Gospel of John Reflection

Posted: March 4, 2012 in New Testament
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The character and nature of Jesus does not really develop in the corpus of John’s Gospel.  Strangely, there does not really seem to be a “fuller” revelation of who Jesus is than what we are first told in John 1.  Rather, Jesus is found to be in continuity with the affirmations made in the opening Prologue.  Jesus’ divinity, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, is immediately affirmed.  The fourth Gospel does not begin with the birth of Jesus but rather begins with Jesus’ preeminence.  He is the “Word.”  Not only was the “Word” with God in the beginning but the “Word” was God.  As such, the Gospel affirms the unchanging nature of who Jesus is from the very beginning of the text.

As such, there is little or no character development that slowly peels away who Jesus is.  We are told who Jesus is up front.  Rather, the development of the text is found in those who encounter Jesus.  Some understand and come into the Light, yet others reject Jesus and become blind (John 9).  There is a process of revelation that happens for the various characters as to who this Jesus really is.  And, this process is not only happening to the characters that encounter Jesus but for the reader that encounters Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t change, the people do.  After all, the Gospel’s purpose is “so that you may believe.”

“Light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.”  This phrase from the Prologue provides basic outline for what is happening through the text.  Jesus, God incarnate, has come into the world.  Yet, that does not mean that the world, though made through him, will receive him.  In fact, quite the opposite happens.  Thus, because darkness and light don’t share things in common, one must win out.  Darkness will try to extinguish the light, but the light shall overcome.

We do not have a clear picture of atonement theory in this Gospel.  Rather, the crucifixion is the result of this cosmic conflict between good and evil, light and darkness.  Yes, Jesus is sent into the world to provide life, but it says nothing about Jesus’ death being the means through which that happens.  Rather, belief in Jesus provides that life.  Instead, the crucifixion seems to be the natural outcome of darkness’s unwillingness to let the Light challenge its dominion.

Jesus is also portrayed as “in control” and the one with the power.  For instance, Jesus is never taken before his time.  The world is created through him.  He calms the stormy sea.  He heals the blind and raises Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus performs many signs that demonstrate his power over creation.  In addition, the seven “I am” statements point to Jesus’ true identity, YHWH.  Thus, we know from beginning to end that Jesus is the Creator God.

The fourth Gospel sets itself up as a sort of trial.  Jesus’ opponents bring “evidence” time and again against him.  Each time it is refuted by Jesus and then turned back upon them.  This eventually leads to the trial before Pilate.  In this scene, Jesus is shown to be in control.  When Pilate renders his decision, the text says that “he sat down” upon the seat of judgment.  However, the text is ambiguous as to which “he” sat down, Jesus or Pilate?  It seems that both sit in judgment, but only one matters.

John also focuses on Jesus’ glorification.  We would assume that God’s glory would be displayed by a demonstration of power by wiping out the opposition.  However, that is not the display of power we find in this Gospel.  Rather, power is continuously laid down through humility.  The Word becomes flesh and tabernacles among us.  Jesus washes his disciples’ feet like a household servant.  And, ultimately, Jesus willingly lays down his own life.

“Light has come into the world and darkness has not overcome it.”  Despite a seemingly disastrous end to Jesus’ life and ministry, we find the mourning women at the tomb.  Jesus’ final sign and demonstration of his power is demonstrated by resurrection.  Jesus speaks but is mistaken for the gardener.  Again, a reference to Jesus as Creator might be in play.  God, through Christ Jesus, is in the business of redeeming Creation and has even now conquered death.  That is truly a display of power!

One thing that seems to be difficult about Jesus in this Gospel is his teachings or discourses.  They are often seemingly vague or difficult to understand.  In fact, the narrator often will add commentary notes to help explain what Jesus meant.  For some, Jesus does not appear to really desire for everyone to be saved.

However, we must reconcile this with John 3:16-19.  Jesus demonstrates that the Kingdom is an inclusive reality.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  The reason that we see some people responding positively to Jesus’ message and others not responding positively or without understand lies in the fact that “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

When confronted with the Light, there is no fence riding.  The Light polarizes people one way or the other.  People are either enabled to see more and more because they believe (as in the story of the blind man).  Or, people are drawn further and further into their darkness.  Thus, the discourses and signs only serve as the medium through which these encounters happen.  Jesus comes declaring explicitly who he is: “ego eimi.”  However, one is only able to see with eyes of faith.

In reading this Gospel, I was also struck by the overall inclusive nature of God’s Kingdom.  Jesus hangs out with all of the wrong characters.  These people are considered outsiders to God’s covenant and promises.  Jesus’ first missionary is a Samaritan woman steeped in marital affairs.  Jesus also says that the centurion’s faith is the greatest he has seen!  Jesus heals the woman with hemorrhaging (which in Judaism would make him unclean and should be avoided).  And, Jesus even forgives the woman caught in adultery when everyone else was ready to stone her, in accordance with the Law.  Jesus’ care for the “least of these” and the outsider is evident throughout the text.

In the fourth Gospel, Jesus sometimes comes across as a rebel.  He is constantly creating tension with the Pharisees and the religious leaders.  For instance, Jesus heals on the Sabbath on several occasions.  Jesus’ disciples pick grain on a Sabbath.  Working on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden.  Yet, Jesus interprets the Sabbath as a time in which to help the needy, not simply ceasing work.

In reading this Gospel previously, I always considered Jesus to be the primary character of importance.  Yet, by Jesus’ own admission, this is only partially true.  Although we do not have a formal formulation of Trinity at this point, John’s Gospel offers the clearest picture of the inter-connectivity of Father, Spirit, and Son.  Jesus is continuously pointing to the Father as the source of what he says and does.  In fact, Jesus says that he can do nothing apart from the Father.

Jesus also says that he is the Vine and we are the branches and the Father is the Gardener pruning the Vine.  Jesus is in the Father and if we remain in him we will also remain in the Father.  Even Jesus’ final prayer hints at this intimate relationship between Father and Son.  Jesus prays that believers will be one even as he and the Father are one.  This is only heightened by the Paraclete references in John 14-16 that connects the Triune God as the One, true God.

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