© Charles A. Clough 2013
Charles A. Clough
1 John Series
Lesson 1 – Background/Framework for New Testament Times
01 Sep 2013
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
The idea here is to understand this aged apostle. 1 John was written toward the end of the apostle’s life. Some church historians say that he was probably in his eighties when he wrote these three epistles. This is the result of a fellow who knew the Lord probably as a teenager, and who spent all his life and survived when all the other apostles (had been martyred)… So it will be kind of a mature look at the Christian life from a man who had (endured) the trials and tribulations for many, many years. I think John gives us a different perspective than Paul.
One of the things in Bible study is there are several disciplines. One discipline is “systematic theology” where you take doctrines and you systematize them across the whole Scripture. But there is another discipline called “biblical theology” in which you study one author. The Holy Spirit generated the Bible but He used many people from many different backgrounds and so when you do biblical theology you focus on one man and how he expresses himself with his vocabulary, in his way. What we’ll see as we go through John’s writings is that John has a very distinct way of expressing himself that’s quite structurally different from Paul. It’s not that they teach different things, but you have to read both men as individuals. The Holy Spirit did not turn the authors of Scripture into robots. He worked through their personalities, through their backgrounds and so on.
On the chart overhead is a slide that I show over and over and over again and the reason I do that is because I want to show you that there are not 15 ½ different worldviews out there; there are only two worldviews – only two. All the others are just variants of these two. It’s fundamental because there are so many different things out there – so many different ideologies out there that you fatigue yourself by trying to learn about each individual one. What you have to do for shear economy is to learn to trace the big ideas and know that there are only certain basic answers to the basic questions of life.
What we’re looking at is three fundamental questions that every man and woman asks – and come up with answers too. These three questions may be answered poorly, but they are always answered. You have answered these three questions to yourself; I have and everyone else has.
So here are the three big questions:
So the first question is what is reality? The second question is:
The third question that everybody has to ask is:
So I always start with this slide because I want to show that there are only two basic worldviews that answer these three questions. One starts on the left side and has a stream of expressions down through the corridors of time.
After Noah and the flood, the world was recolonized and all the people groups, all the tribes, came off the same boat. That means, and it has an implication – it means that every people group traced back in time at one point knew at least Genesis 1 through 9 because they all got off the boat knowing Genesis 1 through 9. So it’s simply not true that these isolated peoples somehow evolved and came out of the jungles and knew nothing about God, were completely innocent, completely neutral, complete blank slates. That is not true. All people groups have forgotten massive amounts of the revelation that their great, great, great grandfathers knew; but nevertheless there are traces and the reason we know there are traces is because they haven’t lost their conscience. They still live in God’s universe. They still have to answer the three questions.
On the left side you’ll see how it came down from ancient monotheism down through ancient Israel to the Bible, and beginning around 1920 when modernist fundamentalist controversies tore this country apart the liberals basically took over most denominations. That’s why churches like ours are independent churches.
Today it’s the heritage of the fundamentalists who held the line in the era from 1915 through 1935 - in that era. That was the deciding era. It’s a chapter of American history by the way that nobody studies and it’s sad because that is one of the most key periods in American history and it determined the theology that we have today. So that’s the theme.
On the right side you have the ancient myths. The ancient myths were not just created wholesale. The ancient myths were distortions of the truth that was once known. You can see that. This is why in the Greek myths you have Pandora’s Box - the idea of this woman opening a box and evil comes out. That’s just the distortion of Genesis 3. So mythology is a distortion of biblical truth
Then you come down to Eastern religions. C. S. Lewis has said the most carefully thought through system of unbelief is Hinduism. C. S. Lewis went so far as to say there are really only two religions in the world - Christianity and Hinduism, because in Hinduism you see the pagan mind at work.
Then we come down to Western philosophy, the so-called Enlightenment. I mention the Enlightenment deliberately because Apostle John is going to talk about enlightenment. He uses it over and over and over. So now we’re going to be put in tension between everything we’ve all learned in our university courses or our high school courses about the Age of Enlightenment. The Apostle John is going to reverse this and we’re going to see what the real Age of Enlightenment was.
We then come down to modern theology, which is just an offshoot of Western philosophy.
But below that there are two key ideas. This is the answer to what is real. On the left side of the chart is the Creator-creature distinction. That is fundamental. That controls every other thought you think – the Creator-creature distinction. It starts with Genesis 1:1. That determines everything. On the right side you’ll see the continuity of being. All that means is the no Creator-creature distinction. All of reality is just one big glob in which the gods and goddesses float around and do their thing. They’re all part of this one pantheistic universe. So those are the two key issues.
Related to that of course is – how do I know truth? If I believe what’s on the left side of the chart, then I believe that reality is two-fold. There is a Creator that is eternal and there is the creature, which is temporal. If I believe that then truth has to derive from the Creator. The only way the truth is derived from the Creator is if the Creator has spoken and that we call revelation and John is going to address that one also.
On the right side of the chart, if I really believe that’s reality, then my view and my speculation is as good as anyone else’s and everything follows. How you answer that first question controls everything else. You’ve already controlled everything else by the answer you’ve given to that.
So then down at the bottom which is the agenda and this is very important because at the bottom line of it all is that on the left side of that chart: if there is a Creator-creature distinction, if reality is as the Bible says it is, then we are ultimately responsible. That’s the simple axiom. That’s the agenda that’s working underneath. Notice on the right side of the chart, if your answer to what is real is that just the universe is there, then there is no Creator-creature distinction and you’re left as a passive victim of the system.
You either have the left side of the chart where you have genuine freedom, with which comes responsibility on how you choose to use your freedom, or the right side of the chart where you can always blame it and hand it off on somebody else.
So you can see that these are big questions that control every area of your life. I keep saying “every area of your life” because we come to church, we read the Bible and often times unintentionally study the Bible as though it’s in this religious compartment. Then we have our business life; we have our marriage; we have our school. But we have this religious compartment over here. That’s not the way the Scriptures present it.
The Scriptures, if the Creator-creature distinction is right, address all areas of life not just the religious area. Our court system today distorts that because the idea of the separation of church and state is a silly thing. Anybody that’s read Thomas Jefferson’s letter knows it has nothing to do with the idea of separation of church and state as it’s being articulated in our court system. But that’s just a matter of simple history. All you have to do is spend five minutes reading Thomas Jefferson’s letter and you realize how off base the whole legal system is about freedom of expression.
Now on the handout what I want to do is I want to show you the implications of Jesus Christ. If you look on the handout it says God, man, nature, revelation, justice, and ultimate purpose. See those ideas? Those are themes; those are topics. John the Apostle says in John 3 that you either believe or you do not believe in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe, he says, I know your agenda. You do not want to come to the light because you’re afraid of what’s going to be exposed if you do come to the light. It’s a very convicting chapter. This follows the John 3:16 passage.
So what I’ve done here in these next few charts is I’ve tried to show that your response to Jesus reveals something about you, about me, and about our heart.
One of my professors years ago said to me, “By their lives of Jesus you will know them,” because people betray and expose themselves by their response to Jesus.
So let’s watch how this plays out. The first one is the virgin birth claim, the idea that Jesus in the New Testament claimed to be virgin born - that God incarnated Himself. The God of the universe, the infinite God, as one of the famous preachers said, contracted Himself down to the size of a woman’s womb - amazing act, the Incarnation – if you think about it. If that is true, then you have to respond to that claim. You either reject it; or you’re going to accept it.
Behind that acceptance or rejection, on the left side, the unbelieving pagan view of God, man, and nature, if you believe that, the Virgin birth claim doesn’t mean anything because there is no Creator-creature distinction and if there is no Creator-creature distinction, there is no need of an incarnation. What you would reinterpret the Virgin birth to be is that somehow this great spirit of the universe came upon this woman - something like that. But if you believe the right side, the biblical view of God, man, and nature, then it makes sense that the God who created man, created man distinct from all other parts of the creation.
What is the distinction? What is the distinction in the Scriptures between man and everything else? What is unique to man? He is made in God’s image; Genesis 1. That’s a set up. Man was created for an incarnation.
As Tertullian, the church father, said, “When God was in the garden,” he has this picturesque way of phrasing this, “He was stooping down to mold the earth into the form of Adam and He looked down the corridors of time to when He would have to incarnate Himself.”
What a glorious picture of how God created man in His own image. Man was created in His image so there could be an incarnation.
The next slide… The life of the King in the gospels- people either accept the fact that this man Jesus was more that a Jewish carpenter, that He was the God-man, or they don’t. Liberal scholars hardly believe that Jesus existed. Maybe there was a Jesus or something; but the Christ of Scripture is the church’s spin on this Jewish carpenter. So liberals separate the Jesus of history.
You often hear them doing this. In fact the latest biography of Jesus done by a Muslim scholar is making the difference between the historic Jesus and the Christ of Christian faith. The two are different. It’s the church spinning on this Jewish carpenter guy.
Here the issue is, do we have a pagan view of revelation or do we have a biblical view of revelation? Again that is determined by whether you believe in a Creator-creature distinction. If you don’t believe in a Creator-creature distinction you don’t have a view of revelation because there is no Creator to reveal Himself; but in the Scriptures if you believe there is a Creator-creature distinction, that the Creator speaks and He reveals Himself, then it’s not any problem to accept the fact that Jesus is revealing God.
Okay, next slide. This is the death of the King. In the Middle Ages there were two men that debated this. They are very famous – Abelard and - I can’t think of his name now, my mind went blank, but they debated this in the Middle Ages. One argued that the cross of Jesus was the death of a martyr and the idea was that by looking at the cross of Jesus you are convinced in your soul of dedication. In other words the cross never did anything; it was just like any other martyrdom. There was no divine transaction, no judicial, no forensic, dimension to it.
On the other hand, there were those who believed that the cross objectively accomplished something. True, it’s in the spiritual realm and we can’t empirically observe it; but something happened when Christ was on that cross.
Behind this acceptance or rejection is the idea of justice. If there is no divine justice, and this is very important people because all our young people on the campuses today are getting in most of their history classes and in their English classes and in law school the concept of social justice. You hear it all the time – social justice. What they mean by social justice is “equality” – however you define equality.
That’s not the biblical view of justice. There’s not an equality between heaven and hell. God is a God of distinctions. In fact if you think about it anybody that uses more than one noun discriminates. The point here is that in order to think, you have to discriminate. You have the idea that things are not identical. The biblical view of justice is that God’s standard is objectively fixed independently of what men think about it, independently of what the latest Gallop poll says.
Paul says in Romans:
NKJ Romans 3:4 …let God be true but every man a liar.
That’s Romans 3. That’s the answer to the Gallup poll.
…let God be true but every man a liar.
So God, if He is a God of holiness, then that is the standard of justice independently of what the court says, independently of what the polls say. That’s never changing.
So the idea of justice is exposed by one’s attitude to the Cross. If you don’t accept the atonement on the Cross, like the Presbyterian modernist church…last month they decided they were going to redo their hymnal and they wanted one of the hymns changed to avoid speaking of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus; thankfully the authors who had the copyright to that hymn said, “You’re not changing this – period.” [So the church said,] “Well, then you’re not going to have your hymn in our hymnbook.” Fine.
So obviously here the irony is that here is this big liberal Presbyterian Church - it’s not the conservatives, it’s the liberals; these are the people who in the name of social justice are trying to get business people to pull their money out of Israel, trying to disinvest Israel in the name of justice. But when it comes to real justice, they don’t want it in their hymnbook and this is the contradiction that’s embedded in a lot of the liberal thinking.
Then we come to the last one, the resurrection of the King. This is the idea of ultimate purpose. The resurrection has to be seen as more than a Jesus story for Easter. The resurrection if you think about it – let’s mentally put ourselves back with those gals that saw Jesus. They see Jesus. They reach out and touch Him. They hear him say - Miriam hears Him say, “Miriam,” with the same vocal cord intonation that she heard Him before. She didn’t really in her shock recognize Him until He said her name. It was just a funny way He said Miriam that was very intimate. She knew that because He would talk to her that way before. So when out of this resurrection body she hears these same words that she used to hear from Him in his natural body, she instantly recognizes Him.
So the resurrection body is an amazing thing. It eats food, but it goes through walls. It can appear and it can disappear. Clearly the physics involved in the body of the resurrection is a totally different set of physics from the physics that we know in this universe now.
So what we have with the death and resurrection of Jesus is we have the first piece – that body, that finite body of Jesus, the resurrection body - is the first piece of the eternal universe. The eternal universe has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This shows that we have something that no Marxist, no dreamer, no progressive has when they dream about what the utopian future will be. Marx’s problem was he never could tell you what the ultimate goal of history was because he wasn’t there. He couldn’t see it because it was a speculation. We don’t have a speculation. We have a resurrection body. We have a Savior who exists today in a resurrection body, a Savior who in Acts 7 when Stephen is being martyred, stands up off the throne of heaven to receive one martyr in His presence. This is what we have. We don’t need to be ashamed of it. We can be very encouraged by it. We have something that no one else outside of the Christian faith has – period – because we have the ultimate purpose.
On your handout I’ve put a quote that I gave the college students this summer. I gave it to them because I wanted them to understand that when you’re in class, when you’re talking with folks that have this demeaning attitude, “Oh tut, tut, you poor believers. I’m sitting here in my neutrality; I don’t have to involve myself with religious things. Sorry that you folks … you’re kind of weak and you need a faith to prop yourself up.”
The problem with that is these people are so deceived they don’t understand their own belief system.
So we’re going take a look at this quote from a man who did think as a non-Christian, a profound thinker of the 20th century. Bertram Russell did a lot of work in theoretical math. He was a logician who worked with logical paradoxes that were thwarting people around the early 1900’s. He saw some of these very famous logical paradoxes that had bothered people. Russell wrote a lot of works trying to explain why he’s not a Christian.
I always like to read somebody like that because unlike the sidewalk non-Christian, this non-Christian has seriously thought about his own faith. This quote gives you his answers to what is reality and what’s my ultimate destiny. Look at it carefully. I’ve put in bold font the things that I wanted our college kids to look at carefully and not lose sight of.
So we’ll go through this slowly.
This is the only alternative to biblical revelation. So when you’re talking to folks, try to ask them about their faith. If they express to you that they’re not a believer, that’s fine.
Ask, “Well then what do you believe about this? Why do you believe what you believe?”
Just sit and listen and see what happens. See what comes out because if you ask a simple innocent question and it’s graciously done, lovingly done, what you’re really doing is that you may be precipitating a kind of thinking in their mind that they haven’t ever done before because nobody ever asked them this. They just suppressed it, Romans 1. All of a sudden you’re resurrecting something in their heart and deep mind that they just never have thought about. So it’s a useful approach.
But now let’s go through this quote by Bertram Russell.
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving.
What’s he talking about? What worldview is that that’s all over the place? Evolution, right? What’s the mechanism of evolution? Is it an intelligent force personally directing the outcomes or is it mere statistical chance that’s happening here? He’s captured it beautifully.
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving.
See ideas have consequences. Ideas…have…consequences. When you take a man as intelligent as Bertram Russell, he’s aware of the fact that if he believes this idea, it has to lead somewhere else. Here are his consequences.
…that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms…
Is that true or is that false? Given the premise, is Russell drawing a conclusion here that’s valid? Yeah. Your high school biology teacher doesn’t want to do that. It’s the courts that say we should keep the church out of our lives because of separation of church and state. Okay, if you want to do that then you are an accidental collocation atoms. What are you going to do about that? See, ideas have consequences.
Let’s go on. Now he’s going to deal with another question. Up until that accidental collocation of atoms, from the end of that word “atoms” backwards to the beginning of the statement, he is dealing with the implications of origins. So he’s answering a question.
If I believe this, then that follows.
He’s absolutely right. So this deals with the question of origins. Everybody has to ask this question.
Next he’s going to deal with the other end of life. What about death?
No fire, no heroism, no intensity of thoughts and feelings can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.
Is that a correct conclusion given his premise? Ideas have consequences. Have the courage to live the consequences.
Now he’s going to deal with an even greater question. He’s dealt with the question of origins.
That “no fire” – starting with that statement to the end…of “beyond the grave”…
Now he’s dealt with the end of life. This is what you’re left with after all the years of life, after all the desire to survive, after all the events that have happened in your life. This is what you are left with…nothing…nothing. We don’t know what’s beyond the grave. If you cut yourself off from biblical revelation, you have no answer. This is your answer if you don’t have the Bible.
So now he deals with an even greater question: the meaning of all of history of the human race. So now he’s looking at the corporate nature, not just an individual dying and what’s left over; but he’s dealing with the entire human race.
That all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon day brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruin.
Is that a good conclusion given the fact that there’s no Creator-creature distinction? Given the fact that there’s no creation…when people have this condescending thoughtless, “Tut, tut, you poor people that believe in creation”
It’s the other way around.
“I’m sorry for you that you don’t believe in creation because this is where you are left and I don’t think you like this kind of answer. I don’t think you like the consequences of what you’re telling me you believe.”
So then he continues and here’s the application to personal life. You see again, ideas have consequences moment by moment in how we live our lives.
All these things if not quite beyond dispute are yet so clearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within…
This is his classic sentence. This is quoted in a lot of places. Christians will pick up on this sentence, but I wanted our college students to see what led up to this sentence. Here’s the final sentence.
Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on a firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
That is what you are left with if you don’t believe the Bible; a wonderful type of existence…your meaningless little life.
Now what we want to do is we want to come to the Apostle John because John starts both his gospel and 1 John dealing with these big issues. So because we’re so familiar with the text I didn’t want to run through the text at 40 miles per hour and not slow down and enjoy John’s approach. So the next slide we’re going to see John’s uniqueness – some of the things that are unique to John.
What I try to show here is how John differs from the other gospel writers, why he wrote this. Apparently he wrote this later in life, or at least after Matthew, Mark and Luke, and he sort of filled us in on things; and we’re going to comment on this as we go on through John.
Let’s just skim through this and we’ll get into the rest of it probably next week.
If you look at the word “repent”, it occurs in Matthew, Mark and Luke. You can’t find it once in the Gospel of John. Which then suggests since John is an evangelistic gospel why did he leave out the word repent? Why is the emphasis on belief? It’s not that John was against repentance. But that wasn’t part of his vocabulary when he wrote his gospel. This is the kind of what I call biblical theology where you study a man’s vocabulary and you learn a little bit.
“Oh John, this is what you mean.”
How do we listen to John – not Paul – but John?
This next word, “believe” - 11 times per gospel in the Synoptics. What does that tell you about John’s thinking? What does that tell you about why he wrote his ways?
The Kingdom of God is mentioned 4 times in the Gospels- 3 times in John.
Contrast - the Gospels tend to contrast their present age with the future coming kingdom. It’s a temporal contrast between now and the future. With John the contrast is between light and darkness - both in the present. That has implications for how he expresses the Christian way of life and why this letter is so good as far as the practical side of the Christian life.
Then we come to Jesus’ birth. John doesn’t talk about Jesus’ birth. Isn’t it strange that John’s gospel doesn’t? He indirectly does, because he talks about the incarnation, but there is no birth narrative there like there is in the [other 3] Gospels.
Then we come to Jesus’ baptism. That’s covered in both.
Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration - scholars have pointed out – this is important. The three gospels report what happened when Jesus was on the Mount and He was transformed before the disciples’ eyes. When they looked at Him they described this, and this is what we call a theophany. In other words His divine nature showed forth in a physical way. So the description you get in the gospels is that Jesus’ face suddenly shone like the sun. I don’t know if you ever tried to look at the sun, but they couldn’t look at His face. If it was true that all of a sudden they’re stunned by this physical transformation that occurs; they all describe it but John leaves it out. But then John turns around and uses the words, “that we beheld His glory.”
The difference there is a profound one. The Synoptic gospels when they are thinking of God’s glory they’re thinking of the physical manifestation, like the Kingdom of God coming. When John talks about the glory of God, he’s talking about what they saw in Jesus every day. So he is looking closely at Jesus as the other three men - not that they didn’t look closely, but they were looking differently at Jesus.
Then we come to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, a very important eschatological discourse in all three gospels - details about what His return is going to be like. John doesn’t even mention it. So the question is why John is not talking about those things. The other three guys did. Why didn’t John?
We come to eternal life and this is another interesting thing like the glory of God. In the Gospels, nine times it occurs and it’s thought to be the eternal life of the coming Kingdom – that eternal life. That’s eternal life in the future. But you come to John’s gospel; and he’s talking about a present thing. We enjoy it today.
NKJ Acts 16:31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
but in the Johannine literature it’s:
NKJ 1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,
So again these are differences that we have to come to grips with and ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit is telling us with through this text.
Then finally the most dramatic situation is Jesus’ ego eimi, the Greek word for “I am”, which is like the Old Testament. I think it occurs 12 times, 4 per gospel. All are normal speech. I am this and that and so forth. John doesn’t use ego eimi that way. He uses it in simple sentences that are packed with meaning where there is more to it than just ego eimi. He’s talking about divine nature. You see when John listens to Jesus; he sees the glory of God. So when he writes about Jesus he describes how Jesus says, “I am the vine.”
He’s the vine but it’s more than a metaphor. Ego eimi is the New Testament version of “I AM” in Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses.
Finally at the bottom is the style. Only Matthew 11:25-30 appears like John in discourse. In other words what we mean by that is that that Matthew passage is the only passage you can find in the three gospels where Jesus speaks like He speaks in the Gospel of John. So now the question comes, why does Jesus appear to speak differently in John’s gospel than He did in the other three gospels?
There is a theory about this. It was created as scholars studied John 3. In John 3 it starts out with Jesus talking to Nicodemus. It ends up somewhere in the chapter and all of a sudden John keeps on talking. So Jesus starts the conversation in the beginning of John 3 and John is ending it describing it at the end of chapter 3. Somewhere in chapter 3 there is a transition but you can’t tell exactly where the transition is. This has led to the belief that John was the youngest of the gospel writers and he came to know Jesus as a very young man. He probably was so impressed with Jesus that as a young man Jesus’ mode of expressions caught with him. John is probably giving us how Jesus actually talked. John isn’t creating his Johannine portrait of Jesus. John is just expressing it because from youth he was so impressed with Jesus that he picked up His idiomatic speech as young people do. You know, they listen to some guy in popular music or something and you’ll see a young person pick that up. They’ll express themselves in that vocabulary. So with John we have a most interesting thing. Whereas, the other men were older men and they would describe what Jesus said accurately but it’s not a verbatim thing like John where John is mimicking Jesus’ style of expression. So these are some of the differences.
In the hand out we got down to the uniqueness and closeness to Jesus. You’ll notice that in the Upper Room Discourse we’ll get to next week where we participate. Please bring this handout next week because we hope to finish it by next week and get on with other things in ensuing weeks. The uniqueness and closeness to Jesus – you notice how John describes himself in the Upper Room Discourse as the one who is next to Jesus, the one who is closest to Jesus. So John has a unique relationship with Jesus and it comes out in how he expresses things. So we got up to that point.
Look in the next section and see where it says participation in the Upper Room Discourse. Let me take a minute and explain that. Please read John 14 – 17 and just review the Upper Room Discourse because 1 John is his exposition of the upper room. You can’t understand the vocabulary in 1 John and how he uses “know,” “keep my commandments”, “love the brethren”. Those are all defined in the Upper Room Discourse. 1 John uses that. So that’s the end of that.