We are continuing in the way of this great matter which the Lord has
sought to bring before us for these days. This evening we are going
to lift out of the whole of this matter one section, but let me
remind you of the all-governing truth which we are considering; it
is what God is doing in this dispensation in which we live. We must
be perfectly clear as to what it is that God is particularly
doing at this time in the world's history, therefore, what it is
that we, who are the Lord's, are called into.
The thing that God is doing in this dispensation is the formation of
a spiritual and heavenly Israel and 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 basis, and not an earthly. He has left
the earthly basis of the Old Testament and has moved onto a heavenly
basis in the New. He has moved from the temporal to the spiritual,
and the spiritual is far greater than the temporal. Now we are going
to see this tonight 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. But John's gospel is
the embodiment of this matter of the spiritual Israel in a very
There are two things so clear in this gospel: one is
the Jewish background of the gospel and the other is the spiritual
background behind the Jewish. And that spiritual background is, in
this gospel, being brought to the front and it is being made the
ground for the whole dispensation.
Well, let us look at this. I don't know how far we shall get in
this hour, I have sixteen marks of the Jewish background in this
gospel by John. But I promise you that I shall just keep to the
five and we will just take as many as is possible this evening.
But we note in the first place, that once again, as in the letter
to the Hebrews, the introduction is a presentation of God's Son.
In the new movement of God to the heavenly Israel, His Son stands
right at the door. And we're all familiar with this wonderful
presentation of God's Son at the beginning of John's 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's more to it than that, as
you see. The point is that God has founded the
dispensation upon His Son. God's Son is the governing factor in
this whole dispensation.
Now we go on to what I have called "the Jewish background of
Christ". And the first feature of these sixteen which I have
before me, is -
Jesus as the Lamb of God.
Verse 29 of chapter 1, "On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto
him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin
of the world!" Verse 36: "And he looked upon Jesus as he walked
and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God!"
Now, we know that the whole Jewish system was built around the
Passover Lamb. The lamb was the very basis of everything in
Israel: the passover lamb was the constitution of them as a nation
and the passover lamb was 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; there would have been an ocean
of blood from all those lambs!
And now John beholdeth Jesus and says "THE Lamb! This is God's
Lamb! Behold, the Lamb of God!" distinguishing
Jesus, marking Him out as the unique Lamb, the One Lamb
toward which 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.
On that passover night in the
upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus laid the foundation of the Church
for this dispensation, in the Passover. And, while there are other
features of the Church's life, the central feature is the Table of
the Lord. Everything centres in that Table, everything gathers
around that Table and everything issues from that table. 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 different assemblies, but you would have found one
thing that was the same in every assembly, and that was the Lord's
Table: the Lamb of God at the centre of everything.
We only make the statement this evening, and note that, right
from the very beginning, God takes up the principle 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.
That is the first thing about the Jewish background leading to
the heavenly foreground.
Now we look again at chapter 1 of John, at verse 43: "On the
morrow he was minded to go forth into Galilee, and he findeth
Philip: and Jesus saith unto him, Follow Me. Now Philip was from
Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth
Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him..." (now
note:) "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and
the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of
That is the first part of the Jewish background: Moses and the
prophets, but we go on.
"Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of
Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael
coming to Him, and saith unto him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in
whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto Him, Whence knowest thou
me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee,
when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered
Him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw
thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see
greater things than these. And He saith unto him, Verily, verily,
I say unto you, ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of
God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Do you need to have it pointed out that there is quite a lot of
Jewish Old Testament in that section? Moses and the prophets,
Jacob and his ladder - it's all there. But Jesus is saying: "There
is a transition from that old to a new, and that transition is in
Myself. The prophets and Moses spoke of Me and the new Israel is
centred in Myself - the Israel which is not the 'Jacob in which
there is guile.'"
But, the really deep thought and truth in this part concerns -
The Closed and the Opened Heaven.
When Jesus said to Nathanael: "Thou shalt 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 it was on pain of death that any man
came into the presence of God in the old dispensation. What a
terrible place that was, that mountain where God was! Thunders,
and lightnings and earthquakes, that even Moses said: "I do exceedingly
fear and quake". And so terrible was the sound, that the people
dared not draw near, that even if a beast touched the mountain it
died. The whole of that system of that dispensation was: "Keep
out! Come in here where God is, and you will die!" Jacob said: "I
have seen God, I must die". A closed Heaven - no way for the
people into the presence of God. Everything said "Stay out!" and
the people knew that. It was a terrible thing to come into the
presence of God, it just meant death. The High Priest had to have
very special provision to go into the most holy place, and
in making that provision God said: "Lest he die". So the
Jewish system was a system of judgment and death, a system of the
closed Heaven. No way through for man.
But, says Jesus: "You shall see the Heaven opened, and a
Way between Heaven and earth, between God and man, made clear; and
I am that Way. By My own blood I will open Heaven". Therefore we
can come to Him by the new and living way which He hath made for
us in His blood. Jesus said: "I am the way... no man cometh to the
Father, but by Me".
So that the second Jewish feature is a closed Heaven, and the
second feature of the new Israel is an opened Heaven. And we are
enjoying that tonight! We do not stand outside in fear and
trembling, wondering whether, peradventure, we dare draw nigh...
We can come with boldness to the throne of grace. Oh,
this new dispensation is a better one! This, this new Israel has
privileges which the old one never had.
That is what God is doing in this dispensation. He has done it in
His Son, and many, many who have been shut out are now finding
their way in. God has provided for all an opened way in His Son
We pass into chapter 2 of John's gospel, and in the first eleven
verses (which we will not read) we have the account of the
marriage in Cana of Galilee. You all know, or should know, the
story. There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. The mother of
Jesus was there, Jesus also was bidden, and His disciples, to the
marriage and then the wine failed. The mother of Jesus said to
Him, "They have no wine" and Jesus put her back and said, "Mine
hour has not yet come." The mother of Jesus said to the servants,
"Whatsover He saith unto you, do it."
Then when Jesus knew in His heart that the Father's time had
come (and that was a very important factor, remember that Jesus
would never move on any ground whatsoever without the
knowledge that His Father wanted Him to move and He waited for
that) when He knew in His heart that the Father said "Yes, go on",
He said to the servants, "Fill the water pots with water". And they
filled them up to the brim. He said, "Draw out now and bear to the
ruler of the feast" and they drew out and "bare unto the ruler of
the feast and when the ruler of the feast tasted the water, now
become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants which
had drawn the water knew,) the ruler of the feast calleth the
bridegroom and he said unto him, Every man setteth on first the
good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is
worse. Thou hast kept the good wine until now."
Now, where is the Jewish background? We said yesterday morning at
the Lord's Table, that the Lord's Table, amongst other things, was
the time when the Lord instituted His marriage with His people. In
the Old Testament it was a marriage covenant that was made in the
Passover. Jeremiah referred to that when in chapter 31 and verse
31 he spoke of the day when the Lord took them by the hand and
became a husband unto them; and that was on the Passover night.
Now Jesus knew what He was doing at Cana. Oh, how many times we
have heard people talk about Jesus being of a social disposition
and, therefore, He was quite happy to attend marriages! That might
be true, but that is not the meaning here. Jesus was always acting
on spiritual grounds. The marriage between God and Israel had
broken down; Israel had violated the terms of the covenant of
marriage with Jehovah. Israel had, as the prophets said, become an
adulterous nation, they had gone unto other gods and they
had broken their covenant with the Lord. And the marriage had
broken down. Here you have it in Cana, in figure.
I don't know what was going on behind this, but we can judge from
a lot of other things that God was behind this failure of the wine
- because of the spiritual significance the wine just had
to fail. It represented the old marriage relationship which had
broken down, it had come to an end. There had got to be a new
marriage and there had got to be a new marriage supper of the
Lamb. One has broken down. The salvation of the marriage
relationship between God and His people is in Jesus only. It was He
who saved the situation here, and everybody knew that something
very wonderful and supernatural had happened. This was not
natural, this was not earthly. This was heavenly, this was
spiritual, this was supernatural; so is that marriage relationship
between Christ and His church.
There is a movement from the old Israel, who has failed and been
put aside, to a new Israel which lives by this life of Jesus
We look again at the next thing. This is number four in the
series. Verse 13 of chapter 2, note again: "And the passover of
the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found
in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the
changers of money sitting: and He made a scourge of cords, and
cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; He poured
out the changers' money, and overthrew their tables; and to them
that sold the doves He said, Take these things hence; make not My
Father's house a house of merchandise. His disciples remembered
that it was written, Zeal of thine house shall eat me up."
Now note particularly: "The Jews therefore answered and said unto
Him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these
things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said,
Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou
raise it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of His
body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His
disciples remembered that He spake this."
No need to point out the Jewish background! The Jewish background
occupies the temple as its center, the temple in Jerusalem, for
them that temple represented everything - and Jesus speaks of the
destroying of that temple! He said in another place that not one
stone should be left on another.
Well, what is going to take its place? Because God must
have a temple! Jesus said, "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 Me 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 Me than ever they learned in that temple. Was the
temple the place where men went to worship God? It will be in Me
that men will come into touch with God for worship".
And that leads us to that wonderful revelation which we have in
the New Testament: the revelation of Christ and all His members
One Temple for God.
Christ is our Temple, in Him we find all that ever a
temple was intended to be. Oh, how people have gone astray about
this! I go to many places that are called "churches" and the word
is applied to the building. And when you hear people praying in
those places they usually put it something like this: "We have
come into Thy house today. We are glad to be in this place, the
house of God." And they are talking about the building!
My dear friends, you don't need a special building to give God a
temple:"Wheresoever two or three are gathered into
My name, there I am". People gathered into Jesus Christ
constitute the temple of God. It is not a special building, it is
people who are in Christ Jesus. This is what God is doing in this
And you know, a lot of people have lost their special building,
quite a lot are not allowed to meet in special buildings. But they
are gathering in two or three in some place hidden away and they
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 didn't understand, "Destroy this temple, and in three
days I will raise it up". Christ in resurrection is the temple of
this dispensation. I wonder if inside of Christ He was smiling
when He said that, for He knew that He was just tripping them up;
He knew 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 leading on to the nature of this new
That's only number four out of sixteen. I have ten minutes left
and I will just take another one.
Chapter 3, and everybody knows John chapter 3.
"Now there was
a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews..."
and you know the rest of the story of Nicodemus; I will not read
it all now.
"The same came unto Him by
night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher
come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest,
except God be with him. Jesus answered and said
unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except one be born
anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him,
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time
into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily,
verily, I say unto thee, except one be born of water and the
Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! That which is
born of the
flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto
thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it
will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence
it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of
the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said
unto Him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said
unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not
these things? Verily, verily, I say unto
thee, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that
which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you
things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you
heavenly things? And no one hath ascended
into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son
of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the
serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted
But what have we got here in Nicodemus? Surely we have a
representative of the old Israel! He is of the sect of the
Pharisees and they claimed to be very representative of
Israel. And he is a ruler of the Jews, so that he is
indeed Israel in representation. He is a son of Abraham after the
flesh; he is the embodiment of the seed of Abraham after the
What does the Lord Jesus say to him? In effect, He says to him:
"You, a son of Abraham, an inclusive representation of the
children of Abraham after the flesh, you - an embodiment of
Israel, I look upon you, Nicodemus, as all the seed of
Abraham after the flesh represented, I look upon you Nicodemus as
all Israel present here tonight in you, and Nicodemus, in
that representative capacity, you must be born again!" The seed of
Abraham after the flesh does not stand in the Kingdom of God.
You know, that is Paul's argument in his letters to the Romans
and the Galatians. They are not all Israel which are after Israel.
There is a natural seed and there is a spiritual seed.
And Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, in his representative
capacity, "The natural seed of Abraham doesn't 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 there shall no flesh stand before God.
"That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Therefore
I said unto you, You must be born again."
The new Israel of this dispensation is the Israel of the born
from above ones. These are not sons of Abraham, but they are
sons of God.
We are back at chapter one: "But to them that
believe He gave the right to become the sons of God." There's
a great deal of difference between children of Abraham after the
flesh and children of God after the Spirit! And it is not only a
great difference, it is an improved species; altogether a higher
race: a heavenly people.
Well, with number five we must close tonight and go on perhaps,
if the Lord wills, tomorrow night and see if we can get nearer to