Gospel Bookends: The Divine Life-Giver

This month we conclude our short study on Gospel bookends with the Gospel of John. His great subject, from beginning to end, is Christ’s deity. He opens with the claim that “the Word was God” (1:1), and near the end he says that he wrote these things so that we “might believe that Jesus is … the Son of God” (20:31).[1]

When we lay these two chapters side by side, we once again hear them echoing similar themes: Both reveal Christ as the source of life (1:4; 20:31) and emphasize the need to believe on His name (1:12; 20:31). They both tell about two disciples hurrying down the road, eager to know the truth about Christ (1:37-38; 20:4). In both chapters the Lord asks people what or whom they are seeking (1:38; 20:15). They each reply that they are seeking the Lord Himself. They wanted to be near Him where He was, whether in life or death.

But the pair of bookends that I want to especially highlight in these chapters involves two stories where doubt is turned to faith. On each occasion a man expresses doubt about Christ, the Lord reveals Himself in divine power, the doubter believes and worships (proclaiming Christ’s deity), and then the Lord speaks about seeing and believing.

“Thou art the Son of God!” (1:49)

John introduces Christ at the start of his Gospel as the eternal Word who reveals God to man. And if Christ was the Word, then John the Baptist was the “voice” that made His coming known (1:23). News of His arrival spread quickly from person to person: John the Baptist told Andrew, Andrew told Peter, and so on it went.

But not everyone was easily persuaded. When Philip told Nathanael that they had found the promised One, “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” Nathanael’s response was, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.”

So, Nathanael followed Philip. He thought that he was going to see Jesus in order to evaluate Him. Instead, he learned that Jesus had been watching him, and was able to accurately evaluate him. Who was this Carpenter from Nazareth, who could not only see things at distances far beyond the limits of human sight (v48), but who could also peer right into a man’s heart and tell him all about it (v47)? This was no ordinary man!

Immediately Nathanael realized that Jesus of Nazareth was much more than just “the son of Joseph.” “Thou art the Son of God! Thou art the King of Israel!” he exclaimed. It was true indeed. The King of Israel, even the Lord Himself, was in their midst (cf. Zep 3:15).

As Nathanael stood there in awe, the Lord told him that, having believed, he would see even greater things than these. Christ Himself was the very personification of Bethel – the new dwelling place of God on earth (Joh 1:51; 2:21). Heaven and earth were being brought together in Him.

“My Lord and My God!” (20:28)

Nathanael went on to follow Christ and become one of His twelve disciples. He certainly did see many greater things. But the wonderful miracles and healings were followed by Christ’s unjust betrayal, crucifixion and death. And so it was that three years later Nathanael found himself sitting in a locked room with nine other disappointed and frightened disciples. There were some reasons for hope. Peter and John had seen the empty tomb that morning. Mary had told them that she spoke with the Lord. Yet they were still uncertain about it all, afraid, and somewhat disbelieving.

Then Jesus appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them His hands and side – unmistakeable proof of His identity and resurrection. Their hearts were filled with joy. Again, He said, “Peace to you!” and then shortly after disappeared.

But Thomas wasn’t there. And when the disciples told him that Christ was risen, he wouldn’t believe it. He wanted to see the proof himself before he would believe. Unwittingly, he echoed the attitude of the crowd at Calvary (Mar 15:32). He said that unless he could thrust his finger into the nail prints and his hand into Christ’s side, he would not believe!

A week came and went, and nothing happened. Maybe Thomas was right? Then, eight days later, the Savior appeared again in their midst. He said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (v27). When Thomas heard those words, he realized that not only was Christ alive, but He had been invisibly present with them all along. He had heard everything that Thomas said privately in unbelief. Thomas exclaimed in worship, “My Lord and my God!” The Savior replied, “Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (v29).

Faith and Sight (1:50-51; 20:29)

Sometimes don’t we all wish that we could just see things for ourselves? The Lord told Thomas that there is blessing for those who haven’t seen but yet believe. And He told Nathanael that those who believe will one day see.

I’ve written this series for believers, but I ask every reader this question: Have you believed “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”? Have you received “life through His name”? Have you made Christ yours? Has “Rabbi” (the teacher) become “Rabboni” (my teacher) (1:38; 20:16)? Has “God” become “my God” (1:1; 20:28)? This is the journey of faith that John wants us all to take – from knowledge about Christ to personal relationship with Him.

Thomas’ other name, Didymus, means “Twin,” but we’re never told who that twin was. Maybe that’s so we’ll realize we’re all like him sometimes. Discouragement and disappointment lead us into doubt, and sometimes even disbelief. The Lord knows all about our doubts, just as He did with Nathanael and Thomas. He doesn’t reject us because of them, but instead reveals Himself to us and offers us peace, if we will only turn our eyes to Him.

We never grow beyond our need for faith in the Christian life. After we’re saved through faith, we spend our lifetime learning to live by faith (Gal 2:20). I pray that these “bookend” articles have strengthened our faith by helping us see Christ more clearly: as the Perfect Son, in whom we find acceptance; the Humble Guest, who wants to dwell with us; the Pilgrim Teacher, who wants to walk with us; the Faithful Priest, who intercedes for us; the Ever-Present King, who works with us; and the Divine Life-Giver, who strengthens us. Oh, that we would each come to know Him more fully in all these ways! May we take these portraits into our daily life and, like Mary and Thomas, delight in calling Him “mine!”

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.