Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Except a Man . . . . (3)
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again [born from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3).
John, in the gospel of John, introduces the thought of being “born . . . of God [brought forth out of God]” in chapter one (vv. 11-13). Then, in chapter three, John records the account of Jesus referring to the same experience, using slightly different wording, in His conversation with Nicodemus: “unless one is born again [born from above, brought forth from above] . . .” (vv. 3-8).
Nicodemus, a leading teacher among the Pharisees in Israel, had come to Jesus “by night,” acknowledging that no one could perform the signs being manifested apart from divine power. And Jesus responded after the same fashion previously seen in chapter one, calling attention to the necessity of an individual being brought forth out of God, brought forth from above (vv. 1-8).
In chapter one, Christ had come to “His own [His own things]” (v. 11a [“own” in this part of the verse is neuter in the Greek text]), which, in the light of His having been born “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), would, of necessity, refer centrally to things regal in nature (e.g., note “the sure mercies of David [lit: the holy things of David]” in Acts 13:33, 34). Then, with respect to His own things and His offer of the kingdom of the heavens to the nation of Israel, “His own [His own people] did not receive Him” (v. 11b [“own” in this part of the verse is masculine in the Greek text, referring to the Jewish people to whom Christ came]).
Then in chapter three, after Nicodemus had acknowledged that no one could perform the signs being manifested apart from God’s power, Jesus’ response had to do with one single, overall subject: the Jewish people in relation to these signs and the kingdom.
The signs being manifested in Israel’s midst reflected upon the nation’s condition, showing that which the Jewish people could have, if . . . . Israel was sick, as depicted, for example, in Isaiah chapter one — “from the sole of the foot even to the head” (v. 6a) — and all of the signs that centered on supernatural healing showed that which the nation could experience if the Jewish people would repent.
That is why the command, to “repent,” preceded the announcement concerning “the kingdom”: “Repent [a plural imperative (a command) in the Greek text, referring to the nation at large], for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:5-8).
And, in the light of the signs to which Nicodemus called attention — which dealt with Israel’s condition, showing that which the nation could have, if . . . — Jesus called attention to the necessity of being brought forth from above. That is to say, in Jesus’ response to Nicodemus, in the light of both the signs being manifested and the message being proclaimed, He could have had only one thing centrally in mind by His statement concerning the birth from above, the bringing forth from above.
The entire matter, whether looking at the immediate or the larger context of Christ’s statement, would have to be understood as an allusion to the necessity of divine healing for those in Israel (that to which the signs pointed), which could come from only one place, from above (Hosea 5:13-6:2). This healing would be individual (“unless one . . . .” [vv. 3, 5]), though it must, as well, encompass the nation at large (“Repent [addressed to all]”— Matthew 3:2).
Thus, the whole of that which is seen in chapters one and three of the gospel of John relative to being brought forth out of God, from above, has to do with the Jewish people, signs, and the kingdom. There is nothing here about eternal salvation, as is invariably, though erroneously, proclaimed using these verses. Rather, the texts (in both chapters 1 and 3) deal with a saved people, in need of healing; and the signs referenced in chapter three have to do with the same people in relation to being healed, entering into the kingdom, and realizing an inheritance therein.
And the continued use of the expression brought forth out of God, from above, relative to Christians in the New Testament, of necessity, could only be along the same lines. Though signs would no longer be manifested (1 Corinthians 1:22; cf. Acts 2:4-12; 1 Corinthians 13:8-10; 14:22), spiritual healing could only be among the things in view (though, of necessity, different in nature from Israel’s). As in Israel, it would be necessary for saved individuals (Christians) to be brought forth out of God, from above (no matter what their condition); and this would always, exactly as previously seen in the camp of Israel, occur in relation to the proffered kingdom.
The kingdom of the heavens was being offered to Israel at the time referenced by the events in the gospel of John. And, because of Israel’s refusal to repent, climaxed by the nation’s rejection and crucifixion of the One who had made the offer and performed the miraculous signs, this part of the kingdom (the heavenly sphere) was taken from Israel (Matthew 21:33-45). Then a new nation, the one new man “in Christ,” was called into existence to be the recipient of that which Israel had rejected, which had been taken from the nation (Ephesians 2:11-15; 3:1-6; 1 Peter 2:9, 10).
In this respect, exactly the same overall teaching set forth in John 1:12, 13; 3:3-8 — pointing to the necessity of a divine work within a person’s life — would hold just as true among Christians today as it did among the Israelites 2,000 years ago. And the reason for and goal of this divine work would be exactly the same as seen among the Israelites in time past — entrance into and realizing an inheritance in the proffered kingdom.
With these things in mind, the remainder of this study will center on that which is seen in the books of 1 Peter and 1 John when reference is made to being brought forth from above, out of God.
(Relative to the type sickness in which the Jewish people found themselves 2,000 years ago [which continues with Israel today] and the type of sickness in which Christians can find themselves during the present dispensation, note several distinctions.
Israel was [and remains today] both God’s firstborn son and God’s wife [though a disobedient son who is being chastened and an adulterous wife whom God has divorced, set aside (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8-14; Zechariah 1:12-15)]. This dual position occupied by Israel has to do with regality [only firstborn sons can rule in the human realm; and also within the human realm within a theocracy, as established in the opening chapters of Genesis; the King in the theocracy (God) must possess a consort queen (Israel, in this case) to rule with Him]. This dual position occupied by Israel was/remains at the heart of all Israeli disobedience, placing it central within Israel’s sickness.
The Church, on the other hand, is not presently God’s firstborn son; nor does a marriage presently exist between Christians and Christ. Both adoption and marriage, involving exactly the same thing as seen in the camp of Israel —regality — is future for Christians.
Christians are presently undergoing child-training as sons [Hebrews 12:5-8], with a view to a future adoption [Romans 8:14-23]. And, in the antitype of Boaz redeeming the inheritance and taking Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:1ff), Christ will one day redeem the inheritance and take those Christians for His wife who had previously allowed child-training as sons [Revelation 5-19a].
Thus, both the adoption and marriage for Christians are future. But still, as in Israel’s case, this dual position that will one day be occupied by Christians, can only be at the heart of all Christian disobedience — something that would place that which is held out before Christians and being spurned by numerous Christians at the center of all spiritual sickness seen within Christendom today.
For more detailed information on firstborn Sons [Christ, Israel, and the Church], along with information on the redemption of the inheritance [through which those Christians shown worthy at the judgment seat will become Christ’s wife], refer to the author’s books, God’s Firstborn Sons and Ruth.)
The epistles of 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written to encourage Christians who were being tried and tested by holding up before them prizes, rewards, compensations, which are described in the epistles as the salvation to be revealed, the salvation of the soul. And, in connection with the reason why these epistles were written, Peter opens 1 Peter in the same manner that John opened the gospel of John — by referencing the birth from above, the bringing forth from above, in two different places.
1) A Living Hope, an Inheritance, a Salvation (1:3-9)
According to 1 Peter 1:3-9, those to whom Peter was writing (vv. 1, 2) had been brought forth from above “to [with respect to] a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And they had been brought forth in this manner with respect to an awaiting inheritance associated with a future salvation, the salvation of their souls.
An individual is saved with a purpose in view. And that entire purpose is seen in 1 Peter 1:3-9. This initial divine work pertaining to salvation (having to do with the salvation of the spirit) is with a view to a continued divine work pertaining to salvation (the salvation of the soul), exactly as seen in and foreshadowed by God’s initial restorative work occurring on the first day in Genesis chapter one; and His continued restorative work, occurring during time foreshadowed by divine activity during the subsequent five days, is with a view to exactly the same thing that is seen in the foundational type — a seventh day of rest.
It is evident from both the text and context that the bringing forth from above in 1 Peter 1:3 would parallel the divine work seen in days two through six in Genesis chapter one, not the divine work seen on the first day. The bringing forth from above has to do with things beyond the Spirit’s initial work of salvation, through breathing life into the one having no life. In the type in Exodus 12ff it would move to the point of resurrection (note text), which would be typified by the Israelites on the eastern banks of the Red Sea in chapters fourteen and fifteen, with a hope, inheritance, and salvation set before them (ref. chapter 2 of this book).
The natural reading and understanding of the text, in the light of the context and Old Testament typology, would have to do with a divine work among Christians (a work among the saved, not the unsaved) relative to a present hope, which has to do with a future inheritance and salvation.
This is “the blessed hope” in Titus 2:13, which, according to the manner in which the Greek text is worded, must be understood as the “glorious appearing (lit: appearing of the glory) of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The purpose for a divine work continuing in Christians, whether foreshadowed by the Old Testament types or seen in verses such as 1 Peter 1:3-9, has to do with events of the seventh day, with the land (a heavenly land) set before them. This is what the epistles are about, which must be recognized if a proper and correct interpretation and understanding of the epistles are to be achieved.
2) Through the Word of God (1:23)
In Romans 12:2 Christians are commanded,
And do not be conformed to this world [age], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [“that you may learn by experience,” Weymouth] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
The Greek word translated “conformed” is sunschematizo. This is a compound word with the preposition sun (with) prefixed to the verb form of the word schema (outline, diagram). The English word “scheme” is an Anglicized form of the Greek word schema. The word has to do with a schematic outline and the thought inherent in this compound Greek word (sunschematizo), and the negative command is not to outline or diagram your life in accordance with the present age.
This negative command is then followed by a positive command. Immediately following, the Christian is commanded to, instead, be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Greek word translated “transformed” is metamorphoo. This is the word from which our English word “metamorphosis” is derived. This word refers to an inward change brought about completely apart from the power of the individual himself. Unlike the thought of “conformed” in the preceding part of the verse, the Christian is powerless to bring about the metamorphosis.
Then, the word “renewing” is a translation of the Greek word anakainosis; and the action of the preceding verb (“transformed,” referring to the inward change) directs attention to a continuous renewing process, one which is to keep on taking place.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16 we are told that “the inward man is being renewed day by day.” This renewing process is to keep on taking place day in and day out for the entire duration of the pilgrim walk here on earth.
Then, Colossians 3:10 reveals how this renewing process, the renewing of the mind, is accomplished:
And have put on the new man who is renewed [lit: is being renewed] in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (Colossians 3:10)
Note the word “knowledge” in this verse. The regular Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, but the word used in Colossians 3:10 is an intensified form of this word — epignosis. This is the word gnosis (knowledge) with the prefix epi (upon). Epignosis, thus, means “knowledge upon knowledge,” i.e., “a mature knowledge.” The word translated “renewed” is a past participle of anakainoo (the same word used in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 4:16) and could be better translated, “being renewed.” The only way a Christian can acquire this mature knowledge, which allows the Spirit of God to progressively work the metamorphosis in his life, is through receiving the living Word of God into his saved human spirit, “day by day.”
Christians must allow God to continue “breathing in” life. The living, God-breathed Word must be allowed to flow into man’s saved human spirit or there can be no metamorphosis. The renewing of the inward man, “day by day,” through receiving “the implanted Word” (James 1:21), producing the metamorphosis in one’s life, is the manner in which the salvation of the soul is presently being effected.
And this metamorphosis is that which is referenced in 1 Peter 1:23. It has to do with a continued divine work in the life of the believer relative to those things seen leading into this verse — hope, inheritance, and salvation.
First John, as the book of Hebrews, is not addressed to anyone, though that is not the case with 2 John and 3 John. This could only be by divine design, for the internal evidence appears to almost certainly place the writing of the book during the time of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, which would be before about 63 A.D. And this internal evidence would also appear to clearly indicate that the identity of those for whom the epistle had been written would be understood through the book’s contents and the times in which it was written.
The structure of 1 John, as seen in chapter 1, runs parallel with parts of the gospel of John. From the subject matter of the gospel of John, it is evident that John wrote his gospel during the time of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel. And from the parallels between the gospel of John and 1 John, it appears evident that John wrote 1 John during this time as well.
First John, in this respect, would have been written first and foremost for the same purpose seen in his gospel. It would have been written to reach John’s brethren, the Jewish people, with a message that began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two (vv. 1ff) and was terminated about thirty years later in Rome, as seen in Acts chapter twenty-eight (vv. 17-28).
But 1 John would also have been written to the saved being taken from among the Gentiles, though in the order seen in Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10 — “. . . to the Jew first and also for the Greek [Gentile].”
And beyond about 63 A.D., for the remainder of the present dispensation, there would be only one group that could possibly be understood as those to whom the epistle would be addressed — the one new man “in Christ,” Christians, where no distinction between saved Jews and saved Gentiles exists (Galatians 3:26-29).
1) Contrasts in 1 John
The whole of 1 John would, in a sense, be a commentary on that which is stated in Luke 11:23:
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. (Luke 11:23)
There is no middle ground in Luke 11:23. A person who is not for Christ is seen to be against Christ; and a person who does not gather with Christ (leads or brings together), instead, scatters (the opposite, disperses).
Though this is the manner in which all things in the whole of Scripture have been set, this is a major and marked feature of 1 John. Contrasts of this nature, apart from any middle ground, are seen over and over in 1 John. And if sharp contrasts between numerous things in the epistle are recognized, with proper Scriptural divisions made between the two, many of the problems that people have with 1 John will cease to exist.
Note a few things, for example, in the first chapter. “Life” exists in connection with the Son, who is God, the Word made flesh; and, apart from the Son, life does not exist (vv. 1, 2; cf. John 1:1-4a, 14; 1 John 5:12). A person either has “fellowship” with the Father and with His Son or he doesn’t. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b; cf. John 1:4b, 5). And a person either walks in the light and experiences fellowship with the Father and with His Son or he walks in darkness and does not experience this fellowship (1 John 1:3-7). Middle grounds do not exist at any point in the preceding, or elsewhere in 1 John, or elsewhere in Scripture in contrasts of this nature.
And understanding of the contrasts of this nature as seen over and over in 1 John will help one to not only better understand why the Spirit moved John to use the expression “brought forth out of God” ten times in this short epistle but also why sharp contrasts are seen every time this expression is used.
2) “Brought Forth out of God”
John’s first use of this expression in 1 John is in 2:29. In the context leading into this verse, reference is made to “little children” (v. 28), which, in light of the overall text and verses such as Matthew 18:3 and Romans 8:14-23, can only be an allusion to individuals undergoing the child-training as sons, which is seen in Hebrews 12:5-8. And this training, which is with a view to not being “ashamed before Him at His coming,” will allow individuals to be among those who one day are adopted as firstborn sons and who will subsequently occupy regal positions in the kingdom with God’s Son.
It is individuals being child-trained in this manner who are seen in connection with “righteousness.” And this is something that is said to emanate from God — . . . “every one that practices righteousness is born of Him [is brought forth out of God]” (v. 29b).
“Righteousness” of the nature seen here — a righteousness connected with a child-training as sons — can come from one place alone. Such righteousness can come only from above, out of God.
The second use of the expression, “brought forth out of God,” in 1 John is in 3:9, where it is used twice. The expression is used in connection with not being able to sin. Note also the last use of the expression in this epistle, in 5:18, where it is used twice exactly the same way — again, in connection with not being able to sin. In both verses the expression appears immediately before and after the statement surrounding an inability to sin.
This would appear to run counter to that seen in the opening chapter where sin is seen in the lives of believers, with a person said to make God a liar if he states that he does not and can not sin (vv. 8-10). But 1 John 3:9; 5:18 doesn’t run counter to 1 John 1:8-10 at all. Different parts of different contrasts are in view in each instance. In chapter one, matters have to do with an individual walking in darkness rather than light (vv. 5-7). In chapters three and five, matters have to do with that which emanates from God, which would be in connection with the light from chapter one. Sin simply cannot exist within the latter. To say that it could would be to say that sin can exist with God or within that which emanates from God.
The next use of the expression, “brought forth out of God,” in 1 John is in 4:7. Here the expression is used in connection with “love” — “. . . every one that loves is born of God [is brought forth out of God], and knows God [Greek: gnosis, referring to an experiential knowledge of God (cf. 1 John 2:3, 4)].” And the preceding should be easy enough to understand, for the next verse goes on to state that “God is love,” with verse seven dealing with the type love emanating from God, where sin, darkness, etc. cannot exist.
The next use of the expression, “brought forth out of God,” is in 5:1, 4, where it is used four times in connection with believing that Jesus is the Christ, loving, keeping His commandments, and overcoming. And any exposition, in the way of an explanation, at this point should be unnecessary. Comments have been made on how the expression is used in all of the other six places where it appears in 1 John, and it is used exactly the same way in these verses.
A person understanding how the expression is used in the other six places, or in the gospel of John, or in 1 Peter, should be able to simply read 1 John 5:1-5 and understand exactly what is meant.