is the nature of light that it is visible and that it makes other things visible. So also is it God’s nature to make himself known.

In biblical thought two special ideas are associated with light, however. First, the image generally has ethical overtones. That is, it is a symbol of holiness or purity as well as of intelligence, vision, growth, and other realities. This is apparent several times in John’s Gospel, as when John declares Jesus to be “the light of men” (John 1:4), or later, when he says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Clearly this use of the imagery would not be so agreeable to John’s opponents, particularly when he challenges Christians to “walk” or “abide” in the light, as he does later.

These ethical or moral overtones are of great importance. Is God righteous? Then the lives of Christians should be known for being righteous. If he is holy, we should be holy. Indeed, says John, if anyone claims to know God while yet living a sinful life, he is either deceiving himself or lying.

The second unique characteristic of the biblical use of light is in applying it to Jesus; that is, in applying it to the historical Jesus in exactly the same way that it is applied to God. In a much lesser sense, those who follow Christ are said to be “children of light” or even “light” itself (John 12:36; Matt. 5:14), but this is not true for them in the same sense that it is true for Jesus. They are kindled lights, as Jesus said John the Baptist was (John 5:35). But Jesus is light in the same sense that God is light. He is holy and the source of all good. In his Gospel John tells us that Jesus is the one who reveals the world’s darkness and is victorious over it (John 1:4–5).

How is it that John received the message that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”? Is it not in this: namely, that Jesus is also the light and that he revealed himself to John? Commentators have pointed out that we do not have any explicit teaching of Jesus in the New Testament to the effect that God is light. But we have very little direct teaching of Jesus about the Father at all. Why? Clearly because he is himself the revelation of the Father. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” he told Philip. In this as in the other Johannine literature, it is therefore not simply the revelation of God expressed in propositional statements but the revelation of God in Christ that is presented to us. Nothing, then, must detract from Christ. Rather, it is he who was seen and heard and touched who must be fully proclaimed.

The Negative Statement

It is a characteristic of this letter that John frequently accompanies a positive statement of some truth with a negative statement designed to reinforce it, here reinforcing the claim that God is light by the longer phrase “in him there is no darkness at all.” This is an important principle in the biblical concept of truth, indeed of any truth properly understood. A statement that does not imply corresponding negations is not a true statement. Rather, it is a meaningless one. If “A” is true, then something else must be false; or else, “A” is meaningless. John knew this, of course. Consequently, when he says that God is light, he immediately denies that God is darkness. God is good; hence, God is not bad. God is holy; so he is not sinful. Men may mix the two, as in many of the Eastern religions, in which all things, good and bad, unite in the One. But this is not John’s teaching, nor that of the Bible as a whole. In this outlook God emerges as that which is totally holy and therefore as that which is totally opposed to all that is sinful and false. It follows from this that men must be holy if they are to have fellowship with him, as John now shows.[2]

5. This then is the message, or promise. I do not disapprove of the rendering of the old interpreter, “This is the annunciation,” or message; for though ἐπαγγελία means for the most part a promise, yet, as John speaks here generally of the testimony before mentioned, the context seems to require the other meaning, except you were to give this explanation, “The promise which we bring to you, includes this, or has this condition annexed to it.” Thus, the meaning of the Apostle would become evident to us. For his object here was not to include the whole doctrine of the Gospel, but to shew that if we desire to enjoy Christ and his blessings, it is required of us to be conformed to God in righteousness and holiness. Paul says the same thing in the second chapter of the Epistle to Titus, “Appeared has the saving grace of God to all, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live soberly and righteously and holily in this world;” except that here he says metaphorically, that we are to walk in the light, because God is light.

But he calls God light, and says that he is in the light; such expressions are not to be too strictly taken. Why Satan is called the prince of darkness is sufficiently evident. When, therefore, God on the other hand is called the Father of light, and also light, we first understand that there is nothing in him but what is bright, pure, and unalloyed; and, secondly, that he makes all things so manifest by his brightness, that he suffers nothing vicious or perverted, no spots or filth, no hypocrisy or fraud, to lie hid. Then the sum of what is said is, that since there is no union between light and darkness, there is a separation between us and God as long as we walk in darkness; and that the fellowship which he mentions, cannot exist except we also become pure and holy.

In him is no darkness at all. This mode of speaking is commonly used by John, to amplify what he has affirmed by a contrary negation. Then, the meaning is, that God is such a light, that no darkness belongs to him. It hence follows, that he hates an evil conscience, pollution, and wickedness, and everything that pertains to darkness.[3]

5 John opens the first series of tests with a foundational principle: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” This being the case, those whose lives are filled with darkness cannot be in fellowship with God. The means by which one identifies a life full of darkness are indicated in vv. 6–10.

John assumes that this theological principle (“God is light”) cannot be denied because it comes “from him,” apparently the living Jesus of whom John is a witness. The statement “God is light” is introduced in the Greek text by hoti, which would seem to indicate that John is directly quoting something Jesus said (“God is light”). But no such statement appears in the fourth gospel, and although the Johannine Jesus refers to himself as “light” on several occasions (Jn 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 46; see also 1:4–5), he never speaks of God in this way. This apparent discrepancy has led many scholars to suggest that the hoti introducing “God is light” indicates indirect discourse (“we declare to you that God is light”), meaning that the statement in some way summarizes Jesus’ teaching about God’s moral nature (so NIV, NAB, NEB, NRSV, NKJV). Some scholars who take this view, noting the above references to Jesus as “the light” in John’s gospel, suggest that John is not referring to Jesus’ verbal teaching, but to the actions of Jesus that revealed God as light to the world. From this perspective, “God is light” summarizes “what they learned [about God] from Jesus from observation of his life” (Johnson, 29). This would be consistent with John’s insistence that he proclaims what he has “seen” Jesus do (1 Jn 1:1–3). Other scholars who take this view suggest that John has combined a number of traditional statements and concepts into a composite saying (so Brown, 227–29; Rensberger, 51). This is a reasonable proposition, especially since the Johannine tradition seems to have been preserved primarily in the form of the oral testimony of teachers in the community at this time. In such a setting, it would be easy for John to summarize several ideas from the accepted Jesus tradition into one creedal statement supporting his argument.

While the above solutions are reasonable, the formula that introduces “God is light” suggests that John thinks of the statement as a saying of Jesus. He refers to it as the “message” (angelia, GK 32) that “we heard from him,” and he uses anangellō (GK 334; “we declare”) to describe his current proclamation of the same message “to you.” While John has previously insisted that he saw and touched the Life (1:1–3), the terms in 1:5 all refer to hearing and speaking, even though it would be more logical to refer to “seeing” that “God is light.” In this context it seems most likely that the hoti at 1:5 indicates direct discourse (“And this is the message we heard from him and declare to you: ‘God is Light.’ ”). In support of this conclusion it should be noted that, while the fourth gospel gives no evidence that Jesus spoke of God as “light,” the underlying structure of the argument at 1 John 1:5–10 is formally similar to passages in the fourth gospel where Jesus is attempting to prove a point. In any case, even if John has combined several traditional sayings or motifs into one creed, he seems to be presenting the statement here from the platform of his authoritative witness to Jesus.[4]

1:5 / God is light. This is both a theological and a moral statement, i.e., it describes the essential nature of God, as well as God’s character in relation to humanity. Later (4:8, 16) the Elder will affirm that God is love. Here, though, the emphasis is first upon the character of God as good, pure, and holy. Light implies integrity, truthfulness, and authenticity. It is also the nature of light to shine, to manifest itself, to reveal, and this God has done in him who is the light of the world (John 3:19; 8:12; 9:5).

The author claims that this understanding of God is what Jesus taught; it is the message (angelia) which the first generation heard from him and now declares (anangellō; the same verb is translated as proclaim in vv. 2–3) to those who follow. It is also what they learned from observation of his life (John 14:9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”).

The last part of the verse strongly affirms, as if in bold contrast to an unspoken claim to the contrary, that there is absolutely no darkness in God. Light and darkness are favorite antithetical concepts in the Johannine writings (John 1:4–5; 3:19–21; 8:12; 12:35–36, 46; 1 John 2:8–11; cf. Rev. 21:24 and 22:5). Darkness stands for evil, sin, and impurity. It implies deceit, falseness, and inauthenticity. Light and darkness are ultimately incompatible, and, while in all human character and behavior there is gray, in God there is nothing unworthy, undependable, or morally ambiguous. God is light.[5]

The content of the message (verse 5)

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. The positive is characteristically reinforced by an equally strong negative which might be translated absolutely literally ‘and darkness, in him, no, not any at all!’ The two are utterly incompatible. What does light suggest to us? Minds taught by Scripture go back to Genesis 1:3: ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’ Here is the earliest expression of the nature and will of the Creator. His words execute his purposes; both words and actions together reveal his character. The God who creates begins with light, as the primary expression of his own eternal being. And from this everything else grows. Without that light there would be no plant or animal life; no growth, no activity, no beauty would be possible. All creation owes not only its existence, but its sustenance, to the God who is light, and the Christ who declared himself to be the light of the world (Jn. 8:12; Col. 1:16–17). Not surprisingly, light became a frequent symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament, finding one of its clearest expressions in the exodus, when Israel experienced that ‘the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night’ (Ex. 13:21). This function, as a source of illumination and guidance, probably lies behind John’s emphasis here on walking in the light as an essential of Christian discipleship.

The other major significance of God as light in Scripture is as a picture of his perfect moral righteousness, his flawless holiness. John’s thought here is paralleled by Paul’s assertion in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God ‘lives in unapproachable light’. His ‘otherness’ is demonstrated by the prophet Habakkuk’s conviction, ‘Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong’ (Hab. 1:13). A foundation stone of right Christian believing and living, then, is that intellectually, morally and spiritually God is light, unsullied and undiluted. It speaks of holiness and purity, of truth and integrity; but also of illumination and guidance, warmth and comfort. As Faber has so beautifully expressed it:

My God, how wonderful thou art,

Thy majesty how bright,

How beautiful thy mercy-seat,

In depths of burning light!

How wonderful, how beautiful

The sight of thee must be,

Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,

And aweful purity!

Such light scatters all our darkness. It is the truth against which all other claims must be tested. For it is the nature of light to penetrate everywhere unless it is deliberately shut out. The light reveals the reality, and while it dispels darkness, it also exposes what the darkness would hide. The point is well made in one of C. S. Lewis’s insights when he comments that we believe the sun has risen not because we see it, but because by it we see everything else. There are no twilight zones in God. If we interpret this verse theologically, John is saying, ‘God is truth and error can have no place with him’; if ethically, he is saying, ‘God is good and evil can have no place beside him.’

We are now in a position to see the personal implications of claiming to be in relationship with such a God. Clearly there can be no higher human privilege than to have fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. That is why John is writing the letter and that is why we are given life, for ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.’ But it makes a nonsense of this possibility to imagine that we can live some sort of compromise existence, with one foot as it were walking in the light with God, and the other remaining in the darkness of the world. One of the first lessons of messing about in boats is that it is impossible to exist for long with one foot in the boat and the other on the river bank. The spiritual ‘splits’ are equally impossible! To illustrate this, John now proceeds to examine and demolish three false claims which were current in his day and which are still prevalent in our own. The first of these will occupy our attention for the rest of this section.[6]

1:5. The message John declared is that God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. The word pictures light and darkness are common in John’s writings. John 1:4–5 mentions Jesus as light: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” In a number of places, Jesus referred to himself as light (John 9:5; 12:35–36, 46). John 8:12 gives his most direct statement: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Light is a picture of truth, knowledge, and righteousness, while darkness is a picture of falsehood, ignorance, and sin. John declared that God is light (truth, knowledge, and righteousness) and in him there is no darkness (falsehood, ignorance, and sin).[7]

God Is Light


John has introduced his letter by proclaiming the message that Jesus Christ, who is the Word of life, has appeared and that the readers may have fellowship with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. John continues to expand the content of that message and explains that fellowship includes light and truth.

5. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

  • “This is the message.” John skillfully uses the order of words in the Greek to emphasize his point. Although we are able to convey the emphasis in English only with the translation this is the message, John puts the stress on the verb is to convey the sense exists: “There exists this message.” He discloses not only the importance of the message but also its timeless significance. This message, therefore, has not been subject to change and modification, because it did not originate with John or with any other apostle or writer.
  • “The message we have heard from him.” John implies that God originated the message delivered by Jesus Christ. John writes, “We have heard [it] from him.” This is the third time John uses the construction we have heard (see also vv. 1, 3). The apostles heard the message from the lips of Jesus; they also knew it from the pages of the Old Testament. Hence David writes, “In your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). God revealed himself to his people through the prophets (compare Isa. 49:6; 2 Peter 1:19).
  • “We … declare to you.” What did Jesus teach the apostles during his earthly ministry? John sums it up in one sentence. “We … declare to you: God is light; in him is no darkness at all.” John and the other apostles received this declaration from Jesus with the command to make it known. The message is not merely for information; it is a command. That is, God speaks and man must listen obediently.
  • “God is light.” John formulates short statements that describe God’s nature. In other places he says, “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Here, in verse 5, he reveals God’s essence in a short statement of three words: “God is light.” God is not a light among many other lights; he is not a light-bearer; God does not have light as one of his characteristics, but he is light; and although he created light (Gen. 1:3), he himself is uncreated light. Moreover, the light of God is visible in Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). In the Nicene Creed, the church confesses Jesus Christ as

God of God, Light of Light.

In Jesus we see God’s eternal light. From the moment of his birth to the time of his resurrection, the life of Jesus was filled with God’s light. “Jesus was completely and absolutely transparent with the Light of God.” And whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9).

  • “In him there is no darkness at all.” Light is positive, darkness is negative. In his writings, John habitually contrasts opposites, including light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, right and wrong, life and death, faith and unbelief. He writes, “In [God] there is no darkness at all.” Using the emphatic negative, John stresses the positive. God and darkness are diametrically opposed. Anyone who has fellowship with God cannot be in darkness. He is in the light, glory, truth, holiness, and purity of God.[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 22–25). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 28–30). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 162–163). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 429–430). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 28–29). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Jackman, D. (1988). The message of John’s letters: living in the love of God (pp. 27–29). Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, p. 156). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[8] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 241–242). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

January 20, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day


For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, (1:13a)

A second cause for thanksgiving is our spiritual liberation. Delivered is from ruomai, which means “to draw to oneself,” or “to rescue.” God drew us out of Satan’s kingdom to Himself. That event was the new birth. We are not gradually, progressively delivered from Satan’s power. When we placed our faith in Christ, we were instantly delivered. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers do not need deliverance from the dominion of sin and Satan; they need to act as those who have been delivered (cf. Rom. 6:2, 7, 11).

Those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ have been rescued from the domain of darkness. Exousias (domain) could be translated “power,” “jurisdiction,” or “authority.” Our Lord used the phrase domain of darkness (exousias tou skotous) to refer to the supernatural forces of Satan marshalled against Him at His arrest (Luke 22:53). The triumph of the domain of darkness was short-lived, however. A few hours later, Jesus forever shattered Satan’s power by His death on the cross. You need not fear that power, for “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Through His death, Jesus crushed Satan and delivered us from his dark kingdom.


and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (1:13b, 14)

Paul continues the litany of blessings that draw out his gratitude by describing our new domain. Methistēmi (transferred) means to remove or change. It is used in Acts 13:22 to speak of God’s removing Saul from being king. It was used in the ancient world to speak of the displacement of a conquered people to another land. The verb speaks here of our total removal from the domain of satanic darkness to the glorious light of the kingdom of Christ.

Kingdom refers to more than the future millennial kingdom, when Jesus will reign on earth for a thousand years. Nor does it speak merely of the general rule of God over His creation. The kingdom is a spiritual reality right now. Paul gives us a definition of it in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The kingdom is the special relationship men in this age have with God through Jesus Christ. A kingdom in its most basic sense is a group of people ruled by a king. Christians have acknowledged Christ as their King and are subjects in His kingdom. They have been transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son. The Greek text literally reads, “the Son of His love” (tou huiou tēs agapēs autou). The Father gives the kingdom to the Son He loves, then to everyone who loves the Son (Luke 12:32).

Although Christ does not yet rule on earth, He is no less a king. In response to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “It is as you say” (Matt. 27:11). He reigns in eternity, rules now over His church, and one day will return to rule the earth as King of kings.

There is a tremendous responsibility that accompanies being part of Christ’s kingdom. As subjects of that kingdom, we must properly represent the King. Paul admonished the Thessalonians to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). Even their persecution was a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so they might be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed they were suffering (2 Thess. 1:5). The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

Before we could be fit subjects for Christ’s kingdom we needed redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Apolutrōsis (redemption) is one of the magnificent New Testament words expressing a blessed aspect of the work of Christ on our behalf. Alongside such terms as sacrifice, offering, propitiation, ransom, justification, adoption, and reconciliation, it attempts to describe the riches of our salvation. It means “to deliver by payment of a ransom,” and was used to speak of freeing slaves from bondage. The meaning of apolutrōsis is expressed in our English word emancipation. The Septuagint uses a related word to speak of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Apolutrōsis is used in several places in the New Testament to speak of Christ’s freeing us from slavery to sin. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” To the Corinthians he wrote, “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). In the midst of perhaps the most thorough soteriological passage in the New Testament, Paul writes that we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Redemption results in the forgiveness of sins. Aphesin (forgiveness) refers to pardon, or remission of penalty. It is a composite of two Greek words, apo, “from,” and hiēmi, “to send.” Because Christ redeemed us, God has sent away our sins; they will never be found again. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19).

So Christ’s death on our behalf paid the price to redeem us. On that basis, God forgave our sins, granted us an inheritance, delivered us from the power of darkness, and made us subjects of Christ’s kingdom. Those wonderful truths should cause us to give thanks to God continually, as did Paul in his prayer. And when we contemplate all He has done for us, how can we do any less than pray to be filled with the knowledge of His will?[1]

13. Who hath delivered us. Mark, here is the beginning of our salvation—when God delivers us from the depth of ruin into which we were plunged. For wherever his grace is not, there is darkness, as it is said in Isaiah, (60:2,) Behold darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the nations; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. In the first place, we ourselves are called darkness, and afterwards the whole world, and Satan, the Prince of darkness, under whose tyranny we are held captive, until we are set free by Christ’s hand.6 From this you may gather that the whole world, with all its pretended wisdom and righteousness, is regarded as nothing but darkness in the sight of God, because, apart from the kingdom of Christ, there is no light.

Hath translated us into the kingdom. These form already the beginnings of our blessedness—when we are translated into the kingdom of Christ, because we pass from death into life. (1 John 3:14.) This, also, Paul ascribes to the grace of God, that no one may imagine that he can attain so great a blessing by his own efforts. As, then, our deliverance from the slavery of sin and death is the work of God, so also our passing into the kingdom of Christ. He calls Christ the Son of his love, or the Son that is beloved by God the Father, because it is in him alone that his soul takes pleasure, as we read in Matt. 17:5, and in whom all others are beloved. For we must hold it as a settled point, that we are not acceptable to God otherwise than through Christ. Nor can it be doubted, that Paul had it in view to censure indirectly the mortal enmity that exists between men and God, until love shines forth in the Mediator.

14. In whom we have redemption. He now proceeds to set forth in order, that all parts of our salvation are contained in Christ, and that he alone ought to shine forth, and to be seen conspicuous above all creatures, inasmuch as he is the beginning and end of all things. In the first place, he says that we have redemption, and immediately explains it as meaning the remission of sins; for these two things agree together by apposition. For, unquestionably, when God remits our transgressions, he exempts us from condemnation to eternal death. This is our liberty, this our glorying in the face of death—that our sins are not imputed to us. He says that this redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated. Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is the sole price of reconciliation, and that all the trifling of Papists as to satisfactions is blasphemy.[2]

13 Not only has God qualified the Colossians to share in the saints’ inheritance, he has also “rescued [them] from the dominion of darkness.” This light/night dichotomy is found elsewhere in Paul (cf. Ro 13:12; Eph 5:8; Php 2:15; 1 Th 5:5) and is not uncommon in the NT, especially in the Johannine literature (cf. Jn 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 11:10; 12:35–36; 1 Jn 1:5–7; 2:8–11; see also 1 Pe 2:9). This contrast, of course, is present at creation (Ge 1:1–5) and is given insightful expression in Isaiah (e.g., 9:2; 60:1–2). Although Colossians contends that Christ is superior to and more powerful than any other and all else (see esp. 1:15–17; 2:10), it nevertheless acknowledges the sinister power of lesser authorities that Christ, and through him Christians, must overcome and conquer (see esp. 1:20–22; 2:13–15; cf. 2 Co 10:3–6; Eph 6:11–12).

God facilitates and effects deliverance for believers through his Son. Paul describes this divine rescue mission as a transference from one “dominion” to another. God has brought Christians out of the orb of darkness “into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (lit.), into the realm and rule of God’s beloved Son. (Basileia, “kingdom,” GK 993, appears one other time in Colossians [4:11] and only fourteen times in all the Pauline letters; the term occurs some 162 times in the Greek NT and with some frequency in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.) This precise description of Jesus is unparalleled in Paul (cf., however, Eph 1:6) and occurs only occasionally elsewhere in the NT (cf. Mk 1:11; 9:7 [and Synoptic par.]; 2 Pe 1:17). The Father loves his Son and demonstrates his love to humanity through the sending and giving of him (Jn 3:16; Ro 5:8; 1 Jn 4:10). The Colossians (and all Christians) are called to clothe themselves in such love (3:14; cf. 1:4; 2:2; 3:19).

14 In God’s beloved Son, Christians have redemption (Ro 3:24; Eph 1:7, 14; 4:30; cf. Gal 3:13; 4:5). Like slaves bought back from auction and prisoners set free by ransom (two of the possible word pictures that stand behind the word apolytrōsis, “redemption,” GK 667), those who entrust themselves to God in Christ may be purchased for God by Christ and pardoned by God through Christ (1 Co 6:20; 7:23; cf. 2 Pe 2:1; Rev 5:9; 14:4). In Paul, redemption can carry a past (Gal 3:13; 4:5), present (Ro 3:24; Eph 1:7), and future (Eph 1:14; 4:30) connotation. Here Paul claims that Christians have already been redeemed. (Incidentally, by changing “we have” [echomen, GK 2400] redemption to “we had” [eschomen] redemption, a few scribes attempted to frame the present redemption of which Paul speaks here in terms of the past.) Though Paul does not elaborate here as to how God brought about redemption through his beloved Son, he informs elsewhere that the buying back of humanity was a costly proposition indeed. It was through the blood “shed on [Christ’s] cross” (1:20), i.e., Jesus’ voluntary, vicarious death, that God chose to redeem people to and for himself (cf. 2:11, 14).

Here in 1:14 redemption is further described as “the forgiveness of sins.” Redemption facilitates and affords the absolution of human transgressions against God (vv. 21–22). In 2:13–14 forgiveness of trespasses is linked to the cross, and in 3:13 Paul appeals to the Lord’s forgiveness of sins as the ground for enjoining the Colossians to forgive one another.[3]

he prays for fruition (vv. 12–14). In these verses Paul summarizes the divine work of redemption which is coming to fruition. From this he gives four reasons why the Father is worthy of delight:

Because of our inheritance—being qualified ‘to be partakers of the inheritance’. God has provided an inheritance through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the birthright of the Children of God (Rom 8:17). It is ‘incorruptible and undefiled’ and reserved for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). To be ‘partakers of the inheritance’ means that believers have an eternal portion of the riches of salvation. The verb used here means that ‘God has enabled man to have a sufficient, acceptable position in Christ’. In Christ believers are granted to live with God, who is light, forever.

Because of our deliverance—being ‘delivered … from the power of darkness’. Before the Colossians became believers, they were under the powerful rule of the devil; but now this power is broken by the Saviour himself (2:15). Christ has rescued them and they are safe and protected from Satanic tyranny (Eph. 6:12).

Because of our transference—being ‘conveyed … into the kingdom of the Son of his love’. We are to praise the Father because believers have been rescued personally and positionally in Christ from the domain of darkness and from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of Christ. Thus believers have passed from death to life; from alienation to acceptance; from despair to hope; from danger to safety; from uncertainty to peace.

Because of our acceptance—receiving ‘the forgiveness of sins’. Christians are transferred from the domain of darkness at a price, but the cost is not the millions of pounds common in football transfers—rather it is the precious blood of Christ. Verse 20 tells us that Christ ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’, while the apostle Peter boasts that it is ‘the precious blood of Christ’ that redeems (1 Peter 1:18–19).

These four reasons supply ample incentive to praise God in prayer. Delight and praise before God in the holy place is as manna to the redeemed soul and is evidenced by prayers of gladness and joy.[4]

1:13 / The second reason for thanksgiving is their deliverance from darkness and their transference to the kingdom of Christ. Darkness, in the nt, is a metaphor for evil, and those in darkness are without God and live under the rule of Satan, the evil one (Matt. 6:13). Paul, as a messenger of the gospel, was himself told: “I am sending you to them to open their [the Gentiles’] eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18). Christians are described as those who at one time lived in darkness but in Christ have become people of light (Eph. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 1:5–7). In Colossians, Paul reminds his readers that they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness.

The positive side of God’s action is that he brought us (lit., “transferred”) into the kingdom of the Son he loves. The idea expressed by kingdom is that of a “rule” and is used as a counterpart to dominion. In other words, as the realm of darkness had a certain power, the transference is to the rule (power, authority) of the Son God loves (lit., “Beloved Son,” as used at the baptism and transfiguration, Mark 1:11; 9:7, and parallels; cf. also Eph. 1:6). The Colossians have been rescued from the sphere of darkness dominated by evil powers and transferred into the realm of the victorious Son of God.

The phrase kingdom of the Son he loves or the “kingdom of Christ,” is not common in the nt. Perhaps the apostle uses this expression to emphasize the present reality and sphere of their possession in Christ rather than the more common “kingdom of God,” which has a connotation of the future (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18). Or, Paul simply may be preparing the way for the Christ hymn that follows. At any rate, it serves to remind the readers that they are no longer subject to evil forces; they have been delivered from these powers and are reminded to live victoriously in the power of Christ (3:1–4).

1:14 / The third reason for rejoicing is the forgiveness of sins. Here the subject of the actions is no longer God, as in 1:12–13, but Christ. He is the agent of redemption and the means by which we have … the forgiveness of sins. The gnb “by whom we are set free” beautifully captures the essential meaning of redemption as liberation, that is, freedom from the bondage of the evil powers of darkness. The forgiveness of sins is an accompanying result of redemption and not a separate act of Christ as may have been taught by the false teachers.

It would be natural for the Colossians to ask Paul when or where all of this took place in their lives. When has God acted so decisively for us by forgiving our sins and making us children of light? The answer, according to the nt, is in baptism (see note on 1:14).[5]

1:13. Being qualified is only one reason to be thankful. He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. God delivered us from the ruling power of darkness, and the good news doesn’t end there. God has also taken a positive step: he has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. God has transferred us; he has moved us from one place to another. He has taken us from Satan’s dark realm and placed us into the bright light of Jesus’ kingdom.

1:14. God’s work of salvation, for which believers are joyfully to give thanks, is pictured further with redemption and forgiveness. To redeem someone means “to buy them back and set them free.” Jesus’ death was the price paid to buy us back and set us free from sin. Because of Christ’s death on our behalf, we are set free from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Forgiveness parallels redemption. Forgive literally means “to send away, to cancel.” Through the death of Jesus, God has canceled the debt of our sin. It was a debt we could never repay; but since Jesus paid the debt for us, God has forgiven the debt.

Paul wants us to know the truth about pleasing God so that we won’t be victims of the well-disguised lies of those who might lead us astray.[6]

13, 14. Verses 13 and 14 summarize the divine work of redemption. The details follow in verses 15–23. This reminds us of Romans, where 1:16, 17 summarizes what is described in greater detail in Rom. 1:18–8:39.

Paul’s heart was in his writing. He never wrote in the abstract when he discussed the great blessings which believers have in Christ. He was ever deeply conscious of the fact that upon him, too, though completely unworthy, the Father had bestowed these favors. Hence, it is not surprising that, deeply moved by what he is writing, he changes the wording, from “you” to “us”: verse 13, “who qualified you …”; verse 14, “and who rescued us.…” Besides, note how all the main ideas of verses 12–14—darkness, light, inheritance, remission of sins—occur also in Acts 26:18, 23, passages that record Paul’s own experience and predict the experience of the Gentiles to whom he was now sent. The apostle, accordingly, in describing the kindnesses which had been conferred upon the Colossians and upon himself and his associates, yes, even upon all rescued sinners, echoes the very words which the Savior had used in addressing him, even “Saul,” the great and dreadful persecutor:

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet since for this purpose I have appeared to you … delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power [or: jurisdiction] of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15b–18, quoted in part).

So Paul writes: and who rescued us. He drew us to himself, delivering us from our condition of wretchedness. The verb rescued in the present context implies both the utterly hopeless darkness and misery in which, apart from God’s mercy, “we” (the Colossians, Paul, etc.) had been groping about, and the glorious but arduous redemptive work that was necessary to emancipate us from our wretched state. The Father rescued us by sending his Son into the flesh (Col. 1:22; 2:9; cf. Gal. 1:15, 16; 4:4, 5) in order:

  1. to die for our sins on the cross (Col. 1:22; 2:14; cf. Gal. 2:20; 6:14), and
  2. to rise and ascend to heaven, whence he poured the Spirit into our hearts (Col. 3:1; cf. 2 Thess. 2:13; John 16:7), so that we, having been called (Col. 1:6, 7; cf. Gal. 1:15, 16; Phil. 3:14), were “made alive” (Col. 2:13; cf. Eph. 2:1–5; John 3:3; Acts 16:14), and by an act of genuine conversion accepted Christ Jesus as Lord and were baptized (Col. 2:6, 12; cf. Acts 9:1–19).

This entire process is covered by the words, “He rescued us,” and this, out of the domain of darkness, the sphere in which Satan exercises his usurped jurisdiction (Matt. 4:8–11; Luke 22:52, 53; cf. Acts 26:18) over human hearts, lives, activities, and over all “the powers of the air,” “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:2; 6:12). (For the meaning of light and darkness see above on verse 12.) Helpless, hopeless slaves were we, chained by our sins in Satan’s prison … until the Conqueror came to our rescue (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). It was God in Christ who rescued us and transplanted us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. He brought us out of the dark and dismal realm of false ideas and chimerical ideals into the sun-bathed land of clear knowledge and realistic expectation; out of the bewildering sphere of perverted cravings and selfish hankerings into the blissful realm of holy yearnings and glorious self-denials; out of the miserable dungeon of intolerable bonds and heart-rending cries into the magnificent palace of glorious liberty and joyful songs.

“Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,

Jesus, I come to Thee;

Out of my sickness into Thy health,

Out of my want and into Thy wealth,

Out of my sin and into Thyself,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

“Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the joy and light of Thy home,

Jesus, I come to Thee;

Out of the depths of ruin untold,

Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,

Ever Thy glorious face to behold,

Jesus, I come to Thee.”

(W. T. Sleeper)

It is probable that the underlying figure is one which those addressed—both Gentile and Jew—readily understood. These people knew that earthly rulers would at times transplant a conquered people from one country to another (2 Kings 15:29; 17:3–6; 18:13; 24:14–16; 25:11; 2 Chron. 36:20; Jer. 52:30; Dan. 1:1–4; Ezek. 1:1; see also above: Introduction, II. The City of Colosse, C). So also “we” have been transplanted, and this not from liberty into slavery but from slavery into liberty. Let us then stand in that liberty. Let us not think that our deliverance is only of a partial character, or that by means of mystic rites, painful ceremonies, worship of angels, or any other means (then or now) we must slowly work our way up from sin to holiness. Once for all we have been delivered. We have been transplanted not out of darkness into semi-darkness, but out of dismal darkness into “marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We have even now arrived in “the kingdom of the Son of his (the Father’s) love.” Here is what may truly be called “realized eschatology.” In principle we already in this present life partake of the promised glory. God has already begun a good work in us, and as to the future each one of us is able to testify:

“The work thou hast in me begun

Shall by thy grace be fully done” (cf. Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6).

“We” have received the Holy Spirit. And his indwelling presence is the “earnest” (first instalment and pledge) of our inheritance (Eph. 1:4; cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5). It is the guarantee of still greater glory to come. This follows also from the fact that the Christ who merited this glory for us is “the Son of the Father’s love.” He is both the Object of this love (Isa. 42:1; Ps. 2:7; Prov. 8:30; Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Luke 3:22) and its personal manifestation (John 1:18; 14:9; 17:26). How then shall not the Father “together with him” freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32). We have been transplanted into the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love, in whom we have our redemption, that is, our deliverance as the result of the payment of a ransom. Just as according to Israel’s ancient law the forfeited life could be ransomed (Ex. 21:30), so our life, forfeited through sin, was ransomed by the shedding of Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7). Besides, as A. Deissmann remarks, “When anybody heard the Greek word λύτρον, ransom [on which the word ἀπολύτρωσις, redemption is based] … it was natural for him to think of the purchase-money for manumitting slaves.” Hence, “in him,” that is, through spiritual union with him (Col. 3:1–3), redemption full and free is ours. This redemption is, accordingly, emancipation from the curse (Gal. 3:13), particularly from enslavement to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 7:14; 1 Cor. 7:23), and release to true liberty (John 8:36; Gal. 5:1). Through Christ’s payment of a ransom and our faith in him we have obtained from the Father the forgiveness or remission (cf. Ps. 103:12) of our sins. The chain that held us fast has been broken. Though the apostle uses this expression “forgiveness of sins” (which is of such frequent occurrence elsewhere in the New Testament), only here and in Eph. 1:7 (forgiveness of … trespasses), and though he generally conveys a similar idea by words and phrases that belong to the “justification by faith” family, he was, nevertheless, well acquainted with the idea of forgiveness of sins, as is shown by Rom. 4:7; 2 Cor. 5:19; and in Colossians by 2:13 and 3:13. In fact, in Colossians the idea of forgiveness is even emphasized. See footnote .

Justification and remission are inseparable. So are also redemption and remission, though this was at times denied. Thus Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies I.xxi.2, written about a.d. 182–188, tells us about certain heretics in his day who taught that here in this life salvation occurs in the following two stages:

  1. Remission of sins at baptism, instituted by the visible, human Jesus;
  2. Redemption at a later stage, through the divine Christ who descended on Jesus. In this second stage the person whose sins have already been forgiven attains to perfection or fulness.

It is possible, in view of such passages as Col. 2:9, 10; 4:12, that the errorists at Colosse were already spreading this or a similar notion. In any event, it was through the Holy Spirit, who knows all things even before they happen and is therefore able to issue warnings that apply to the future as well as to the present, that the apostle wrote these words. They clearly indicate that when a sinner is transplanted out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of light, he is to be regarded as having been redeemed, and that this redemption implies the remission of sins.[7]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 40–42). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 147–149). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 285–286). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 24–25). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[5] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 25–26). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 282). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 61–65). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

January 20, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ec 12:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

11 The narrator uses examples of what were apparently herding tools to describe the teachings of the sages. They are like “goads” and “firmly embedded nails.” While the sharpness of these objects is certainly in view here, emphasis should also be given to the “firmly embedded” or “well-driven” aspect. In the only other occurrence in the OT of the word for “goad” (dorbān), in 1 Samuel 13:21, it is noted that the goad was “set.” In that verse the NIV has “repoint,” and other translations understand “sharpen,” but the verb is nāṣab, which always means to “station, set up, establish, set firm.” Thus it would seem that here the point (pun intended) of the verse is that not only are these sayings sharp, but they are also firmly established, i.e., they are entrenched in the tradition.

But Qohelet’s activity, while certainly to be seen within the wisdom tradition, has nevertheless done something to loosen the firmness of the goads and nails. The frame-narrator is, in measure here, settling in between his created character Qohelet and the tradition for which he still has great regard.

There is considerable discussion as to the identity of the “one Shepherd.” Both the NIV and NASB, by their capitalization, clearly indicate that the shepherd is God; and this has been the traditional interpretation. More recently, most scholars seem to have adopted the position that the phrase is simply a continuation of the metaphor begun with “goads” and “nails” and that the “one” should be treated here, as is certainly many times the case, as an indefinite article, thus resulting in the simple translation, “a shepherd.” I believe, however, that the “one shepherd” refers rather to the (or “a”) king.

Martin Shields (“Ecclesiastes and the End of Wisdom,” TynBul 50 [1999]: 132–33) and Nicholas Perrin (“Messianism in the Narrative Frame of Ecclesiastes?” RB 108 (2001): 51–57) have pointed out that the only other places in the Hebrew Bible where the term “one shepherd” appears are Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, where in both cases it refers to the Davidic Messiah. I believe it is highly plausible that the “one king” of Ezekiel 34 and 37 also stands behind the use of the identical phrase in Ecclesiastes 12:11 and that the phrase may have even become a technical term in reference to the king (or perhaps, the “Davidic Messiah”).

The import, then, of 12:11 is to indicate that the previously mentioned activities (searching, teaching, writing), products (words, sayings, goads, nails), and offices (the “masters of collections”; cf. NASB) are in fact state-sponsored, royally sponsored activities, products, and offices. They are “given” by the king. The activity of the sages, their writings, and even their positions exist because of, and in the service of, the throne. Qohelet is the chief sage, i.e., the king, and the work of the sages who serve in his royal court should be seen as an extension of the king’s own sagacity. (For further support, see Shepherd, “Identity of Qohelet.”) This sets the stage for the more explicit criticism to follow.[1]

The purpose of truth vv. 11

The words ‘goads’ and ‘well-driven nails’ serve a two-fold purpose in describing the intent of the Preacher. The goads were sharp pointed sticks used to drive an animal in the direction required by its keeper. The purpose of the Book of Ecclesiastes is not to drive us to despair, but to shepherd us into the presence of God. The Preacher’s conclusion opens our eyes to the barrenness of our landscape and directs us to the lush pastures of God’s Kingdom. Like Saul of Tarsus we may ‘kick against the goads’ but are grateful for the temporal pain when we find ourselves securely in the fold of God (Acts 9:5).

The aim of the Preacher is to nail or screw the truth into our minds—to secure it firmly in our memory and understanding. The Psalmist says, ‘Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you’ (Ps. 119:11). We can also picture the shepherd driving in his tent pegs, making his sheepfold secure.

The truth is not simply the conclusions of a wise man—for it is ‘given by one Shepherd’. Every thought, action or event recorded in the Bible is there by the express purpose of God. The Preacher’s dissertation is no exception. ‘Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21).[2]

11 The phrase “words of the wise” recalls the titles in Prov 22:17 (emended text), 24:23; 30:1; 31:1, and here it refers to the general wisdom tradition. Qoheleth is being placed among the honored bearers of this wisdom.

Oxgoads were used to prod cattle, and hence the wisdom sayings are conceived as stimulating and directing those who would hear them. This is, of course, particularly true of Qoheleth’s teachings. The precise meaning of the metaphor of nails (pegs) is not clear. They can be conceived as giving strength and firmness, and perhaps providing a foundation for life’s activities, a basis for a responsible life style.

The translation “collected sayings” is uncertain (see note 11.d.). But the intention of the entire verse is to exalt the wisdom tradition.

The “one shepherd” has been identified with Solomon, Moses, and even Qoheleth himself, or simply “any shepherd” (Fox). However, it is also possible to recognize here an allusion to God, the source and giver of wisdom (Prov 2:6; Sir 39:6). The metaphor of shepherd is applied to God, even if often indirectly (cf. Ps 23:1; Isa 40:11, etc.).

K. Galling is probably right in classifying v 11a as a quotation; it deals with the class of the wise (plural) and not directly with Qoheleth himself. The final addition, about the shepherd, is important for the understanding that the epilogist has of wisdom writings.[3]

12:11–12. What effects do the words of wise men like Qohelet have? They are like goads, perhaps with nails imbedded in them (cf. Fox, Qohelet and His Contradictions, 324–25). Goads are long sticks that sting cattle, prodding them to move. Similarly even if wise words sting, they still spur the disciple into wise, moral behavior. Ultimately all these wise words are given by one Shepherd (v. 11). This may simply refer to God as the source of and authority for all wisdom (cf. Pr 1:7), although some argue that its referent is more specific. Michael Rydelnik, for example, maintains that the phrase one Shepherd is used elsewhere in Scripture only as a messianic appellation (Ezk 34:23–24; 37:24–25), and so the narrator was claiming here that the divine Messiah specifically is the source of all wisdom (Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope, NACBT [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010], 78–79).

As helpful as books of wisdom might be, one could study them endlessly to great wearying effect (Ec 12:12). So there is a time to ponder wise sayings, and there is a time to move on to conclusions.[4]

12:11–12. Solomon related this book to the purpose and goal of other wisdom books (the words of the wise and their collected sayings) and to the ultimate source of their authority. Like ox goads and firmly planted nails, Solomon’s teaching, like the words of other wise people, provides a guide and stimulus to godly living (cf. Acts 26:14 for an illustration of goads) and a secure basis for living (cf. Jer. 10:4 for a usage of nails). Moreover, like some other words of the wise these words have divine authority; they were given by one Shepherd. This refers to God and His care and concern (cf. Gen. 49:24; Ps. 80:1; in Ps. 95:6–7 the concepts of Shepherd and Creator are combined as they are in Ecc. 12:1, 11). Because of the peculiar value and authority of the words of the wise—of which this book was an example—Solomon warned his son (cf. “my son” in Prov. 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11, 21; 4:10, 20; 5:1, 20; 6:1, 3, 20; 7:1; 19:27; 23:15, 19; 23:26; 24:13, 21; 27:11) and all his readers not to seek answers beyond those God had given through the wise. If they would keep looking for answers in many other books, they would wear themselves out.[5]

12:11 The teachings of the wise are like sharp, pointed instruments, plain, direct, and convincing. And the collected sayings from the one Shepherd are like well-driven nails or pins that give stability to a tent. They provide strength and are also pegs on which we may hang our thoughts.

Most Bible versions capitalize the word Shepherd, indicating that the translators understood it as referring to God. However, it should also be remembered that in Eastern thought, a king is looked on as a shepherd. Homer said, “All kings are shepherds of the people.” So it could be that King Solomon was referring to himself as the one shepherd. This interpretation fits into the context more smoothly.

12:12 There is no thought that Solomon had exhausted the subject. He could have written more, but he warns his readers that the conclusion would be the same. There is no end to the writing and publishing of books, and it would be exhausting to read them all. But why bother? All they could reveal would be the vanity of life.[6]

12:11 Just as an ox goad prods an animal in the right direction, so will the words of this book when they are properly understood. well-driven nails: The nails, or “pegs,” referred to here are the same as in 2 Chr. 3:9; Jer. 10:4. These are hooks in tents where families hung the clothes and pots needed for everyday life. Here they refer to mental hooks giving stability and perspective to life. by one Shepherd: Kings were typically compared to shepherds, and Solomon is claiming that the source of his ideas is God, the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 80:1).

12:12 Many other books may weary their readers. Careful study of Ecclesiastes will have the opposite effect as it instructs, warns, and admonishes its readers.[7]

12:11 goads … well-driven nails. Two shepherd’s tools are in view: one used to motivate reluctant animals, the other to secure those who might otherwise wander into dangerous territory. Both goads and nails picture aspects of applied wisdom. one Shepherd. True wisdom has its source in God alone.

12:12 books. Books written on any other subject than God’s revealed wisdom will only proliferate the uselessness of man’s thinking.[8]

12:11 The words of the wise are like goads, i.e., they help guide one along the proper path. (A “goad” is a long, pointed stick used for prodding and guiding oxen while plowing.) Moreover, the words of the wise provide moral and intellectual stability like nails firmly fixed. Ultimately, such wisdom is given by one Shepherd, God (see Introduction: Author, Title, and Date).[9]

12:11, 12 Wise men have much of value to share. The biblical books of wisdom (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) are of eternal value. Self-appointed philosophers who reject faith in the revelation of God can investigate, ponder, and write forever, but will never find the answers for which they are searching (cf. Josh. 24:15, note).[10]

12:11 The essential teaching of this verse—that God has given us wisdom in order to guide us through life—is clear. A pastoral metaphor governs at least part of the verse. God (the one Shepherd) prods us along just as shepherds prod animals with cattle prods—sticks with sharp points (Ac 26:14). It is not certain whether embedded nails refers to nails inserted at the ends of cattle prods (1Sm 13:21), or whether this is a different metaphor, describing proverbs as fixed and dependable, like nails driven in a wall. If the latter, it implies that we can hang our lives on these fixed truths.

12:12 Proverbs are important, but the Teacher warns against study done for its own sake. Too much study deprives a person of the joys that Ecclesiastes recommends. This verse does not oppose scholarship, but it does demand that scholars approach their work with humility and with balance in their lives.[11]

[1] Shepherd, J. E. (2008). Ecclesiastes. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, p. 362). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (pp. 153–154). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] Murphy, R. (1998). Ecclesiastes (Vol. 23A, p. 125). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4] Finkbeiner, D. (2014). Ecclesiastes. In The moody bible commentary (p. 985). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1006). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 914–915). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 792). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ec 12:11–12). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[9] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1209). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Ec 12:11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] Garrett, D. A. (2017). Ecclesiastes. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1018). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

January 19, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

24:13 / This focus on light recalls Eliphaz’s use of sun imagery for God in 22:12, 26. For Eliphaz, darkness is an evidence of divine judgment for human sin. Here Job understands the dark as the choice of the wicked, the better to pursue their evil deeds without discovery.[1]

13 To the company of “rebels against the light,” the “light-shy” as the Germans can say, belong all those who are wrongdoers. The phrase is unique in the OT, though the moral sense of “light” is widespread (see G. Aalen, TDOT, 1:147–67 [162–63]). In addition to many references to darkness as the hiding place of the wicked (e.g., 34:22; Isa 29:15), we find occasional references to darkness as a kind of metaphysical entity (e.g., to the “ways of darkness” in Prov 2:13; a further ethical development in John 3:20; Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:4–7). Elsewhere in Job “light” (אור) is the symbol of life (3:16, 20; 33:30), the sign of success and divine favor (22:28). Here there is an obvious reference to the light of day since all the activities of these wrongdoers are carried out in the darkness (see on v 14); but “the light” must have the wider, symbolic, sense also (so Pope, Gordis, Habel, against Duhm, Driver-Gray, Hölscher, Fohrer, neb), if for no other reason than that these wrongdoers “rebel” against the light. No one “rebels” against daylight!

This is the only place where the term “rebel” (מרד) is used metaphorically; normally it refers to rebellion against a king (e.g., Gen 14:4; 2 Kgs 18:7) or against God (e.g., Num 14:9; Jos 22:16), and the breach of authority, whether that authority is legitimate or imposed by force. מרד signifies especially attempted but unsuccessful rebellion (cf. R. Knierim, TLOT, 2:684–86). The implication here is both that “light” has the right to rule the lives of humans and that wrongdoers’ opposition to it is ultimately futile. Tur-Sinai had the idea of an allusion here to a myth of a primeval underworld king rising up against the light as a murderer, but he has gained no following.[2]

24:13 the ones rebelling against the light Job describes the actions of the wicked in terms of light. Here, they figuratively rebel against the light (compare Psa 97:11; Prov 2:13). In Job 24:14–17, darkness is a tool the wicked use to hide their wickedness from both people and God (compare 22:13–14).[3]

[1] Wilson, G. H. (2012). Job. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (p. 274). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Clines, D. J. A. (2006). Job 21–37 (Vol. 18a, p. 611). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Job 24:13). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

January 19, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Self-Existence of the Word

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (1:4–5)

Displaying yet again his Spirit-inspired economy of words, John in these two brief verses summarized the incarnation. Christ, the embodiment of life and the glorious, eternal Light of heaven, entered the sin-darkened world of men, and that world reacted in various ways to Him.

As noted earlier in this chapter, the themes life and Light are common in John’s gospel. Zōē (life) refers to spiritual life as opposed to bios, which describes physical life (cf. 1 John 2:16). Here, as in 5:26, it refers primarily to Christ having life in Himself. Theologians refer to that as aseity, or self-existence. It is clear evidence of Christ’s deity, since only God is self-existent.

This truth of God’s and Christ’s self-existence—having life in themselves—is foundational to our faith. All that is created can be said to be “becoming,” because nothing created is unchanging. It is essential to understand that permanent, eternal, non-changing being or life is distinct from all that is becoming. “Being” is eternal and the source of life for what is “becoming.” That is what distinguishes creatures from the Creator, us from God.

Genesis 1:1 establishes this fundamental reality with the statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Because it is the most important truth in the Bible, it is the one most assaulted. Unbelievers know that to be rid of creation is to be rid of a Creator. And to be rid of God leaves men free to live in whatever way they want, with no judgment.

The whole universe falls into the category of “becoming” because there was a point when it did not exist. Before existence it was the self-existent eternal being—the source of life—God, who is pure, self-existent being, pure life, and never becoming anything. All creation receives its life from outside, from Him, but He derives His life from within Himself, depending on nothing for His life. There was a point when the universe did not exist. There was never a point when God did not exist. He is self-existence, life, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). He is from everlasting to everlasting. Acts 17:28 rightly says: “In Him we live and move and exist.” We cannot live or move or be without His life. But He has always lived and moved and been.

This is the purest ontological description of God—and to say Jesus is the life is to say the most pure truth about the nature of God that He possesses. And, as in verse 3, He then is the Creator.

While as the Creator Jesus is the source of everything and everyone who lives, the word life in John’s gospel always translates zōē, which John uses for spiritual or eternal life. It is imparted by God’s sovereign grace (6:37, 39, 44, 65; cf. Eph. 2:8) to all those who believe savingly in Jesus Christ (1:12; 3:15–16, 36; 6:40, 47; 20:31; cf. Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9–10; 1 John 5:1, 11–13). It was to impart spiritual life to sinners who “were dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) that Jesus came into the world (10:10; cf. 6:33).

While it is appropriate to make some distinction between life and light, the statement the life was the Light halts any disconnect between the two. In reality, John is writing that life and light cannot be separated. They are essentially the same, with the idea of light emphasizing the manifestation of the divine life. The life was the Light is the same construction as “the Word was God” (v. 1). As God is not separate from the Word, but the same in essence, so life and light share the same essential properties.

The light combines with life in a metaphor for the purpose of clarity and contrast. God’s life is true and holy. Light is that truth and holiness manifest against the darkness of lies and sin. Light and life are linked in this same way in John 8:12, in which Jesus says: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The connection between light and life is also clearly made in the Old Testament. Psalm 36:9 says: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”

“The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4) is nothing more than the radiating, manifest life of God shining in His Son. Paul specifically says: “God … is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6). So light is God’s life manifest in Christ.

In addition to its connection to life, light carries its own significance, as seen in the contrast between light and darkness, which is a common theme in Scripture. Intellectually, light refers to truth (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23; 2 Cor. 4:4) and darkness to falsehood (Rom. 2:19); morally, light refers to holiness (Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5) and darkness to sin (Prov. 4:19; Isa. 5:20; Acts 26:18). Satan’s kingdom is the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13; cf. Luke 22:53; Eph. 6:12), but Jesus is the source of life (11:25; 14:6; cf. Acts 3:15; 1 John 1:1) and the Light that shines in the darkness of the lost world (8:12; 9:5; 12:35–36, 46).

Despite Satan’s frantic, furious assaults on the Light, the darkness did not comprehend it. Katalambanō (comprehend) is better translated “overcome.” Even a small candle can drive the darkness from a room; the brilliant, glorious Light of the Lord Jesus Christ will utterly destroy Satan’s realm of darkness. Since He came into the world, “the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

The thrust of this verse, then, is not that the darkness failed to understand the truth about Jesus; on the contrary, the forces of darkness know Him all too well. In Matthew 8:29 some demons “cried out [to Jesus], saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’ ” In Peter’s house in Capernaum, Jesus “cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was” (Mark 1:34). Luke 4:41 records that “demons also were coming out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.” In Luke 4:34 a terrified demon pleaded, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” The demons not only know the truth about Christ, but they also believe it. “You believe that God is one,” wrote James, “You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19).

It is because they understand with total clarity the judgment that awaits them that Satan and the demons have tried desperately throughout history to kill the life and extinguish the Light. In the Old Testament, Satan tried to destroy Israel, the nation from which the Messiah would come. He also tried to destroy the kingly line from which the Messiah would descend (2 Kings 11:1–2). In the New Testament, he prompted Herod’s futile attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:16). At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Satan vainly tried to tempt Jesus to turn aside from the cross (Matt. 4:1–11). Later, he repeated the temptation again through one of His closest followers (Matt. 16:21–23). Even Satan’s seeming triumph at the cross in reality marked his ultimate defeat (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; cf. 1 John 3:8).

Similarly, unbelievers are eternally lost not because they do not know the truth, but because they reject it:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom. 1:18–21)

(For a further discussion of this point, see the exposition of 1:9–11 in chapter 2 of this volume.)

No one who rejects Christ’s deity can be saved, for He Himself said in John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” It is fitting, then, that John opens his gospel, which so strongly emphasizes Christ’s deity (cf. 8:58; 10:28–30; 20:28), with a powerful affirmation of that essential truth.[1]

Jesus Christ is Life

John 1:4

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

In this verse John introduces two of the greatest themes of his narrative. Often at the beginning of an important work of literature or music, a writer or composer will declare a theme and then allow it to recur again and again throughout the book or composition. This is sometimes done through a visual image, as in a Hardy novel. Sometimes it is through a musical motif, as in a Beethoven symphony. Sometimes it is done by means of a word or a concept, as we have here. John’s themes are “light” and “life.” And they occur in such a variety of contexts and so frequently that we need to take some time to examine them at the outset.

In this study we will look at the claim that Jesus is the life of the world. In the next study we will look at the claim that he is the light.

A Prominent Theme

It is quite obvious to any careful reader of the Gospel that the word “life” is an important one, for John speaks often of life in connection with Jesus Christ and of the eternal life that he offered and, indeed, still offers to men and women.

To some extent the Gospel begins and ends with this theme. John begins by declaring, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (1:4). In 20:30–31, he concludes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In John 14:6 Jesus declares that he is the source of life: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 5:40 shows that men will not come to him that they might have life. In John 10:28 Jesus says of those who do come, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” In all, the word “life” occurs more than thirty-five times in the Gospel. And the related verb “to live” increases that total by at least fifteen more instances.

Physical Life

But what does it mean to say that Jesus is the source of life or that he is the life? The first answer to that question is one that takes us back to the opening pages of the Book of Genesis and therefore to the role of the Lord Jesus Christ in giving life to all living things in the world. We have already seen in our previous studies that the writer intends a reference to the first chapters of Genesis in his introductory verses; this is also the case here. “In the beginning” (v. 1) reminds us of the sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The Logos or “Word” of God reminds us of the way in which God spoke in creation: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). In the same way, when John says of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life” (John 1:3, 4), every Bible student should think instantly of the life that went forth out of God to bring life to inanimate matter at the beginning of the creation of the world. In other words, John is saying that our physical life comes from God through the Lord Jesus.

This is suggested in the early chapters of Genesis. For we read that “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).

All the terms in this verse from Genesis are important. In the first place, we are told that God formed man of the dust of the earth. Once, in a message on Christ’s statement that we are the salt of the earth, I pointed out that when God does a work in human history he uses common substances or common people so that the glory might be to his name and not to man’s. We see this in his choice of Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, and the disciples to do certain things. We have it stated in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise … so that no one may boast before him.” We have the same principle in the opening chapters of the Bible.

When God formed man, what did he use? Did he use gold, silver, iron, uranium, platinum? No, he used dust—a common substance. But he breathed into it the breath of his life. Thus, even though we may be “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as the psalmist says (Ps. 139:14), nevertheless, the glory is God’s and there is nothing in us about which man can boast. “So low is the dust,” writes Donald Grey Barnhouse in Genesis, “that God gave it to the serpent for the food of his curse. Job uses the word twenty times to describe the littleness of man in his misery. It is to dust that all bodies return in death. But we can look up to the Lord in confidence because ‘he knows our frame and he remembers that we are dust’ (Ps. 103:14, rsv).” The writer then adds, “Dust that exalts itself is hateful, but dust that acknowledges its dustiness finds favor in the sight of the Lord.”

There is a lesson for us in the dust; but we must stop our examination of the verse at this point, because for our present exposition of John 1:4 the important term in Genesis 2:7 is “breath.” It is the breath of God that makes the dust live.

What is God’s breath? It is that which goes forth out of his mouth. It is his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and it is associated with his spoken word. When we speak about these three terms in English—breath, Spirit, and word—they seem to be unrelated. But this is not true in the Hebrew language. In Hebrew the same word that is used for Spirit is also used for “breath.” It is the word ruach, which even has a breathy sound. And what is more significant, in Hebrew thought the breath of God or the breath of a man is associated with the person’s spoken words. For a man speaks, as we know, by means of it. When we put these ideas together, we find that God brought forth life in man by speaking the word of life (which John has already identified with Jesus Christ) in such a way that the Spirit of life (which is his Holy Spirit) passes into man and causes him to breathe. In other words, these terms provide an illustration of the role of each member of the Trinity in creation.

The significance of man’s created nature is seen most clearly when he is contrasted with the Lord Jesus Christ. In the great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, there is a verse toward the end that says, “ ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (v. 45). In other words, even though we live by the breath of God, we do so only by inhaling. Christ lives by exhaling. Thus, we know that we are his creatures and that he is the Creator.

Spiritual Life

However, this is only the beginning of our understanding of what John intends by the use of the word “life” in the Gospel. He is speaking of Christ’s role in creation, in one sense. But this is only the groundwork for the spiritual interpretation of the word that he unfolds in the pages of the Gospel. It is true that John speaks of physical life here, but as the book goes on he speaks increasingly of spiritual life. And the point is that just as Jesus is the source of physical life, so is he the source of the spiritual life that we receive when we believe on him.

To appreciate the importance of the gift of spiritual life, we must realize first that apart from it we are dead spiritually. Or you might say, we are as unresponsive to God as was the dust of the earth before God breathed his Spirit into it.

We can say this, of course, because God says it. Take the verses from the second chapter of Ephesians for an example. Here Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus, reminding them that before God made them alive they were totally dead in everything spiritual and were in rebellion against him. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1–6).

What a past is described in these verses! And what a condition! In our natural state we can do nothing to improve ourselves spiritually. Apart from Christ no man has ever breathed one breath toward God, nor had one spiritual heartbeat. Man is dead in sin. He needs a new life. That is why we must be born again. Being born again means receiving a new life from God through the Lord Jesus Christ by faith in him.

One might add here, however, that when the Bible declares that all men are dead spiritually, it does not imply that all are in an identical state of corruption. In his book, In the Heavenlies, Harry A. Ironside points to three instances in the life of Christ that illustrate clearly what the Bible is saying. He writes, “The beautiful little maid, the daughter of Jairus, had been dead only a few minutes when the blessed Lord reached her father’s house, but she was dead, she was lifeless. Fair to look upon, lovely and sweet, no doubt, in the eyes of her beloved parents, like a beautiful marble statue, but although there was not the corruption that there might have been, she was dead nevertheless. Turn over to Luke’s gospel and you find that as the blessed Lord came to the village of Nain they were carrying a young man out to bury him. He was dead. Dead perhaps a day or two. … This young man was dead longer than the little maid, but life was just as truly extinct in her case as in his. Then you have the blessed Lord at the grave of Lazarus. The sisters told Him not to roll the stone away, for their brother had been dead four days and would already be offensive. Corruption had set in, but the Lord Jesus brought new life to that man” as well as to the others. In the same way, we are all genuinely dead apart from the life-giving Spirit of Jesus Christ. There may be degrees of corruption so that relatively speaking some men are far less offensive than others. But all men are dead spiritually. All need the divine life.

Where does it come from? It comes from Jesus Christ. He is the life of the world. Because we were dead in our sins, God sent Jesus Christ to give us new life. Because we were guilty of sin, God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins by bearing them in his own body on the tree.

Eternal Life

There are two more truths that should be noticed before concluding this study. First, the life that God gives through Jesus Christ is not merely an earthly life or a life of such quality that it can be lost, but eternal life. It can never be lost. Thus the life that we receive from God in the moment of our belief in Jesus Christ is the same life that we will be living with God in eternity in what we would call unending millions of years from now.

What is eternal life? It is life without end, the life of God. If it could be lost, as some persons think is the case, then it would not be eternal life. For instance, what would eternal life be if it could be lost at the end of one million years? It would not be eternal life. It would be one-million-years life. But if God said that it was going to last for one million years, then it could not be lost before the expiration of that period. If God said that he was going to give us one-thousand-years life, then the life could not be lost before the end of one thousand years. If he said that it was one hundred-years life, it could not be lost before one hundred years had expired. But we thank God that he has not given us merely one-hundred-, one-thousand-, or even one-million-years life. He has given us eternal life. It is truly eternal or everlasting. Thus, the apostle John writes, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).

The second truth is that God has not only given us eternal life (which no one can take from us); he has also given us a life that is meant to be abundant even in our present circumstances. The Lord Jesus Christ once said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

It is unfortunate that many Christians, though they have eternal life, nevertheless do not have life abundantly. This was not meant to be. Instead of living a miserable life and always complaining, Christians are meant to live lives of such joy and exuberance that their lives will be a blessing to others.

There is a magnificent picture of this abundant life in the first verses of the beloved Twenty-third Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:1–3). I believe that the reason this psalm has been so beloved by Christians throughout all the ages of church history is that it sets forth as something quite practical the abundant life that is ours because of God’s care for us. We know that we were once sheep that were lost. Even now we wander away from Christ’s fold. But still we are his, and we know that the abundant life is ours whenever we will leave our wandering and lie down in the company of our Shepherd.

Did you know that a sheep will not eat or drink when it is lying down? Most people have never heard this. But it is a fact, and it gives special meaning to the phrase, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” If a sheep is lying down, even in the greenest of pastures and even with the most tender morsel of grass within an inch of its nose, the sheep will not eat the grass. Instead, if it is hungry, it will scramble to its feet, bend over, and then eat the morsel that was much easier to reach before. Thus, when the psalm tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Shepherd, makes us lie down in green pastures, it means that he is able to satisfy us so completely that we cannot possibly yearn for anything more.

Oh, the joys of living out the abundant life of Christ! They are the joys of increasingly finding him to be the bread of life that satisfies all our hunger and the water of life that quenches our deepest thirst.

The Light of the World

John 1:4–5

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Several years ago an old woman in the bush country of southern Rhodesia in Africa said to a missionary, “You have brought us the light, but we don’t seem to want it. You have brought us the light, but we still walk in darkness.” She was speaking only of the life she knew in Africa. But her words aptly describe the reaction of people everywhere to the light of Jesus Christ when he first shone upon the world. He was the light of the world. In one sense he had always been the light of the world. Yet, when he appeared the world rejected him because it preferred darkness.

This great image—the image of Christ as the light of the world—is the second theme that John the evangelist introduces in the fourth and fifth verses of his opening chapter. Later we are told quite pointedly by Jesus, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). Here we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

God is Light

What does John mean when he declares that Jesus Christ is the light of men? By this title, Jesus is revealed as the One who knows God the Father and who makes him known. Light is a universal image for the illumination of the mind through understanding. Before Christ came into the world, the world was in darkness. The world did not know God. Christ came. His light shone before men. Then men had light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The context for the significance of this image lies in the fact that God is pictured as light throughout the Old and New Testaments. David writes in one psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Psalm 36:9 says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Another psalm says: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (Ps. 104:1–2). John writes, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

God is light! We recognize this truth personally every time we sing some of our most beautiful hymns:

Eternal light! Eternal light!

How pure the soul must be

When, placed within Thy searching light,

It shrinks not, but with calm delight

Can live, and look on Thee!

Or this great hymn by Walter Chalmers Smith:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

How perfect the image seems to be! And how appropriate as a term for the One who makes the Father known! E. M. Blaiklock, former professor of classics at Auckland University in New Zealand, makes these comments: “God is light. The image is satisfyingly complete. Light penetrates the unimaginable depths of space, far beyond the limits of human vision. In all the vastness of the great globe of vanished millennia into which the telescope can probe, the gleaming galaxies float, or tell in light how once they floated, when the effulgence which we see today began its endless journey.

“Without light there is no vision, no view of reality, no confident journeying, no growth save of chill and evil things, no health, no life. The hand shrinks from the cold and slimy life which survives sluggishly in dark caves. When some plant of the open day strikes root in such places, it becomes a pale and flaccid thing distorted beyond recognition, as it reaches for a gleam through some chink or crevice in the rock.

“But light, like God, exists by itself, apart from that which it illuminates. … Light on earth is a medium, a means by which we see this and that object. It picks up and reveals the loveliness of shape and color. But light exists by itself and apart from that which it gilds and glorifies. It is an environment, a condition, a wonder which fills and floods the whole immensity of space.”

Blaiklock is right. The image is rich, and it is totally appropriate to describe the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father is light. So also is Christ the Son. He is the image of the invisible God, the One who fills all in all. In him we see and know the Father.

Light and Darkness

The image also teaches that by his coming into the world Jesus exposed the works of darkness. For he shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not like it. B. F. Westcott, in The Revelation of the Father, has written, “The light which reveals the world does not make the darkness, but it makes the darkness felt. If the sun is hidden, all is shadow, though we call that shadow only which is contrasted with the sunlight; for the contrast seems to intensify that which is, however, left just what it was before. And this is what Christ has done by his coming. He stands before the world in perfect purity, and we must feel as men could not feel before he came, the imperfection, the impurity of the world. The line of separation is drawn forever, and the conscience of men acknowledges that it is rightly drawn. Whether we know it or not the light which streams from Christ is ever opening the way to a clearer distinction between good and evil. His coming is a judgment. The light and the darkness are not blended in him, as they are in us, so that opinion can be doubtful.”

The coming of Jesus into the world exposed the world’s darkness, even where men thought they had most light. When I was very young I spent a number of summers at a Christian camp in Canada. At this camp during the course of each summer my friends and I took several camping trips. The trips were fun, as I remember, but the sleeping conditions were not. The ground was hard. Often it was damp and cold. Sometimes it rained. I remember often lying awake for most of the night talking or fooling around with the other campers. During a particularly long night we would play with our flashlights. We would shine them in one another’s eyes, and the game was to see which was the brightest. Generally, the one with the brightest reflector or the largest number of batteries won. Of course, the game could be played only in the dark, for eventually the sun came up, and after that the differences between the flashlights faded into insignificance by comparison to the strong light of the sun.

That is the experience people have when they come face-to-face with Jesus Christ. So long as we live in the darkness of this world you and I are able to compare the relative merits of human goodness or righteousness. We are able to see the difference between a three-battery character, a two-battery character, and one whose battery has almost gone out. We rate men accordingly. But all these distinctions fade away in the presence of the white light of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. His coming reveals the profundity of the darkness.

What is your reaction to that? It can be one of two things. You can hate Christ for it, as many people have done. You can try to get rid of his presence in your life. This is what John implies when he says that the darkness did not overcome the light. He could not say that unless the darkness had tried to overcome it. You can do that. Or you can do what God wants you to do. You can say, “Lord, I see now that my own good works are far from perfect. In fact, they seem quite dark, almost nonexistent, by comparison with your righteousness. I realize that they will never take me to heaven. But you have the goodness which I do not have, and you have promised to give it to all who will believe on your Son and receive him as Savior. That is what I do now. I trust you to remove my sin and accept me as your child forever.”

If you will say that, God will do as he has promised. For this is the reason why the Lord Jesus Christ came. We are told, “God made him [Jesus Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Light Victorious

The third important point to note in studying this image is the fact that the light of the Lord Jesus Christ has not been overcome by the darkness. In fact, John says, “The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out” (Phillips).

The word that occurs most prominently in the second part of this verse—the word that is translated “comprehend” in the King James Version of the Bible and is translated as “put it out” by Phillips in the paraphrase that I have just quoted—is a word with at least three meanings. Thus, there has been a wide diversity of interpretations of the verse by translators. On the most literal level the word means “to seize” or “to apprehend,” whether physically (as in John 8:4, where the scribes and the Pharisees claimed that they had seized the woman taken in adultery), or intellectually, in which case it would mean “to understand.” This is the interpretation given to the verse by the King James translators, who rendered the verse, “and the darkness comprehended it not,” as well as by the Latin Vulgate that says, “tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.”

However, the word can also mean “to overtake” and, thus, by extension “to overtake in pursuit” or “to overcome.” This is the clear meaning of the verb in the only other place where it occurs in John’s Gospel—John 12:35—where we read, “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.” In this sense the word passed into the sports vocabulary of antiquity and was used when a wrestler was said to have “taken down” his opponent. This is the meaning adopted by Williams, who says that the darkness “never overpowered” the light, and by the New Scofield Bible and the Revised Standard Version, which use the verb “overcome.”

All these translations are right. The darkness certainly did not understand the light. It did not overcome it. And yet, there is another meaning of the word that I believe comes even closer to John’s true meaning and is more appropriate. It is “to quench,” “to extinguish,” or “to eclipse,” the concepts employed by J. B. Phillips and the New English Bible. Thus, to use the terms of astronomy, which may certainly be involved here, we can say that God’s light is shining in the darkness and that it has never been eclipsed.

We do not see this on earth in the unending natural cycles of light and darkness. Here darkness always overcomes light. You can be in the gloomiest country on earth, or the brightest, and night will always follow upon day. It can be retarded by artificial means, but night comes eventually. I have often noticed how long daylight lasts on evening flights to this country from one of the European capitals. The flights take only six or seven hours, and there is a gain of three hours in flying the 3,000 miles from east to west. The planes fly high, and one can follow the sun for a greater distance over the horizon. On such a flight dusk lingers for almost four hours. Yet the night comes at last, and the plane eventually settles into the blackness that shrouds the eastern seaboard of the United States.

What the physical darkness does each evening, spiritual darkness tried without success to do in the case of Jesus Christ. He simply overcame it. One man who learned this truth rather late in life is Malcolm Muggeridge, England’s well-known satirist and social critic. In his words, “Having seen this other light [the light of God revealed in Jesus Christ], I turn to it, striving and growing toward it as plants do toward the sun. … Though, in terms of history, the darkness falls, blacking out us and our world, You have overcome history. You came as light into the world in order that whoever believed in You should not remain in darkness. Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Nor ever will.”

“You are the Light”

In order to see the full teaching of the Gospel of John about light, we need to add to these truths that there is a sense in which in our day Jesus is no longer the light of the world directly but is so only as his light is reflected to the world by Christians. It is true that John uses the present tense in describing Christ’s light—“the light shines in the darkness”—but John would be the first to say that Christ shines in our day only through Christians (cf. 1 John 2:7–11). Thus, when Jesus was in the world he said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But when he turned to those who had believed on him, he said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). He did not mean that they were to glow in their own right like fireflies. Rather, they were to be kindled lights, like John the Baptist, whom Jesus termed a “lamp that burned and gave light” (John 5:35).

To those who did not believe he said, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you” (12:35).

Do you see what Christ is saying? He is saying that today Christians are the light of the world. But they can be the light of the world only because he is their light and they reflect him. It is as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Do men see Christ in you? They will not find him in the world today—not in the world’s literature, culture, or pastimes. They will see him only as you look to Jesus, as he increasingly becomes your light, and as he is reflected from your life to others.

Is Jesus your light? He is if he does for you what light always does when it issues forth from the Father. First, it puts confusion to flight. This is the picture that we have in the opening chapter of Genesis where we are told how God moved upon the formless void that existed before the world began and said, “Let there be light.” The light of God dispelled the darkness and brought forth life and order. If Jesus is the light of your life, he also dispels the darkness and places your life in order.

Second, the light of Jesus Christ is revealing. That is, it penetrates the darkness and shows us what has always been there. If the light of the Lord Jesus has had this effect in you, then you will not be playing the part of the hypocrite. You will have seen your heart. You will have been able to say with Isaiah, “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5); or with Peter, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8); or with Paul, “I am the worst” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

Finally, if Christ is your light, you will have guidance in the midst of darkness and, with the guidance of God, true liberty.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light:

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.[2]

Jesus the Life

John 1:4–5

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4–5)

One of my children recently asked, “Daddy, how long until Christmas?” I replied, “Why are you so eager for Christmas?” “Because I love to get presents!” he said. I am not old enough yet that I do not look forward to Christmas presents. But the things I love best about the Christmas season are the decorations, and especially the Christmas tree. I look forward to turning out all the lights, and then plugging in the strands of lights draped around the tree. Light shines forth, chasing away the darkness. And I hear in my mind the words at the beginning of John’s Gospel, speaking of Christ: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:4).

It is common for New Testament books to preview their main themes in the introductory verses. The prologue that begins John is probably the most elaborate of them all (John 1:1–18). It presents the themes that will be important to John’s portrait of Christ and God’s purpose for sending him into the world. Three of these themes are gathered together in John 1:4–5; together they offer a useful summary of John’s message and of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Him Was Life

The first of these theme-words appears in John 1:4, “In him was life.” The word life appears thirty-six times in the Gospel of John, far more than any other New Testament book. It is one of John’s most important themes. The preceding verses say that “the Word was with God” and “was God,” and that “all things were made through him” (1:1–3). The second person of the Godhead, the “Word,” who is the subject of this Gospel, is the source of all life in this universe. Not only does he possess life, but life itself is found in him and comes through him. Jesus said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (5:26).

All life is in Christ, including physical or biological life, but John is especially referring to spiritual life. The expression that he often uses is eternal life. John 3:16 proclaims that God loved the world and sent his Son, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We should think of eternal life not merely in terms of its quantity, but also in terms of its quality. It is the life that God has, lived in us now. It is not the prolonging of our earthly kind of life, but the heavenly life that begins in us the moment we believe on Jesus, and it never ends. Unending millions of years from now, the life that is of God will still be ours in and through Christ.

According to John, the opposite of eternal life is not mere death, but eternal condemnation. He said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). So to receive eternal life is to be saved from God’s holy judgment and enter into Christ’s eternal reign of glory.

People think that turning to Jesus will take all the fun out of life. But when you come to Jesus, your capacity for joy is vastly increased. Sin only deadens us and saps our life, whereas Christ fills us with wonder and purpose. G. Campbell Morgan tells of meeting as a boy an older man who had been converted to Christ through the ministry of his father. A few days after the man’s conversion, Morgan encountered him in a garden. He was holding something small and gazing into his hand with wonder. Morgan asked him what it was, and with a voice filled with awe the man showed him a leaf that had fallen from a tree. “The beauty of God,” he exclaimed. He had been awakened to the wonder of life! Contrast that with the experience of Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution. He turned his back on God and committed himself to secular humanism. His biography reveals that in so doing he lost his taste for life. As Darwin grew older, he admitted that he could no longer get anything out of poetry, music, or art. Life lost its flavor, and he lived out his days in a world without wonder or joy. Apart from Christ, joy is at its best dependent on happy circumstances. For the Christian, however, joy is the inward result of the Holy Spirit’s blessing; Paul wrote: “For the kingdom of God is … a matter of … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

This is what John wants us to see in Christ: “In him was life.” Are you really living? Do you feel that your life matters for something important? Are you excited about things, or just keeping occupied? Jesus has life to give to those who trust in him. “I came that they may have life,” he said, “and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

We should observe the link between this verse and the preceding ones, that is, between Jesus as the Word and Jesus as the Life. It is through God’s Word that Christ’s life comes into us. This means that if you want to be green and growing—if you want to be flourishing with spiritual life—then you need to be drinking from God’s Word. Psalm 1 speaks of the “blessed … man,” whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2–3).

Perhaps the prime example of God’s Word’s bringing spiritual life is the conversion of St. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church. Augustine had a brilliant mind, but was an ungodly youth. His Christian mother, Monica, was burdened for his salvation, and his lifestyle broke her heart. As Augustine grew older, bouncing from philosophy to philosophy and indulging himself in sin, he began thinking about Christianity, even listening to the famous preacher Ambrose of Milan. But that did not bring him to life until he turned to the Bible. As he tells it in his Confessions, Augustine was seated on a bench, grieving for the deadness of his soul, when he heard youthful voices from over a nearby fence. They were singing a child’s song with the words “tolle lege, tolle lege”—that is, “take up and read, take up and read.” Augustine fetched a book of Paul’s letters that he had with him, opened it, and read Romans 13:13–14: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Reading those words, he was converted, turned from his sins, and began his new life as a Christian. Just as Christ is the Word and then the Life, it was by the Word that new life came into Augustine. “Instantly,” he recalled, “with the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of confidence now darted into my heart, all the darkness of doubting vanished away.”

The Light Shining

This is the very connection that John makes, that the life in Christ comes as a light shining in the darkness. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:4–5). Light is another of John’s great themes. The first recorded words of God are: “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Light is an image that everyone understands, and it conveys a rich array of meaning.

The first thing light does is to reveal. When you walk into a dark room, you turn on the light in order to see. This is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming of Jesus: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). Man was living in a spiritual darkness, ignorant about God and living in superstition. So Jesus came to reveal God. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he announced (John 14:9). James Montgomery Boice comments, “Jesus is revealed as the One who knows God the Father and who makes him known.… Before Christ came into the world, the world was in darkness. The world did not know God. Christ came. His light shone before men. Then men had light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Do you know God? Do you know what God is like? Jesus came to reveal God to you. Do you know God by personal acquaintance, by his presence within your spirit? Jesus came also to bring us into fellowship with God as worshipers in spirit and in truth.

Light not only reveals, but also warms. To “walk in the darkness” is to walk in sin and moral depravity, but the light of Christ warms the heart so that it is changed. This spiritual transformation is what Jesus meant in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

The evangelist Harry Ironside was once preaching outdoors in San Francisco when a famous atheist approached and handed him a card. It read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question, ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock.” Ironside read the card aloud and replied:

I am very much interested in this challenge.… Therefore I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions, namely, in order to prove that Mr. —— has something worth fighting for and worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the hall next Sunday two people[:] … one man who was for years what we commonly call a “down-and-outer” … a man who for years was under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself, but who on some occasion … heard the glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity, and whose heart and mind as he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, “Hence-forth, I too am an agnostic!” And as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved, he now hates, and righteousness and goodness are now the ideals of his life … all because he is an agnostic.

Ironside likewise asked the atheist to bring a woman who had similarly been delivered from corrupt living by the power of unbelief.

Then Ironside turned to his side of the bargain. “I will bring with me at the very least 100 men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.” At this, the atheist walked away, for while Ironside could easily produce a hundred men and women transformed by the light of Jesus Christ, the secular debater could not provide even one who had been changed for the better by his philosophy. Ironside’s point was not that no one can be ethical as an unbeliever, but rather that the light of Christ possesses a life-transforming power that atheism does not.

Third, light not only reveals and warms, but also guides. We think of the glory cloud of light that guided Israel through the desert during the exodus. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Likewise, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). If you come to Jesus Christ in faith and follow as his disciple, he will be a light to guide you “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).

Fourth, light conveys and stimulates life. If you want a plant to grow, you place it in the sunshine. Likewise, you will grow upward as the light of Christ’s Word shines in you. David sang about how God’s Word is “like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,” which “makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:4). In the beginning, as we have seen, God’s first creative word was: “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Today, Christ’s light shines with the power of his life through his Word.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). This great verse also summarizes what it means for us to be Christlike. Jesus wants you to be a lamp that reflects his light in the world. He wants you to reveal God to those around you; he wants you to warm others so that they will seek after truth and love; he wants you to be a guide to others; and he wants his light shining in and through you to bring others to life. He urged: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Darkness against the Light

The third image that John uses is darkness. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Darkness is the opposite of light. If light stands for the knowledge of God, darkness represents the spiritual ignorance in which the world is perishing. If light stands for warmth and goodness, then the darkened world is that which is enslaved in sin and evil. If the light leads us in good paths, darkness is the realm of the lost and blind. If light brings life, then darkness is the realm of death.

Darkness not only differs from light but is opposed to it. The coming of Christ as the light thus met the opposition of the darkened world. Jesus explained, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Nothing has ever condemned this world more roundly than its response to the coming of Jesus Christ. If people tell you that the world or the human race is basically good, remind them what it did to Jesus. He came without any sin, healing and teaching the way to God. He was a light shining in the darkness. But for that very reason the world hated him. The hypocritical Pharisees resented him for exposing their legalism. The priests and scribes envied his popularity. The power-hungry Romans thought him a threat to their military domination. And it wasn’t just the elite, for the ordinary people also called out for Jesus’ blood: “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” they demanded of Pontius Pilate (19:15). When God’s Son came into the world, the world nailed him to the cross—the cruelest form of execution they could possibly devise—to suffer and die. People today similarly despise Jesus; for all their supposed admiration, they refuse his claim to be Savior and Lord and resent his holy example that exposes their sin.

What about you? Do you ever notice how nervous you are when a police car drives behind you? Why? Because you are conscious of guilt. This is why people are unnerved to face the light of Jesus as it shines in Scripture, and why they flee his light for the more comfortable darkness. His light shows our darkness for what it is. Will you turn away from that light, scurrying into spiritual shadows? Or will you worship the glory it reveals, humbly confess the darkness it exposes in you, and come into the light of Christ to receive life and salvation? It is only when we humble ourselves before God, admit our need for his grace, and realize that Jesus came to help and save us that we no longer flee. When our car is broken down at night, we welcome the arrival of a police officer. Similarly, when you realize your need of God’s mercy, and how willing he is to save you, then you will welcome the light of Christ into your heart. But whether you accept him or not, realize that you will never put out his light, and for all eternity that light will shine either in you with life or upon you so that you will never escape God’s condemnation of judgment and death.

John uses a word at the end of verse 5 (katalambano) that can be taken in a number of ways. Some translations render it as comprehend: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended [or understood] it” (see kjv, niv, nasb). That is a possible translation, though I think it unlikely because darkness does not seek to understand light but to oppose it. Another way it can be rendered is to extinguish, as in snuffing out a flame. This is the sense given in the English Standard Version: “the darkness has not overcome it.” Leon Morris explains, “The light and the darkness came into bitter and decisive conflict and the darkness could not prevail.”

At one point Jesus’ opponents formed a mob to stone him, but he walked right through them (Luke 4:29–30). They sent soldiers to arrest him, but they were too awed by him (John 7:45–46). They nailed him to a cross, but he saved the thief hanging next to him (Luke 23:42–43). Finally, as the dark storm clouds of God’s wrath fell on him for our sins, Jesus died, and they laid him in the pitch-black darkness of the cold tomb. But Jesus rose from the grave; even the darkness of death was unable to overcome him. He ascended into heaven, and though the world has tried to snuff out the light of Christ, it shines all the more brightly still. When John wrote this Gospel, “fifty years of opposition and persecution … had not extinguished the light of Christ in the gospel. Since then, two millennia have passed by and the light still shines.”

The world cannot overcome the light of Christ, but how often his own people neglect it. Are you seeking to grow in grace through the light that shines in God’s Word? Are you walking in the light? In other words, are you living in conscious fellowship with Jesus, obeying his Word, living in step with his Holy Spirit, and enjoying his blessings of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17)? Walking in the light of Christ is the only way to live in the power of his salvation. You will never get rid of the darkness within you by trying to remove it yourself or by following some man-made program of life improvement. You don’t take a bucket into a basement to bail out the darkness; you turn on the light and the light chases it away. John writes in his first epistle: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Therefore, I say to you what the children sang to St. Augustine: tolle lege, tolle lege, take up and read God’s Word of salvation for you. Turn on the light of Christ in your heart; especially in the darkest places, let the truth and the warmth of God’s Word shine as it reveals the glory and grace of God to your soul, and you will be guided into life more abundant in Christ.

The Light of Christ

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). These are great themes that we will encounter all through John’s Gospel: life, light, and darkness. But remember that John is really pointing to Jesus. What matters in life, then, is not what we are and have been, not what others have done, not what challenges or trials the future might hold. What matters is that Christ has life through his light that shines in the world, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

One man who learned this great truth was John L. Girardeau. A college student in 1840, he was lost in the great darkness of his deep awareness of unworthiness and sin. His biography tells us:

He had just entered college when a gloom like that of eternal night fell upon his soul. His conscience pointed to his sinful nature, the unbearable holiness of God, and the flaming bar of judgment.… The lurid glare of an eternal hell was ever before his fervid imagination. His case seemed hopeless. He was afraid to put out his light at night lest the darkness should never end.… He had no appetite for food. He could not study. No earthly thing interested him.… In vain did he strive to make peace with God; he wept over the consequences of his sins, but there was no sense of pardon; he tried to repent and reform, but there was no peace; he strove to make covenants and agreements with God, but the earth was iron and the heavens were brass. One beautiful morning while on his knees begging for mercy, it occurred to him that he had already done everything that it was possible for him to do, and that all of these things had availed him nothing. He would, therefore, just surrender himself to Jesus and leave the case in his hands. This was faith. Instantly the Holy Spirit assured him that he was accepted in Christ, that his sins were forgiven, and that God loved him with an everlasting love.

That is the way to life and light: to cease trusting in yourself or in anything else of this world that might commend you to God, and surrender your case into the hands of Jesus. “I have come into the world as light,” he said, “so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). That light is still shining, and through him you can have life everlasting, life abundant, life in Christ. “These are written,” says John, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).[3]

4. In him was life. Hitherto he has taught us, that by the Speech of God all things were created. He now attributes to him, in the same manner, the preservation of those things which had been created; as if he had said, that in the creation of the world there was not merely displayed a sudden exercise of his power, which soon passed away, but that it is manifested in the steady and regular order of nature, as he is said to uphold all things by the word or will of his power, (Heb. 1:3.) This life may be extended either to inanimate creatures, (which live after their own manner, though they are devoid of feeling,) or may be explained in reference to living creatures alone. It is of little consequence which you choose; for the simple meaning is, that the Speech of God was not only the source of life to all the creatures, so that those which were not began to be, but that his life-giving power causes them to remain in their condition; for were it not that his continued inspiration gives vigour to the world, every thing that lives would immediately decay, or be reduced to nothing. In a word, what Paul ascribes to God, that in him we are, and move, and live, (Acts 17:28,) John declares to be accomplished by the gracious agency of the Speech; so that it is God who gives us life, but it is by the eternal Speech.

The life was the light of men. The other interpretations, which do not accord with the meaning of the Evangelist, I intentionally pass by. He speaks here, in my opinion, of that part of life in which men excel other animals; and informs us that the life which was bestowed on men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding. He separates man from the rank of other creatures; because we perceive more readily the power of God by feeling it in us than by beholding it at a distance. Thus Paul charges us not to seek God at a distance, because he makes himself to be felt within us, (Acts 17:27.) After having presented a general exhibition of the kindness of Christ, in order to induce men to take a nearer view of it, he points out what has been bestowed peculiarly on themselves; namely, that they were not created like the beasts, but having been endued with reason, they had obtained a higher rank. As it is not in vain that God imparts his light to their minds, it follows that the purpose for which they were created was, that they might acknowledge Him who is the Author of so excellent a blessing. And since this light, of which the Speech was the source, has been conveyed from him to us, it ought to serve as a mirror, in which we may clearly behold the divine power of the Speech.

5. And the light shineth in darkness. It might be objected, that the passages of Scripture in which men are called blind are so numerous, and that the blindness for which they are condemned is but too well known. For in all their reasoning faculties they miserably fail. How comes it that there are so many labyrinths of errors in the world, but because men, by their own guidance, are led only to vanity and lies? But if no light appears in men, that testimony of the divinity of Christ, which the Evangelist lately mentioned, is destroyed; for that is the third step, as I have said, that in the life of men there is something more excellent than motion and breathing. The Evangelist anticipates this question, and first of all lays down this caution, that the light which was originally bestowed on men must not be estimated by their present condition; because in this corrupted and degenerate nature light has been turned into darkness. And yet he affirms that the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished; for, amidst the thick darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.

My readers now understand that this sentence contains two clauses; for he says that men are now widely distant from that perfectly holy nature with which they were originally endued; because their understanding, which ought to have shed light in every direction, has been plunged in darkness, and is wretchedly blinded; and that thus the glory of Christ may be said to be darkened amidst this corruption of nature. But, on the other hand, the Evangelist maintains that, in the midst of the darkness, there are still some remains of light, which show in some degree the divine power of Christ. The Evangelist admits, therefore, that the mind of man is blinded; so that it may justly be pronounced to be covered with darkness. For he might have used a milder term, and might have said that the light is dark or cloudy; but he chose to state more distinctly how wretched our condition has become since the fall of the first man. The statement that the light shineth in darkness is not at all intended for the commendation of depraved nature, but rather for taking away every excuse for ignorance.

And the darkness did not comprehend it. Although by that small measure of light which still remains in us, the Son of God has always invited men to himself, yet the Evangelist says that this was attended by no advantage, because seeing, they did not see, (Matth. 13:13.) For since man lost the favour of God, his mind is so completely overwhelmed by the thraldom of ignorance, that any portion of light which remains in it is quenched and useless. This is daily proved by experience; for all who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God possess some reason, and this is an undeniable proof that man was made not only to breathe, but to have understanding. But by that guidance of their reason they do not come to God, and do not even approach to him; so that all their understanding is nothing else than mere vanity. Hence it follows that there is no hope of the salvation of men, unless God grant new aid; for though the Son of God sheds his light upon them, they are so dull that they do not comprehend whence that light proceeds, but are carried away by foolish and wicked imaginations to absolute madness.

The light which still dwells in corrupt nature consists chiefly of two parts; for, first, all men naturally possess some seed of religion; and, secondly, the distinction between good and evil is engraven on their consciences. But what are the fruits that ultimately spring from it, except that religion degenerates into a thousand monsters of superstition, and conscience perverts every decision, so as to confound vice with virtue? In short, natural reason never will direct men to Christ; and as to their being endued with prudence for regulating their lives, or born to cultivate the liberal arts and sciences, all this passes away without yielding any advantage.

It ought to be understood that the Evangelist speaks of natural gifts only, and does not as yet say any thing about the grace of regeneration. For there are two distinct powers which belong to the Son of God: the first, which is manifested in the structure of the world and the order of nature; and the second, by which he renews and restores fallen nature. As he is the eternal Speech of God, by him the world was made; by his power all things continue to possess the life which they once received; man especially was endued with an extraordinary gift of understanding; and though by his revolt he lost the light of understanding, yet he still sees and understands, so that what he naturally possesses from the grace of the Son of God is not entirely destroyed. But since by his stupidity and perverseness he darkens the light which still dwells in him, it remains that a new office be undertaken by the Son of God, the office of Mediator, to renew, by the Spirit of regeneration, man who had been ruined. Those persons, therefore, reason absurdly and inconclusively, who refer this light, which the Evangelist mentions, to the gospel and the doctrine of salvation.[4]

4 “Life” (zōē, GK 2437) is one of John’s favorite words. Almost half of the 134 occurrences of the word in the NT are found in his writings (thirty-six in the gospel, thirteen in his first epistle, and fifteen in Revelation). In contrast to another Greek word for life (bios, GK 1050), which occurs eleven times in the NT and normally refers to everyday life, zōē refers most often to the supernatural life that belongs to God and that the believer now shares through faith in Christ. Life is an essential attribute of God. In the course of his gospel, John will point out that God in his relationship to the believer is both the “bread of life” (6:35) and the “light of life” (8:12). He supplies the “water of life” (“living water,” 4:10), and his words are “spirit and … life” (6:63).

The life that was in the Son is said to be “the light of men.” It enables people to see that God is at work in the world. Lindars, 86, notes that it includes “the widest range of man’s intellectual apprehension of God and his purposes.” Life as “the light of men” makes revelation possible. Life and light are frequently associated in the OT (e.g., Ps 36:9).

5 The light “continues to shine” (Williams) in the darkness, but the darkness is unable to grasp its meaning or to put it out. The darkness about which John writes refers to the condition of the fallen race. It is personified as an active agent over against the light of Christ. The Greek katalambanō (GK 2898) means “to seize” or “to grasp.” If the action implied is physical, the verse means that the darkness did not “overcome” or “extinguish” the light (so RSV). If it is understood in the sense of a grasping with the mind, it means that the darkness did not “understand”—or perhaps “accept”—the light. There is no reason to limit interpretation to one or the other. When the life, which was in the Word, manifested itself as light, the world in darkness neither accepted it (cf. v. 11) nor was able to put it out (ch. 20). The Living Bible translates, “His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it.”[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 21–24). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 38–49). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 15–24). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, pp. 31–34). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] 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. 369). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

January 19, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Confession

And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (16:16)

As usual (see, e.g., Matt. 15:15; 19:27; John 6:68), Simon Peter was the spokesman, “the director of the apostolic choir,” as Chrysostom called him. Also as usual, his comments were brief, emphatic, and decisive: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, God’s predicted and long-awaited deliverer of Israel, the supreme “Anointed One,” the coming High Priest, King, Prophet, and Savior. Without hesitation Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, whereas the multitudes of Jews believed Him to be only the Messiah’s precursor.

On first meeting Jesus, Andrew had excitedly proclaimed Him to be the Messiah, and Nathaniel had called Him “the Son of God … the King of Israel” (John 1:41, 49). The disciples knew that John the Baptist had borne witness that Jesus “is the Son of God” (John 1:34), and the longer they stayed with Him, the more evidence they had of His divine nature, power, and authority.

Like their fellow Jews, however, they had been taught to expect a conquering and reigning Messiah who would deliver God’s people from their enemies and establish forever His righteous kingdom on earth. And when Jesus refused to use His miraculous power for His own benefit or to oppose the Roman oppressors, the disciples wondered if they were right about Jesus’ identity. His humility, meekness, and subservience were in total contrast to their preconceived views of the Messiah. That the Messiah would be ridiculed with impunity, not to mention persecuted and executed, was inconceivable. When Jesus spoke of His going away and coming back, Thomas doubtlessly echoed the consternation of all the disciples when he said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (John 14:5).

It was similar bewilderment that caused John the Baptist to question his earlier affirmation of Jesus’ messiahship. “When John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, ‘Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ ” (Matt. 11:1–3). Jesus’ miracles were clear evidence of His messiahship, but His failure to use those powers to overthrow Rome and establish His earthly kingdom brought Jesus’ identity into question even with the godly, Spirit-filled John.

Like John the Baptist, the Twelve fluctuated between moments of great faith and of grave doubt. They could proclaim with deep conviction, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). They could also display remarkable lack of faith and discernment, even after witnessing hundreds of healings and dramatic demonstrations of supernatural power (see Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). They were sometimes strong in faith and sometimes weak. Jesus frequently spoke of their “little faith.”

Now, at last, the truth of Jesus’ divinity and messiahship was established in their minds beyond question. They would still experience times of weakness and confusion about what Jesus said and did, but they would no longer doubt who it was who said and did them. He was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God. God’s own Spirit had now imbedded the truth indelibly in their hearts.

It took two and a half years for them to come to this place of confession, through the struggles and hatred of the Jewish religious leaders, the mounting fickleness and rejection of the people, and their own confusion about what the Messiah had come to do. But without question they now knew He was the fulfiller of their hopes, the source of their salvation, the desire of the nations.

On behalf of all the apostles, Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, but as the Son of the living God. The Son of Man (v. 13) was also the Son of … God, the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. He was the true and real God, not a mythological figment such as Pan or a mortal “deity” such as caesar-both of whom had shrines in Caesarea Philippi. The disciples’ Lord was Son of the living God.

As evidenced by numerous things the Twelve later said and did, they did not at this time have a full comprehension of the Trinity or even of the full nature and work of Christ. But they knew Jesus was truly the Christ and that He was truly divine, the Son of the living God. Son reflects the idea of oneness in essence, because a son is one in nature with his father. So Jesus Christ was one in nature with God the Father (cf. John 5:17–18; 10:30–33).[1]

16. Thou art the Christ. The confession is short, but it embraces all that is contained in our salvation; for the designation Christ, or Anointed, includes both an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting Priesthood, to reconcile us to God, and, by expiating our sins through his sacrifice, to obtain for us a perfect righteousness, and, having received us under his protection, to uphold and supply and enrich us with every description of blessings. Mark says only, Thou art the Christ. Luke says, Thou art the Christ of God. But the meaning is the same; for the Christs (χριστοί) of God was the appellation anciently bestowed on kings, who had been anointed by the divine command. And this phrase had been previously employed by Luke, (2:26,) when he said that Simeon had been informed by a revelation from heaven that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. For the redemption, which God manifested by the hand of his Son, was clearly divine; and therefore it was necessary that he who was to be the Redeemer should come from heaven, bearing the impress of the anointing of God. Matthew expresses it still more clearly, Thou art the Son of the living God; for, though Peter did not yet understand distinctly in what way Christ was the begotten of God, he was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in his flesh. When the attribute living is ascribed to God, it is for the purpose of distinguishing between Him and dead idols, who are nothing, (1 Cor. 8:4.)[2]

It must be borne in mind that this question had been addressed to all these men, not just to one of them; hence, “you,” not “you.” Accordingly when one of the Twelve now answers it, he does so as the spokesman for the entire group, and the answer which Jesus gives him must therefore also be regarded as not being altogether without significance for the group. 16. Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. The personality of Peter and his position of leadership has received earlier comment (see on 4:18–22; 10:2; 14:28, 29). In the present passage note:

  • Probably to add solemnity and clarity to the record of the event this disciple’s full name is here used: “Simon Peter.” This appellation is the usual one in John’s Gospel, but not in the Synoptics. It occurs in Luke 5:8, in connection with another context of deep emotion and humble reverence.
  • In the Gospels and in the book of Acts Peter frequently represents The Twelve, as is clear not only from the present context but also, among others, from Matt. 15:15, 16; 19:27, 28; 26:35, 40, 41; Luke 8:45; 9:32, 33; 12:41; 18:28; John 6:67–69; Acts 1:15; 2:14, 37, 38; and 5:29. Nevertheless, his identity is not lost. It is Peter who speaks and Peter who is going to be addressed in verses 17–19.
  • Even before this time Peter had made soul-stirring declarations concerning Jesus (Luke 5:8; John 6:68, 69), but the present profession of faith is the most complete of them all.
  • As to definiteness, in this concise statement, containing only ten words, the original uses the definite article no less than four times.
  • When Peter declares Jesus to be “the Christ” he means the long awaited Anointed One, the One who as Mediator was set apart or ordained by the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be his people’s chief Prophet (Deut. 18:15, 18; Isa. 55:4; Luke 24:19; Acts 3:22, 7:37); only Highpriest (Ps. 110:4; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 6:20; 7:24; 9:24); and eternal King. (Ps. 2:6; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5; 28:18; Luke 1:33; John 10:28; Eph. 1:20–23; Rev. 11:15; 12:10, 11; 17:14; 19:6).
  • Peter’s declaration that Jesus is “the Son of the living God” can mean no less than that in a unique sense, a sense not applicable to any mortal, Jesus is, was, and always will be the Son of that God who not only is himself the only living One, over against all the dead so-called gods of the pagans (Isa. 40:18–31), but also is the only source of life for all that lives.[3]

16 Simon Peter (for the double name, see 4:18; 10:2; cf. v. 17) answers for himself as well as for the other apostles (see esp. 15:15; cf. 19:27 for Peter as spokesman for the others). This was something they had undoubtedly discussed again and again, and they had already come to their conclusion. While it must be granted that it is Peter who responds and upon whom the singular pronouns and verbs of vv 17–19 focus (thus rightly Davies-Allison), Peter is never regarded as isolated from the twelve. To be sure, he is their leader and spokesman (primus inter pares), but he is also their representative, indeed the representative of the entire church (rightly Luz). Cf. too the plural verbs in the similar logion in 18:18, which in principle involve the same authority, even if at a local level (cf. Kingsbury, JBL 98 [1979] 67–83). Peter thus boldly declares: σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer differs categorically from those offered by the people. That is, here Jesus is not identified as one of the figures involved in the coming of the end times, but as the coming one, the determinative person who brings with him the messianic age and the transformation of the present order. Χριστός, “Christ,” is the Greek word for “anointed one” (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ; [māšîaḥ]). For the title, see Comment on 1:1, 16. This is the first occurrence of the title in direct speech. For the closely related title “Son of David,” see 9:27; 12:23; 15:22.

In 2 Sam 7:4–16, the passage that gives rise to the expectation of the Son of David, it is said that “the Lord will make you a house” and that that house “shall be made sure forever before me” and that throne “shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). Davies-Allison stress this passage as the background for the present pericope, which serves as its fulfillment: “Mt 16.13–20 records the eschatatological realization of the promises made to David” (Davies-Allison, 2:603; see too Anderson for Davidic and Zionist links with Peter’s confession). Matthew’s interpretive expansion, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, “the Son of God,” defines the Messiah as more than a human figure, as someone who is uniquely a manifestation of God, the very agent of God who somehow participates in God’s being (see Gundry, Davies-Allison; on the title, see Comment on 3:17; and 4:3; 8:29; 11:27). The disciples had earlier already confessed Jesus as the Son of God (14:33). There it was under pressure of extraordinary circumstances; here it is the result of calm reflection as well as the product of divine revelation. And to this second confession the revelation of Jesus’ call to suffer and die is appended. The high priest later asks Jesus whether he is “the Christ, the Son of God” (26:63), thereby again bringing together the two titles (for the same juxtaposition of titles, see also John 11:27; 20:31). For the background of the conception of the Messiah as God’s Son, cf. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:6–8, 12; & 4QFlor; 10–14. See also 27:40, 43, 54 for the “Son of God” title. The title is, of course, extremely important in the Fourth Gospel (besides references above, see 1:34, 4–9; 19:7; cf. 6:69). The expression τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος, “the living God,” is an OT expression (cf. Deut 5:26; Pss 42:2; 84:2), found elsewhere in Matthew in 26:63 (cf. 22:32) and frequently in the NT (see 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10 [where it furthermore modifies the noun ἐκκλησία, “church”]; Acts 14:15; Rom 9:26; 2 Cor 3:3, 6:16; 1 Thess 1:9; Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; 1 Peter 1:23; Rev 7:2; 15:7; cf. John 6:57; Rev 1:18; 4:9). It describes the true God, as opposed to the gods of the world who were not alive, such as the deities of the region of Caesarea Philippi (cf. its use by Jews in pagan contexts, e.g., 2 Macc 7:33; 15:4; 3 Macc 6:28). Implied in the phrase (but only implied) is the fact that God is uniquely the source of all life (see Meier, Davies-Allison).[4]

Ver. 16. Simon Peter.—Peter answered not merely in his own name, but in that of all the disciples.—Thou art the Christ,i.e., the Messiah Himself. And this not in the sense in which carnal Jewish traditionalism held the doctrine of the Messiah, but in the true and spiritual import of the title—the Son of the living God—The latter expression must not be taken merely in a negative sense, as denoting the True God in opposition to false deities; it must also be viewed in a positive sense, as referring to Him whose manifestations in Israel were completed in and crowned by the appearance of His Son as the Messiah. This, however, implies Sonship not only in a moral or official, but also in the ontological sense. Thus the reply of Peter had all the characteristics of a genuine confession—being decided, solemn, and deep.

[The confession of Peter is the first and fundamental Christian confession of faith, and the germ of the Apostles’ Creed. It is a confession, not of mere human opinions, or views, or convictions, however firm, but of a divinely wrought faith, and not of faith only (I believe that Thou art), but of adoration and worship (Thou art). It is christological, i.e., a confession of Jesus Christ as the centre and heart of the whole Christian system, and the only and all-sufficient fountain of spiritual life. It is a confession of Jesus Christ as a true man (Thou, Jesus), as the promised Messiah (the Christ), and as the eternal Son of God (the Son—not a son—of the living God.), hence as the God-Man and Saviour of the world. It is thus a confession of the mystery of the Incarnation in the widest sense, the great central mystery of godliness, “God manifest in the flesh.”—Compare also the excellent remarks of Olshausen (in Kendrick’s Am. ed., vol. i p. 545 sq.) and Alford, who, following Olshausen, says in loc.: “The confession is not made in the terms of the other answer: it is not ‘we say,’ or “I say,’ but ‘Thou art’. It is the expression of an inward conviction wrought by God’s Spirit. The excellence of this confession is, that it brings out both the human and the divine nature of the Lord: Χριδτός is the Messiah, the Son of David, the anointed King; δυἱὸς το Θεον͂τον ζῶν τος is the Eternal Son, begotten of the Eternal Father, as the last word most emphatically implies, not ‘Son of God’ in any inferior figurative sense, not one of the sons of God, of angelic nature, but the Son of the living God, having in Him the Sonship and the divine nature, in a sense in which they could be in none else. This was the view of the person of Christ quite distinct from the Jewish Messianic idea, which appears to have been (Justin Mart. Dial. p. 267) that he should be born from men, but selected by God for the office on account of his eminent virtues. This distinction accounts for the solemn blessing pronounced in the next verse. Ζῶντος must not for a moment be taken here, as it sometimes is used (e.g., Acts 14:15), as merely distinguishing the true God from dead idols: it is here emphatic, and imparts force and precision to υἱός. That Peter, when he uttered the words, understood by them in detail all that we now understand, is not of course here asserted, but that they were his testimony to the true Humanity and true Divinity of the Lord, in that sense of deep truth and reliance, out of which springs the Christian life of the Church.” Meyer, indeed, takes τοῦ ζωντος  simply as the solemn epithet of the true God in opposition to the dead idols of the heathen; but there was no reason here for contrasting the true God with heathen idols, and Peter must have meant to convey the idea, however imperfectly understood by him at the time, that the Godhead itself was truly revealed in, and reflected from, the human person of Christ in a sense and to a degree compared with which all former manifestations of God appeared to him like dead shadows. He echoed the declaration from heaven at Christ’s baptism: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and recognized in Him the essential and eternal life of the great Jehovah.—P. S.][5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 20–22). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 289). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 643). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Hagner, D. A. (1998). Matthew 14–28 (Vol. 33B, pp. 468–469). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[5] Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (pp. 294–295). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

January 18, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

8. The statutes of Jehovah are right. The Psalmist at first view may seem to utter a mere common-place sentiment when he calls the statutes of the Lord right. If we, however, more attentively consider the contrast which he no doubt makes between the rectitude of the law and the crooked ways in which men entangle themselves when they follow their own understandings, we will be convinced that this commendation implies more than may at first sight appear. We know how much every man is wedded to himself, and how difficult it is to eradicate from our minds the vain confidence of our own wisdom. It is therefore of great importance to be well convinced of this truth, that a man’s life cannot be ordered aright unless it is framed according to the law of God, and that without this he can only wander in labyrinths and crooked bypaths. David adds, in the second place, that God’s statutes rejoice the heart. This implies that there is no other joy true and solid but that which proceeds from a good conscience; and of this we become partakers when we are certainly persuaded that our life is pleasing and acceptable to God. No doubt, the source from which true peace of conscience proceeds is faith, which freely reconciles us to God. But to the saints who serve God with true affection of heart there arises unspeakable joy also, from the knowledge that they do not labour in his service in vain, or without hope of recompense, since they have God as the judge and approver of their life. In short, this joy is put in opposition to all the corrupt enticements and pleasures of the world, which are a deadly bait, luring wretched souls to their everlasting destruction. The import of the Psalmist’s language is, Those who take delight in committing sin procure for themselves abundant matter of sorrow; but the observance of the law of God, on the contrary, brings to man true joy. In the end of the verse, the Psalmist teaches that the commandment of God is pure, enlightening the eyes. By this he gives us tacitly to understand that it is only in the commandments of God that we find the difference between good and evil laid down, and that it is in vain to seek it elsewhere, since whatever men devise of themselves is mere filth and refuse, corrupting the purity of the life. He farther intimates that men, with all their acuteness, are blind, and always wander in darkness, until they turn their eyes to the light of heavenly doctrine. Whence it follows, that none are truly wise but those who take God for their conductor and guide, following the path which he points out to them, and who are diligently seeking after the peace which he offers and presents by his word.

But here a question of no small difficulty arises; for Paul seems entirely to overthrow these commendations of the law which David here recites. How can these things agree together: that the law restores the souls of men, while yet it is a dead and deadly letter? that it rejoices men’s hearts, and yet, by bringing in the spirit of bondage, strikes them with terror? that it enlightens the eyes, and yet, by casting a veil before our minds, excludes the light which ought to penetrate within? But, in the first place, we must remember what I have shown you at the commencement, that David does not speak simply of the precepts of the Moral Law, but comprehends the whole covenant by which God had adopted the descendants of Abraham to be his peculiar people; and, therefore, to the Moral Law—the rule of living well—he joins the free promises of salvation, or rather Christ himself, in whom and upon whom this adoption was founded. But Paul, who had to deal with persons who perverted and abused the law, and separated it from the grace and the Spirit of Christ, refers to the ministry of Moses viewed merely by itself, and according to the letter. It is certain, that if the Spirit of Christ does not quicken the law, the law is not only unprofitable, but also deadly to its disciples. Without Christ there is in the law nothing but inexorable rigour, which adjudges all mankind to the wrath and curse of God. And farther, without Christ, there remains within us a rebelliousness of the flesh, which kindles in our hearts a hatred of God and of his law, and from this proceed the distressing bondage and awful terror of which the Apostle speaks. These different ways in which the law may be viewed, easily show us the manner of reconciling these passages of Paul and David, which seem at first view to be at variance. The design of Paul is to show what the law can do for us, taken by itself; that is to say, what it can do for us when, without the promise of grace, it strictly and rigorously exacts from us the duty which we owe to God; but David, in praising it as he here does, speaks of the whole doctrine of the law, which includes also the gospel, and, therefore, under the law he comprehends Christ.[1]

19:8. The Law’s precepts give joy to the heart and its commands enlighten one’s eyes, that is, brighten his life and guide him. The statutes (v. 7), precepts, commands (v. 8), and ordinances (v. 9) are all specific instructions within the Law. Joy and guidance fill the soul of one who meditates on and follows God’s commands.[2]

19:8 precepts. This synonym looks upon God’s Word as orders, charges, statutes, etc. They are viewed as the Governor’s governings. commandment. This word is related to the verb “to command” or “order.” The Word is therefore also perceived as divine orders.[3]

19:8 pure. Unmixed with evil (cf. 24:4). enlightening the eyes. For the eyes to have light or to be bright is for the person to be alert and active (cf. 1 Sam. 14:27; Ezra 9:8; Ps. 13:3; 38:10; Prov. 29:13).[4]

19:8 is pure The Hebrew word used here, bar, emphasizes moral purity.[5]

[1] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 1, pp. 320–322). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 808). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 19:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 961). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 19:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

January 18, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

6. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness. He again repeats the name of God, in which we ought to supply what he stated in the former verse about his power. It is generally thought that this points out the end of Christ’s calling, that he was sent by the Father to establish “justice” among men, who are destitute of it so long as they have not Christ, and, being given up to all the corruptions of crimes and vices, are held captive under the tyranny of Satan. But because the word “righteousness” has a more extensive signification, I pass by that ingenious distinction; for it is not even said that he shall be called “to righteousness,” but this phraseology ought to be viewed as equivalent to the adverbial expression, “righteously,” or “in a holy manner.” I rather suppose the meaning to be, that Christ was “called in righteousness,” because his calling is lawful, and therefore shall be firm and secure. We know that what is not done in a proper and regular manner cannot be of long duration. Or perhaps it will be thought preferable to view it thus, that God, in appointing Christ to restore the Church, seeks no reason but from himself and his own righteousness; but it is certain that this word denotes stability, as if he had said, “faithfully.”

And will hold thee by thy hand. By “the holding of the hand” he means the immediate assistance of God; as if he had said, “I will direct and establish thee in the calling to which I have appointed thee. In a word, as thy calling is righteous, so I will defend and uphold thee, as if by taking hold of thy hand I were thy leader.”

I will keep thee. This word “keep” plainly shews what is the meaning of holding by the hand, namely, that Christ will be directed by the Father in such a manner that he shall have him as his protector and guardian, shall enjoy his assistance, and, in short, shall feel his presence in all things.

And will place thee for a covenant. He now states the reason why God promises that he will be a guardian to Christ. Besides, the Prophet spoke of the Jews and the Gentiles separately; not that they differ by nature, or that the one is more excellent than the other, (for all need the grace of God, (Rom. 3:23,) and Christ has brought salvation to all indiscriminately,) but because the Lord assigned the first rank to the Jews, (Matt. 10:6,) it was therefore proper that they should be distinguished from the others. Accordingly, before “the partition-wall” (Eph. 2:14) was thrown down, they excelled, not by their merit, but by the favour of God, because with them in the first instance the covenant of grace was made.

It may be objected, “Why is Christ appointed to a covenant which was ratified long before? for, more than two thousand years before, God had adopted Abraham, and thus the origin of the distinction was long previous to the coming of Christ.” I reply, the covenant which was made with Abraham and his posterity had its foundation in Christ; for the words of the covenant are these, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18.) And the covenant was ratified in no other manner than in the seed of Abraham, that is, in Christ, by whose coming, though it had been previously made, it was confirmed and actually sanctioned. Hence also Paul says, “that the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ,” (2 Cor. 1:20,) and in another passage calls Christ “the minister of circumcision, to fulfil the promises which were given to the fathers.” (Rom. 15:8.) Still more clearly does he declare that Christ is “the peace” of all, so that they who were formerly separated are united in him, and both they who were far off and they who were near are thus reconciled to God. (Eph. 2:17.) Hence also it is evident that Christ was promised, not only to the Jews, but to the whole world.

For a light of the Gentiles. We have here another clear proof of the calling of the Gentiles, since he expressly states that Christ was appointed to be “a light” to them. He calls him a light, because the Gentiles were plunged in the deepest and thickest darkness, at the time when the Lord illuminated none but the Jews. Now, then, the blame lies solely with ourselves, if we do not become partakers of this salvation; for he calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illuminated by him. Let us only open our eyes, he alone will dispel the darkness, and illuminate our minds by the “light” of truth.[1]

Verse 6 with its reference to a “covenant for the people” makes us aware of the fact that the servant cannot be simply identified with Israel. He at least represents a group within it, perhaps the faithful remnant (see comments on 4:2), if not an individual. Thus the reader is being gradually educated as to the identity of the true Servant of God, and it should not be missed that this first Servant Song occurs immediately after a passage in which the ability of Israel’s God to predict is strongly asserted. The phrase “covenant for the people” implies a structured relationship between God and those already possessing his revelation, while “a light for the Gentiles” suggests the widening of the scope of this revelation. The covenantal reference may be to the new covenant, the special blessings of which are later spelled out in Jeremiah 31:31–34. If it is, it may be viewed as confirming the Abrahamic covenant, for that covenant too spoke of a blessing for the nations (cf. Ge 12:1–3, et al.).[2]

42:6 Called, hold, keep, and give are expressions parallel to the words of v. 1. In contrast to Cyrus, who brought political deliverance (41:2), the Servant in righteousness will deliver Israel from sin. The Servant will institute a new covenant binding Israel to the Lord (49:8). The prophets refer to this new covenant as a “covenant of peace” (54:10; Ezek. 34:25); an “everlasting covenant” (which is also associated with the Davidic covenant; 55:3); a “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31–34); and most often simply as a “covenant.” The people refers to the Gentiles (60:3). Christ is the true light of the world (9:2; 49:6; 60:3; John 8:12; 9:5; Acts 26:17, 18, 23), and Christ’s followers should reflect His light (Matt. 5:14).[3]

42:6 I am the Lord. Beginning with 41:13, the Lord’s self-identification is frequent (41:13; 42:6, 8; 43:3, 11, 15; 45:5, 6, 7, 18; 48:17; 49:23; 51:15). His personal name is the one He explained to Moses as specially symbolic of the unique relationship He bore to Israel (Ex 3:15; 6:3). Here that covenant name guarantees His ministry through the Messiah-Servant. covenant to the people. The Servant is a covenant in that He personifies and provides the blessings of salvation to God’s people Israel. He is the Mediator of a better covenant than the one with Moses, i.e., the New Covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Heb 8:6, 10–12). See note on 49:8. light to the nations. Simeon saw the beginning of this fulfillment at Christ’s first coming (Lk 2:32). He came as the Messiah of Israel, yet the Savior of the world, who revealed Himself to a non-Jewish immoral woman by the well in Samaria (cf. Jn 4:25, 26) and commanded His followers to preach the gospel of salvation to everyone in the world (Mt 28:19, 20). Certainly the church, made up mostly of Gentiles grafted into the trunk of blessing (cf. Ro 9:24–30; 11:11–24), fulfills this promise, as does the future kingdom on earth when the Servant will use Israel to shine and enlighten all the nations of the earth (49:6; cf. 19:24).[4]

42:6 Christ the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5) brings light to the nations (John 12:32; Acts 26:18, 23), fulfilling the promise to Abraham of blessing to the nations (see note on Gen. 12:3).[5]

42:6 I have called you in righteousness The pronoun “you” is singular here, demonstrating that the Servant figure is the light for the nations and the covenant for the people—not the collective nation of Israel.

a covenant of the people, as a light of Compare 49:6–8, which reinforces the identification of the individual Servant as the light for the nations and the covenant for the people. The Servant represents and serves God’s chosen people. In Luke 2:32, this concept is linked to ancient Jewish messianic expectation.[6]

42:6 called … keep. These are expressions parallel to v. 1.

covenant for the people. Jesus Christ, as God’s Servant, brought the new covenant to His people (see 53:4–6; Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:6–13; 9:15). The covenant is also called the “covenant of peace” (54:10), the “everlasting covenant” (55:3; 61:8), and the “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31).

light for the nations. The recipients of God’s light are a new community of light-bearers in a dark world (9:2; 49:6; 51:4; 60:1–3; Luke 2:30–32; Acts 26:17, 18, 23).[7]

42:6 The phrase “a light to the Gentiles” is a reference to the fact that the gospel of Christ extends to every man. Christ died for all (cf. Acts 4:12).[8]

42:6 God had entered into a covenant with Abraham on behalf not only of future Israel, but also of the nations (Gn 12:1–3). But history shows Israel’s miserable failure. Again, God’s purposes were fulfilled in the good news of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection brought hope (light) to the Gentiles. He was the one who established the new covenant anticipated by Jeremiah (Jr 31:31–34; Lk 22:20).[9]

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 3, pp. 293–295). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, p. 739). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 849–850). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 42:6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1315). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 42:6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1011). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[8] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Is 42:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[9] Longman, T., III. (2017). Isaiah. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1102). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

January 18, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

10:1 This verse probably contains a veiled polemic against Baal and Baalism (see also Jer 14:22; Am 5:8; cf. further Barker, “The Value of Ugaritic,” 120–23). Yahweh, not Baal, is the one who controls the weather and the rain and gives life and fertility to the land; therefore, God’s people are to pray to him and trust in him. Some scholars regard the spring rains as literal; others understand them as spiritual and typical. Perhaps both are in view, the literal rains being also typical of spiritual refreshment. Certainly in the grand consummation of the messianic era, both the physical and spiritual realms will flourish (cf. Isa 55:10–12; Hos 6:3; Joel 2:21–32).[1]

What to practise (v. 1)

The ninth chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy closed with the Lord promising to give the people bountiful crops (9:17). Now he tells them that they must pray for rain.

The success of the crops in Israel depended on two rains: in the planting season, which was in the autumn, and just before the harvesting season in the spring. Matthew Henry observes, ‘If either of these rains failed, it was very bad with that land.’

So here is something remarkable. The Lord had promised bountiful crops for his people (9:17), but he told them that they must pray to that end! The former rain had evidently fallen, but they were not to assume that the latter rain would fall. If they would pray for it, they would be richly rewarded with ‘flashing clouds’ and ‘showers of rain’.

We always want to know why it is necessary to pray for something if God has already promised it. Here’s the answer: God wants us to! He has appointed prayer as the channel through which his blessings flow. If we were to receive his blessings apart from asking, we would not prize them to the degree we should.

The Bible frequently uses rain as an emblem of God pouring on his people an abundance of spiritual renewal and vitality. Therefore, the Lord was telling his people what they needed to get beyond their low, sad condition. A good spiritual rain would do it! And he could provide it! But they needed to ask! Joyce Baldwin notes, ‘When it comes to deeper, spiritual needs of which the rain is a symbol … there is no help but in God.’

All this should make us ask ourselves if we are asking God for true revival. T. V. Moore writes, ‘When the Church pours out a fulness of prayer, God will pour out a fulness of his spirit.’ There will be no revival until God’s people earnestly desire it. We must not be satisfied with past blessings (the former rain). We must fervently desire the fullness of God’s blessing now and in the future (the latter rain). And we must pray, pray, pray (2 Chr. 7:14)! We can easily vex ourselves with the problem of ‘unanswered prayer’. A greater problem by far, however, is ‘unasked prayer’ (James 4:2).[2]

Ver.1. Ask of Jehovah. This summons to prayer is not a mere expression of God’s readiness to give (Hengstenberg), but, both from the force of the words and the connection, is to be literally understood. Rain stands as a representative for all blessings, temporal and spiritual. In the time of the latter rain, is merely a rhetorical amplification, for it cannot be shown that the latter rain was more necessary than the early rain for maturing the harvest. Cf. Deut. 11:13–15, from which the expressions here are taken. Lightnings are mentioned as precursors of rain. Cf. Jer. 10:13; Ps. 135:7, where, however, a different word (בְרָקִים) is used. Give them, i. e., every one who asks.[3]

10:1. Further, the Lord promised to provide for Israel in the messianic kingdom. God would send the spring rain in response to Israel’s prayer, bringing agricultural blessing to the people.[4]

10:1 The latter rain (Deut. 11:14) refers to the rain that comes in late spring and is essential for an abundant grain harvest.[5]

10:1 Ask rain from the Lord. In light of the promised blessings of 9:17, the prophet encourages the people to request these blessings from the Lord, with confidence. There will be literal rain and spring rain (Apr./May) in the kingdom (cf. Is 35:1–7) making the land flourish, but the promise here extends to refer to spiritual blessings (cf Hos 6:1–3). The “spring rain” of spiritual grace and goodness from God will bring refreshment to people’s souls (cf. Is 44:3).[6]

10:1 In view of the Lord’s promise to provide the grain and new wine for his people (9:17), they should look to him in faith for “rain.” The Israelite agricultural economy was dependent on rain for its success, especially the spring rain. Since pagan gods such as Baal also claimed to make the storm clouds that controlled the rainfall, a crucial test of Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord was, from whom would they seek the rain?[7]

10:1 the season of the spring rain The rains that commence in March or April are known as the spring rain or latter rain. The former rains are those of autumn that follow the harvest time. See Joel 2:23 and note.[8]

10:1 Those being exhorted to look forward to messianic fruitfulness (9:17) are reminded that predictive prophecy is almost never without an immediate application. Even now, one can pray for the divine rain without which a later harvest will not come (cf. Hos. 6:1–3; Joel 2:23–32).[9]

[1] Barker, K. L. (2008). Zechariah. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, p. 800). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ellsworth, R. (2010). Opening Up Zechariah (pp. 101–102). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., & Chambers, T. W. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Zechariah (p. 78). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Zechariah. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1429). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1114). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[6] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Zec 10:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1763). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Zec 10:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[9] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Zec 10:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

January 17, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Assertion

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (8:12)

As noted in the previous chapter of this volume, the word again appears to link this passage with 7:37–52, rather than 7:53–8:11, likely not in the original. More important, this is the second of seven “I am” statements in John’s gospel that reveal different facets of Christ’s nature as God and His work as Savior (cf. the discussion of 6:35 in chapter 20 of this volume). John had already used the metaphor of light to describe Jesus (1:4, 8–9; cf. Rev. 21:23), and it was one rich in Old Testament allusions (cf. Ex. 13:21–22; 14:19–20; Neh. 9:12, 19; Pss. 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; 44:3; 104:2; 119:105, 130; Prov. 6:23; Isa. 60:19–20; Ezek. 1:4, 13, 26–28; Mic. 7:8; Hab. 3:3–4; Zech. 14:5b–7).

By claiming to be the Light of the world Jesus was clearly claiming to be God (cf. Ps. 27:1; Isa. 60:19; 1 John 1:5) and to be Israel’s Messiah, sent by God as the “light to the nations” (Isa. 42:6; cf. 49:6; Mal. 4:2).

Jesus Christ alone brings the light of salvation to a sin-cursed world. To the darkness of falsehood He is the light of truth; to the darkness of ignorance He is the light of wisdom; to the darkness of sin He is the light of holiness; to the darkness of sorrow He is the light of joy; and to the darkness of death He is the light of life.

The analogy of light, as with Jesus’ earlier use of the metaphor of living water (7:37–39), was particularly relevant to the Feast of Tabernacles. The daily water-pouring ceremony had its nightly counterpart in a lamp-lighting ceremony. In the very Court of the Women where Jesus was speaking, four huge candelabra were lit, pushing light up into the night sky like a searchlight. So brilliant was their light that one ancient Jewish source declared, “There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect [their] light” (cited in F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 206 n. 1). They served as a reminder of the pillar of fire by which God had guided Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21–22). The people—even the most dignified leaders—danced exuberantly around the candelabra through the night, holding blazing torches in their hands and singing songs of praise. It was against the backdrop of that ceremony that Jesus made the stunning announcement that He is the true Light of the world.

But unlike the temporary and stationary candelabra, Jesus is a light that never goes out and a light to be followed. Just as Israel followed the pillar of fire in the wilderness (Ex. 40:36–38), so Jesus called men to follow Him (John 1:43; 10:4, 27; 12:26; 21:19, 22; Matt. 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21). The one who follows Him, Jesus promised, will not walk in the darkness of sin, the world, and Satan, but will have the Light that produces spiritual life (cf. 1:4; Pss. 27:1; 36:9; Isa. 49:6; Acts 13:47; 2 Cor. 4:4–6; Eph. 5:14; 1 John 1:7). Having been illumined by Jesus, believers reflect His light in the dark world (Matt. 5:14; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:5); “They, having kindled their torches at His bright flame, show to the world something of His light” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 438).

Akoloutheō (follows) is sometimes used in a general sense to speak of the crowds who followed Jesus (e.g., 6:2; Matt. 4:25; 8:1; 12:15; Mark 2:15; 3:7; Luke 7:9; 9:11). But it can also refer, more specifically, to following Him as a true disciple (e.g., 1:43; 10:4, 27; 12:26; Matt. 4:20, 22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:27; Mark 9:38). In that context, it has the connotation of complete submission to Jesus as Lord. God does not accept a half-hearted following of Christ—of receiving Him as Savior, but not following Him as Lord. The person who comes to Jesus comes to Him on His terms, or he does not come at all—a truth Jesus illustrated in Matthew 8:18–22:

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

An even more striking illustration of that principle is found in Jesus’ dialogue with the rich young ruler:

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:18–27)

In a shocking contradiction of contemporary evangelistic principles, Jesus actually turned away an eager prospect. But the Lord was not interested in making salvation artificially easy for people, but genuine. He wanted their absolute allegiance, obedience, and submission. In Luke 9:23–24 He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (For a discussion of the biblical view of the lordship of Christ, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], and The Gospel According to the Apostles [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993.)

Following Christ is not burdensome, as walking in the light illustrates. It is far easier than stumbling around in the dark (cf. Jer. 13:16).[1]

“I Am the Light of the World”

John 8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It is not an accident that the claim of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the light of the world occurs immediately after the story of the woman taken in adultery, the story that introduces the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel.

The story of the woman taken in adultery may not have been in the original text of John’s Gospel, that is, in the first copy of the book as John wrote it. But whether it was there initially or not, few can doubt that the place where it finally was put was well chosen; for it follows well on the failure of an original plan by the rulers of Israel to arrest Jesus, and leads naturally into Christ’s statement about being the light of the world. The story of the woman and her accusers is a greater revelation of the dark nature of sin than anything yet recorded in John’s Gospel, and in it the purity and brightness of Jesus shine through abundantly.

It is appropriate to turn from the story itself to hear the Lord say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12).

Jesus already has been described as light in John’s Gospel. In the opening chapter John wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (v. 4). He spoke of the light six times in that context. In chapter 3 there is a similar reference. John said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (v. 19). This verse and those immediately following refer to light five times in reference to Jesus. In each of these cases the image is in John’s words only, however. So we read these verses and, if we have not read further, we find ourselves asking, “But why does John refer to Jesus in this way? Where did he get this image? How did he develop this idea?” It is only when we get to our present text that we discover the answer. John refers to Jesus as the light because Jesus referred to himself as the light. Indeed, John obviously remembered this and so developed the images even further in this Gospel and in 1 John.

Jesus’ claim to be the world’s light is the second of the seven great “I am” sayings that are a unique feature of this book. The others are: “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the gate” (10:7, 9), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6), and “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5).

The Cloud in the Desert

If we are to understand the full import of what Jesus was claiming when he claimed to be the light of the world, we must understand this verse in terms of that to which Jesus was undoubtedly referring. This is particularly important because it is not what we would most naturally think. We read this verse—“I am the light of the world”—and we think of the sun. Indeed, we are encouraged to do that by uses of this image elsewhere, as in Malachi where the coming Messiah is spoken of as the “sun of righteousness … with healing in its wings.” This is not a bad thing to do. There is even much to be learned from it. But it is not the image Jesus is using in John 8:12.

To understand what Jesus had in mind as he spoke to the people we must remember that these words were spoken shortly after the Feast of Tabernacles in the courtyard of the temple area (v. 20) where the ceremonies that were a part of that feast were conducted.

We already have noted one of these ceremonies. On each morning of the eight-day feast the priests of Israel joined in a procession to the pool of Siloam from which they drew water in golden pitchers. Then, returning to the temple area, they poured this water upon the altar of sacrifice. As they did this the people, many of whom accompanied the priests, sang and chanted. One verse used was Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Another was Psalm 114:7–8: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.” The use of Psalm 114 shows that the ceremony was conceived primarily as a remembrance of God’s provision of water for the people of Israel during the years of their wilderness wandering, though it also pointed forward to the spiritual water that men would draw from God in the day of God’s future visitation. It was probably at the high point of this ceremony that Jesus broke into the festivities by crying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37–38).

The second ceremony was similar. On the first night of the feast, and probably on succeeding nights also, after the sun had set, two great lamps were lighted in the courts of the temple. These were said to have cast their light over every quarter of the city. The lamps were meant to recall the pillar of cloud and fire that had accompanied the people in their wanderings in the desert. This was the cloud that had appeared on the day when the people left Egypt and had stood between the Israelites and the pursuing armies of the Egyptians the night before the crossing of the Red Sea. It kept the Jewish people from being attacked. Later it guided the people through the wilderness. It also spread out over them to give shade by day and light and warmth by night. I believe that it was in clear reference to the ceremony of lighting the lamps and naturally, therefore, also to the miraculous cloud itself that Jesus referred when he claimed to be this world’s light.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that if it is so, then we have a striking succession of three great wilderness images in chapters 6, 7, and 8 of John’s Gospel. In 6, Jesus is the new manna sent down from heaven. In 7, he is the water miraculously provided from the rock. In 8, he is the cloud. We therefore turn to the cloud itself and to its functions in order to determine the full meaning of this second of the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel.

God’s Presence

Why was the cloud important? The most obvious way in which the cloud was important was that it symbolized God’s presence with the people. This would be obvious from the fact that the cloud gave off light. For in an age that did not know an abundance of artificial light, light would always suggest God’s presence. Besides, the cloud was so huge and so striking that this in itself would suggest a theophany.

We see this in the texts that refer to this unique phenomenon. For instance, the first reference to the cloud in the Old Testament clearly identifies the presence of the Lord with it. “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exod. 13:21–22). Other passages tell us that God spoke from the cloud and that he sometimes broke forth from it in judgment upon the sins of the people. In one striking passage the cloud is even addressed as God, for God is said to have raised himself up when the cloud rose and to have descended when the cloud descended. “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.’ Whenever it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel’ ” (Num. 10:35–36). At no time in their wandering were the people of Israel able to forget that the presence of God went with them and overshadowed them in all they did.

Apply this now to the claim of the Lord Jesus Christ. Long years before, the cloud of God’s glory had departed from Israel. It once had filled the Holy of Holies of the temple before which Christ was standing. Now the innermost shrine was empty, and even the lamps that commemorated the departed cloud had gone out. In this context and against this background Jesus cried, “I am the light of the world. I am the cloud. I am God with you.” Here was God once again with his people.

Have you found God in Jesus? Is Jesus, God with you? There is no other place in which you may find him. Come to him if you have never done so, and learn to say with John and the believers of all ages: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).


Second, the cloud was important in that it was the primary means by which God protected the people. Without it the people would have perished many years before they entered Canaan, either from their human enemies like Pharoah and his armies or from the natural dangers of the desert.

We must remember at this point that when the people of Israel left Egypt there were probably about two million of them. The Bible says that there were 600,000 men, but, of course, wives and children need to be added to that number. This vast company of people was being led out into a desert region that, as anyone who has ever been there can tell you, is one of the most inhospitable regions on earth. In the daytime the temperature can easily reach 140 or 150 degrees, and at night it can fall below freezing. To survive in such a region the vast host of Israel needed water and a shelter from the sun. The rock, which Moses was instructed to smite with his rod, provided water. Shelter was provided by the cloud, which spread out over the camp of the people to give them protection. Without this special and miraculous provision the people would have died.

We sing about God’s protection of the people in one of our hymns, a hymn that many who sing it probably do not understand.

Round each habitation hov’ring,

See the cloud and fire appear

For a glory and a cov’ring,

Showing that the Lord is near!

Thus, deriving from their banner

Light by night and shade by day,

Safe they feed upon the manna

Which he gives them when they pray.

In the same way the Lord Jesus Christ is a protector for all who come to him and follow him.

The Moving of the Cloud

Third, the cloud was important because it was the primary means by which God guided the people while they were in the desert. There were few, if any, landmarks in the desert, and the people would not have recognized landmarks even if they had seen them. Besides, the heat of the desert produces mirages, distorts distances, and makes most terrains indistinguishable. How were the people to find their way? How were they to avoid wandering into hostile territory or around in circles? The answer God gave was the cloud. When the cloud moved they were to move; indeed, they had to move, for if they had remained where they were they would soon have died from the heat of the desert by day or from the cold at night. When the cloud remained in one place, they remained.

One long passage in Numbers makes this particularly clear. “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Num. 9:17–23).

We can easily see how this applies to Christ’s statement. For when he claimed to be the light of the world in clear reference to the cloud of Israel’s wandering, he was claiming not only that he was God with his people, or that he was the one who would protect them, but also that he is the one who gives guidance. Thus, when Jesus moves before us we are to move. When he abides in one place we, too, are to remain there.

Moreover, we are to avoid two errors. The first error is to be overly hasty in following him; that is, to follow so closely upon the moving of the cloud that we mistake its moving and find ourselves going in another direction. If we tend to make this mistake, we must remember that there was to be a clear space between the guiding ark over which the cloud rose and the people—about “two thousand cubits” (three-fifths of a mile)—that there be no mistakes about the road. Alexander Maclaren, who writes on this theme, observes, “It is neither reverent nor wise to be treading on the heels of our Guide in our eager confidence that we know where He wants us to go.”

On the other hand, we are not to be slow either. For, as Maclaren states, we are not to “let the warmth by the camp-fire, or the pleasantness of the shady place where [our] tent is pitched, keep [us] there when the cloud lifts.” The only place of true blessing is under the shadow of God’s presence.

Will You Follow?

To summarize: When the Lord Jesus Christ claimed to be the light of the world he was claiming to be these three things for his people—God with them, the source of protection, and the One who guides. These are great claims. But we must not overlook the fact that they are only for those who follow him. He said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” To follow Christ is almost synonomous with believing in Christ; for in another, parallel passage Jesus uses the same image in declaring, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). Faith in Christ is following Christ, or at least leads to following Christ. And following Christ is possible only for those who have faith in him.

Do you have faith in Christ? Are you following him? You should; for if you are, you have Christ’s promise that you will no longer be walking in darkness but will possess the light of life. The last phrase is another way of saying that you will possess Christ himself, who thereafter will become all things to you. The Bible says that he is made unto us “righteousness, holiness, and redemption,” and that it is a joy to follow him (1 Cor. 1:30).[2]

The Light of the World

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Of all the hundreds of times I have landed onto a runway in an airplane, perhaps the most memorable was a nighttime landing at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. I could not help but notice the difference between landing in Nairobi versus an American city. As an airplane approaches an American airport by night, it is bathed by the light of a million sparks below. But as we descended closer and closer to the ground in Nairobi, I stared out my window into pitch black, seeing the ground only as we descended through the last few feet.

As our plane landed in the darkness, my mind traveled to the hundreds of Christian missionaries who had come to “the dark continent” with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The same thing had happened centuries before to my European ancestors, when the light of the gospel came to the darkness of northern Europe—and before that when the gospel light came to Greece and Rome from ancient Jerusalem. Light is one of the great biblical images of salvation. Isaiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). Light depicts the coming of God with saving life: “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” sang David (Ps. 27:1).

It was with this in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Jesus came to a whole world in darkness. John uses the imagery of light to describe Jesus sixteen times in this Gospel, light being a fitting symbol for the coming of God among men. Thus, Jesus is the only remedy for the darkness in the world. It is only through faith in him that a darkened world may see and receive the light of God.

A Light for the World in Darkness

If we want to understand the nature of the light and salvation that Jesus brings, we need first to understand the character of the darkness. What was the darkness in which Jesus found the world?

According to the Bible, darkness is the realm of ignorance and folly. Psalm 82:5 explains that the ignorant “have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness.” The prophet Micah spoke of an age in which the prophets would be silent: “It shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination” (Mic. 3:6). To say that the world is dark is therefore to say that it is lost in ignorance, superstition, and folly. Is this not the constant state of the world wherever Christ is unknown or the gospel is lost? Is this not the way it is now in the once-enlightened West: people made by God with high intellects and blessed with choice educations grope about in a darkness of the greatest ignorance and folly, making decisions and enacting policies contrary to wisdom or even common sense.

Darkness is also the realm of evil and fear. Children fear the dark because in the darkness danger lurks. Proverbs warns against those “who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness” (Prov. 2:13); “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness” (4:19). Jesus said, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Is this not precisely the case in lands where the light of Jesus has not yet shined, or where his light has been rejected? The world into which Jesus came was and is darkened by evil.

This being the case, darkness also speaks to bondage, misery, and death. Isaiah characterized the world as “distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish” (Isa. 8:22). He said, “Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom” (59:9). Darkness is a biblical description of the Israelites’ time in their bondage in Egypt; Paul said that mankind suffers presently in the slave-chains of Satan. He speaks of “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12). The darkness of the world involves a bondage in sin and misery that culminates in death. The psalmist laments: “He has made me sit in darkness like those long dead” (Ps. 143:3).

Finally, the world in darkness sits under God’s judgment and is consigned to God’s wrath. Zephaniah spoke of “a day of wrath …, a day of darkness and gloom” (Zeph. 1:15). Jesus foretold the judgment of sinners in the day of the Lord: “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). Hannah prayed, “The wicked shall be cut off in darkness” (1 Sam. 2:9).

This is the darkness into which Jesus came as a light. Darkness consists of a lack of knowledge: ignorance, folly, and superstition; it has a moral dimension: evil and fear; it is experiential: bondage, misery and death; and it is judicial: judgment and wrath. What is true of the dark world is also true of every life apart from the shining of the light of Jesus’ gospel.

Any sober and honest history of the world will show this principle to be true. But just as those who spend time in the dark acquire night vision, we have become nocturnal creatures—we have come to think that ignorance, evil, misery, and condemnation are not so bad. But the Bible gives us day vision and shows us that ours is a dark planet in need of light.

The world was not created dark; it was made dark by sin. Because of sin, mankind came under the judgment of God; since God is holy, sinful man was cast out from the light of his presence. This is the true story told in the early chapters of Genesis. Cast from the garden because of sin, man immediately fell into spiritual ignorance. Cain tried to approach God in the folly of his own counsel. When he was rejected, he turned to violence, slaying his brother Abel. God cursed his sin with misery and gloom, pronouncing, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). So it has been ever since. The first song ever recorded by mankind was about violence; Lamech sang, “I have killed a man for wounding me” (4:23).

The world that God made good, and the human race created in glory as his image-bearer, fell into darkness by sin. The world cannot escape the chains of this dark bondage, so in his great mercy God promised to send a Savior to free us from ignorance, evil, death, and judgment. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah the priest, spoke in these terms when he prophesied the coming of Jesus: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78–79). Therefore when Jesus Christ called aloud in the midst of the city of Jerusalem—at the temple where that hope for saving light was deposited—he declared himself that Savior who frees us from our sin: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

To a world that is ignorant of God Jesus reveals the truth of heaven. To a world suffering the misery of evil Jesus offers a cleansing renewal and peace. To those condemned in judgment for their sins Jesus shed his own blood for forgiveness. Into a spiritually dark and dying world he shines the light of eternal life.

The True Light

John 8:12 presents the second of this Gospel’s famous “I am” sayings, which one writer describes as a “Pocket Guide to Understanding Jesus.” Earlier, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). He later adds, “I am the door” (10:9); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6); and “I am the vine” (15:5). All these sayings present Jesus as our Savior, by his person and work.

We need to remember that his expression “I am” is an implicit claim to deity. Jesus’ emphatic way of saying “I am” (Greek ego eimi) recalls the reader to the great scene at the burning bush, when God revealed his name to Moses: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex. 3:14). Jesus now declares himself as the great “I am,” the divine light that shines into our darkness for salvation.

Jesus did not identify himself merely as a light, but as the light. This means that he alone is the true light shining in the world. John earlier said, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

This reality is illustrated by the scene in which Jesus made this claim. The Jews had just wrapped up their religious festival, the Feast of Tabernacles, in which they had exulted in their religious traditions. One of the great events was the festival of lights that took place on the first night of the feast, and perhaps on subsequent nights as well. Four great candelabras, each with four golden bowls filled with oil, were lit in the temple court. The bright light from these sixteen bowls illuminated the whole temple.

After the feast, those lights had gone out. Perhaps the lampstands were still present in the temple courts, the bowls having been taken away. Where the lamps had hung, Jesus now presented himself as “the light of the world.” He fulfilled what the ritual had symbolized: Jesus is the light: he alone provided the reality for which the people rejoiced in the feast. Yet even on such an occasion, the people had rejected him and their leaders sought his life.

This makes the point that religious traditions and practices contain saving truth only as they point to Jesus Christ. Old Testament Jewish faith was a true religion, but Judaism became false when its leaders rejected Jesus. Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). Without his true light, the lights of their feast were false lights and would soon go out.

This is not merely true for Judaism. What the Jews looked forward to, the Christian church looks back upon. But we will light our candles in vain unless we stay true to Jesus himself and the salvation he offers by his death on the cross. Like the Jews of old, this requires us to humble ourselves as guilty sinners who trust only in Jesus to deliver us from darkness. We might enjoy the fun of singing, the humor of the preacher’s personality, or the encouragement of lifestyle training, but unless we follow Jesus in true faith, the light will soon grow dark.

How much more true this is of pagan religions and philosophical humanism. The ancient Greeks had Plato and Aristotle, and they cast a sort of light. But their lights masked the great spiritual darkness of that ancient world, and in time they went out. Western humanism has enjoyed its so-called Enlightenment, with the truths of the Bible replaced by the false lights of evolution, progress, and tolerance. The result has been a bloody history of war, misery, and moral collapse. Lamech of old made his song about murder; today’s gangsta rap exults in the pleasures of gunfire and rape.

The only true light that this world has ever seen is the light of Jesus. The only true path of peace is the one shadowed by his cross. The only true way for God’s blessing is his way of discipleship. “In him was life,” John said, “and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

What, then, is the light that you need? Is it the false light of consumerism, psychology, or carnal, mystic spirituality? Or is it Jesus Christ? And what is the light that the world needs to see shining from the church? Is it the neon light of Hollywood glitter so that we can at least enjoy the darkness? Is it the dim light of self-help teaching to help us manage our own dark lives? No, the only true light, the only true Savior, is Jesus Christ. “I am the light of the world,” he insists. Let us follow him; let us proclaim his light of forgiveness from sin and new life for salvation to a dark and dying world. As Jesus is the Light of the World, let us be the lamps that shine his light to others.

A Light to Follow

When we studied Jesus’ great invitation of John 7:37—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink”—we noted that the water-pouring ceremony in the Feast of Tabernacles had a connection to events in the exodus—specifically, God’s providing water from the rock. There is a similar connection with the festival of lights and Jesus’ claim to be the “light of the world.” The light celebration recalled the pillar of fire that had guided and protected Israel during the people’s passage through the desert. Exodus 13:21 tells us, “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.”

We see, then, why Jesus continued by saying, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). This shows that while Jesus is the one true Light of the World, we benefit from his coming only if we believe on and follow him. We follow Jesus as the Israelites followed the cloud of fire. They trusted it to lead them and found protection under its shadow. As we follow Jesus, he relieves us of ignorance and folly by teaching us his Word. He protects us from the searing rays of God’s wrath, having paid the penalty of our sins on the cross. As he leads, we follow out from misery and fear and even from the curse of death. As the cloud of fire led the tribes of Israel through the barren, scorched desert and into the Promised Land, Jesus leads us in our passage through this wicked world and into the glories of heaven.

What, then, does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to trust in him and live as his disciple. When the cloud moved, the Israelites moved; when the cloud settled, they made camp. Likewise, we follow Jesus to his cross, dying there to our sin. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus taught, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

If we consider the uses of the Greek word for follow (akolutheo), we can better understand what Jesus means. It is used of a soldier following his commander into battle; the Christian thus fights against evil in the armor of God and with the sword of God’s Word. It is used of a servant or slave who attends upon his master. William Barclay writes, “Always the slave is ready to spring to the master’s service, and to carry out the tasks the master gives him to do.” It is used of one who accepts a wise counselor’s judgment. William Hendriksen writes that a Christian “must follow where the light leads: he is not permitted to map out his own course through the desert of this life.”3 It is used of rendering obedience to the laws of the state; the Christian follows Christ by keeping his commands. And it is used of one who follows the line of his teacher’s reasoning. The follower of Christ is one who has gained understanding of his teaching and takes it into his heart. With all these in mind, J. C. Ryle summarizes: “To follow Christ is to commit ourselves wholly and entirely to Him as our only leader and Saviour, and to submit ourselves to Him in every matter both of doctrine and practice.”

Does it seem like a radical commitment to follow Jesus? It is! Too many professing believers have come to him without this commitment, and never actually follow him. But there is no other kind of saving Christianity. To have Jesus as Savior is to follow him as Lord. Paul wrote to believers, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). The salvation that Jesus offers is free; we receive simply by the open hands of faith. But following Jesus is nonetheless costly. James Montgomery Boice states, “The path that Jesus walked is the path to crucifixion. It leads to glory, but before that it leads to the cross. Such a path can be walked only by the one who has died to self and who has deliberately taken up the cross of Christ to follow Him.”

Out of Darkness, into Light

So why take up such costly discipleship? To escape the darkness! This is the great promise that Jesus attaches to his call: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” Isn’t that what we have seen in the Gospel of John? As Nicodemus turned his allegiance to Jesus, he was led out from the dark hypocrisy of the Pharisees. When the woman at the well believed, Jesus delivered her from the scandal and shame of her former lifestyle. This is what he offered to those hearing him in Jerusalem and what he offers us today: an escape from the guilt of our sin, from the corruption of our evil natures, and from darkness of the lives we have led.

Therefore, I need to ask: Are you walking in darkness? As a pastor, I am often dismayed to see so many Christians still walking in the ways of this dark world: accepting the world’s values, serving the world’s priorities, dreaming the world’s dreams, and obeying the world’s requirements. If you are a young person, are you willing to stand out by your discipleship to Jesus? Or are you itching to take part in the sinful social practices so pervasive among the youth today? Are you drawn to the music, movies, and video games that celebrate sensuality and violence? Are you dabbling in sexual sin, alcohol, or drugs? If you are, this shows only that you are not following Jesus. He said, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” This is what we must aim for in the raising of our children in the church: that they can walk through a dark world without walking in sin—and this comes only through a personal discipleship with Jesus.

Adults, do your lifestyle choices, ambitions, priorities with time and money, and habits reflect the standards of the dark world or the light of Christ’s kingdom? Are you caught up in materialism, egotism, or sensualism—things that belong to the darkness of this world? If you are, it can be only because you are not following Jesus. The same may be said of ministers and churches that mimic the ways of this dark world. Let us all repent in ways large and small; let us take up our cross, follow Jesus, and leave the darkness behind.

I mentioned my thoughts as our plane descended through the pitch darkness onto the runway in Nairobi, reflecting on how the light of Christ has come to shine in Africa. During that visit to Kenya, I had the privilege of witnessing that light shining brightly, as I participated in an unspeakably moving ceremony to dedicate a new children’s cottage at a Christian orphan village in the town of Mwiki. This Christian village provides a loving home to 160 little boys and girls abandoned by desperate parents or orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. I sat together with American missionaries who had come to love, teach, and raise these children alongside their African Christian partners. We sang as one of the African “mamas” led us in praise of God’s faithfulness and love, and we prayed with thanks for the godly home they were dedicating and the beautiful children entrusted by God to their care. The world had cast these children into darkness, abandoning them to misery and death, but by the mercy of God they would instead grow up in the love of Christ to follow in the light as his disciples.

Not everyone is called to Africa as a missionary, although I envied those I left behind. That was just a snapshot of the light that comes when Christians devote themselves to follow Jesus. Never think that you will lose out by turning from the dark pattern of this world to follow the Savior in serious and sacrificial discipleship. Those who receive the light of Christ, who take their sins, along with their former lives and priorities, to his cross, and who then follow after him will never lose out in this life or the next. Jesus promises that they “will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus offers us now a life of love, grace, and power for godliness, and in the age to come eternal life. He said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

I Am, They Will

Finally, let us never think that it is our following that saves us. We are never saved by our works but only by Jesus Christ. It is because Jesus first says, “I am,” that he afterward promises, “They will.” If we give our “amen” to his “I am” and follow him, he will give his “amen” to our “they will.”

Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.” He calls us to believe in him, receiving the light of his free gift of salvation. And then, starting wherever we are right now, we simply begin to follow him as he reveals himself through his Word. And as he leads us out of darkness into light, we will hear him say to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). For when the light of Jesus has shined in our hearts so that we follow him in trusting obedience, his light will shine through us to illuminate the dark world with his love.[3]

12. I am the light of the world. Those who leave out the former narrative, which relates to the adulteress, connect this discourse of Christ with the sermon which he delivered on the last day of the assembly. It is a beautiful commendation of Christ, when he is called the light of the world; for, since we are all blind by nature, a remedy is offered, by which we may be freed and rescued from darkness and made partakers of the true light. Nor is it only to one person or to another that this benefit is offered, for Christ declares that he is the light of the whole world; for by this universal statement he intended to remove the distinction, not only between Jews and Gentiles, but between the learned and ignorant, between persons of distinction and the common people.

But we must first ascertain what necessity there is for seeking this light; for men will never present themselves to Christ to be illuminated, until they have known both that this world is darkness, and that they themselves are altogether blind. Let us therefore know that, when the manner of obtaining this light is pointed out to us in Christ, we are all condemned for blindness, and everything else which we consider to be light is compared to darkness, and to a very dark night. For Christ does not speak of it as what belongs to him in common with others, but claims it as being peculiarly his own. Hence it follows, that out of Christ there is not even a spark of true light. There may be some appearance of brightness, but it resembles lightning, which only dazzles the eyes. It must also be observed, that the power and office of illuminating is not confined to the personal presence of Christ; for though he is far removed from us with respect to his body, yet he daily sheds his light upon us, by the doctrine of the Gospel, and by the secret power of his Spirit. Yet we have not a full definition of this light, unless we learn that we are illuminated by the Gospel and by the Spirit of Christ, that we may know that the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom is hidden in him.

He who followeth me. To the doctrine he adds an exhortation, which he immediately afterwards confirms by a promise. For when we learn that all who allow themselves to be governed by Christ are out of danger of going astray, we ought to be excited to follow him, and, indeed, by stretching out his hand—as it were—he draws us to him. We ought also to be powerfully affected by so large and magnificent a promise, that they who shall direct their eyes to Christ are certain that, even in the midst of darkness, they will be preserved from going astray; and that not only for a short period, but until they have finished their course. For that is the meaning of the words used in the future tense, he shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Such is also the import of this latter clause, in which the perpetuity of life is stated in express terms. We ought not to fear, therefore, lest it leave us in the middle of the journey, for it conducts us even to life. The genitive of life, in accordance with the Hebrew idiom, is employed, instead of the adjective, to denote the effect; as if he had said, the life-giving light. We need not wonder that such gross darkness of errors and superstitions prevails in the world, in which there are so few that have their eyes fixed on Christ.[4]

12 On the basis that the section on the woman caught in adultery (7:53–8:11) is not part of the Johannine corpus, it would appear that the audience to whom Jesus speaks in v. 12 are the Pharisees. (The NIV’s “the people” is an arbitrary interpretation of the Greek autois, “them”; NASB, “to them”.) That the very next verse speaks of the Pharisees supports this connection. In fact, it is interesting that while the crowd (ochlos, GK 4063) is mentioned eight times in ch. 7, the designation does not occur again until 11:42 (NIV, “people”). In ch. 8 Jesus deals exclusively with his Jewish adversaries.

Apparently the Feast of Tabernacles is over and the crowds have returned to their homes. This observation has significance for the context of Jesus’ famous revelatory declaration, “I am the light of the world.” It is customary to point out that during the festival four huge lamps in the court of the women were lit and illuminated the entire temple precincts. It was a time of enthusiastic celebration, with men dancing all night, holding torches and singing (m. Sukkah 5:1–4). The celebration of light reminded the worshipers of Israel’s wilderness journey, when they were led at night by a pillar of fire (Ex 13:21; Ne 9:12). Supposedly it was during this time of celebration that Jesus declared himself to be the “light of the world.” However, if the festival were already past, this particular background would no longer be an option.

So what is the conceptual background of Jesus’ declaration? The OT is rich in its many uses of “light” as a metaphor for spiritual illumination and life. “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” sang the psalmist (Ps 27:1). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps 119:105). The prophet Isaiah promised Israel that in the coming age the Lord himself would be their “everlasting light” (Isa 60:19; cf. Rev 22:5). While in the OT, light and darkness are not portrayed as set over against one another as principles of good and evil (as they are in John), this dualism is prevalent in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which the Essenes (“the sons of light”) are guided by a good spirit (“the prince of lights”) but opposed by an evil spirit (“the angel of darkness” [1QS 3.20–21]).

In Greek thought, darkness was often associated with ignorance and death, while light symbolized life and happiness. It would appear from the universal recognition of light as a metaphor for what is good (in contrast with darkness, which stands for evil) that Jesus’ claim to be “the light of the world” would not require a specific contextual background in order to be understood. It may well be that something as simple as the rising of the sun as he spoke gave rise to this the second of his great “I am” statements. In any case, Jesus goes on to promise that those who follow him need never “walk in darkness.” As the Israelites were led unerringly throughout the night by the pillar of fire, so also can the NT believer escape the darkness of this evil world by following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. To follow him means to obey him. Christians need walk no longer in the darkness of sin. The light, which is life in Christ, will guide them to the Promised Land.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 333–336). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 613–618). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 509–517). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, pp. 324–326). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 473–474). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

January 17, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Source of the New Covenant

because of the tender mercy of our God, (1:78a)

It is God’s tender mercy that moves Him to show compassion to lost sinners. Tender translates splagchna, which literally refers to the inner parts of the body, such as the intestines, heart, liver, and lungs (cf. Acts 1:18). Figuratively, it describes the affections and the heart as the seat of those affections (2 Cor. 6:12; 7:15; Phil. 1:8; 2:1; Col. 3:12; Philem. 7, 12, 20; 1 John 3:17). In combination with eleos (mercy) it vividly depicts the intensity of God’s compassionate concern for sinners.

Mercy is a glorious attribute of God, celebrated throughout Scripture. He is “merciful and gracious” (Ps. 86:15; cf. 145:8), and “full of compassion and … merciful” (James 5:11; cf. Luke 6:36). The outworking of that mercy results in God showing kindness to sinners. Speaking of His tender mercy toward Israel, Isaiah wrote, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them” (Isa. 63:9). In Jeremiah 33:26, God said of downtrodden Israel, “I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them” (cf. Ezek. 39:25). Mary rejoiced that God’s “mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50) and that “He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy” (v. 54). Earlier in his hymn of praise, Zacharias also spoke of God’s past mercy to Israel (v. 72). Ephesians 2:4 declares that it is because God is “rich in mercy” that He redeems lost sinners, while in 1 Timothy 1:13 and 16, Paul praised God for His mercy in saving him. Titus 3:5 declares that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (cf. 1 Peter 1:3; 2:10).

In his classic exposition of the attributes of God, The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer expressed the wonder that all the redeemed should feel when they contemplate God’s mercy toward them:

When through the blood of the everlasting covenant we children of the shadows reach at last our home in the light, we shall have a thousand strings to our harps, but the sweetest may well be the one tuned to sound forth most perfectly the mercy of God.… We who earned banishment shall enjoy communion; we who deserve the pains of hell shall know the bliss of heaven. And all through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us. ([New York: Harper & Row, 1975], 96)

There was nothing inherently wrong with the Mosaic covenant; “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). It was an absolutely perfect reflection of God’s righteous character. Had God merely enforced the terms of the Mosaic covenant and condemned all sinners to eternal punishment for violating His law, He would have glorified Himself by displaying His justice. But God chose to have mercy on hopeless, helpless sinners in the misery of their fallen state and institute the New covenant, with its promise of forgiveness, righteousness, and full eternal acceptance with God.

The Blessings of the New Covenant

which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (1:78b–79)

Zacharias anticipated the coming of the One whose death would procure the blessings of the New covenant—the Messiah. He identified Him using a metaphor rich in Old Testament messianic theology and symbolism. Anatolē (Sunrise) literally means “rising,” and refers here to the first light of dawn. On high (lit., “out of” or “from the height”) refers symbolically to heaven. Zacharias thus depicts the Messiah as a great light from heaven, who will shine the light of salvation upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Isa. 9:2; Ps. 107:10, 14; John 12:46). He is the “the sun of righteousness [who] will rise with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4:2), shining into the deep darkness of sin and ending the soul’s long night. Second Peter 1:19 speaks of the time when “the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” while in Revelation 22:16, the Lord Jesus Christ called Himself “the bright morning star.”

Darkness in Scripture can be used metaphorically in two ways. Intellectually, it refers to ignorance and error (e.g., Ps. 82:5; Eccl. 2:14; Eph. 4:18). Morally, darkness symbolizes sin (e.g., Prov. 2:13; 4:19; John 3:19; Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8, 11), and the realm of Satan (e.g., Luke 22:53; Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13). God is light (1 John 1:5), and consequently Jesus, God incarnate, came into the world as the Light of the world (John 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). He is “a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison” (Isa. 42:6–7).

To a lost world groping in the darkness and desperately hoping for light (Isa. 59:9–10), God, knowing there was no human solution to sin’s dilemma (v. 16), sent “a Redeemer … to those who turn from [their] transgression” (v. 20; cf. 53:4–6, 8, 10–12). Speaking of the New covenant that would bring that about, God declared, “ ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever’ ” (v. 21).

The light of salvation will continue to shine in the millennial kingdom, as Isaiah 60:1–5 reveals:

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will thrill and rejoice.

Indeed, throughout eternity the light of God’s glory will illuminate the New Jerusalem:

No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, neither will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over. (60:19–20)

Not only would the Messiah bring the light of salvation to His people, He would also guide their feet into the way of peace. Lost sinners, stumbling around in the darkness, know nothing of true peace (Rom. 3:17). But peace is one of the elements of the New covenant. In Isaiah 54:10, God said, “ ‘For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you.” “Peace I leave with you;” Jesus promised, “my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Peace, Paul wrote, begins with salvation: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The kingdom of God is characterized by “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard [believers’] hearts and [their] minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

With the end of Zacharias’s song of praise, the curtain falls on the life of John the Baptist, not to be raised again until the beginning of his public ministry in chapter 3. The Bible passes over his childhood in silence, revealing even less details about it than it does of Jesus’ childhood. All that is known of John during the long years between his circumcision and the beginning of his public ministry is that he continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. He then assumed the role predicted for him as Messiah’s forerunner, proclaiming the New covenant of which his father so eloquently and passionately spoke.[1]

78. Through the bowels of mercy. In so great a benefit Zacharias justly extols the mercy of God, and not satisfied with merely calling it the salvation which was brought by Christ, he employs more emphatic language, and says that it proceeded from the very bowels of the mercy of God. He then tells us metaphorically, that the great mercy of God has made the day to give light to those who were sitting in darkness. Oriens, in the Latin version of this passage, is not a participle: for the Greek word is ἀνατολή, that is, the Eastern region, as contrasted with the West. Zacharias extols the mercy of God, as manifested in dispelling the darkness of death, and restoring to the people of God the light of life. In this way, whenever our salvation is the subject, we ought to raise our minds to the contemplation of the divine mercy. There appears to be an allusion to a prediction of Malachi, in which Christ is called “the Sun of Righteousness,” and is said to “arise with healing in his wings,” (Mal. 4:2,) that is, to bring health in his rays.[2]

78, 79. Because of the merciful heart of our God,

With which the Rising Sun will visit us from on high,

To shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,

To guide our feet into the path of peace.

Note the following:

  • “The merciful heart of our God” is literally “our God’s entrails [or: bowels] of mercy.” A discussion of this figure of speech can be found in N.T.C. on Philippians, p. 58, footnote 39.
  • “With which” = “equipped with this (merciful heart).”
  • “The Rising Sun” (some prefer “the Dawn” or simply “Dawn”), like “the horn of salvation” in verse 69, indicates and describes the Messiah. The point is that in and through him the Most High himself will in his tender mercy visit the people in order to help and save them.

Basically the Greek term used here (anatolē) means rising (cf. Matt. 2:2). It is but a small step from rising or rise to sunrise, and from there to the Rising Sun. Since we know that Zechariah, the author of this hymn, was deeply aware of the prophecies of Malachi (note resemblance between 1:17, 76 and Mal. 3:1), it is not difficult to believe that he is here echoing Mal. 4:2, the passage about the coming of “the sun of righteousness with healing in his wings.”

  1. There is considerable textual support for the reading “has visited us” instead of “will visit us.” But the reading “will visit us” is at least equally strong. Besides, accepting the future tense here is favored by the fact that the passage occurs in a context of futures (“will be called,” “will go before,” verse 76). Also, Jesus was not yet born, so that “has visited” can be justified only if it be interpreted as a prophetic past. All in all it would seem that the future tense deserves the preference in this case.
  2. The “visit” of this “Sun” has as its purpose: “to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow” (verse 79). This phraseology is derived from Isa. 9:1, 2, which is also quoted in Matt. 4:16.

Sitting in darkness and death’s shadow indicates a condition of danger, fear, and hopelessness, a pining away, with no human help in sight. In Scripture the designation darkness, when used figuratively, refers to one or more of the following features: delusion (blindness of mind and heart; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Eph. 4:18); depravity (Acts 26:18); and despondency (Isa. 9:2; see its context, verse 3). Though all three qualities are probably in the picture here, yet the emphasis may well be on the last of the three (despondency, hopelessness).

The antonym of darkness is light, which, accordingly, refers to genuine learning (the true knowledge of God, Ps. 36:9), life to the glory of God (Eph. 4:15, 24; 5:8, 9, 14), and laughter (gladness, Ps. 97:11). All three may well be included, but here too the emphasis is perhaps on the last of the three.

The real meaning of the words, accordingly, is this, that Jesus Christ, by his presence, teaching, deeds of mercy and power, would fill the hearts of all his followers with the joy of salvation. No longer would they be pining away in gloom and despair. Whenever Jesus enters human hearts, the words of a popular hymn go into effect,

The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin,

The light of the world is Jesus.

  • “To guide our feet into the path of peace.” Those who a moment ago were pictured as sitting down in despair are now standing on their feet; in fact, are walking. Their sadness has been turned into gladness. Note the connection: “to shine on those … to guide our feet.” By means of shining, the Rising Sun guides our feet. All we, sinners, had gone astray and had turned to our own way (Isa. 53:6), not knowing “the way of peace” (Isa. 59:8, 9). Then the Sun rises, shines, directs our feet into the path of peace.

This peace is both objective and subjective. Objectively it amounts to reconciliation with God through “David’s horn,” “the Rising Sun,” the Messiah (2 Cor. 5:20). Subjectively it is the quiet and comforting assurance of forgiveness and adoption (Rom. 8:16 f.). It is the smile of God reflected in the reconciled sinner’s heart, the shelter from the storm, the hiding-place in the shadow of his wings, the stream that issues from the fountain of grace. To that peace the Rising Sun directs our feet.

As this touchingly beautiful song draws to its close it seems as if already we hear the angels sing:

Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men he has graciously chosen.

We have studied “Elizabeth’s Song of Love” and “Mary’s Song of Faith.” That we have every right to call the priest’s prophecy “Zechariah’s Song of Hope” can hardly be questioned. The very word prophecy, as here used, implies also the forward look, which, as has been shown, is the distinguishing trait of this song.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 120–123). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

January 17, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Preeminent Example of Christ’s Love

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:34–35)

The Lord’s charge to the eleven apostles in one sense was not new. The Old Testament prescribed love for God (Deut. 6:5) and people (Lev. 19:18), as Jesus Himself affirmed (Matt. 22:34–40). But it was a new commandment (cf. 1 John 2:7–8; 3:11; 2 John 5) in the sense that it presented a higher standard of love—one based on the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Believers face the daunting challenge of loving one another even as Jesus loved them (cf. 15:12–13, 17). Of course, to love like that is impossible apart from the transforming power of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). It is only “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5; cf. Gal. 5:22) that believers can love as Jesus commanded.

Christ’s example of selfless, sacrificial love sets the supreme standard for believers to follow. D. A. Carson writes,

The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice … The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Saviour; the more we appreciate the love of the Saviour, the higher his standard appears; the higher his standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centredness, the depth of our own sin. With a standard like this, no thoughtful believer can ever say, this side of the parousia, “I am perfectly keeping the basic stipulation of the new covenant.” (The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 484. Italics in original.)

In Ephesians 5:2 Paul exhorted, “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.” Such love is “patient, … is kind and is not jealous; … does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7). If the church ever consistently loved like that, it would have a powerful impact on the world.

In his book The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer listed two practical ways Christians can manifest love for each other. They can do so first by being willing to apologize and seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. What causes the sharpest, most bitter disputes in the body of Christ are not doctrinal differences, but the unloving manner in which those differences are handled. Being willing to apologize to those whom we have offended is crucial to preserving the unity of the body of Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that reconciliation with other people is a prerequisite to worshiping God: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23–24).

A second practical way to demonstrate love is to grant forgiveness. In light of the eternal forgiveness that comes through the cross, Christians should be eager to forgive the temporal offenses committed against them (Matt. 18:21–35; cf. 6:12, 14–15). Because God’s love has transformed believers’ hearts, they are able to extend that love to others in forgiveness. “In this is love,” wrote John in his first epistle, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10–11). In Luke 17:3–4 Jesus commanded, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” In Ephesians 4:32 Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (cf. Col. 3:13).

The Lord’s command to love extends beyond the church to embrace all people. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that they would “increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people” (1 Thess. 3:12). He exhorted the Galatians to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). The writer of Hebrews charged his readers, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

The Lord’s statement, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples” reveals the effect of believers’ having love for one another: the world will know that we belong to Him. The church may be orthodox in its doctrine and vigorous in its proclamation of the truth, but that will not persuade unbelievers unless believers love each other. In fact, Jesus gave the world the right to judge whether or not someone is a Christian based on whether or not that person sincerely loves other Christians. Francis Schaeffer writes,

The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture.… In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.

That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, “I’ve something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.” In other words, if people come up to us and cast into our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them. (The Mark of the Christian [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1970], 12–13)

One’s love for other believers also assures that believer that his faith is genuine. As John wrote, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14; cf. 2:10; 4:12).[1]

The New Commandment

John 13:33–34

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

The Gospel of John has been given many fine titles in the long history of its exposition, but none are more fitting than those that identify it as the Gospel of God’s love. It has been called “God’s love letter to the world.” But if this is so, then it is probably also true that either John 3:16 or the verses to which we come now are its heart. They are those in which the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to his disciples out of his great love for them, reminding them of that love and encouraging them to love one another.

The Preface

Verse 34 is the key verse of this section, but it is nevertheless significant that it is preceded by another that is, in some sense, its preface. The preface says, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come” (v. 33). As I read the various commentators on this Gospel I find a discussion of why the disciples could not follow Christ and of the difference between their inability and the inability of the Jews. (The same words were spoken to the Jewish leaders earlier.) But I do not find an explanation of the connection between this verse and the great verse following. Yet it is in this connection that the importance of the verse lies.

What is its significance? It is along two lines. First, it is evident that since the Lord Jesus Christ was about to depart from the world, the only example of true love that the world had ever known was about to be taken from it. Jesus was himself love, for he was God and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He was about to prove that love by dying on the cross. Yet in the very act of dying, which was to be followed by his resurrection and ascension into heaven, he was to be taken from humanity. How, then, were men and women to know what true divine love is? How were they to see love demonstrated when he was about to be taken from them? The answer is that they were to see it in those who are Christ’s disciples. Jesus is being taken, but now the disciples are to love as he loved. It is as if Jesus had said, “I am going; therefore you must be as I have been in this world.”

The second way in which the preface is important is in its transference of the love the disciples felt for him to one another. There is no doubt that each of the disciples (Judas excluded, who by now, however, had left the upper room) loved Jesus. Whatever he said they would do. Several had just prepared the upper room for this last dinner. Peter is about to say that he will die for Jesus if necessary. It is true, of course, that their love was not as strong as they thought it was. Peter would not die; in fact, he would deny his Master. The others would scatter at the moment of the arrest in Gethsemane. Nevertheless, they did truly love him. And yet, just as certainly as they loved him, so is it certain that they did not really love one another with anything even approaching that intensity. On the contrary, they were actually jealous of one another. They were disputing over who should be greatest. They would not wash the others’ feet. In this situation Jesus, who is about to be taken from them, points out that now it is precisely one another whom they must love.

The vertical love of disciples for the exalted Christ must be expressed horizontally in their love for all other Christians. Moreover, the horizontal love, which can be seen by everyone, is proof of the vertical dimension.

Things New and Old

In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, in a section of Christ’s teachings dealing with the kingdom of God, Jesus speaks of a teacher of the law being like an “owner of a house, who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (v. 52). At this point he is himself like that teacher, for he follows his preface by the giving of a command that is at once both new and ancient.

The command to love is old in that it existed before Christ’s coming. In its simplest and best-known form it is found in Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This is the verse to which Jesus referred when he was asked his opinion concerning the first and greatest commandment. He said that the greatest commandment was that recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The second was Leviticus 19:18.

But if the commandment was an old commandment, as it must have been if it is recorded in one of the first five books of the Old Testament, in what sense is it new? Indeed, how can Christ call it “a new command”? The answer is that it was raised to an entirely new level and given an entirely new significance by Jesus. We can say that it is given a new object; it is to be exercised according to a new measure; it is to be made possible by a new power. Each of these is involved in Christ’s saying.

In the first place, the command to love received a new object. It is true that the verse from Leviticus declares that the Jew is to love his neighbor as himself. But the neighbor involved is a Jewish neighbor only. The first half of the verse makes this plain, for in a parallel sentence the reader is told that he is not to hold a grudge against any of “your [also his] people.” This is a physical, family relationship. In Christ’s command, by contrast, the relationship is spiritual, for the neighbor is any believer in Jesus.

Something else about this new object is very important. Jesus says that the disciples are to love one another and that this is to be a witness to the unbelieving world. However, it is obvious from Christ’s own example and from his teaching elsewhere that this is not to be a love that is held back from unbelievers. Even the very nature of the relationship makes this clear, for if the relationship involved is spiritual, then obviously there is no way of knowing who might be included in the company of believers should God so move. When the relationship was physical, the limits were obvious. One was supposed to love other Jews. Gentiles were not to be loved. They were sinners, those whom God obviously wished to destroy. But when the relationship became spiritual, the whole matter was broadened. This spiritual, Christian brotherhood is created by God’s drawing together those of all races and languages. Consequently, the Christian is to love every individual—everyone; for anyone can be a special one for whom Christ died.

Alexander Maclaren, that great preacher of another generation, speaks of the newness of such love as it battered the ancient world’s societies. “When the words were spoken, the then-known civilized Western world was cleft by great, deep gulfs of separation, like the crevasses in a glacier. … Language, religion, national animosities, differences of condition, and saddest of all, differences of sex, split the world up into alien fragments. A ‘stranger’ and an ‘enemy’ were expressed in one language by the same word. The learned and the unlearned, the slave and his master, the barbarian and the Greek, the man and the woman, stood on opposite sides of the gulfs, flinging hostility across. A Jewish peasant wandered up and down for three years in His own little country, which was the very focus of narrowness and separation and hostility, as the Roman historian felt when He called the Jews the ‘haters of the human race’; He gathered a few disciples, and He was crucified by a contemptuous Roman governor, who thought that the life of one fanatical Jew was a small price to pay for popularity with his troublesome subjects, and in a generation after, the clefts were being bridged and all over the Empire a strange new sense of unity was bearing breathed, and ‘Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free,’ male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant, clasped hands and sat down at one table, and felt themselves ‘all one in Christ Jesus.’ ”

The commandment of Christ does not only have a new object. It also is to be exercised according to a new measure. What was love before this, after all? A vague feeling of good will? A sense of pride in one’s race? A need to defend a neighbor or to free a family member who had become a slave? Yes, this and perhaps a bit more. But it was not that measure of love seen in the fact that the God of the universe would take human form, suffer, and die for those who were ungodly in order that, almost in spite of themselves those who hated God and had tried to turn from him might be redeemed from the chains of sin and brought into glory. “This is love,” writes John in the fourth chapter of his magnificent first letter, “not that we loved God [because we did not], but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (v. 10).

The measure of this love is the standard found in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails” (vv. 4–8). This is the love Jesus brought, and it was a new thing in this world.

Third, the command to love is also new in that it is made possible by a new power. The power is the power of the Holy Spirit, the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ in each believer. How much we need this! Without it we cannot love as Christ loved; for such love cannot be achieved by human energy.

Our Great Example

There is one more point to be seen in these two verses: Jesus is himself our example as we obey his command. He indicates this in the second half of verse 34, in which he says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” It is not just that we are to love. It is that we are to love as he loved us. His love is to be the full measure of our love for one another.

How can we speak about this practically? One way is to return to the verses from 1 Corinthians cited earlier. When they were quoted before they were quoted exactly as they are printed in our Bibles. This time read them with the word “Jesus” substituted for the word “love.” “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.” Clearly, the substitution of “Jesus” for “love” is quite proper, for Jesus is obviously the embodiment of such love. Our hearts acknowledge it to be so, and we rejoice in the fact.

Now make another substitution. We are told in our text that we are to love as Christ loves. But since 1 Corinthians 13 reveals the way that Christ did love, we (if we love in that way) should be able to substitute our name for his. We should be able to put “I” where “love” is printed. “I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I am not rude, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil, but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always persevere. I never fail.” When we read it this way the result is humbling, for we recognize that we do not love as Jesus loves. We do not even understand such love. And we find ourselves praying, “Oh, Lord Jesus, teach me to love others as you love.”

When we pray this way God will help us, and we will begin to grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Us Love

We should get more out of this command than the disciples did on the first occasion on which it was spoken. We think that they must have been struck by these great words and have remembered them vividly, but this was not the case. On the contrary, not one of them really heard the command or understood what it meant.

We know this because of the course of the discussion that follows verse 35. We remember that Jesus had begun his discussion of the new command by informing the disciples that he was going to leave them and that they would not be able to follow him in his departure. They heard this, and it filled them with dismay. It crowded all other thoughts from their minds. Next, Jesus talked about his new command, but they did not hear him, for he had barely finished talking about it when Peter broke in to ask, “But, Lord, where are you going?” Peter had been thinking about Christ’s earlier announcement and was returning to it. Jesus stopped to deal with Peter’s questions, and before he could get back to the subject of the new commandment Thomas responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered Thomas, and he never did get back to the great command.

Jesus is not frustrated by human preoccupation, however. So, after many years had passed, the Holy Spirit spoke to John the evangelist, who was present on the earlier occasion, and caused him to write a book which is in one sense an exposition of the new commandment. The book is 1 John, and it expounds the new commandment completely.

In all, the new command is talked about in four separate passages: 1 John 2:7–11; 3:11–18; 4:7–21; and 5:1–5. But the key passage is 4:7–21, in which the words “love one another” occur three times. In each case a different reason is given why this exhortation must be heeded.

The first reason why we should love one another is that love is God’s nature. John says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). John’s argument is that, if we truly are God’s children, we will bear the characteristics of our Father.

Second, John tells us that we should love because love led to God’s gift. In these verses John reminds us that we were spiritually dead men and women before God the Father sent his Son to die for us. Being dead we were not able even to understand what he had done. But when Christ died for us, and when by the work of the Holy Spirit we were made alive spiritually, we were able to believe on Christ and recognize the love of God in Christ, which stood behind the sacrifice. Consequently, having thus come to know love and take the measure of love, we are to love. John’s way of putting it is: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. … Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (vv. 9, 11).

Finally, we are told that we should love one another in that love is God’s present and continuing activity. God is not creating the world today; he has already done that. He is not sending Jesus to die; Jesus has already died. What God is doing is working in Christians through love in order that others who do not yet know him might see him through such divine activity. John writes: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us [and, thus, men see him]” (v. 12).

Do those who are not yet Christians see God in you? It is a breathtaking thought. But this verse teaches that they can and will, if you will love others. Will you? Remember, this is not a divine invitation, as if Jesus had said, “Won’t you please love others?” It is not even one of a series of steps to successful living, as if he had said, “You will be happier if you love one another.” It is Christ’s new command. Love one another! God grant that we shall and that, in doing so, we may truly be his disciples.[2]

34. A new commandment I give you. To the consolation he adds an exhortation, that they should love one another; as if he had said, “Yet while I am absent from you in body, testify, by mutual love, that I have not taught you in vain; let this be your constant study, your chief meditation.” Why does he call it a new commandment? All are not agreed on this point. There are some who suppose the reason to be, that, while the injunction formerly contained in the Law about brotherly love was literal and external, Christ wrote it anew by his Spirit on the hearts of believers. Thus, according to them, the Law is new, because he publishes it in a new manner, that it may have full vigour. But that is, in my opinion, far-fetched, and at variance with Christ’s meaning. The exposition given by others is, that, though the Law directs us to the exercise of love, still, because in it the doctrine of brotherly love is encumbered by many ceremonies and appendages, it is not so clearly exhibited; but, on the other hand, that perfection in love is laid down in the Gospel without any shadows. For my own part, though I do not absolutely reject this interpretation, I consider what Christ said to be more simple; for we know that laws are more carefully observed at the commencement, but they gradually slip out of the remembrance of men, till at length they become obsolete. In order to impress more deeply, therefore, on the minds of his disciples the doctrine of brotherly love, Christ recommends it on the ground of novelty; as if he had said, “I wish you continually to remember this commandment, as if it had been a law but lately made.”

In short, we see that it was the design of Christ, in this passage, to exhort his disciples to brotherly love, that they might never permit themselves to be withdrawn from the pursuit of it, or the doctrine of it to slip out of their minds. And how necessary this admonition was, we learn by daily experience; for, since it is difficult to maintain brotherly love, men lay it aside, and contrive, for themselves, new methods of worshipping God, and Satan suggests many things for the purpose of occupying their attention. Thus, by idle employments, they in vain attempt to mock God, but they deceive themselves. Let this title of novelty, therefore, excite us to the continual exercise of brotherly love. Meanwhile, let us know that it is called new, not because it now began, for the first time, to please God, since it is elsewhere called the fulfilling of the law, (Rom. 13:10.)

That you love one another. Brotherly love is, indeed, extended to strangers, for we are all of the same flesh, and are all created after the image of God; but because the image of God shines more brightly in those who have been regenerated, it is proper that the bond of love, among the disciples of Christ, should be far more close. In God brotherly love seeks its cause, from him it has its root, and to him it is directed. Thus, in proportion as it perceives any man to be a child of God, it embraces him with the greater warmth and affection. Besides, the mutual exercise of love cannot exist but in those who are guided by the same Spirit. It is the highest degree of brotherly love, therefore, that is here described by Christ; but we ought to believe, on the other hand, that, as the goodness of God extends to the whole world, so we ought to love all, even those who hate us.

As I have loved you. He holds out his own example, not because we can reach it, for we are at a vast distance behind him, but that we may, at least, aim at the same end.[3]

34 Jesus delivers to his disciples a new commandment: “love one another.” In the Vulgate (the Latin translation, which since the sixteenth century has been the official version of the Roman Catholic Church), “new command” is translated mandatum novum, from which is derived the name Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of the Last Supper. The commandment is not new in the sense that it was formerly unknown. Leviticus 19:18 reads, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The newness of the command lay in the meaning given to love by the life and teachings of Jesus. It was to be a covenantal love, distinguished from even the noblest forms of human love by the fact that it was “spontaneous and unmotivated” (Brown, 614). God’s love does not question the worthiness of the recipient but gladly gives of itself in humble service.[4]

13:33–35. The words where I am going, you cannot come offer the only saying in John that appears three times with the same wording (7:33; 8:21). Imagine the confusion of the disciples at this point. They did not have the luxury of knowing the opening verses of chapter 14. They could only ponder what the Lord meant until he continued his teaching with further explanation.

Love extended leads to discipleship and denial and perhaps even to death. But the sacrifice itself should not be the focus for the disciples, but the motive behind it. These verses lay a strong groundwork for John’s three epistles. This is a new commandment and a new object. Not just “love God” or “love me,” but love one another.

In 1 John this theme of loving one another appears in 2:9–10; 3:11–18; 4:7–12, 19–21; and 5:1–3. It was not only a new commandment and a new object, but a new mode (as I have loved you) and, perhaps most difficult and shocking of all, a new judge. Verse 35 can be identified as the key verse of this chapter. God allows the world to judge whether people are truly Jesus’ disciples by the way they behave toward one another. Sadly, the church has not done very well on this point. Perhaps this accounts for some of the struggles the gospel has had for almost two thousand years.

In the 1960s when Christian folk music was becoming popular, we often sang a song that repeated the phrase, “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Not by the size of our buildings. Not by the frequency of our attendance. Not by the multiplicity of religious duties we observe. Not by the ostentation of our public worship. As Morgan puts it, “The measure in which Christian people fail in love to each other is the measure in which the world does not believe in them, or their Christianity. It is the final test of discipleship, according to Jesus” (Morgan, p. 241).[5]

34. A new precept I give you, that you keep on loving one another; just as I have loved you, that you also keep on loving one another.

In the Fourth Gospel the term which we have translated precept here (ἐντολή) is used in three connections; as follows,

  1. with respect to a legal commandment or order issued by the Sanhedrin (11:57);
  2. with respect to the charge or instruction given to Jesus by the Father (10:18; 12:49, 50; 14:31);
  3. with respect to the precept given by Jesus to his disciples (13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12).

Although these three meanings are very closely related, nevertheless, it is probably best to distinguish among them. A legal commandment or order is issued by men who may or may not have a warm, personal interest in those who are required to obey it. There is certainly no evidence to show that the Sanhedrin was filled with affection for the people! When used in that sense the word has the flavor of that which is outward, official, and codified. The charge or instruction given by the Father to the Son is the direction which the Sender in his love gives to the Sent, in complete harmony with the eternal plan on which they have agreed. The precept is a rule, made by Jesus and illustrated by his own example, for the regulation of the conduct and inner attitude of the disciples, toward Christ, one another, and the world. Although we do not object to the popular term the new commandment, and use it ourselves, yet here in verse 34 the word is employed in the sense of precept. Both the charge and the precept spring from love; hence, when necessity demands (to show that the same term is used in the original in both clauses of a sentence), either term can be used to cover both ideas (as in 15:10). The precept here given is new (καινή, not νέα). It is characterized by the freshness and the beauty of the dawn. It is altogether desirable.

It is true, indeed, that the commandment which required love for the neighbor, for “the children of thy people,” is found already in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18; Prov. 20:22; 24:29). In fact, love for God and for the neighbor is the summary of the law (Mark 12:29, 31). But the newness of the precept here promulgated is evident from the fact that Jesus requires that his disciples shall love one another as he loved them! His example of constant (note: keep on loving), self-sacrificing love (think of his incarnation, earthly ministry, death on the cross) must be the pattern for their attitude and relation toward one another. Because voluntary obedience to this precept is of paramount importance for the spiritual welfare of the disciples (and, in fact, of the entire Church), and because his own heart is filled with love, Jesus repeats this precept.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 89–91). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1037–1042). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 2, pp. 75–76). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] 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. 557). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Gangel, K. O. (2000). John (Vol. 4, pp. 254–255). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 252–253). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

January 16, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Prophet now adds, that the likeness of a celestial bow was presented to him, which profane men call Iris, and imagine that she performs the commands of the gods, and especially of Juno. But Scripture calls it the bow of God, not because it was created after the Deluge, as many falsely suppose, but because God wished to stir up our hope with that symbol, as often as thick vapours cloud the heavens. For we seem as if drowned under those waters of the heavens. God therefore wished to meet our distrust, when he wished the bow in the heavens to be a testimony and pledge of his favour, because it is said by Moses, I will put my bow in the heavens. (Gen. 9:13.) Now some distort this as if the bow was not in existence before: but there is no doubt that God wished to inscribe a testimony of his favour on a thing by no means in accordance with it, as he freely uses all creatures according to his will. The bow in the heavens is often a sign of continued rain, and seems as if it attracted the shower. Since then its very aspect may cause terror, God says in opposition to this feeling, as often as the bow appears, it is clearly determined that the earth is now safe from a deluge. But the opinion of those who consider it in this place a testimony of favour does not seem to me proved, for the whole vision is opposed to it. This is indeed plausible that a bow appeared because God now wished to show himself propitious to his servant, just as they interpret that verse in the fourth chapter of Revelations, (verse 3,) when John saw the throne of God surrounded by a bow, because God was reconciled to the world by Christ. As far as this passage is concerned, I do not dispute it, but to interpret it so here would be altogether out of place, because the whole of this vision was formidable, as I said at the beginning. Thus to mingle contrary things would pervert the whole order of the vision.

What, then, is the object of this bow in the heavens? We have said that heaven appeared to the Prophet as he ascended by degrees to comprehend the glory of God, because the marks of deity are more conspicuous in heaven than on earth. For if we look back upon what we have formerly explained, God is never without witness, as Paul says, (Acts 14:17,) but yet his majesty shines clearer in the heavens. But when the bow appears, a new reason occurs for magnifying the glory of God. For in the bow we have the image of deity more clearly expressed, whilst we reflect on the magnificent workmanship of heaven, and whilst we turn our eyes round to all the stars and planets. In this way, I allow, God compels us to admire his glory, but the bow presents an addition not to be despised, as if God would add something to the bare aspect of heaven. Now therefore we see why the Prophet saw a celestial bow,—that he might be more and more affected when God presented such signal appearances to his view, and that he might be more induced to contemplate his glory. Hence what interpreters bring forward about a symbol of reconciliation is altogether out of place.

I saw, says he, the form of a bow which is placed, or which is in the cloud on a rainy day. If any one should ask if those colours are without substance, it is certain that colours arise from the rays of the sun on a hollow cloud, as philosophers teach. Therefore when the Prophet says, a bow appears on a rainy day, he simply means, exists or appears in the midst; not that the colours have any substance, as I have just said, but the rays of the sun, whilst they are mutually reflected on the hollow cloud, occasion the manifold variety. Afterwards he adds again, like the appearance of brightness round about. Again the Prophet confesses that his eyes were blinded, because he could not bear such great splendour. And God manifests himself familiarly to all his servants, yet so as not to foster our curiosity, to which mankind are far too inclined. God then wished to manifest himself as far as it was useful, but not so far as the desire of mankind—which is always immoderate—would carry them. Since mankind so eagerly strain themselves that they easily become weakened, we must remark what the Prophet inculcates a second time, namely, that the appearance of brightness was seen round about. Of what sort, then, was that brightness? Why, such as to blind the Prophet’s eyes, and to render him conscious of his weakness, so that he should not desire to know more than was lawful, but submit himself humbly to God.

At length he says, this was a vision of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah, and by these words confirms what I have said before, that the glory of God was so beheld by the Prophet, that God did not appear as he really is, but as far as he can be beheld by mortal man. For if the angels tremble at God’s glory, if they vail themselves with their wings, what should we do who creep upon this earth? We must hold, then, that as often as the Prophets and holy fathers saw God, they saw as it were the likeness or aspect of the glory of God, but not the glory itself, for they were not fit for it; for this would be to measure with the palm of our hands a hundred thousand heavens, and earths, and worlds. For God is infinite; and when the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, how can our minds comprehend him? But although God has never appeared in his immeasurable glory, and has never manifested himself as he really exists, yet we must nevertheless hold that he has so appeared as to leave no doubt in the minds of his servants as to their knowing that they have seen God. And this is the purport of those phrases which sometimes appear difficult. I have seen God face to face, says Jacob. (Genesis 32:30.) But was he so foolish as to think that he saw God like a mortal? by no means; but that appearance convinced him of its certainty, as if he had said that no spectre by which he could be deceived was presented to his view; for the devil deludes us unless we are attentive and cautious. Therefore Jacob here distinguishes the vision which he enjoyed from all prodigies in which profane nations delighted. Familiar knowledge, then, is the meaning of seeing face to face. At the same time, as I have said, God never gave the Fathers a sight of himself except according to their capacity. He always had respect to their faculties, and this is the meaning of the phrase, this was a vision of the splendour of Jehovah’s glory. Since, then, it is certain that Christ was beheld by him, he is Jehovah, that is, Eternal God; and although he is distinct from the person of the Father, yet he is entirely God, for the Father is in him: for the essence cannot be divided without impiety, although the persons must be distinguished. The rest I shall put off till to-morrow.


Grant, O Almighty God, since of thine unbounded goodness, thou hast counted us worthy of such honour as to descend to earth in the person of thine only-begotten Son, and to appear familiarly to us daily in thy gospel, in which we contemplate thy living image:—grant, I pray thee, that we may not abuse so great a benefit to vain curiosity, but may be truly transformed into thy glory, and so proceed more and more in the renewal of our mind and conduct, that we may at length be gathered to that eternal glory which has been obtained for us by thine only-begotten Son our Lord. Amen.

Lecture Sixth

After the Prophet has recited the Vision, the object of which was to confirm his mission, he now adds, I fell upon my face, by which words he expresses his persuasion that God’s glory was manifested to him. For the knowledge of God does truly humble us, while the Prophet also teaches that men cannot be brought to order unless they are laid prostrate: for he does not say that he was only prepared to receive the commands of God, nor does he commend his own teachableness, but rather signifies that he was violently thrown down. For he had not all at once put off the affections of the flesh; but we know that confidence is born with us. Therefore, because the Prophet was not naturally disposed to obey God, he ought to be cast down with fear, that at length he might be really humbled. [1]

28 For the relation of Yahweh’s glory to earlier revelation, see Allen, Ezekiel 1–19, 36. For helpful theological implications, see Block, Ezekiel 1–24, 106–109.[2]

1:27–28. His body looked like glowing metal and something like fire, surrounded by a radiance, like the appearance of the rainbow. This dazzling image of the beauty of the Lord is described by the apostle John in his vision of God’s heavenly throne (Rv 4:3).

This figure is identified as having the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Therefore, Ezekiel responded in worship and awe. He fell on his face (cf. Ezk 3:23; Gn 17:3) and heard a voice speaking. This should always be a believer’s attitude toward the Lord when considering His glory and majesty.

Ezekiel did not see the Lord God Himself (cf. Gn 16:13; Ex 3:6; 33:20; Jdg 13:22; Jn 1:18), but certain manifestations. It was an indescribable likeness of Him or a theophany (cf. comments on Ezk 1:5; 8:2), symbolically communicating the revelation of the glory, power, and majesty of the Lord (cf. Ex 40:34; Is 6:3). The Lord’s glory is a key idea in Ezekiel (see Introduction: Themes).[3]

1:27, 28 Fire like burning metal (amber, v. 4) and rainbow-like brightness surrounded the One on the throne (v. 26). the likeness of the glory of the Lord: Human likeness here may reflect the personal nature of God’s revelation of Himself. Further, it points forward to the plan of a more personal revelation of God coming as the Messiah (John 1:1–18). The glory indicates the wonder, majesty, and worthiness of the living God. Amid the wheels, the creatures, the colors, and the dazzling light was a figure who appeared like a man (v. 26). Compare the vision of Daniel who saw One “like the Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13). I fell on my face: The prophet’s response was to fall down in worship and submission. All believers should recognize God’s great glory and fall down in humble submission before Him (Phil. 2:10, 11).[4]

1:28 — … This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

It is impossible to fully describe the splendor that is God. The best Ezekiel can do is to say, “it looked something like an expression of something else.” God’s glory is radically different from everything in the universe.[5]

1:28 the glory of the Lord. That glory shines fully in the person of Jesus Christ (cf. 2Co 4:6), which is a constant theme in Ezekiel. fell on my face. John, in Rev 1:17, had the same reaction (“fell at His feet”) to seeing the glory of the Lord.[6]

1:28 The bow … on the day of rain could signal the covenant rainbow of Gen. 9:13–16. Given the ominous message that follows, the more likely symbolic reference is to the bow that is the Lord’s weapon from the storm, which shoots arrows of lightning (see Ps. 7:12–13; Hab. 3:9). The glory of the Lord is his manifested presence with his people, visible in the wilderness (Ex. 16:7) and then accessible through the sanctuary (Ex. 40:34–35); in Ezekiel the term appears in Ezek. 1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:22–23; 43:2–5; 44:4. This glory will leave the temple (chs. 9–11) and then will return to the restored temple (43:2–5). See note on Isa. 6:3. I fell on my face. In the NT, John’s vision of the risen Christ (Rev. 1:9–20, esp. v. 17) stirred a similar response.[7]

1:28 the appearance of a bow Compare Rev 4:3.

the likeness of the glory of Yahweh Ezekiel acknowledges that he’s been describing a vision of Yahweh in His glory (see note on Isa 6:3; compare Exod 16:7 and note; 16:10 and note).

I fell on my face He acts out of reverence and fear, a typical response in human encounters with the divine (see Ezek 3:23; 43:3; 44:4; compare Gen 17:3; Josh 5:14; Dan 8:17; Rev 1:17).[8]

1:28 bow. The rainbow not only reflects the splendor around God but testifies to His dominion over the sea and His promise to Noah (Gen. 9:16, 17). See theological note “The Glory of God” on page 1148.[9]

1:28 Ezekiel was a faithful witness to all that he saw. A good witness is marked by five essential characteristics: (1) he has a sense of divine call which gives him his commission and authority (1:28–2:8); (2) he must be saturated with the message of God (2:8–3:3); (3) he shares the message, and does not receive it solely for personal enjoyment (3:4–11); (4) he shares the word with compassion, identifying with the plight of the hearer (3:12–15); and (5) he understands and accepts the responsibility to warn those who are out of God’s will, and to call them to repentance (3:16–21). The “rainbow” is a sign of God’s mercy and covenant love (see 10:1ff.; Gen. 9:11–17; Rev. 4:3).[10]

1:28 The mention of the rainbow is an echo of God’s covenant with Noah (Gn 9:11–13). Just as God restored the world after the flood, He promised to restore fallen Israel. This vision is an early hint that the message of Ezekiel would be one not only of judgment but also of hope and restoration. It was this message of hope that answered a crucial theological question for Ezekiel and every exile in Babylon—and Judeans still left in Jerusalem—namely: Is there any hope of restoration?[11]

1:28 The rainbow in Ezekiel’s vision recalls the ancient covenant God made with Noah and the human race (Gn 9). The glory of the Lord is a visible manifestation of God (Ex 16:7; 24:16–17; 40:34–35). The glory of the Lord also refers to the “pillar of fire” that accompanied the Israelites in their desert wanderings (Ex 13:21–22; Nm 14:14). Clouds, like fire, are frequently associated with the appearance of God (Ex 19:16; Jdg 5:4). Ezekiel declared that he fell facedown. This is the posture a person assumed before a king in ancient times. The Bible teaches that man cannot see God and live (Ex 33:18, 20); thus, God must reveal himself in a way that dims his full glory. What Ezekiel saw was not God in his essence, but a representation; hence, words like likeness and appearance pervade descriptions of God throughout the chapter. God did not manifest his full glory, but revealed as much as could be beheld by a mortal man. Even this partial unveiling of God’s glory was enough to overwhelm Ezekiel. When God visibly manifests himself, reverence and worship must follow, as biblical testimony from Moses onward makes clear (Ex 3:6; cp. Mt 17:1–9). The sound of God’s voice was like the voice John heard in his vision (Rv 1:15).[12]

[1] Calvin, J., & Myers, T. (2010). Commentary on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Vol. 1, pp. 104–107). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Alexander, R. H. (2010). Ezekiel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah–Ezekiel (Revised Edition) (Vol. 7, p. 666). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Dyer, C. H., & Rydelnik, E. (2014). Ezekiel. In The moody bible commentary (pp. 1209–1210). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 960). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[5] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Eze 1:28). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[6] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Eze 1:28). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 1503–1504). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Eze 1:28). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[9] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1146). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[10] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Eze 1:28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] Kaiser Jr., W. C. (2007). How Has Archaeology Corroborated the Bible? In T. Cabal, C. O. Brand, E. R. Clendenen, P. Copan, & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1191). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[12] Rooker, M. F. (2017). Ezekiel. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1250). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.


January 16, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

23:4 the morning light … sun shining forth. The benefits of righteous rule are enlightenment, fruitfulness, and refreshment. For a fuller development of similar themes, see Ps. 72.[1]

23:4 Like the morning light, like the sun … like rain are images for bringing health and life. He in this verse is the just ruler of the previous verse, not God.[2]

23:3, 4 He who rules. These words begin the record of direct speech from God, whose ideal king must exercise His authority with justice, in complete submission to divine sovereignty. Such a king is like the helpful rays of sun at dawn and the life-giving showers which nourish the earth. This ideal king was identified in the OT as the coming Messiah (cf. Is 9:6, 7).[3]

23:3, 4 He who rules over men: David voiced God’s expectations for rulers. Bringing blessing like the light dawn after the rain, like a clear morning, like tender grass—each of these similes speaks of new life, purity, and refreshment. The function of the king was not to impoverish the nation. Instead, the king was to ennoble the people as he presented to them the refreshing will of God.[4]

Ver. 4. Picture of the blessings that follow the appearance of the future ruler, under the figure of the wholesome effects of the light of the rising sun on a bright morning. And as morning-light, when the sun rises, morning without clouds, from brightness, from rain grass out of the earth (sprouts). These words are not to be connected with the following ver. 5, protasis to it as apodosis [as morning-light, etc., is not my house so?] (Dathe); against this is the “for” at the beginning of ver. 5. Nor are they to be connected syntactically with ver. 3—either by adding the first clause of ver. 4 to complete the preceding sentence: “he is as the light of the morning” (De Wette, Thenius, Sept., which reads: “and in the morning-light of God”)—or by regarding the whole statement about the morning-light as the continuation of the description of the “ruler” in ver. 3 (the Rabbis, Maurer: “and He will come forth as the morning-light shines,” etc.). Against this connection is both the form of ver. 3 b, which is a sharply defined, isolated exclamation, and the form of ver. 4, “which sensibly enough deviates from the sharply-cut, monumental style of the six words compressed in ver. 3 b by a peculiar fulness of lingering description” (Fries, as above, p. 663). Besides, it is only by isolating ver. 4 on both sides that we can find the ground of its content in ver. 5 (which is introduced by “for”), since the statements of ver. 5 agree only with the content of ver. 4, standing in factual [or real] connection therewith, while ver. 3 b presents the ideal of a person.—Ver. 4 has the same abrupt, enigmatical, exclamatory tone as ver. 3 b, though it differs from it in its particular statements, a natural result of the fact that here a comparison taken from nature is carried out. As in ver. 3 b, there is not a single verb, and the different statements are unconnected. Even from this formal similarity, ver. 4 is to be regarded as continuation of the immediate divine saying in ver. 3; and not less from its content, which is closely connected with that of ver. 3, describing under the figure of natural light the effect of the light that proceeds from the ruler portrayed in ver. 3, and in similar lapidary style. Fries, however (pp. 663, 665), separates ver. 4 from the preceding, holding that the “divine saying” ends in the latter, and that in the former (ver. 4) follows a vision to the ravished eye of the dying David, while at the same time his opened ear heard the revealing word of God; accordingly he translates: “God speaks—: and before me it is as morning-light in sunshine.” But against this view is 1) that the “divine saying” (confined to ver. 3 b) would be singularly short in comparison with the elaborate announcement [vers. 1–3 a]; 2) that if David here consciously began to describe a vision (different from the divine saying above), he would have somehow intimated the fact, instead of proceeding with “and as the morning-light;” and 3) that the explanation: “before me it is light,” etc., introduces into the text what is not intimated in it, for there is no hint here of any special vision given to David along with the immediate word of God divinely imparted to him. The appearance of the bright glory of a clear life-awakening morning does not now for the first time dawn on the singer, but he sees it from the same height of prophetic contemplation whence he saw the ruler in ver. 3 b. He sees both together, and certifies both by the “divine saying,” which extends over ver. 4; on both sections of this divine saying, ver. 3 b and ver. 4, is stamped the same plastic objectivity of prophetic view, as it is produced by the Spirit of prophecy.

The subject is not the Messiah, as was held by several early expositors (for ex., Crusius [and so Wordsworth now]), who took “the sun rises” as principal sentence, and “sun” as figure of the Messiah (after Mal. 3:20): “as the morning-light will the sun rise;” this is forbidden by the collocation of words, and by the fact that this comparison would involve a tautology. It is rather an impersonal expression, the subject being left undetermined: “And it is as morning-light, when the sun rises,” or, its appearance is as morning-light. The “light of morning” stands in contrast with the darkness of the preceding night, and denotes (as the figure of light generally does) the well-being that comes with the ruler after wretchedness and ruin. Comp. Ps. 59:17 [16]. The “when the sun rises,” defining the “morning-light,” indicates its source, and answers to the “ruler over men.” The “without clouds,” parallel to the preceding, strengthens the conception of the well-being as wholly unalloyed. In the “brightness” [Eng. A. V.: clear shining] of the risen sun its light unfolds itself and shows itself active. The “rain” stands in connection with the “without clouds;” after the rain of the night the clouds have dispersed; but from rain and sunshine now sprouts forth the verdure. The expression may be rendered either: “from brightness, from rain comes herb,” where “brightness” and “rain” are both causes, or: “from brightness after rain.” The former rendering is favored by the immediate repetition of the same Preposition. The fact involved [which is the same, whichever rendering be taken] is the morning sunshine, following the night-rain, dispersing the rain-clouds, and making the fresh herb sprout vigorously from the moist soil. On rain as a figure of blessing see Isa. 44:3. The verdure sets forth the blessings that are the fruit of dispensations from above. Comp. Isa. 44:4; 45:8; especially Ps. 72:6: “He will come down as rain on the mown field, as showers that water the earth.”—“Here,” says Thenius rightly, “ends the divine saying,” only there is described therein not “the happy work of a ruler, as he ought to be” (Then.), but in general the blessing brought by the definite ideal ruler of the future seen by divine revelation.—The whole figure carries out the thought that the ruler described in ver. 3 will bring weal and blessing in his train.[5]

3cd–4 “Qualities of an Ideal King” could well be the caption of the Lord’s portrait of royalty mediated through David. The root mšl (“rules,” v. 3) occurs only here in the books of Samuel and was perhaps chosen because of its frequent appearance in OT wisdom literature. “Fear of God,” the generic term for “religion, piety” in ancient Israel (cf. similarly Freedman, “Divine Names and Titles,” 62), was also a common wisdom motif (see comment on 1 Sa 12:14). Thus he who rules in the fear of God rules “in righteousness”—literally, “as a righteous one” (ṣaddîq), an epithet that has clear messianic connotations (cf. Jer 23:5; Zec 9:9).

As amply attested by numerous scholarly attempts to translate v. 4 (cf. Richardson, “The Last Words of David,” 259; David Noel Freedman, “2 Samuel 23:4,” JBL 90/3 [1971]: 329–30), the terseness of the MT makes its syntax difficult to untangle. The basic outline of the verse is evident, however. The first half compares the rule of the righteous king to the benefits of sunlight, the second half to the fertilizing effects of rain. In so doing it is remarkably similar to Psalm 72, where the ideal ruler, characterized by “righteousness” (72:1–2), will endure as long as the “sun” (72:5) and will be like “rain” that waters the earth (72:6; cf. also Del Olmo Lete, 435–36).

That a king should be compared to the sun, which was originally created to “govern” (mšl) the day (Ge 1:16, 18), is not surprising. Indeed, solar language was employed in royal ideology throughout the ancient Near East (cf. the detailed discussion in Hans-Peter Stahli, Solare Elemente in Jahweglauben des alten Testaments [OBO 66; Göttingen: Vanden-hoeck and Ruprecht, 1985]). The righteous king is like the first “light of morning” (ʾôr bōqer, v. 4), just after dawn (cf. 17:22 [“daybreak”]; 1 Sa 14:36 [“dawn”]; 25:34, 36) on a cloudless day at “sunrise.” As Carlson, 257, perceptively observes, “it is thus deeply symbolical that David is punished ‘in the sight of the sun’ ” (see comments on “in broad daylight” in 12:11–12).

The image of “brightness” is continued into the latter half of v. 4—now related, however, not to sunshine but to the lightning that accompanies thunderstorms (see 22:13 and comment). It would therefore perhaps be better to translate “brightness associated with rain” (or the like) instead of “brightness after rain” (NIV). As the fructifying influence of rain helps the grass to grow (cf. Dt 32:2), so also the benevolent rule of a righteous king causes his people to flourish (cf. Ps 72:6–7). It may be instructive to observe that news of the death of King Saul evoked from David a curse against the mountains of Gilboa, imploring that they might no longer have dew or “rain” (1:21). If the presence of the ideal king produces health and prosperity, the absence of royal rule—of whatever sort—guarantees famine and drought.[6]

[1] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 462). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 581). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Sa 23:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 423). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[5] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Erdmann, D., Toy, C. H., & Broadus, J. A. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 & 2 Samuel (pp. 587–588). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[6] Youngblood, R. F. (2009). 1, 2 Samuel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition) (Vol. 3, p. 592). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.