The Book of John: History and Purpose

I’ve been thinking for several weeks about where to go after my study of Ecclesiastes was finished. I’ve thought about several books, but this one is the one that keeps coming back to mind, and that draws me more all the time. So todays’s post is by way of introduction to the Gospel of John.

Of course we do not know what John looked like. We do know that he lived to be very old, and I like this portrait because it shows strength and determination:

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portrait by Peter Olsen

I’ve referred to several of my favorite commentators, and here I present you with a summary of what I have learned:

It is generally accepted that the Apostle John is the author of this book. Primarily, the author had to have been an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus (1:1419:3521:24).

He would also have been familiar with Palestine before the destruction of the temple in AD 70, and he would have been familiar with the Jewish way of life. John the Apostle does fit the description, but he is not the only one who does.

Early traditions help to identify the author as John. Irenaeus was a disciple of John’s disciple Polycarp. He is one of the earliest sources whose work is extant today to associate John with the fourth Gospel. 

Finally, like the other Gospels, the title “According to John” (KATA IWANNHN) is found in the earliest manuscripts.

The story of the calling of John and his brother James is familiar even to children who have been brought up in Sunday school. Accompanied by their father Zebedee, they were preparing their nets in a boat when Jesus called them. Both James and John left the boat and their father to follow Jesus (Matt 4:18-22).

Jesus often took Peter, James, and John aside, setting them apart as an inner circle of disciples (13:23-2420:2-1021:2720ff.). Not only is John counted among this select group, but he also refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved (13:2320:221:720). He was not boasting. Rather, I believe that he had such a tender affection for Jesus that it was fully returned, and of course Jesus knew what John’s future would hold.

After the resurrection of Jesus, John continued to play an important role in the early church. Paul referred to Peter, James, and John as the pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9). John is found with Peter going to the temple when Peter healed the crippled man (Acts 3:1-11). As a result both men went before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-23). Peter and John later traveled up to Samaria to confirm the work that was going on there (Acts 8:14-24).

The date and location are generally accepted to have been between a.d 90-100. Of course there is some dispute, as always, but in view of John’s own life span this seems to make the most sense. The location was most likely either Syria or Asia Minor. Irenaeus’ manuscripts tend to place it in Ephesus of Asia.

John 20:31 is the verse in which John himself tells his purpose: “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.”  Simply put, his purpose was to edify believers and reach others with the gospel.

The specific audience isn’t clearly stated, and truly this book has become a message to the entire world of the reality that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

Fear and Obey God

Eccl. 12:13-14

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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These two final verses in the book of Ecclesiastes are, in my opinion, the wisest words Solomon spoke throughout the entire book. They boil it all down to the purest essence of his teachings, and if we would endeavor to simply follow these last words of his book, we would do well.

After writing so much of this book from and under the sun premise, eliminating any eternal accountability, Solomon finally gets it right. He understands that we will indeed be held accountable to God. The phrase fear God is not only the beginning of the journey, but stays with us all the way through to the end.

To fear God is to have an attitude of respect and awe toward Him. We have only a glimmer in our minds of Who God really is, and what is His immense power; along with that, His immense love for mankind is underestimated. John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.”

Friendship with Jesus is the greatest treasure we have. The way we show our love toward Him is to keep His commandments (If ye love Me, keep My commandments–John 14:15).

For this is the whole duty of man: In this phrase, the word duty does not appear in any Hebrew manuscripts. It actually reads, For this is the whole of the man. It is the summation of man and the purpose for which he was created: To love God and obey Him. Why does it sound so simple, but seems so hard to accomplish?

That would be because, while we may truly love Him, we also love ourselves. We are born with that sin nature that wants to satisfy our own desires, whether or not they are in accordance with God’s desires for us.

Finally, Solomon declares that every work will be called into judgment: The good, the evil, and the secret things that we think no one else will ever know.

God knows. If you are into internet porn, God knows. If your favorite reading material is full of obscenity and lust, God knows. If you harbor hatred toward someone that has never been expressed, God knows. As Solomon says in Proverbs 20:27, ” The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” Our own conscience is used by God to search out our deepest sin. We cannot hide it from Him.

A favorite passage of mine is II Cor. 4:17-5:1.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

So we close this study of the book of Ecclesiastes. I hope there has been something that you have taken away from it that will be a blessing to you as you continue this earthly journey NOT under the sun, but under the mighty hand of God.

Wise Words are like Goads

Eccl. 12:11-12.

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one Shepherd.

 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Solomon understood how the Word of God should be taught:

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· He should teach the people knowledge.

He should seek to find acceptable words

He should seek to bring forth that which is upright – words of truth.

· He should make his words as goads and well-driven nails, with point and direction.

· He should bring forth the words given by one Shepherd.

· He should realize that good study is wearisome to the flesh and be willing to pay that price.

A goad was a sturdy stick with a nail driven into one end, used to keep animals like sheep from straying, or to get them moving. That’s what God’s Word does, and it needs to be taught with care because it is given by the only Shepherd of us all.

Then, the Preacher cautions his people not to be deceived by everything they read. That’s good advice for today, isn’t it? When the nation’s press is over 95% behind the Left, we need to realize that what they print is influenced heavily by their personal opinions. Read both sides. Makes informed decisions.

BUT: Don’t get so caught up in reading and researching that it becomes a weariness to the soul and body. If it consumes you, then you need to walk away, at least for a while.

I remember a student some years ago who came to me with this verse, pointing out that God said that much study is a weariness to the flesh. He thought he was onto something good. I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but it was something along the lines of, “You have a long way to go to be guilty of much studying!”

I think most of us would agree that we do far too little studying, especially of God’s Word.

Acceptable Words

Eccl. 12:9-10.

And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

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Solomon refers to himself here as Koholeth, the Preacher. He feels the responsibility of teaching the people wisdom, and finding just the right words that will drive his point home. It is sad that his own life didn’t always follow his own words of wisdom. We all are born with the nature to sin, and he was no exception. Yet, in his God-given wisdom, he left us wonderful words of practical help and understanding. His three books, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, reveal his deep underlying need to serve God and his people in spite of his weakness of the flesh that led him to participate in idol worship.

On a very personal level, I think I understand to some degree Solomon’s effort to find just the right words that would challenge his people and stir them to love God. I have taught God’s Words for many, many years. I started when I was 12, teaching two-year-olds. Now, I teach adult women and high school girls. I have learned a lot more than they have, I think, because of the effort that goes into finding just what God meant in His Word. Once I have a good understanding of it myself, I still seek the best and clearest way to share that understanding with my classes.

Everyone who handles God’s Word is under the obligation to find just the right words to share the truth of the scriptures clearly, purely, and with simplicity. Most important of all, the heart and mind of the teacher must be clean and pure in motive, understanding, and desire to share God’s Word as He intended. It’s a huge responsibility. I never take it lightly.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Proverbs 27:3-4

Sometimes I have an idea in mind all week for my Sunday morning post.

This is not one of those weeks. I don’t have heartburn about anything. I don’t have any soapbox messages. It’s been a pretty good week, actually, with incremental progress being made in a few areas.

When this happens, I usually turn to Proverbs. Today is the 27th of October, so I’m reading the 27th chapter of Proverbs. And the verses I chose are right at the beginning of the chapter: v. 3-4.

A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both.

 Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?

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None of us is able to carry such a heavy stone. It would crush anyone who tried to get under it.

Sand is used in bags to help hold back a flood. Wet sand is very heavy, and hard to handle.

But what is worse? The anger of a foolish person. Their anger is overwhelming because it is uncontrolled, and no one can bear to carry it.

In our wrath, we can be cruel and not care. In our anger, our behavior can be ridiculous, embarrassing, outrageous.

But the worst thing of all is envy. Jealousy. The green-eyed monster.

Why is it so awful? Well, that’s because it goes beyond wanting what we don’t have; it goes beyond wanting what someone else has. It becomes hatred of the person who has what you want, and it poisons every thought, every moment of the day.

Jealousy has destroyed marriages, ruined friendships, caused strife between family members; it has destroyed churches because one person wants the power and position that someone else has been given.

Jealousy is ugly.

Jealousy is sinful. God knew how serious it would be. He included it in the “thou shalt nots” in Exodus 20:17.

Dear Father, please show me if there is jealousy in my heart, and cleanse it from me; forgive me for the envy that can take me by surprise.

The Silver Cord

Eccl. 12:6-8.

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

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Here, Solomon makes a final plea that we need to consider our Lord and serve Him before it is too late. He uses some metaphors in this poetic passage.

The silver cord and the golden bowl picture the value of life. Rarely do we think of ourselves as having the value of silver or gold. Once the spirit returns to the One Who gave it, our value is no longer there. We return to dust; without the God-breathed spirit in us, we are no more than a handful or two of emptiness.

A pitcher taken to the fountain to obtain water for the day’s needs becomes worthless when it is dropped and broken. The wheel that is used to pull a container of water up from the well is worthless when it is broken.

So is the value of human life when the body dies and the spirit goes back to its Maker. If we fail to consider God, or to serve Him when we are living, then our lives surely are empty and worth nothing in the end.

This is the end result of living life under the sun, or according to man’s perspective. Vanity of vanities. Emptiness. Nothing to show for our time on this earth.

As I near old age (I’m 72, which is now considered “young” old age; when I hit 80, if God allows, then I’m in old old age) I am more keenly aware of how short our time on earth really is. That awareness makes me even more determined to use my time wisely and well.

Age Changes Us

Eccl. 12:3-5.

In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

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It would have been better if I had included v. 2 in today’s passage rather than yesterday’s, because it starts the beginning of a poetic description of what happens to the human body as it ages.

Here is a translation that uses a more poetic form:

While the sun and the light,
The moon and the stars,
Are not darkened,
And the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble,
And the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few,
And those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets,
And the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird,
And all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height,
And of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms,
The grasshopper is a burden,
And desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home,
And the mourners go about the streets.

So, what is happening here is that Solomon is warning the young to take care to worship God and not to waste their youth BEFORE their vision dims; before dryness sets in. As we age, the strength of the arms and legs begins to diminish; a man who used to stand straight and tall begins to stoop; his teeth (grinders) begin to wear down and fall out; vision dims, and sleep is shortened so that he wakes up when the birds sing early in the morning; it is hard to enjoy music as hearing decreases; he become nervous about things he never was concerned about before. The old find the grasshoppers to be a a bothersome pest, and physical desire fades as a man heads to his eternal home and is mourned by those he leaves behind.

The blooming almond trees in this passage are a reference to the white hair that comes with aging; the windows are the eyes, and the “grinding is low” refers to diminished hearing.

It would be a shame indeed if we waste the strength and beauty of our youth on things that do not honor God, leaving us with nothing to show for our lives when we reach old age.