by A.E. Knoch

JOHN'S EVANGEL is conditioned on human cooperation. There is none of the certainty to it which we find in Paul's persuasions. There is no passage to compare with Paul's assurance that "neither death nor life, nor messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor what is impending, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord" ( Rom.8:39). John's evangel is marked by such words as if, and lest, and bases blessing on human conduct such as no conscientious Christian can claim, and no one who realizes the weakness of the flesh would ever attempt to fulfill.

Although my early teachers laid great stress on such phrases as "once saved always saved," they made much more of John's evangel than of Paul's. Indeed, now that I look back, I realize that John's evangel blinded them to the essential truths of Paul's, even as it does to most "Christians" today. So I trust it will be helpful to point out a few passages which no one, who really believes and appreciates Paul's transcendent message, can possibly apply to himself without great harm. As a very young believer I felt that something was wrong with these texts, but could not discover what it was as Paul's evangel was largely unknown to us. Even though we quoted many contradictory passages they did not grip us sufficiently to emphasize their grave discordances.

Let us consider the case of the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda ( John 5:1). First of all, we have a picture of salvation in Israel before Christ came. How hopeless it was! A multitude wait until the Lord's messenger stirs the water, but only one is healed, who evidently is not as bad a case as the rest, for he manages to enter the pool first. The man whom the Lord healed may have been there thirty eight years. The trouble with him was that he depended on his own efforts or human help. So those under the law were told how to walk, but were not given the strength to do so.

When Christ healed him we have a picture of John's evangel, with a clear indication of the time to which it belongs, for it was the sabbath, which speaks of the future millennial kingdom. Then it is that Israel's long infirmity will be healed. But even then he is told to do something! So it is in the Circumcision evangel at all times in the past except in John's evangel. But he is not asked to repent and wash away his sins in the pool, but only carry pallet, or bed roll, which is an aid to rest, and walk. When Peter and John, at the beginning of the kingdom heralding, repeat this sign, they left off this part ( Acts 2:6), for the time had not yet come to rest. In the kingdom itself, they must not only walk according to the law, but work in order to rest! They must obey the law. We are justified apart from works of law.

But the most troublesome part of this passage to me was this: Afterward, when Jesus found the healed man in the sanctuary, He said to him, "Lo! You have become sound. By no means longer be sinning, lest something worse should be coming to you." Such a salvation seemed to me totally inadequate for my case. I was aware that good is not making its home in me (that is, in my flesh). I had the will, but not the way ( Rom.7:18). That sort of a salvation was only a temporary relief. What I needed I found in Paul's Roman epistle. "Nothing, consequently, is now condemnation to those in Christ Jesus" (8:1). "In grace are you saved, through faith, and this is not of you; it is God's oblation, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting" ( Eph.2:8).


We should compare both of these with the call of Paul ( Acts 9:22). He was not physically infirm, for it seems that he walked all the way from Jerusalem to Damascus. I have gone over this road myself, but in an automobile. He was still young and strong. But when Jesus met him he lost his strength and fell flat on the ground. He was not a blind man. Christ blinded him, so that he could not see. He is not told to walk. That word and its figurative sense of conduct, is carefully avoided, as well as the word stand. Paul is told to rise, but we read that he was raised. Physically, he was in bad shape, and had to be led by the hand. His blessings were all spiritual. The fact that he was told to rise and go to Damascus, suggests the celestial blessings which he brought to the nations in his later ministry.

Union with Christ is a most precious privilege. In John's evangel there is a living link, just as well as in Paul's. But the figures used to illustrate it are vastly different. John uses the grapevine and its branches. Paul uses the human body and its members. Israel was the empty vine of old, Christ was the true ( John 15). Israel bore no fruit so was cast out ( John 15:2). Christ's disciples also are pruned away if they are unfruitful. Not only that, but the pruned branches are burned. Not very far from where this is written was a vineyard, claimed to be the largest on earth. They had immense iron wagons. At pruning time, the branches were cast directly into the fire on the wagons. What a terrible fate it portrays for those believers who bear no fruit! What difference is it if we are burned as an unfruitful branch or in the fire of Gehenna? Is this the fate of the members of Christ today, who bear no fruit?

"If anyone should not be remaining in Me, he was cast out as a branch and is withered. And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them" ( John 15:6). That terrible if! What power has the branch of a vine to remain in it? Anyone whose eyes have been opened to the infirmity of the flesh would live in constant fear of losing their hold. There are, indeed, many like this. Then comes another if! Whatever we may be wanting will become theirs if His declarations should be remaining in them. John is always promising something at a price which we cannot pay. Only those who are given special consideration by the Father, among the sons of Israel will be able to fulfill these conditions.


As even John's name points us to the future (Will-being- Grace), we should carefully consider all indications of time, or the incidents recorded certainly occurred in the then present. Perhaps the most significant passage is found in the sixth chapter, beginning with verse forty-seven. It begins with "Verily, verily, I am saying to you that he who is believing into Me has life eonian." As generally understood and expounded, this cannot be true for all to whom He spoke died not so very long thereafter, including even the apostles themselves. In the Scriptures themselves we have a record of the death of two of the leaders, James ( Acts 12:2) and Peter ( 2 Peter 1:14). Hence we must read more accurately. The word have does not imply present enjoyment. Even our Lord Himself, the Channel of eonian life, died a few years later. But He now enjoys it, and they will, in the resurrection.

But then He proceeded, I am the Bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the Bread which is descending out of heaven that anyone may be eating of it and may not be dying. I am the living Bread which descends out of heaven. If anyone should be eating of this Bread, he shall be living for the eon. Here the usual versions make our Lord a liar, when they translate it "forever," for none of them lived forever, they are all dead now, without exception. But He never told an untruth. They will live "for the eon" of the kingdom, exactly as He said. Later on (verse 54) He confirms this by saying that he who "has life eonian...I shall be raising him in the last day." Here we have the manna in the past. The Bread of life was present with them, so that they possessed life eonian. In the future resurrection they will enjoy it, in accord with the future promise in John's name and evangel.


In John's evangel, the idea of justification by faith apart from works ( Rom.3:28) is absolutely ignored. In  1 John 1:7 we read, "if we should be walking in the light, as He is in the light...the blood of Jesus, His Son, is cleansing us from every sin." Here we have another impossible condition, entirely unnecessary for those to whom the present grace is shown. Certainly we may walk in the light to some extent, but hardly as He is in the light. And how much better it is to be justified in Christ's blood ( Rom.5:9)!

Here we have the basis for the two greatest divisions in Christendom. Both are based on the Bible, but one leans to an evangel dependent, to a large extent, on human conduct and "responsibility," as Christ, Peter and John preached, but the other emphasizes predestination and election, like Paul. But neither are clear and definite, for they seek to combine both evangels in an incongruous mixture which causes the utter confusion which prevails. We cannot condemn them as contrary to the "Bible" for both doctrines are in it. But we can point out their differences and keep them separate, and "apply" only that which is ours, and refrain from filching that which is for others.


Walking in the light does not imply without sin, so John makes provision for its removal. "If we should be avowing our sins, He is faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice." But who knows all his sins? Many of us think we are serving the Lord, and even suffering for His sake, when we are opposing His truth. We should all do our utmost, first of all, to learn what constitutes sin today. It is by no means confined to gross immoralities and criminal acts, which even the unbeliever would recognize as sin. In the higher spiritual sphere, one of the common and most harmful mistakes lies in misapplying and "appropriating" truth that does not belong to us, such as these passages in John's epistle.


John tells us that He is faithful and just in pardoning and cleansing, and entreating, and is becoming the propitiatory shelter for sins ( 1 John 1:9-2:2). In contrast to this Paul tells that we are justified gratuitously in His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus (Whom God purposed for a Propitiatory shelter through faith...) for Him to be just (not us) and a Justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus. Where then, is boasting? It is debarred! Through what law? Of works? No! But through faith's law. For we are reckoning a man to be justified by faith apart from works of law ( Rom.3:24-27). The kingdom evangel of John enables them to boast. "I repented! I confessed! I did something." That is the law of works. We should say, "I believe!" That is the law of faith.


The awards to the "overcomers," or conquerors are not such as we would or could appreciate. Blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, with life unlimited, what would we do with the fruit of the tree of life, which will be on the earth? We will have a higher life long before that day ( Rev.2:7). We already have immunity from the second death, so have no need for this award to the conqueror in Smyrna ( Rev.2:11). So with all the prizes. None of them come up to that which is already ours by grace transcendent. The justification which is ours in Christ Jesus far exceeds the promise of white clothing in the future, and the life we have in Christ allows of no erasure ( Rev.3:9). We are the temple of God already, so need no promise to be a pillar in it ( Rev.3:12).

The atmosphere that pervades John's writing is oppressive to those who have breathed the ozone of Paul's later writings. To be sure, we also must be manifested before the dais of Christ, to be requited for that which we put into practice through the body, whether it be good or bad. But all of us already have, by grace, much greater gifts, than the highest awards in John's writings. This is because they are purely divine, without any element of human merit or demerit. They cannot be given as prizes, because no flesh can ever merit them.

Tradition has it that John was the last apostle alive, or something like that, we know of no good reason to reject this, if we confine it to the twelve Circumcision apostles. All of the other circumcision epistles, except Hebrews, are addressed to the dispersion, and are confined to the people of that day. But John in the Unveiling, writes to ecclesias in the future, when the kingdom ecclesia exists again. That his epistles also concern that time seems to be indicated by his exclusive, sevenfold repetition of the phrase "the last day" ( John 6:39,40,44,54; 7:37; 11:27; 12:48), which he shortens to "the last hour" in one epistle ( 1 John 2:18,18). This shows us also the different outlook in time between his evangel and his epistles. They fit into the closing era before the unveiling of Christ.


In spirit John skips the present secret administration, and lives on throughout the day of the Lord and the day of God, on the earth. He reports what he saw and heard although the fulfillment is still future. He wrote to ecclesias that are not yet in existence, judging them for acts they have not even yet committed. He saw the fulfillment, in the future, of the heralding which was a failure in the past. He saw the King, the Son of David, on His throne, the Son of Mankind, rule the whole race during the day of Yahweh, and his own evangel of the Son of God fulfilled in the benign sway of the day of God on the new earth. But he did not enter the third heavens, as Paul did when our apostle was shown the sequel of his efforts in inaugurating this secret administration. John had a more spiritual service than Peter and the other apostles, but it will be a blessing here below, on the earth Paul's is not only more spiritual, but far above, among the celestials.

Remarkable as it is that Peter should disappear from the scene in the book of Acts after the fifteenth chapter, it is still more notable that John should not be found after the eighth chapter, before Paul had even been called. The most spiritual aspect of the kingdom evangel, as represented by John, had very little place in the fleshly kingdom ecclesia. Let us by no means imagine that it went out to the nations, or merged into Paul's evangel. Long after John's name dropped out of the Acts account, he was at the conference reported in the fifteenth chapter. Paul tells us that he was one of the pillars of the kingdom ecclesia, and gave Paul the right hand of fellowship, that, while Paul was to be for the nations, he would be for the circumcision. John disavowed having any connection with the nations outside of the kingdom covenant.


The apostasy from Paul which caused him to lament ( 2 Tim.1:15; Phil.3:19), has been largely a retreat to John's "gospel" because it reaches out to the "world." But this is also the purpose of the kingdom, for Israel is to be a priest nation to bless the rest of mankind. In John's evangel He did not come to all, but only to His own ( John 1:11). He died for that nation, as in the rest of the accounts, but not for that nation only ( John 11:52). It is by far the most spiritual of the accounts, but that cannot mean that it is a distinct non-kingdom evangel, so that John loses his throne when, the Messiah comes to Israel. The name Jew occurs in his writings about seventy times, nearly as often as in the book of Acts, and about four times as often as in Matthew, Mark and Luke put together. Paul uses it about thirty times, but usually about, not to them. Right to the end John kept his nation distinct. In his last epistle he strongly recommended some who got nothing from those of the nations ( 3 John 7). How many evangelists do this today?

Even a few of my friends who seemed to have received the truth of the one body, have reverted to the teaching of John. Perhaps this is just what the early believers in the province of Asia did in Paul's day. He does not say that they have stopped believing, or that they apostatized. He says only that they were turned from me. It seems to be too much to accept transcendent truth, and give the greatest good to the least deserving, to include in the body of Christ such sinners and immature saints as the Corinthians.

The Jews present on the day of Pentecost came mostly from the lands east and south of the Mediterranean, especially Asia Minor. Paul was forbidden by the holy spirit to speak the word in the province of Asia, the extreme western part of what is now called Asia Minor. It took a special vision to get him to go to Macedonia, and the northern shores of the central sea. There, where there were few Jews and greater degradation, was a fitter field for the display of God's grace to the nations. And there it seemed to take deeper root. In the east, the Galatians were swiftly transferred to a form of Judaism, with circumcision and law keeping. This same tendency led them away from Paul. Possibly they accepted the message revealed through John, which seems not nearly so antagonistic to Pauline truth, being the most spiritual, and wider in scope than the other aspects of the kingdom evangel.

If we forsake the Scriptures, and seek information about John in the traditions of the early fathers, we will be told that Polycarp was a disciple of John, and that he taught Irenaeus, the first of the catholic fathers. They proposed to base their teaching on the oral evidence of those who had seen the Lord, especially John, but say nothing about Paul. This agrees with Paul's own words, "All those in the province of Asia were turned from me" ( 2 Tim.1:15). This is one of the many untrustworthy traditions (which are rejected by most scholars), on which the so-called "Catholic" sects seek to support their claim to primacy. It is in line with the fiction that Peter came to Rome and became the first pope! When I was there they showed me his footprint on the Appian Way, if I am not mistaken. Now they have found his bones beneath the Vatican! No absurdity is too great but it will find a following, when we look outside the Scriptures for material on which to base our belief, or rather credulity.

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