He Knew All Men

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Most folks who have given any serious study to the Bible are aware that the gospel of John is somewhat unique among the four New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry. John offers an ordered presentation of evidence that is intended to prove the proposition which begins the gospel. John 1.1-18 declares that Jesus of Nazareth was God in flesh. John 20.30-31 affirms John’s own conclusion from the evidence, along with a practical enjoinder – that more testimony could be offered, but an honest consideration of this evidence is intended to prompt trust in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, and assure the eternal life that comes through such faith. In between those sections, John relates a number of significant miracles that Jesus performed, often with the addition of some interaction or teaching that accompanied the miracles (John 2-11). He also includes a lengthy account of the death, burial and resurrection, along with the instructions of Jesus to His apostles on the eve of His betrayal (John 12-20). It is a wonderful, powerful, elegant, and orderly presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, there are undercurrents in John’s account that can easily be overlooked as we trace out the general arrangement of the book.

One of the more interesting sections of John is found at the end of chapter one and into chapter two. It is in some ways, to me at least, somewhat obscure and mysterious. Beginning in Jn.1.19, John the Baptist is presented as a witness to the identity of Jesus. He had seen the Spirit descend upon the Lord at His baptism and John notes that such was the sign given to him which would identify the Messiah (v.26-34). On two consecutive days, John sees Jesus among the many who were gathered in Bathabara, and points Him out as “the Lamb of God” (v.29,36), prompting two of his disciples to seek out Jesus and spend some time with Him (v.38-39). The conclusion of that interview caused Andrew to go find his brother Simon and introduce him to Jesus, who renames him Cephas or Peter (v.40-42). The chapter concludes with Jesus calling Philip to accompany Him to Galilee (was Philip the other disciple with Andrew?). Philip goes first and brings Nathanael to Jesus, Who identifies him as “an Israelite in whom is no deceit” (v.47). When Nathanael questions Jesus about His knowledge of him, Jesus replies that He had seen Nathanael under a fig tree before Philip had called him (v.47-48). Nathanael needed no more to be convinced of the identity of Jesus as the “Son of God” (v.49).

This section intrigues me, raising more questions than I can find answers for. What is Jesus doing in Bethabara? This has to be after His baptism, and likely after His forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Is He there simply for the purpose of finding these disciples, knowing that they would inquire after him? It does seem likely. And what did Jesus and the two disciples of John talk about when they spent several hours with Him (v.39)? Whatever it was, along with John’s testimony, it convinced Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah. But more than anything else in these accounts, I am fascinated by the subtle presentation of Jesus’ omniscience. He changes Simon’s name upon their initial meeting. He saw Nathanael in such a way that must have defied the natural laws of this world, for Nathanael immediately recognizes Him as possessing the powers of God. In fact, it would appear that the events of this section have that one singular concept in view – Jesus was unlimited in His knowledge.

The second chapter ends in a very similar way. After the “water to wine” miracle in Cana, Jesus goes to Jerusalem and “many believed in His name when they saw the signs” (v.23). However, John notes that Jesus did not “commit Himself to them” – He did not put His confidence in them – “because He knew all men.” He knew the reality or extent of their trust, and was unwilling to reveal too much of His purpose and identity at this point. John elaborates by observing that Jesus did not need to rely on human references in order to know people, “for He knew what was in man” (v.24-25). That is an incredible and almost unthinkable affirmation. How can one know everyone – what they think, what they are like, their dispositions, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, inclinations, strengths, weaknesses? Such a consideration defies even my imagination.

Nonetheless, the omniscience of Jesus Christ becomes one of the continued observations of John throughout his record. We rarely take note of such, but it stands under all of the other miracles which John records. Some instances which John mentions might be explained away; others are simply undeniable in their implication. In Jn.4.1, Jesus knew that the Pharisees were aware of His growing influence. In Jn.4.16f, Jesus knew the domestic affairs of the woman at the well. He healed the nobleman’s son from almost twenty-five miles away, knowing of the effectiveness of His miracle down to the very hour (4.49-53). He knew that the paralyzed man in Jerusalem (5.6) had “been in the condition a long time”. In Jn.6, Jesus knew the crowd was preparing to make Him king by force (v.15); that they had followed Him back to Capernaum because He had fed them (v.26); that His disciples were put off by His teaching and which ones would desert Him (v.60-64). In chapter seven, He knew the authorities were seeking a way to kill Him. In 8.1-9, He knew the motives of those questioning Him about the woman taken in adultery. Jesus knew why the man in temple had been born blind (9.1-3). He knew that Lazarus was dead in 11.11-15; that Judas would betray Him (13.21-30); and that Peter would deny Him three times before the morning broke (13.38). In 20.24-29, He knew the specific demands that Thomas had made in order to accept the fact of the resurrection. And, finally, in 21.6 Jesus knows that the disciples will be successful if they would cast their nets on the right side of the boat, going on later to describe to Peter those circumstances which would characterize the end of his life (v.18-19). Over and over and over John points to the omniscience of the carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

The qualities and nature of God are simply overwhelming. I cannot fathom a power that can speak worlds into existence, or transcend our physical universe, or reanimate what is dead. I am amazed at the wisdom manifested in the manifold facets of this universe – geologic; biologic; astronomic; atomic; the various laws that govern the cosmos. Illustrations are infinite, from the veins of a leaf to the circuit of the stars. I cower before the character of God – consummately righteous; completely just; love perfected; holy in His very existence. All such descriptions of God defy my comprehension. Yet the quality that I personally find the most arresting is His omniscience. It is at once horrifying, and yet strangely comforting, because the implications of such are very very personal.

When John affirms that Jesus “knew all men”, that includes me. Who am I that the infinite God would number the very hairs of my head (Mt.10.30)? More so, that my Savior, my King, my Lord, my Judge would take note of me with a view toward my well-being? People often note that “the Lord knows my heart”, generally with the intent of justifying some failure, weakness, or lack of discipline. “Yeah I may party a little, but the Lord knows my heart.” “I may not be the best father, but the Lord knows my heart.” “Yeah I cuss a bit, but the Lord knows my heart.” “No, I don’t go to church, but the Lord knows my heart.” Most of the time, we offer God’s omniscience as an excuse for ourselves, as if we know deep down inside that we are better than we are. The truth is that God knows the truth. He really does know our heart – whether we are better than we appear.   That reality should prompt some self-honesty, transparency, and true repentance, rather than serving as a poor excuse for continued ungodliness. The Lord knows what’s in me.

That omniscience is frightening, because I will stand before the Lord in judgment. Heb.4.12-13 notes that He knows my very thoughts and that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him.” He knows my secret sins (Ps.90.8), counts all my steps (Job 31.4), sees me when I conceal my actions (Jer.23.24). And He declares repeatedly that He will “bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc.12.14; 2 Cor.5.10). When He examines me, nothing will get past Him. That scares me, and ought to prompt great diligence regarding holiness and godliness and repentance in my life.

Yet the omniscience of Jesus is also extremely comforting. He knows my weaknesses, my struggles, my self-loathing, my yearning to be better than I am (Heb.2.16-18; 4.14f). He knows what it is to be dismissed, misunderstood, hated, doubted, disappointed, lied about, lied to, discouraged. He felt all of those things, and knows fully when they war against my trust in Him. He knows the concerns I have. He knows about my frustrations. He knows about my fears. He knows what and whom I care about. He knows the temptations that are so powerful in their appeal to me. He knows how hard I really try, and how pitiably I fail. And because He knows, He can sympathize and intercede for me with the Father (Heb.4.15-16; 7.25). Because He knows, He can supply the escape for my temptation (1 Cor.10.13). Because He knows, He hears my prayer (1 Pet.3.12f), and “knows how to deliver the godly” (2 Pet.2.9). He knows the ebb and flow of my trust and my earnest desire to please Him, even though I sometimes think I will never be who He wants me to be. He knows that I am trying. He knows my potential and He desires my contribution to His cause (Rom.12.3f; Eph.4.11f; Mt.25.14f). He finds me valuable, even I often feel woefully incapable. He knows me, and wants me anyway. And such knowledge helps me to get up in the morning and serve the Lord today. Because my Lord, my King, my God, my Judge knows me – and died to save me anyway.

In the consideration of God, few things are as arresting as His omniscience. And while John does not dedicate a specific section of his proposition to one singular illustration of Jesus’ complete knowledge, he does attest to such. In fact, that divine quality stands under the entirety of his testimony. Jesus was and is God. He came to express God. He came to show grace and truth. He came to save us. He knew all men. He still does. And that fact makes all the difference.

–Russ Bowman