A study of the Fourth Gospel, especially John 11:45 – 57
Introduction: I’ve tried to imagine serving right now as a pastor of a church in Ukraine. What would it be like to be a wartime pastor? I can’t imagine it. I just read the story of a pastor whose church is outside Kiev. When the people met last Sunday, he gave worshippers time to stand and share testimonies and harrowing stories about the air raids. The whole church prayed on its knees for their president, their country, and for peace. Then the pastor preached from Proverbs 29:25: The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
What an appropriate text! Notice that phrase—whoever trusts in the Lord…
There’s something about the preposition that turns faith into something very personal. It’s one thing to trust the Lord, and it’s another to trust in the Lord. It’s one thing to believe Him and it’s another to believe in Him.
I’ve occasionally considered bungee jumping. I’ve watched videos and wondered what that would be like. So far I’ve not taken the plunge. But imagine we visited a professional outfitter and the operator showed me the rope. Do you believe this rope is safe and sound? Do you believe this harness has integrity? Will the buckles hold firm? Will the hooks stay attached? Are the operators qualified?
I could believe all that. But that doesn’t mean I’d get into the harness. It’s one thing to believe it, and it’s another to believe in it. It’s one thing to trust it, and it’s another to trust in it. That’s why the writer of Proverbs said, “The fear of man brings a snare but whoever trusts in the Lord will be safe.” We’re trusting in the Lord when we buckle up in the harness of grace, unafraid of the ups and downs of life.
The apostle John is called the Apostle of Belief. But you can read the Fourth Gospel from first to last, and you’ll not find the word “faith” in a literal translation. John never talked about “faith.” That was a favorite word of Paul’s, but John preferred a more intimate word. “Faith” is a noun, but “believe in” is a verb. That was John’s term.
Leon Morris, in his commentary on John, said this phrase—to believe in Jesus—”is John’s favorite construction of genuine trust. It’s a remarkable thing that the word ‘faith’ does not occur anywhere in the Gospel of John. But the word believe occurs nearly 100 times.”
I’d like to trace a few occasions in John of the phrase “believe in,” beginning in John chapter 3, the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus one night in old Jerusalem.
John 3: Believing in Jesus Brings Us Eternal Life
Notice three verses in this chapter:
- John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
- John 3:18: Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
- John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
All three verses contain both a promise and a warning. If we believe in Christ we will have eternal life. If we don’t, we are condemned already. We will perish and God’s wrath remains on us.
John 6: Believing in Jesus Gives Us Emotional Satisfaction
John 6:35 says: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.
I cannot imagine not being a follower of Jesus Christ, can you? When I wake up in the morning, I grab my Bible and the God of the Universe speaks to me. He listens as I tell Him my concerns. He goes into every day with me. He forgives my shortcomings and helps me do better. His promises create a mental paradigm in which I can make sense of the world. At night, He comforts me.
In heavenly abiding,
No change my heart shall fear
And safe is such confiding
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me
And can I be dismayed?
John 7: Believing in Jesus Unleashes the Holy Spirit
Let go to John 7:37: On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this, He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.
This is some of the richest imagery in the Bible. The Garden of Eden was God’s original home on this earth, and four different rivers flowed from there to water the earth. According to Ezekiel 47, when Jesus reigns in Jerusalem during the Millennium, a vast river will flow from beneath the temple to water and irrigate the desert. We’re told in Revelation 22 that when we see the Lord enthroned in New Jerusalem, a river of living waters as clear as crystal will flow from the throne to refresh the entire city and the New Earth.
Jesus is using that imagery here to say when He is enthroned in our lives, rivers of living water will flow from within us to irrigate thirsty souls and make this planet inhabitable. From our churches, our ministries, and our lives gush the river of the Holy Spirit’s power.
John 11: Believing in Jesus Solves the Problem of Death
Now, let’s move to John 11. In John 11:25, Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.
- Because He is the Resurrection, those who believe in Him will live, even though they die.
- Because He is the Life, those who live by believing in Him will never die.
The first part of this verse refers to our bodies, for they fall asleep until the resurrection; but the second part of the verse refers to our spirits, which never die nor cease consciousness. The moment we die in Christ, our conscious souls will fly instantly to New Jerusalem and be with our loved ones and with the Lord and with His angels.
I’ve been asked, “Will we be disembodied spirits during the intermediate state, between the moment of our death and the moment of our resurrection? Will we have any kind of body or simply be disembodied spirits, like invisible ghosts floating around?
I’m convinced we are not going to be disembodied spirits in heaven. Angels are spirits. They are incorporeal. They’re part of the invisible realm. They’re disembodied, as it were, as far as we know. But they can project the image of bodies. They can assume the form of a body. They can have a manifested body. People saw angels who appeared as if they were human beings.
In the book of Revelation, we have glimpses of souls who are already in Heaven. They are singing. They are worshiping. They are dressed in white. They are not intangible, invisible spirits. On two different occasions in Revelation, John said that he saw the spirits of those who had perished for Christ during the Tribulation. He visually saw them.
In Luke 16, the beggar Lazarus was walking and talking with Abraham.
I believe God has some interim way to make us known, to allow us to function, and to enjoy His fellowship and that of one another. Our bodies will die in Christ and be resurrected when He comes; but the conscious real us—our spirit and soul and mind—will never die. In some way we will have the temporary appearance, some kind of manifestation, and we will be functional people as we await the resurrection.
John 11: Believing in Jesus Unites Us with a Condemned Man
That brings us to the pivotal paragraph in the book of John—chapter 11:45-57. In chapter 11, Jesus performed the most dramatic miracle of His life. He publicly raised Lazarus from the dead in the presence of many people and in a dramatic way. According to the four Gospels, Jesus raised three people back to life. The other two were up in Galilee, and He performed those miracles with a quiet and compassionate touch. But here at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus shouted in a loud voice and everything was designed to electrify those in attendance. He was deliberately provoking the authorities.
This transitional paragraph is the pivotal paragraph in the book of John. It’s like the hinge that connects two parts.
- John 1 – 11 covers three years and ends with a resurrection.
- John 12 – 21 covers seven days and ends with a resurrection.
I don’t know of anywhere else in the Bible like this where the pacing changes so dramatically in a narrative. Everything pivots at this point. After this, chapters 12 through 21 cover only seven days. This paragraph marks the major transition in the Gospel of John, and it marks the point where things turn for the worse in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
There’s our phrase again. Many who saw this miracle believed in Jesus. But they soon learned that believing in Him united them with a condemned man.
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was the ruling counsel of Israel, their Parliament or Congress. It was made up of seventy or so men. Some were Pharisees, who were theologically conservative; but the leaders were Sadducees, who were liberal in a theological sense. With few exceptions, this group viewed Jesus as a dangerous fanatic, and they viewed His miracle with alarm.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
There’s our phrase again. They were afraid everyone would believe in Him, which could destabilize the nation and its tenuous relationship with the occupying Romans. Let’s go on to verse 49:
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that [fateful] year, spoke up….
We know a lot about Caiaphas. A few years ago archaeologists discovered his coffin or ossuary. I’ve seen it in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It bears the name Caiaphas and, according to forensic studies, it contained the bones of a man who died at the age of sixty.
Caiaphas was corrupt. Yet, unbeknownst to Him, God gave him a prophetic utterance. He said something deeper and wiser than he knew. He said something, the implications of which he didn’t perceive. Look at verse 49:
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that [fateful] year, spoke up. “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Listen to John’s explanation of that sentence:
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
God put those words into the mouth of this corrupt high priest, yet Caiaphas didn’t see the implications of his words.
53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Jesus went into hiding in a town that was probably about a dozen miles northeast of Jerusalem, Ephraim, which is today the village of Taybeh.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.
These were the last peaceful, quiet days of Jesus Christ on earth as He prepared Himself for things to turn worse during the upcoming Jewish Passover. And in the days ahead, all the followers of Christ were following a condemned man.
John 14: Believing in Jesus Takes us to Heaven
There’s one last passage I want to show you. Turn to John 14: Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Heaven, and he interviewed Dr. Clay Jones, who is one a noted apologist.
Dr. Jones was a troubled twelve year old in California in 1969. He was the son of an atheist and an astrologer, and he was sickly, bullied, and confused. That year he attended a Billy Graham crusade and heard Dr. Graham preach about heaven and hell, and he was converted—at age twelve. Over time, he became a deeply thoughtful Christian; he married his high school sweetheart, and he earned a number of academic degrees.
One day he began suffering chronic back pain. After a number of tests, he received a call from his doctor telling him he was suffering from an aggressive form of bone cancer that kills all of its victims within two years.
Hanging up the phone, Dr. Jones and his wife, Jean, held hands, wept, and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for all God had done for them. They told the Lord He alone was in control, and they prayed for healing if it was His will.
“This is going to sound strange, but I wasn’t afraid of dying. Some people scoff when I say that, but it’s true. Yes, I mourned leaving my wife. But, you see, I had a robust view of heaven—and that’s what made all the difference.”
When I read that, I put down the book, went to my desk for a red pen, and underlined that sentence. Later, thankfully, Dr. Jones received an update. The diagnosis was mistaken and not as severe as he’d first been told. It was a great relief, of course, but Jones never forgot the lessons he had learned through the crisis.
We all need a robust view of heaven, and that only comes from believing in Him who said: Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto Myself that where I am there you may be also.
I memorized those verses in the third grade, and I wish every child in the world knew the opening verses of John 14. They have given me a lifelong robust view of Heaven.
- Believing in Jesus brings us eternal life.
- It provides us with internal, emotional satisfaction.
- It unleashes the Holy Spirit within us.
- It solves the problem of death.
- It unites us with a condemned man.
- But it’s that condemned man that frees us from condemnation and takes us on to Heaven.
Who would not believe in such a one as Jesus of Nazareth?
I don’t think I’m going to bungee jump. But one thing I know. In the ups and downs of life, the rope of God’s grace in Christ will keep me tethered and secure. We have a robust Savior, and in times like these we need a robust faith and a robust view of eternity; for the fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord dwells in safety.