Blogthru the NT – Part 3 (John)

9 02 2009

Continuing on my blogthru series of the New Testament I’ve come to the book of John.Its definitely one of my favourites because its so different from the the synoptics. John has a different emphasis to the other evangelists. His Christology is explicit all the way through. He does not wish to leave his audience with any doubts as to Jesus’ identity. I want to pick  up on a few themes my reading of John.

John starts in Genesis 1:1. Jesus was present at the beginning of creation, he made all of creation, and all of creation was made for him (John 1:1-18). The opening phrase “in the beginning” is the same phrase used in Gen. 1:1. John is clearly trinitarian at heart. John is claiming that Jesus has equal footing with Yahweh.  But we also see that God puts on eyes, knee-caps, saliva glands and a spleen, and lives amongst his creation (I owe a lot to Mark Strom for this illustration). This marks a clear break with any Gnostic thought or Greek Philosophy. The gods did not put flesh like humans, and they did not interfere in human affairs. John makes no mention of Jesus’ birth, genealogy, or childhood. He focuses almost exclusively on Jesus’ 3 (or 1 or 2)  years of public ministry.His intention is not to write a simple history but to give a reflection on historical events. 

John also emphasises divine sovereignity in an explicit manner. Phrases like ‘”the hour” and similar derivatives occurs quite frequently (cf 2:4, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1, 16:2,4, 17:1 etc) and stree that Jesus moves according to the divine timetable. Divine sovereignity is also the key to salvation and the security of the believer. For example, in John 6:35-40, having demonstrated his sovereignity over creation and demons, Jesus talks about the will of God the Father. God has given a people and He will not lose anyone. All who were given to him will come to him, that is will come to faith in Christ.  It is certain. But John is no hyper-calvinist and still insists that people must come to Jesus even if their reason for coming is God’s election. Carson calls this compatabilism (PNTC John). The text does allow us to speculate as to why God chose these people, rather it is designed to give hope and assurance to believers that when they come it was because God chose them.

But the main passage I want to focus in on is John 17. Particularly verse 2 “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him“. This chapter has been called the “high priestly prayer” by some. I think that is a very apt description because it depicts Jesus interceding to the Father for himself, his disciples and all who respond to his message. But more than that I want to focus in on the concept of authority and how John emphasises it in light of the biblical narrative. John’s many allusions to the Old Testament and mention of prophecies fufilled presupposes an audience familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. So his concept of authority should then be understood in this sense. In creation God speaks and things come into being. All of creation was created by the word of God. God expells Adam and Eve from Eden for their transgression against his own authority. The flood, plague and exodus demonstrate God’s authority over all creation, creatures and people.  Israel was a nation under His authority. God’s authority then rested on the priests, the prophets and the King. When we come to the New Testament we find that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18). He has all authority over all people (John 17:2). (I owe a lot of this line thinking to N.T. Wright and his article “How can the Bible be authortative”)

The only one to have such authority in a Jewish sense was Yahweh. So clearly for John, Jesus is no mere prophet, cynic or sage. He is none other than God in the flesh. That much is obvious, but there is a subtle allusion to empire here. Jesus’ claim is a stark challenge to the prevailing authorities at the time. They are parodies of the real authority in this world. They have their place, but their time is coming to a close. They govern by force and oppression of their enemies(Matt 20:25-28 and parallels). Jesus governs by changing the heart (Ezek. 36). Those who follow Jesus are following the true authority, the final word to mankind (Heb 1:1-2). Those who don’t are aligning themselves with the powers of the world.

When we fast forward to John chapter 19 we see the concept of authority played out in this way. The chief priests and scribes have Jesus before the civil authoritiy: Pilot. He uses his authority in an attempt to appease the crowd  by having Jesus flogged (19:1), and dressed up with a crown and purple robe (19:4-5). The irony here is that these are symbols of royalty, power and wealth. By outward appearances, Jesus is none of these things, while he all of them. When the priests and scribes saw Jesus “dressed up” they appealed to their authority, the Torah, to have him put to death for his claims of divinity (19:6-7).  Pilot tried to reason with Jesus advising him that he carried the authority to have him released or crucified. But Jesus responded by saying he had no authority other than that which God had given him (19:8-11). The confrontation reaches its climax when the scribes and pharisees yell “Anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar…We have no king but Caesar!” and Pilot hands Jesus over to be crucified (19:12-16). The irony is clear. The ones who should have known and glorified Jesus instead petitioned for his death. Instead of crowning him as their long awaited messiah they sided with Rome. You cannot be a good first century Jew and side with the occupying force that stands directly against Yahweh’s kingship.

If the story ended with the crucifixion, then Jesus would certainly be a liar. Or at least someone who “lead Israel astray” as 2nd century Jewish literature states. Messiahs who died, no less on a cross, were not considered messiahs at all. But the resurrection vindicates his claims of authority and divinity. Neither Pilot, the Chief Priests, Scribes, or anyone for that matter had any authority over death. For the Jews it was only Yahweh who had the power of life and death (John 5:21). John shows that Jesus carries the same power and authority. We who follow him are forgiven and brought from death into life.

But what does Jesus then do with His authority? We see that time and time again it is authority given to him so that we can get on with the job taking the message to the world. Jesus praying “As you have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world” (John 17:18). Our union with Christ is for the benefit of the world; that they may see and know the love of God (John 17:20-23).  It is authority with a purpose, a message and a destination. 
John then takes this message of eternal life to mean a present reality with an eschatological fufillment (John 3:16-18, 364:23 and explicityly in 5:24-30). It means living redemptively now, embodying the values of the kingdom now by the power of the Spirit, while anticipating in the fullness of time that God will put the world to rights. We model the love, grace and truth, shown to us in Jesus, to the world.

Time does not permit me to develop this idea a bit further, perhaps in another post? I realise there are many directions I could have taken in John. It is a dense book of theological reflection on the person of Jesus Christ and his work.  A few years back lead me to see scripture in Calvinistic terms. But now my Reformed reading is enhanced when it is allowed to go beyond the five points and explore the narrative function and connection with the Old Testament. John is not an isolated book. It tells a story that fits within a much larger story of God’s plan to redeem creation.




4 responses

9 02 2009

Grant, great thoughts here on John.
I’ve been in John both personally and at church (were doing an Epiphany series, and a lot of it has been in John and especailly John 1) so a lot of what you pointed out fit well with what I’ve been reading and hearing recently.

The use of “the hour” or “his hour” stood out to me as well, and I really was struck with how it is used in the narrative to point over and over to the coming death of the Messiah.
When it’s set in context, paradoxically, when the hour does come, when the Messiah is to be glorified and lifted up, he is lifted up on the beams of a Roman cross. That the ‘Victory of God’ could look like that is really one of the most incredible things about the Gospel to me.

Similarly the reactions of the people to Jesus, in ways that make him slip away, have been interesting. Either they realize he is being blasphemous and try to stone him (because they knew he was claiming to be equal to God, and understandably but wrongly assumed that he was not), or they realize he is making Messianic claims and try to make him ‘king’, which assuredly would have involved military revolt. It’s almost as if, just when the people are closest to ‘getting’ who Jesus is, they take what they understand and run in exactly the wrong way with it.
I think we probably tend to do that as well, and just don’t realize it…

Off topic, but is there a way I can make it so I have a profile picture despite not using WordPress?

10 02 2009

Hey Mason, I love the Gospel of John for its simplicity and explicit statements. John never minces his words. Its also full of Irony as you pointed out. Jesus being raised up and Glorified looks like the crucifixion on a roman cross. Also its ironic that Jesus was killed with the methods used for violent revolutionaries, when he was anything but that.

I checked out the forums on WordPress trying to find out about commentors avatars. No such luck yet. I’ll check my options again.

10 02 2009

I love John’s Gospel too, but to be honest I have struggled with it quite a bit as well. A major reason for that is I’ve spent a lot of time studying the Synoptic Gospels and the Historical Jesus, and John’s Gospel has such a different feel and flow to it.
Also, as I’ve learned Greek (and this comes through in English as well) the Jesus of John’s Gospel sounds quite a bit more like John in his other letters than Jesus in the Synoptics as far as sentence structure, key phrases, themes, and the like.

Now I’ve more or less made my peace with those questions, especially after reading a couple absolutely brilliant books by Richard Bauckham (namely “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and “The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple”), and think a lot of the syntax issues come back to it being a Greek account of someone speaking in Aramaic. So all in all I’m a lot more comfortable with John this time through than say a couple years ago when it was harder for me to reconcile how different it felt from the other three, but still it comes to mind if I look at John alongside the Synoptics.
As one of my professors said, when you look closely you’ll notice the Synoptics scholars shy away from John and seem not to know what to do with it, while most John specialists stick with John and don’t cross over much. Thankfully there are an increasing number of exceptions to that rule.

10 02 2009

Yeah I havent found that problem yet. I once read some eyewitness accounts of a vehicle that crashed off a bridge here and you’d think at times the four people were describing completely different things. That part of human nature gives me hope for the synoptics and John. One thing that annoyed me was that N.T. Wrights “Jesus and the victory of God” tended to ignore John completely, without a clear reason for doing so. I just figured what is implicit in the synoptics is explicit in John.

I’d be keen to read some of Bauckmans stuff. Sounds like he’s got a good thing going there. I just ordered Wrights “The Resurrection of the Son of God” because I’ve been meditating on the resurrection and how it affects our understanding of everything in life. Hopefully I will post something on it later.

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