Posted by: davidlarkin | May 20, 2017

The Apostle John, Eyewitness to the Majesty of Jesus

Transfiguration of Christ is the subject of two paintings by the Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, who finished them, respectively, in 1454-1460 and 1480. The earlier version here is on display in the Museo Correr of Venice;  the later one below is now housed in the Capodimonte Gallery of Naples, Italy.

When I was saved reading the Bible for the first time in 1971, in the middle of the Gospel of Luke, I suddenly believed the words I was reading were true.  That belief in the truth of the Bible, was also a belief that the facts were transmitted to the pages by eyewitness accounts.  I cannot take any credit for this conclusion because my belief was sudden, unanticipated, and without choice, and by the sovereign work of God alone.  I was saved by the grace of God.  My personal account is here in my Spiritual Memoir I wrote in 2005.

The authors of the New Testament disclosed in their work that either they were eyewitnesses, or received the testimony of eyewitnesses.  As the evangelist Luke wrote at the beginning of his gospel:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

The Apostle Peter, one of the three at the Mount of Transfiguration in the Bellini paintings above, wrote of the eyewitness status of Jesus’ Apostles, chosen to transmit the gospel, in his second epistle or letter:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16 (ESV)

The Apostle John, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, was one of Jesus’ three closest companions, along with Peter and James.  He refers to himself in his Gospel, as the “disciple who Jesus loved,” avoiding reference to himself by name, although Jesus loved all the disciples.  See John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20.

John, Peter and James were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration where they heard the voice of God,

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Luke 9:28-35.

John wrote five of the books of the New Testament. He wrote the Gospel of John, three epistles or letters: 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John, and is considered by most Christian scholars to be the author of the Book of Revelation, his written record of the vision he received from the Lord on the island of Patmos, to which he had been exiled. In the epistle 1 John, he begins with an introduction to the divine sonship of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah of God, and a statement of his authority to testify as an eyewitness to Messiah in the flesh, and the promise of eternal life.

This version below of Chapter 1 of 1 John is from David H. Stern’s Jewish New Testament. David Stern received a Ph.D in economics from Princeton University. While pursuing an economics professional life, he became a believer in the Messiah, and a Messianic Jewish Christian. He then received a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent Evangelical seminary in Pasadena. He taught the first course in “Judaism and Christianity” at Fuller.  See Wikipedia entry for David H. Stern.

Stern has translated the Old and New Testament from the Hebrew and Greek, with Jewish or Hebrew words translated to English to create a Jewish Bible and a Complete Jewish Study Bible. For example, “Jesus Christ” is translated “Yesuah Messiah” because the Greek word translated “Jesus” is the Greek translation of “Yeshua” which becomes “Jesus” in English, and the Greek word “Cristos” attached to Jesus, is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word “Messhiach” or Messiah, as translated into English. Stern has therefore put the New Testament in a Jewish context which is fitting because Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and his twelve disciples were Jewish, and the writers of the New Testament were Jews, [although some scholars argue that Luke was a gentile]. And as Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek [Gentiles].”


ROMANS 1:16.
1 Yochanan [John], Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern

Chapter 1

1. The Word, which gives life!
He existed from the beginning.
We have heard him,
we have seen him with our eyes,
we have contemplated him,
we have touched him with our hands!
2. The life appeared,
and we have seen it.
We are testifying to it
and announcing it to you —
eternal life!
He was with the Father,
and he appeared to us.
3. What we have seen and heard,
we are proclaiming to you;
so that you too
may have fellowship with us.
Our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Yeshua the Messiah.
4. We are writing these things
so that our joy may be complete.

[David Stern’s Commentary] This prologue, like the one the same author wrote for his Gospel, seems to be composed as poetry; see Yn [Gospel of John] 1:1—18&N. The Word, who existed from the beginning, is Yeshua the Messiah (Yn [Gospel of John] 1:1-18. Believers (you… us) have fellowship (Greek koinonia,, “commonness, communion, community”) with God (the Father… his Son; compare Yochanan [Gospel of John] 17).

5. And this is the message which we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him — none!
6. If we claim to have fellowship with him while we are walking in the darkness, we are lying and not living out the truth.
7. But if we are walking in the light, as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of his Son Yeshua purifies us from all sin.
8. If we claim not to have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we acknowledge our sins, then, since he is trustworthy and just, he will forgive them and purify us from all wrongdoing.
10. If we claim we have not been sinning, we are making him out to be a liar, and his Word is not in us.

[David Stern’s Commentary] Because there is no darkness in God. if we claim to have fellowship (v. 3) with him but are walking in darkness, then we are lying with our words and also with our actions (not living out the truth). Only when we let the light of God shine into our whole life, permitting even its secrets to be judged by him, can we be purified from our sinful habits and be made more holy.

As a rule, people do not want to let in God’s light (Yn 3:19-21), but instead of saying so, they claim they don’t need it. Yochanan gives two examples: If we claim not to have sin, not to have a nature which tends to sin, not to have a yelzer ru’ (“evil inclination”; see Ro 5:12-2IN) ever rearing its ugly head, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Likewise, If we claim we have not been sinning, that our acts have been above reproach, and we have not committed actual sins, we are making him out to be a liar, and his Word is not in us. Either of these claims, if true, would provide an excuse for not letting God judge our inmost heart, in accordance with the prayers of Psalms 19:13-15(12-14), 139:23-24.

In Yochanan’s day it was especially the Gnostics who, misusing Romans 6 and 8, said that since the Messianic believer has the Spirit of the Messiah in him, he cannot sin any more. Yochanan agrees that the Spirit of the Messiah cleanses us and gives us strength to overcome sin, in keeping with Ezekiel 36:27,

“I will put my Spirit in you and cause you to follow my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

Nevertheless, we still commit sin, as v. 10 reminds us; this follows along with what is said about the days of the Messiah in Jeremiah 31:29(30), “Everyone will die for his own iniquity.” Isaiah 65:20 too speaks of sinners in the Messianic Era, and in the Lord’s Prayer believers are told to pray, “Forgive us what we have done wrong” (Mt 6:12).
This is also the answer to the objection raised in the sixteenth century by Rabbi Yitzchak of Troki’s Chizzuk-Emunah, which says — citing Deuteronomy 30:6, Zephaniah 3:13, Jeremiah 3:17, Ezekiel 36:25-27 — that Yeshua cannot be the Messiah because in the days of the Messiah there will be everlasting righteousness, and iniquity will cease. Eventually this will be the (Revelation 21-22); but in the present segment of the days of the Messiah there are sinners. Nevertheless, the Messiah “will justify many” (Isaiah 53:12), and by his death he atones for sin (v. 7, 2:2).

The objection that here Yochanan contradicts what he writes at 3:6. 9 (“…no one who remains united with him continues sinning…. No one who has God as his Father keeps on sinning….“) is answered in the notes to those verses.

Believers commit sins. They are not to be confronted by self-righteous fellow sinners passing judgment (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-4) but by God’s own Word, which sets the standard for holiness. Then they will not make the mistake of the rich young ruler who asserted that he had kepi the Ten Commandments from his youth (Matthew 19:20). Instead of deceiving ourselves with excuses we should be walking in the light (v. 7), trying to do what pleases God. And we should acknowledge our sins as we commit them, even (though we do not intend to commit them (v. 9). The Greek word “omologeo” (“acknowledge, confess”) is, literally, “say the same thing.” If we say the same thing about our sins as God does, namely, that our sins are truly sinful; and if we have the kind of godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10-11); then the blood, by which is meant the bloody sacrificial death (Romans 3:21-26), of Yeshua continually purifies us from all sin. Our identification with his atoning death (Ro 6:3, Ga 2:20) empowers that death to go on helping us put to death our yetzer ra’ (Romans 6:16-23, 8:12-13, and Section D of Romans 5:12-21), which is what we must do if we are to conduct our life the way Yeshua did (2:6). Also, since he is trustworthy and just (Romans 3:25-26), he will forgive our sins and purify us from all wrongdoing. Compare John 13:1-17.
Acknowledging of sin, then, as Yochanan uses the term, is not merely a verbal tnins action but in every respect the full equivalent of repentance, t’shuvah (see Matthew 3:1-12). The relationship between repentance and blood sacrifice is correctly set forth in these verses. Repentance is the sine qua mm of forgiveness; with this non-Messianic Judaism agrees, as is clear from the Mishna:

“A sin-offering and a trespass-offering atone for sins committed wittingly. Death or Yom-Kippur atones, provided a person repents. Repentance atones for minor transgressions against the Torah’s positive commands and for any transgression against its negative commands; for more serious transgressions repentance suspends punishment until Yom-Kippur arrives and atones. “If a person says, ‘I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent,’ God will not give him an opportunity to repent! If he says, ‘I will sin, and Yom-Kippur will atone,’ then Yom-Kippur will not atone! Yom-Kippur atones for transgressions from man towards God; but for transgressions between a man and his fellowman, Yom-Kippur does not atone until he has conciliated his fellowman…. Rabbi Akiva said,’.. .Who cleanses you [from your transgressions]? Your Father in heaven, as it is said, “1 will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25). And it also says, “Mikveh-Israel” [which can be translated either “the hope of Israel,” referring to God, or “the ritual-bath of Israel”] (Jeremiah 17:13). Just as the ritual bath cleanses the unclean, so does the Holy One, blessed be he, cleanse Israel.”‘

Yoma 8:8-9

But at the same time that repentance is proclaimed as essential before God can grant forgiveness, the justice of and necessity for a blood sacrifice is clear both from the Torah (see Leviticus especially; but also Isaiah 1:16-17, Malachi 3:2-4) and the New Testament (see the book of Messianic Jews especially).

vv. 1:5-2:2  [Here are verses 2:1-2 from Stern’s Jewish New Testament:

Chapter 2:

1. My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik, who pleads our cause with the Father.

2. Also, he is the kapparah for our sins — and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.]

This section deals with the relationship of a believer both to sin in general (what theologians call the “sinful nature of man”) and also to particular sins. These verses give a threefold message:

(1) There is an absolute call to put away sin.
(2) It is impossible to live without sinning.
(3) Nevertheless, one has no right to give up the battle against sin.

The following famous quotation from the Mishna is appropriately cited in connection with many New Testament passages, but I have saved it for this one:

“He [Rabbi Tarfon, 2nd century C.E.] used to say, ‘You are not obligated to complete the task, but you are still not free from working at it.'”

Avot 2:16


For the Christian who is not Jewish, there is much to be gained from reading David H. Stern’s works, the Jewish New and Old Testament and his commentaries.  In conclusion, 1 John concludes with this message of hope:

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:20 (ESV)

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