One of the many mistakes I see the Toronto street preachers I’ve written about frequently make in their various sermons is just how often they preach from the book commonly known as “the Gospel according to John,” and how they assume the verses they read from that book apply to the people hearing the sound of their voice. If they’d studied Scripture carefully, however, they’d realize that none of what they’re asserting to the crowds walking by them makes any sense at all. But because they’re so enthralled by the so-called “gospel” they’ve been taught by their religious leaders, they have no idea what the words they’re reading really mean.
One of the worst cases of this mistake is when they read from John chapter 3. They’ll read things like, ”He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Or, ”He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” They read these passages and assume Jesus was teaching that those who believe in Him (whatever that might mean to the particular “evangelist” who happens to be preaching at the time) will get to live in heaven with Him forever after they die, and that those who don’t believe in Him will suffer never-ending punishment in a place called the lake of fire (in a conscious state at that, according to most of these preachers).
Now, if they were actually paying attention, they’d know that literally none of the above is what Jesus was actually getting at in those passages. Unfortunately, because they were never made aware of quite a few scriptural facts, they just aren’t able to understand what Jesus actually meant, and so they end up reading their doctrinal presuppositions into the text rather than trying to find out what Jesus was actually talking about.
The first fact they’re generally unaware of is that words such as “everlasting” and “for ever” have to be interpreted figuratively rather than read literally.)
Of course, those of us in the body of Christ know these warnings just mean that those to whom Jesus came who don’t believe the truth about Him before He returns will miss out on the figurative “everlasting life.” But thanks to Paul we also know that, by the time the age end, everyone who is dead (even those who died a second time in the lake of fire) will be resurrected, and this time to immortality and sinlessness (which is what salvation is ultimately all about). And we also know that those who will be living at that time (even during the final age on the new earth) but who don’t have “everlasting life” will also be made immortal and sinless at that time (“everlasting life” isn’t simply about being alive during the time the kingdom of God exists on the earth; it’s about getting to enjoy life inside the kingdom rather than having to live in “the outer darkness” of the rest of the world, which is sometimes also referred to metaphorically as ”a furnace of fire,” or as “everlasting fire”).
Another reason they miss these facts is because they aren’t aware that “the Gospel according to John” was written to a very specific audience, and that audience did not include Gentiles, for the most part (aside, perhaps, from a few who might have decided to proselytize into the Israel of God). The same applies to “the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” I should add. Jesus was very clear that He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and nearly everything He taught was solely to and about Israelites, with only a few rare exceptions.
One of those possible rare exceptions is in Matthew 25, when Jesus spoke about the judgement of the sheep and the goats. In this prophecy, presuming He wasn’t referring to Israelites living in nations other than Israel at the time, Jesus might have been talking about how certain Gentiles could gain “everlasting life” (without even realizing they were earning it as they did). In that passage, Jesus explained how certain people living among the nations that aren’t Israel who take care of His brethren (referring to believing Jews) during the Great Tribulation will get to enjoy “everlasting life” during the Millennium.
Now if this sounds like salvation by works, that’s because it kind of is, but before you freak out, this is actually okay because this isn’t the salvation apart from works that Paul taught about. This is simply a form of salvation which refers to getting to live in Israel during the Millennium and the final age on the new earth and nothing more. The salvation Paul taught the body of Christ about, which is about immortality and sinlessness, is entirely by grace with no works involved on our part. But because almost no Christian is aware of the fact that the words “salvation” and ”saved” mean different things in different parts of Scripture, they read their presuppositions about salvation into each mention of the words and assume they’re all talking about the same thing.
But this seems to bring up a potential problem for those who like to preach from the book of John, because Jesus never said that any of the “sheep” in Matthew 25 believed in Him, and to claim that they did believe in Him is to once again read a presupposition into the text. This isn’t actually a problem, however, when you realize that Jesus was talking about two different groups of people in these two different passages. Many people will get to enjoy “everlasting life” thanks to how they treat persecuted Jews during the Tribulation, but the Jews they take care of have to believe something specific about Jesus in order to enjoy it themselves. As for what that something they have to believe about Him is, John clarified this towards the end of his book, and it’s simply that Jesus is the Christ (aka the Messiah), and that He’s the Son of God.
You’ll notice that John also didn’t include belief in Christ’s death for our sins, or in His subsequent burial and resurrection on the third day — as Paul said those who hold to his particular Gospel will come to believe when they get saved (from a relative perspective, of course; everyone will eventually experience salvation from an absolute perspective because of what his Gospel means) — in his summary of what his Jewish readers need to believe about Jesus in order to experience “everlasting life” under their Gospel program (which is referred to by Paul as the Gospel of the Circumcision, which he contrasts with his own Gospel, also known as the Gospel of the Uncircumcision), and this is yet another point that proves “the Gospel according to John” is not about Gentiles at all. This also means that most references to “the world” in John’s Gospel have to be referring specifically to the Jewish world, I should add, rather than to the whole planet, or to everyone who lives on it. Basically, if you want to understand the Gospel that applies to you, it’s imperative you understand that almost nothing John wrote about applies to Gentiles, particularly not to those Gentiles in the body of Christ, and neither does any book of the Bible not signed by Paul (outside of the passages that are explicitly said to be about Gentiles, of course). This isn’t to say that we can’t learn anything from John or the other Circumcision writings, however, or that we should just ignore these books. Because while it’s true that not all Scripture inspired by God was written to or about all of us, it is all for each of us still. And so, while only the Uncircumcision writings (meaning Paul’s 13 epistles) are the marching orders of the body of Christ, there are still a lot of theological concepts, not to mention context for some of the teachings in Paul’s epistles, that we can learn from the rest of the Bible.
Oh, one last thing, for those reading this who are already members of the body of Christ, and as such who understand the truth of Universal Reconciliation: A lot of us try to use passages from John’s various writings that seem to support the idea to try to prove that Universal Reconciliation is true. However, the above applies to this topic too, and only Paul actually ever revealed the salvation of all in Scripture, which means it’s important that we stop trying to use John’s writings to defend the idea.