John: Jesus Christ is God (Christian Focus 2016, $15.99), William F. Cook III
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
The late New Testament scholar Leon Morris once likened the Gospel of John to “a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim.” Perhaps more than any other Gospel, John’s apparent simplicity (parts of the book are often translated by first-year Greek students) veils a much deeper complexity that invites the most serious theological reflection.
In his commentary, John: Jesus Christ is God, William F. Cook, professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary and lead pastor of Ninth and O Baptist Church in Louisville, makes some of that complex theological reflection easy to grasp for any Bible reader.
The Prologue of John 1:1-18 contains two of the clearest affirmations of Jesus’ divinity, and Cook is careful to note how each story throughout the Gospel contributes to John’s rich portrait of the person of Christ as the One who makes the Father known.
“God revealed Himself to His people in various ways depicted in the Old Testament, but never in his fullness,” Cook writes. “Moses saw the back of God’s glory, but no one could look upon God and live. Isaiah saw the train of His robe filling the temple. Now with the incarnation of Jesus, the invisible and glorious God had revealed Himself to mankind.”
The book also depicts how Jesus brings about personal transformation in the hearts of believers. “These things are written,” the apostle writes in John 20:30-31, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” From the Samaritan woman in John 4, to the blind man in John 9, to the lives of the apostles — especially Peter after his denial of Christ — in John 21, John highlights how Jesus radically changes people’s lives and prepares them to testify to the truth.
Jesus Christ offers not only forgiveness for sin and personal transformation to those who believe in him, but also rest for restless souls and water for thirsty hearts. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” Jesus said (John 7:37) in a dry and arid land in which thirst was a common physical experience. By offering himself for Christians’ spiritual refreshment, he calls believers to reject other “broken cisterns” (to use Jeremiah’s language) of possessions, power, and self-sufficiency.
“To drink of Jesus is to trust him for salvation,” Cook writes. “Those who believe in Him find their soul’s thirst satisfied. However, the paradox of love is that after we come to know Christ our thirsty soul on the one hand is satisfied, but on the other hands longs for more of Jesus. If the ‘rivers of living water’ flow from within the believer then John is describing the outworking of a Spirit-filled life.”
The book explains the Gospel of John in simple terms, following a clear outline of the text. Especially profitable for personal and small-group use are the practical and pastoral reflections at the end of each chapter and the study questions for deeper thinking. The thesis of John’s Gospel is clear and prominent in the commentary, and Cook’s prose is accessible. Like the Gospel itself, there is plenty in the commentary for the more scholarship-inclined, but it is easy to grasp for anyone.