remind you of the all-governing truth which we are
considering - that is, what God is doing in this
dispensation in which we live. We must be completely
clear as to what it is that God is particularly concerned
with at this time in the world's history, and, therefore,
what it is that we who are the Lord's children are called
thing that God is doing in this dispensation is the
formation of a spiritual and heavenly Israel. In doing
that He is repeating the laws of the old Israel IN A
SPIRITUAL WAY. He is following along the lines of His
ways with the old Israel, but now ON A HEAVENLY AND NOT
AN EARTHLY BASIS, because, while God's methods may
change, His principles are changeless. He has left the
earthly basis of the Old Testament and has moved on to a
heavenly basis in the New Testament. He has moved from
the temporal to the spiritual, and the spiritual is far
greater than the temporal.
now going to see this in the Gospel by John. This Gospel
is all one with the Letter to the Hebrews, because it is
just a part of the whole thing that the New Testament
represents. It is the embodiment of this matter of the
spiritual Israel in a very wonderful way. There are two
things that are so clear in this Gospel: one is the
Jewish background of the Gospel and the other is the
spiritual background behind the Jewish. That spiritual
background is in this Gospel being brought to the front
and is being made the ground for the whole new
look at this. There are at least sixteen marks of the
Jewish background in this Gospel by John.
moving on to a consideration of these, let us note again
that the introduction is a presentation of God's Son. He
stands right at the door in the new movement of God
toward the heavenly Israel. We are all familiar with this
wonderful presentation of Him at the beginning of the
Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in
the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and
without him was not anything made that hath been
made"... and there is much more than
that, as you can see.
to that is the introduction to 'Hebrews': "God,
having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the
prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath
at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom
he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he
made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory,
and the very image of his substance, and upholding all
things by the word of his power, when he had made
purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the
Majesty on high."
point is that God has founded the dispensation upon His
Son and He is the governing factor in it.
go on to what we have called the 'Jewish background of
The Foundation of All - the Lamb of God
the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith,
Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world!... And he looked upon Jesus as he walked and
saith, Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:29,36).
that the whole Jewish system was built around the
Passover lamb. It was the very basis of everything in
Israel: the constitution of them as a nation and the
greatest governmental factor in all their history. It
would be impossible to count the lambs that were offered
in Israel through those many centuries. There would have
been many millions of lambs slain and rivers of blood
from them all!
sees Jesus and says 'THE Lamb!' 'This is GOD'S Lamb!'
"Behold, the Lamb of God!" Thus he
distinguishes Jesus, marking Him out as the unique Lamb,
the one toward whom all the millions of lambs had ever
pointed. And just as the Passover lamb was the foundation
of the old earthly Israel's life, so we know that this
Lamb of God is the very foundation of our whole Christian
life. He is the foundation of this dispensation. In the
upper room in Jerusalem, on that Passover night, Jesus
laid the foundation of the Church for this dispensation,
and, while there are other features of the Church's life,
the central one is the Table of the Lord. Everything
centers in that Table, gathers around it and issues from
it. If you had gone into any assembly of the Lord's
people in any part of the world in New Testament times,
you might have found different things in the different
assemblies, but you would have found one thing that was
the same in them all, and that was the Lord's Table: the
Lamb of God at the center of everything.
make the statement, and note that, right from the
beginning God takes up the figure of the old and makes it
the spiritual reality of the new. That which was earthly
and temporal in the old Israel is now heavenly and
spiritual in the new Israel.
the first thing about the Jewish background leading to
the heavenly foreground.
The Closed and the Opened Heaven
Reading: John 1:43-51
need to have it pointed out to you that there is quite a
lot of Jewish Old Testament in that section? "Moses
and the prophets" (verse 45), Jacob and his ladder
(verse 51) - they are all there. But Jesus is saying:
'There is a transition from that old to a new, and that
is in Myself. Moses and the prophets spoke of Me and the
new Israel is centered in Me - an Israel which is not the
Jacob in whom there was guile.'
the really deep thought and truth in this part concerns
the closed and the opened Heaven.
Jesus said to Nathanael: "Ye shall see
the heaven opened", He was pointing to an
entirely new dispensation. The one characteristic of the
Old Testament Jewish system was a closed Heaven. You know
that in the old dispensation it was on pain of death that
any man came into the presence of God. What a terrible
place was that mountain where God was! There were
thunders, lightnings and earthquakes, and even Moses
said: "I exceedingly fear and
quake" (Hebrews 12:21). So terrible was the
sound that the people dared not draw near, and if a beast
touched the mountain it had to die. During the whole of
that dispensation it was 'Keep out! Do not come here
where God is, or you will die!' Jacob said: "I
have seen God face to face, and my life is
preserved" (Genesis 32:30), meaning that it was
something unusual. It was a closed Heaven and there was
no way for the people into the presence of God.
Everything said 'Stay out!' and the people knew it. It
was a terrible thing to come into the presence of God,
for it just meant death. The High Priest had to have very
special provision to go into the most holy place, and
when God made that provision He said: 'Lest he die'. The
Jewish system was a system of judgment and death, of the
closed Heaven. There was no way through for man.
Jesus says: 'You shall see the Heaven opened, and a way
between Heaven and earth, between God and man, made
clear. I am that way. I will open Heaven by My own
blood.' Therefore we can come to Him "by the
blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a
new and living way" (Hebrews 10:20).
Jesus said: "I am the way... no one
cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
second Jewish feature is a closed Heaven, and the second
feature of the new Israel is an opened Heaven. And we are
enjoying that! We do not stand outside in fear and
trembling, wondering whether, peradventure, we dare draw
nigh. We can come "with boldness unto the throne
of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). Oh, this new
dispensation is a better one! This new Israel has
privileges which the old one never had.
what God is doing in this dispensation, and He has done
it in His Son, so that many, many who have been shut out
are now finding their way in. God has provided in His Son
an opened way for all.
The Marriage Failure and Resurrection
Reading: John 2:1-11
verse seven: "Jesus, knowing in his
heart that the Father's time had come...". That
was a very important factor for, remember, Jesus
would never move on any ground whatsoever without
the knowledge that His Father wanted Him to move. He
waited for that. When He knew in His heart that the
Father said 'Yes, go on', "Jesus saith unto them,
Fill the waterpots with water".)
where is the Jewish background? We have said that the
Lord's Table was, amongst other things, the time when the
Lord instituted His marriage with His people. In the Old
Testament a marriage covenant was made in the Passover.
Jeremiah spoke of this when he said: "the day
that I took them by the hand... I was an husband unto
them, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:32), and that
was on the Passover night.
knew what He was doing at Cana. How many times we have
heard people talk about Him being of a social disposition
and, therefore, He was quite happy to attend marriages!
That might be true, but it is not the meaning here. Jesus
was always acting on spiritual grounds. The marriage
between God and Israel had broken down, for Israel had
violated the terms of the covenant of marriage with
Jehovah. They had, as the prophets said, become an
adulterous nation and had gone after other gods.
Therefore the marriage had broken down. That is here, in
figure, in Cana.
know what was behind this, but we can judge from a lot of
other things that God was behind the failure of the wine.
It just HAD to fail because of the spiritual
significance. It represented the old marriage
relationship which had broken down, had come to an end.
There had to be a new basis and a new marriage supper of
the Lamb. The salvation of the marriage relationship
between God and His people is in Jesus only. It was He
who saved the situation here, and everyone knew that
something very wonderful and supernatural had happened.
It was not natural or earthly. It was heavenly,
spiritual, supernatural, and so is that marriage
relationship between Christ and His people.
a movement from the old Israel, which has failed and has
been put aside, to a new Israel which lives by this life
of Jesus Christ.
Temple of God - Temporal and Spiritual
no need to point out the Jewish background! It had the
temple in Jerusalem as its center. For the Jews that
temple represented everything - and Jesus speaks of the
destroying of the temple! In another place He said: "There
shall not be left here one stone upon another" (Matthew
what is going to take its place? God MUST have a temple!
Jesus said, in effect, 'I am the temple of the new
dispensation. I am going to take the place of this old
temple and I am going to be ALL that that temple
represented, but in a fuller and better way.' Was the
temple the place where men thought that they would meet
God? Men will meet God in Christ in a more real way than
that. Was the temple the place to which people went to be
taught about God? They will learn more about God in
Christ than they ever learned in that temple. Was the
temple the place where men went to worship God? It will
be in Christ that men will come into touch with God for
leads us to that wonderful revelation which we have in
the New Testament - the revelation of Christ and all His
members being made one temple for God.
is our Temple, and in Him we find all that a temple was
ever intended to be. Oh, how people have gone astray over
this! We go to many places that are called 'churches' and
the word is applied to the building. When people pray in
those places they usually say something like this: 'We
have come into Thy house today. We are in this house of
God.' They are really talking about a building. But we
don't need a building to give God a temple! "Where
two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew
18:20). People gathered into Jesus Christ constitute the
temple of God. It is not a special building, but people
who are in Christ Jesus. This is what God is doing in
know, a lot of people have lost their special buildings,
or are not allowed to meet in such places. In some places
they are gathering in twos and threes and are enjoying
all the privileges of the house of God because the Lord
is there. No, the temple now is Christ and those who are
in union with Him. So He said, in this way which they did
not understand, "Destroy this temple, and in
three days I will raise it up". Christ in
resurrection is the temple of this dispensation. He knew
that He was speaking parabolically and what they would
say: "Forty and six years was this temple in
building". It looked as though He had
deliberately misled them, but He was enunciating the
change of dispensations.
True Seed of Abraham
Reading: John 3:1-14
have we here in Nicodemus? Surely he is a representative
of the old Israel! He is of the sect of the Pharisees and
they claimed to be very representative of Israel. He is a
ruler of the Jews, so he is indeed Israel in
representation. He is a son of Abraham after the flesh,
the embodiment of the seed of Abraham.
does the Lord Jesus say to him? In effect, He says: 'You,
a son of Abraham, an inclusive representation of the
children of Abraham after the flesh, an embodiment of
Israel, I look upon you, Nicodemus, as representing all
the seed of Abraham after the flesh, as all Israel
present here tonight in you, and you, Nicodemus, in that
representative capacity, must be born again.' The seed of
Abraham after the flesh does not stand in the Kingdom of
know, that is Paul's argument in his Letters to the
Romans and the Galatians. He says they are not all Israel
which are after Israel. There is a natural seed and there
is a spiritual seed.
was saying to Nicodemus, in his representative capacity:
'The natural seed of Abraham does not stand. Israel after
the flesh is no more. You must be born again. There must
be a seed after the Spirit. In other words. there must be
a new spiritual, heavenly Israel. "That which is
born of the flesh is flesh" and "They
that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans
8:8). "That which is born of the Spirit is
spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born
Israel of this dispensation is the Israel of the 'born
from above' ones. These are not the sons of Abraham, but
sons of God.
we are back in chapter one: "As many
as received him, to them gave he the right to become
children of God." There is a great deal of
difference between children of Abraham after the flesh
and children of God after the Spirit! And not only a
great deal of difference: it is not just an improved
species. It is an altogether higher race, a heavenly