The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry – John 1:19-3:36

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This topic will span a couple of posts. As mentioned previously, John’s prologue to his gospel (1:1-19) gave us some witnesses as to who Jesus really is. His testimony comes from above (God) and is also displayed below in four ways:

  1. The creation that was made through him (1:1-5)
  2. John the Baptist (1:6-8 & 1:15)
  3. Incarnation (1:14)
  4. The early Christian witnesses/John the apostle (1:14 – “we have seen his glory…who came from the Father…”)

In verse 19, we return to the one who testifies below about Jesus’ divinity, John the Baptist. While the story of Jesus’ baptism is not present it is certainly implied (1:32). From the very beginning Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God” (1:29 and 1:36). Within that title is the recognition from early on as to what Jesus’ purpose is. He is the paschal lamb that will take away the sins of the world. Jesus is also recognized early as the Messiah by Andrew in John 1:41. As mentioned before this does not come out in Mark until halfway through the book (chapter 8).

Structure

Chapters 1-3 are bookened by John the Baptist and his understanding of the role he was assigned to. Chapters 2-4 are bookended by miracles at Cana. When John the Baptist’s followers leave him to follow Jesus (1:35ff), he knew that was part of his purpose. When he finds out that Jesus’ disciples are now baptizing more than his, he is filled with joy because he knows he is not in a popularity contest (3:27ff). He is filling a subservient role that points to someone greater than himself. It is summed up by John’s statement in 3:30 – “He must become greater, I must become less.” If more Christians subscribed to that attitude and each focused on doing our part to further the kingdom we would be much healthier and more effective in our ministries. Satan loves to try to get us to flip that statement. When we buy into Satan’s version it results in impotent efforts to reach the lost and infighting rather than fighting our real spiritual enemy (Eph 6:12).

The Nature and Character of Jesus’ Ministry

Between the John the Baptist bookends we find Jesus’ power displayed through the first miracle of his ministry, his zeal displayed through his clearing the temple, and his knowledge displayed through his conversation with Nicodemus. Each of these verify that the bookending testimony of the witnesses in the prologue is true. Each of these three characteristics of Jesus’ early ministry will be dealt with in upcoming posts.

Side notes

Before we get into that I want to toss in a couple of side notes that don’t really fit anywhere but I would like to have somewhere for future reference:

  1. 1:47 – there is a play on words between “Israel” and having “no deceit” as the name Jacob/Israel is an idiom in Hebrew for someone who deceives or “grasps the heel.” To be tripped up is to be deceived. Jesus again refers to “Israel” by his reference in 1:51 to Jacob/Israel’s experience with the angels.
  2. 1:48 – “How do you know me?” more literally reads, “Where do you know me from?” Jesus’ answer is a place, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…”
  3. Messianic ties to the fig tree (1 Kings 4:25 and Micah 4:4)
  4. Water to wine – the only miracle in John not in the synoptic gospels.
  5. 2:4 – “Woman” was not an impolite term (Mtt 15:28, John 4:21, 8:10, 19:26, and 20:13).
  6. 2:10 – older translations supply the word “men” but it is not original
  7. 2:12 – “he went down to Capernaum” – the landscape is more elevated at Cana than Capernaum. Jesus literally descended the hill to get to Capernaum.
  8. Jesus clears the temple – this is almost certainly in the outer courts/the court of Gentiles. There was a rule that there were to be no weapons inside this area. That is why Jesus had to fashion a weapon from what he found there.
  9. 2:16 – play on words – literally reads, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a house of market…” It is much more plain a play on words in Greek than in the NIV (which totally leaves out the word “house” in reference to “market.” I am thinking this would have been more plain in Aramaic than in Greek.
  10. For more references and background to Jesus clearing the temple see Josephus Antiquities 15.11.1, 380, Jeremiah 7:11, Psalm 69:9, Zech 14:21, Isa 56:7, Hag 2:7-9, Mic 3:12, and Ezek 40-46

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