A Comparison of John and Paul (2)

There are four outstanding passages in the New Testament which deal with the person of Christ: John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:1-4. All four take us back into the distant past and speak of the preincarnate glory of Christ, of His deity, of His coming into the world, of His rejection or suffering. Each of these grand passages was written for a distinct purpose. When John wrote of the greatness of His person, he was doing so in order to assure sinners that Christ was worthy of their full confidence because He has power to save. When Paul was writing in Philippians, he was teaching the saints by Christ’s example to think of the things of others. In Colossians, his purpose was to show the supremacy of Christ in comparison to angels, so as to cause the readers to turn from worshipping the creature, rather than the Creator. In Hebrews, the Lord’s greatness was introduced into the epistle to show that He was fitted to be the High-priest of His people, because His deity and humanity were both essential for His high office. His Sonship is much stressed in the writings of John. Those who heard His claim to be the Son of God had no doubts that He was claiming to be equal with God. In Hebrews 1, the same principle applies, for Paul there emphasizes His Sonship, and at the same time speaks of Him as God (Heb 1:8).

In the opening verses of John’s gospel, he goes back to what existed at the beginning, so he is showing that before all things the “Word” existed, thus proving that He had no beginning. He proceeds to come closer to us and reaches creation’s morning and tells that all things were made by the Word. Later he proceeds to show that this wondrous person became flesh and tabernacled amongst us, and then adds that even during the days of His flesh, there were occasions when he and others saw His glory. Possibly he was referring specially to the Mount of Transfiguration. There is no mention in this passage of His death and resurrection. Paul likewise goes back to the dateless past and tells us that he was appointed heir of all things. We might ask, When? but the next expression brings us to creation, so the appointment is dateless. The great Creator was the effulgence of God’s glory, the One who revealed the invisible God and was His representative. He not only made all, but upholds all which He created. This same mighty person is the One who has made purification for sin, and who is now seated at God’s right hand. Thus Paul here goes beyond John 1 and reaches to the point of Christ’s exaltation. Later in the chapter, His kingdom glory will be mentioned and His eternal glory which will follow after the heavens and earth have been destroyed.

Philippians 2 covers much the same ground, but the purpose Paul had in view in these verses was to set forth Christ’s example as the One who looked upon the things of others, for they proceed to show that, though He was in the form of God, yet He became a servant, and stooped down to the shameful death of the Cross. This humiliation is followed by His exaltation and by the assurance that to Him every knee shall bow. Here, it is not His glory that was seen on earth, as in John 1, nor His purging of sin, as in Hebrews, but rather His example, as One who gave up all that was precious to Him, and for this unmeasured stoop, He has been rewarded with highest honours.

In Colossians 1, what He has done for us is introduced first, and then the greatness of His person: His essential glory as the image of God, His position as the supreme One who is chief of all the creation which He created and now upholds. This great person is now filling a new role, for He is head of the body, the church. To put any created being on a par with Him would be totally unreasonable, for He must have the pre-eminence in all things. All readers of Revelation are left in no doubt about the exaltation of Christ, whether He is seen as the Lamb in the midst of the throne or as King of kings wearing many diadems, His lofty position is indicated.

While most see the Gospel of John as the one which sets forth the Lord’s deity, yet it has to be remembered that in its pages His real humanity likewise shines forth. Who has not been surprised to read of Him being wearied with His journey (ch. 4), of His tears and His groaning (ch. 11) and of His thirst (ch.19)? Likewise, Paul does not hesitate to tell of Christ’s obedience while found in fashion as a man (Phil 2), of His strong crying and tears (Heb 5) and of His poverty (2 Cor 8) His humanity was essential for His work of atonement, because in the form of God He could not die. Likewise, it was essential for His priesthood, for He could not feel with us had He not passed through His earthly experiences, nor could He become the King over all the earth without being man, for God had decreed that He would set a man over the works of His hands.

We are indebted to the Hebrew epistle as our chief source of information regarding the High Priesthood of Christ, yet John, though he does not mention it directly, gives us a glimpse of it in his Gospel (ch 17). In that wonderful prayer, the Lord was showing His own how He would be concerned about them when His work on the cross was finished. His intercession for them in this prayer is a pre-view of His present intercession referred to in Hebrews 7:25.

While we admit that Christ’s office as Advocate with the Father mentioned in 1 John 2, is not the same as His High Priesthood developed in Hebrews, yet there is a connection between the two in that both are in operation while Christ is at the right hand of God.

The Person of the Holy Spirit 

When we think of the coming of the Holy Spirit, our minds turn immediately to John’s gospel, especially to the Upper-room ministry of Christ, where He promised His disciples that He would send them another Comforter who would be in them and with them during His absence. Earlier, John records the Baptist’s announcement that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and he alone tells of breathing upon the disciples and saying to them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” In his first epistle, he teaches that the Spirit in the believer is greater than any other power and that He is the Spirit of truth. With all this, we can compare Paul’s teaching on this subject and easily see that he is in harmony with John in what he teaches regarding it. Most can see a connection between the words of John 3:5 “Born of water and of the Spirit”, and Paul’s words in Titus 3:5, “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

The Father and His family

John has ever before him the figure of a father and his family, especially in his epistle, and reserves the word “Son” for the Lord Himself. Paul on the other hand delights to use the word “son” or “sons” when he is referring to the people of God, yet he too, at times, views the saints as “children,” as when he writes, “The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom 8:16. See also vs 17 and 21). The noted passage on the subject of chastisement (Heb 12) has the background of a father and his family, even though in that passage the word “son” is used. There is a special relationship between Christ and His Father for He was a Son in a unique sense. This relationship is constantly pressed upon us in John’s Gospel. Paul quotes Psalm 2, which says, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee…I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son” (Heb 1:5). Like John, he speaks of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; and Eph 1:3). The dearness of Christ to His Father is stressed by both. John, in the well known verse, tells us that God gave “His only begotten Son” John 3:16), and Paul reminds us that God has translated us into the kingdom of “the Son of His love” (RV), and that He “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom 8:32).

The subjection of the Son to the Father’s will is likewise stressed by both writers. In John we read of Christ saying, “I seek not my own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (ch 5:30), and Paul reminds us that at His coming into the world, He said, “Lo I come to do thy will oh God” (Heb 10:9), and also tells us that in fulfillment of that will, “He became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8). Not only in his past humiliation, but also at the end of His millennial reign, the same principle will obtain, for even then “shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him” (1 Cor 15:28).

The Gospel Message 

There can be no doubt in our minds that John and Paul were vastly different in their style of preaching, for most know that even in a man’s writings there shines out from the page that which gives some idea of his form and style of speaking. However, it is interesting to see that though these apostles were distinct men, yet what they preached to sinners was essentially the same. Both wrote a special book of Gospel truth. John in his Gospel was writing for sinners that they might believe; Paul in Romans was writing to saints to show them the doctrines of the Gospel. In both writings, we learn the depravity of man. As he is seen in John, he needs to be made anew, as seen by Paul, he needs to be regenerated. That all are guilty before God is illustrated in John 8, where we have the Lord asked to act as judge. The woman is set before him and pronounced guilty by her accusers, and her mouth is stopped. The Lord stooped twice and wrote on the ground, thus demonstrating that His stoop brought a new message to earth, not like the old message of the Law, which was written on stone by the finger of God. Now His finger spells out the message of grace. His stooping twice reminds us of the two great stoops in Philippians 2, one from the lofty heights of glory, the other to the shame of the Cross. The Lord’s question caused all the accusers to leave, for all were condemned and so were on the same platform. He was left alone with her, and said, “Neither do I condemn thee.” None can read this story without thinking of Paul’s words in Romans, “Every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God,” and of chapter 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (v 1). The words “Go and sin no more” said to the woman, remind us of Romans 6 “Shall we continue in sin?”

While the word “faith” is not in John’s Gospel, yet the truth of “believing” permeates its pages. That salvation is by faith, according to Paul, none can question, indeed he quotes the words of Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith” no less than three times. Closely linked with this principle of salvation by faith is the universal offer implied in the word, “whosoever”. Both Paul and John are clear that anyone can have eternal life, and that it is not limited to a special few John 3:16; Rom 10:11,13). When referring to the privileged people who had rejected the offer in the Gospel, it is interesting to note that both quote the opening words of Isaiah 53, “Who hath believed our report?” While neither in John’s Gospel nor in Paul’s writings do we find the word “hell”, yet both are very emphatic that the wrath of God is the portion of the unbeliever. “He that believeth not (or is disobedient to) the Son…the wrath of God abideth upon him” (John 3:36), fits very closely with the words of Paul, “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” There is also a close similarity between the well known verses of John 5:24-29 and the words of Paul in Romans 2:110. In both we have the judgment of God, the basis of this judgment – the doings of men, some doing good, others doing evil, some escaping judgment and enjoying eternal life, others falling under it, and bearing the wrath of God.

To be continued.