Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"You Didn't Have to Be There"

John 20.30-31 NKJV

“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

“Guess you had to be there.” Is that true? Or, is it a joke-teller’s excuse for an unfunny story or a funny one fallen flat? In reality, you didn’t have to “be there.” If the story is told well, you’ll get the point and respond with appropriate emotion. In fact, sometimes the story is better than ‘being there’ because it is seasoned with time for reflection. The passing of days, decades, and centuries allow perspective to develop and fuller truth to emerge.

So it is with the story of Jesus and His storyteller, John the son of Zebedee, “the last surviving member of the apostolic band.”[1] According to most conservative scholars, John authored his gospel “toward the close of the first century, when the church had achieved a measure of maturity, and when there was need for an advance in the teaching concerning the nature of faith.”[2] The fourth gospel contains significant material not found in the earlier three Synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Much of John’s written record is theological interpretation giving later generations a deeper understanding of the person and work of Christ. John offers an eyewitness, historical perspective several decades after the events described resulting in a more complex understanding of Jesus Christ and the nature of faith. When compared to the Synoptics, a seasoned and even deeper truth emerges from the Gospel of John.   

You didn’t have to be there. You couldn’t have been. God sent His Son to this world at a divinely chosen point in history. None living before or after that generation would be privileged to behold Him “in the flesh” (1st Timothy 3.16; 1st John 4.2). Even if you had lived during the first century A.D., you would have had to occupy a tiny plot of geography to have even the remotest chance of crossing paths with the person Jesus. Though a few thousand residents from Judea, Samaria, and Galilee actually saw the Lord (if you count the multitudes he fed with a few loaves and fishes), most first century Palestine dwellers did not. Compare a liberal estimate 10,000 people who may have seen Jesus, mostly from a distance, to the approximately 108 billion human births since the dawn of time, and your random chances of being in the right place at the right time to meet the historical Christ is at least one in ten million.[3] It’s a good thing you didn’t have to be there. Think about it this way:

“For God so loved [all 108 billion people of] the world that He gave His only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3.16 NKJV

John had his reasons for writing the expanded edition of the chronicle of Christ. Even so, the apostle admitted in conclusion that his gospel represented only a fraction of all that could have been said:

“There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all
written down, each of them, one by one, I can't imagine a world big
enough to hold such a library of books.”
John 21.25 The Message

So why did John write the last gospel when three perfectly good ones were already in circulation? The author anticipated and answered the question before we thought to inquire:

“…these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Read the gospel of John. It will inspire faith, and I think you will agree... you didn’t have to be there.

[1] New Testament Survey Revised, Merrill C. Tenny, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing / Inter-Varsity Press, 1985, p. 192.

[2] Ibid., p. 188.

[3] “How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?”, Carl Haub, first published1995, Population Reference Bureau, reprinted in “Population Today,” November / December 2002 at "This article is an updated version of one of the most popular features on PRB’s website, estimating the number of people who have ever been born. We first made this estimate in 1995, with updates in 2002, 2011, 2018, and 2020." See also “How many people have ever lived? Keyfitz's calculation updated,” June 18, 1999,

Note: The New Testament manuscript fragments pictured in the above blog entry are the p66 or "Bodmer Papyrus" (lower right) dated around 200 A.D. The text is John 1:1-13, plus the first word of verse 14. The second (lower left) is p52, the oldest surviving manuscript fragment of the New Testament. It has been dated to around 125 A.D. The text is from John 18.31-33. See Mark Robert's material at

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