I began this study
listing several significant interpretive statements concerning John:
in action, creating, revealing, redeeming, the agent of creation,
the personal word of God. Jesus is divine light coming into a world
primarily existing in darkness; Jesus not only is light in contrast to
darkness but is the author of life itself.
John, the words "In the beginning" are most likely a conscious
allusion to the opening words of Genesis--"In the beginning."
Other concepts which occur prominently in Gen 1 are also found in John's
prologue: "life" (1:4) "light" (1:4) and
"darkness" (1:5). Gen 1 describes the first (physical) creation; John
1describes the new (spiritual) creation. But this is not to play off a
false dichotomy between "physical" and "spiritual"; the
first creation was both physical and spiritual. The new creation is really a
re-creation, of the spiritual (first) but also the physical. (In spite of
the common understanding of John's `spiritual' emphasis, the
"physical" re-creation should not be overlooked; this occurs in
John 2 with the changing of water into wine, in John 11 with the
resurrection of Lazarus, and the emphasis of John 20-21 on the aftermath of
Jesus' own resurrection.) NET Bible/index.htm
John clearly, Christ is Jesus, the Galilean who embodies God’s
kingdom and a new Judaism focused upon John the Baptist’s repentance and
baptism, but the change demanded is now internal and
spiritual; life, light, God himself, indwells within the human being
who has recognized and confessed that God’s kingdom is spiritual and not
physical; nonetheless, those focused on the kingdom will become enactors of
children of God is a spiritual process:
The birth process is not the decision of a husband, not the result of
sexual desire, not the will of parents, but an opening of a barren womb
(humans existentially incapable of generating spiritual life), the giving of
God’s gracious gift of spiritual re-birth.
Nicodemus illustrates human inability to reason through to spiritual
enlightenment. The theme,
though, is an old one: God creates and sustains life. Remember Eve: “I
have gotten a man from the Lord” (4.1).
struggle between the Old and the New in John, between Jews and Christians,
is a continuing pattern of justice and grace running concurrently
through history. The law [and the demand for justice]17 "was given
through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (7).
serves as precursor to Christianity, as is born out in the
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!30 This is he of whom I
said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.'31 I
myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he
might be revealed to Israel."32 And John bore witness, "I saw the
Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.33 I myself did
not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on
whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the
Holy Spirit.'34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son
Here, note the contrast of two baptisms: one physical, tied to repentance,
change of heart, and connected to the older tradition of purification; the
other, spiritual, a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
testimony is that Jesus
is “the Word become flesh,” the Word “taking up residence among
us,” grace and truth come from the Father, the one who comes after John
but is greater, the eternally existent one, the fullness of God’s gift,
the culmination of the law through Moses, Jesus Christ himself God, the
one and only dwelling in the presence of God who makes God known. This is
the Christ of Christianity. John
links Jesus to the Hebrew tradition of Moses and the law, a climactic
revealing of God’s
just commands at Sinai. Jesus embodies this law tabernacled in the flesh; no
clean break exists between the Old and the New, but rather, the New becomes
the fulfillment and completion of the Old.
In Jesus, the roles of prophet, priest, and king rest fulfilled in
one embodiment. John as the culminating prophet points to Jesus as
fulfillment of prophecy and law. John’s testimony is unmitigating: Jesus
is the Son of God.
calling his disciples is a Galilean walking among common humanity, and his
disciples recognize him as the fulfillment of the prophesied messiah; that
he is not a political messiah in the expected sense will be clear by the end
of John. Two of John’s disciples follow.
Brother finds brother with the proclamation, “We have found the
Messiah. In Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter, Jesus calls to Philip,
“Follow me.” Philip in turn finds Nathanael, telling him “We have
found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote. Part of the
charisma for those standing before Jesus is the penetrating gaze into the
heart and soul of the person, a knowledge of what the person is.
present in John is the Christian understanding of the messiah. That
Nathanael is an Israelite without guile suggests, as Oxford annotated points
deceit, no qualities of Jacob before he became Israel" (Genesis 27.35;
I find intriguing, too, Nathanael’s question: "46 Nathanael said to
him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Jonah, son of
Ammitai and reluctant prophet to the Ninevites, comes from Nazareth.
Elsewhere in a work on Jonah, I have argued that Jonah pictures
the redemptive work of God universally. In that way, the Old Testament
frequently creates prototypes of the redemptive work of Jesus in the New
questions in conclusion become "Do the chapter interpretations support
these assertions?" and "What more should be said about John?"
The answer to the first question is clearly yes; the second presents the
real challenge. Several other points should be emphasized:
John clearly sees a beginning and creation, not the eternal forms of Greek
Importantly, the eternal God performed a creation within time: "In the
beginning, God created..." Time in John moves from beginning to
end, a linear historical timeline.
address a kingdom of God that can be touched, felt, seen. Bruce Chilton in Rabbi
Jesus: An Intimate Biography (Doubleday, 2000) makes exact this point:
"God was not only Abba [to Mary his mother], but his Kingdom
could be seen, touched, and shared..." He goes on to say the divine
kingdom can be seen in how one person relates to another. That kingdom of
truth, justice, and compassion are "within our grasp...if only we would
strikes, as Edersheim has noted, "the pen through Alexandrianism... by
making God substance."
is the new Adam. A new creation evolves through the ministry of Jesus, now identified
as Christ, the founder of Christianity. The wedding at Cana also symbolizes the union of two worlds, the old
and new. Christ as bridegroom initiates the new era of Christ-ianity. The wine symbolizes transformation: water into wine, and later, death
into life. Clearly, the good wine has been kept until this time. Jesus' feat is interpreted as the "sign" for which the Jews
have waited. The cleansing of the temple signals
preparatory actions for the new era, and the public ministry of Jesus, much as
Leviticus prepares the Israelites
for their entrance into Canaan.
read John, one must understand John's purpose as theological rather
than historical. Interestingly, though, John, even more than the synoptic
writers, presents Jesus accurately within Galilean and Judaean culture.
Throughout John, the reader encounters parallelisms: theological
versus historical, baptism by spirit versus baptism by water, God's kingdom
versus earthly kingdom, spiritual birth versus physical birth, spirit in
general versus flesh, revelation and appropriate witness versus evidence,
Jesus/Christ as God and Jesus as human. The separation should not be strict,
however, since the kingdom of God realizes itself in divine activity on
Theology and the need to develop
Chist-ianity explain the critical importance of content in John. For
example, developing Christianity explains why inclusion of the mixed-blood Samaritan woman
(4-29) and the conversation at the well. That the well is Jacob's well brings
together, once again in John, the old and new, the new (and Christ-ianity)
embodied in the metaphor of living water that eternally quenches thirst.
Christianity is the purpose, too, of locating the place of worship:The same universal outreach to
humankind explains the prolonged visit of Jesus in the City of Samaria (40) in
order than many might believe (41) and identify Jesus as Christ, the Savior of
the world (42) That Jesus returns to Galilee and Cana, where the water has been
transformed into wine is structurally, once again, related to John's purpose in
writing this gospel: that people might believe that Jesus is the messiah, the
Son of God, and that, believing, they might have eternal life (20.31). Finally,
importantly, Jesus' second sign is more marvelous than wine: the transformation
of death into life in the official's son, itself a symbol of the transformation
achieved in the believing heart. This is the second sign and the uncontested
Christ! In John, Jesus connects the past to the present.
Although salvation comes from the Jews, in John, Jesus points
the way to the superior worship of the Father "in spirit and truth: God
is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
theology reveals a World mission, the work of Jesus, later his disciples,
and finally, Christianity.
the beginning, John identifies Christ as the once coming from God,
who reveals a new era of grace. If, in
fact, the wedding in Cana inaugurates the new messianic age, then the Sabbath in
John 5 has
become Sunday, and legalistic concerns no longer apply. John
rules out any passive understanding of God’s spiritual work as ever resting.
The only rest, in fact, to be achieved is the rest provided in the
Kingdom. Perhaps the key verse is the following: “17 But Jesus answered them,
"My Father is working still, and I am working."
A new kingdom forms about the messianic work.
focuses upon the
Christ, with the corresponding growth of opposition consequent upon it. Jesus,
in John, proclaims a connected address, the theme being his own character, mission, authority, and credentials as the Son of God. It is the Christology of Jesus, and instead of being a retraction of the claim to divinity which the Jews accused him of making, it is a complete and amplified reassertion of
it. The heart of the revelation has now been given in Jesus' keynote address
(chap. 5), in which he claims to have the divine prerogatives of life-giver
and judge. These two rights will be depicted throughout the rest of the
Gospel, beginning immediately with the description of Jesus as the Bread of
Life--the one who not only gives life but sustains it. We also see judgment
taking place as people are unable to receive this revelation. First the Jews
and then most of Jesus' disciples are offended rather than enlightened. By the
end of the chapter only the Twelve are left. http://bible.gospelcom
identity reveals itself in his works. As illustrated in John 6.33, Jesus
is the bread of life come down from heaven, feeding and meeting the needs of
humankind. Without surprise, when Jesus feeds the crowds, they are fed,
filled, with an abundance left over.
Jesus was misunderstood and
resisted, representing both traditionalist and new
age, misunderstood: paradoxically, in the revelation of old and new
becoming the one
evolving, unfolding will of God for the salvation of humankind.
Every act of Jesus
points to his identity as the Word, Logos, Bread, Light, Bridegroom, Anointed One, Messiah, Son of God/Son of man.
proclaims ultimately One Way. The Way contrasts to two
ways, the human way that leads to inevitable choice; the
Way reveals itself as God’s way through flesh redeemed; the other way
lies, evidencing itself as both an
illusion and delusion, a lie, and existentially, the lie of all lies; the denial of
brings to a head the crisis that has been building in Jerusalem. Jesus
becomes the true referent of the law, the fulfillment of Judaism as
represented by its feasts and temple. Now Jesus forms a new community
apart from the institutions of Judaism, with himself as its center and guide.
Jesus' day, many believe, but many others reject the Good Shepherd,
preferring the hireling who cares not for the sheep.
provides the climatic act in John, declaring Jesus to be the
resurrection and the life.
chapter twelve, an organizing principle in John realizes itself: The hour has come, and
judgment "is at hand" (31). 31
Jesus explains, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this
world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will
draw all people to myself," using still
the present (now is) and the future (the ruler of this world will be driven
the midsection of John with the rejection of the Shepherd King and the hour
finally come, John
13 contains Jesus’ farewell supper, farewell discourse and prayer; the prelude for coming events bringing the
Kingdom of God to humankind universally, an act that turns tragedy into glorious
begins contains Jesus' farewell discourse and prayer, a
discourse continuing through John 17.26 and interpreting Jesus'
completed work on earth and relation to believers, according to the Oxford
relationship of believers evidences itself in bearing fruit; the teachings
of Jesus, Paul, and James do not conflict.
suffers the pains of the birthing
process to effect new creation.
demonstrates the most noble of behaviors: commitment and carrying through on
the one real choice—to complete the life-work given to us, perhaps
unasked for, in some cases, unwanted; to stand on a precipice and decide
does John, the reader must proclaim Christ God!
ultimate mission of Jesus has been to protect those who follow him, and this
must become the mission of the church: thus, in John 17, the high
priestly prayer of Jesus asks for protection and unity of all believers.
finds Jesus applying to himself the divine Name of Exod 3:14, "I
AM," amounts to a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil
and prostrate themselves, a vivid reminder to the reader of the Gospel that
even in the most dark hour of his life, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the
powers of darkness, because he is the one who bears the divine Name.
The inscription on the cross brings together the two identities of Jesus
Christ: "Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.
It read, 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'" (19)
Furthermore, Jesus as man and Christ as God are also identified, the full
revelation of the cross. With John, this is no accident: Jesus is God. Pilate,
ironically, is the one to point to truth in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
perfection of Christ, the perfection of all that God has done in
creation and redemption and the perfection of all that he will do in
the ultimate glorification of all things (Kym Smith, http://homepages.picknowl.com.au/sherpub/)
Knowledge of Jesus, no matter how well-attested, is still
partial. Everything that Jesus did during his three and one-half years
of earthly ministry is not known. This supports the major theme of the
Fourth Gospel: Jesus is repeatedly identified as God, and though
he may be truly known on the basis of his self-disclosure, he can never be
known exhaustively. There is far more to know about Jesus than could ever
be written down, or even known (Net Bible).
It would, perhaps, be easy to conclude this study of John by the
above last assertion that Jesus is repeatedly identified as God, and though he
may be truly known on the basis of his self-disclosure, he can never be known
exhaustively. While that statement remains true, the question that really must
be heard by the reader and answered remains: "Whom do you say that I
am?" Consider the Oxford Commentary on the "The Four
With this is allied the greatest difference of all: in the Synoptic Gospels
the subject of revelation is the kingship or reign of God, of which Jesus is
the messenger. In John the primary object of revelation is Jesus himself and
his glory, or rather the revelation of God’s glory in him, climaxing in the
hour of the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, the cross and resurrection.
The crucifixion is no longer a shameful humiliation which has to be explained
as the will of God expressed in Scripture; it is a royal progress which
enables the divinity of Jesus to shine through, and leaves Jesus reigning from
the cross until he himself triumphantly signifies that all is fulfilled.
Nevertheless, it is a secret Jesus
who is being revealed, and the theme of seeking Jesus runs through the gospel
from 1:38 ‘What do you seek?’ to 20:15 ‘Whom do you seek?’ One feature
of this is the series of puzzled questions by which the dialogues are advanced
(e.g. 3:4, 9; 4:9, 11, 29, 33; 6:9, 28, 42, 52, etc.).
Commentaries. Published in the United States
by Oxford University Press Inc., New York
© Oxford University Press 2000
Those who seek will find, as promised
in Luke, 11.9-13:
and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will
be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone
who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a
stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask
The revelation of Jesus in John controls
consistently the structure and theology of the book, culminating in the purpose
of the writing itself: "But these are written so that you may come to
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing
you may have life in his name" (31). John, from the beginning, confronts
the reader with Jesus, Son of God, asking the reader to believe. As many in
Jesus' day heard, saw, and believed, many today continue to proclaim this
revelation; many, likewise, continue to reject the revelation.
Let's review John's
progressive unfolding of the revelation, completely explained in his opening
chapter. First, John the Baptist testifies to the identity of Jesus as
"true light" in a world that does not recognize him:
10 He was
in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not
know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did
not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his
name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born,
not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the
glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
verses and the following come from The New Revised Standard Version,
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.
very next day John declares Jesus to be the Lamb of God: The
next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world! ....And I myself have seen and have
testified that this is the Son of God." (29 34). In Galilee, Nathaniel
testifies that Jesus is the "Son of God...the king of Israel" (49).
Jesus' first sign, the symbolic turning of water into wine, reveals his glory: When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know
where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the
steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone
serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have
become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus
did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory;
and his disciples believed in him" (2.9-11). With the Passover at hand,
Jesus, in Jerusalem reveals the intent that the temple will be replaced by his
Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In
the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money
changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he
drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also
poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16
He told those who were selling the doves, “Take
these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your
house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What
sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy
this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
revelation continues with a representative from the temple, Nicodemus, being
instructed of heavenly things known only by one who has descended from heaven,
the Son of Man, who will again ascend (12, 13). When in the same chapter a
discussion about purification arises between John's disciples and a Jew, John
clearly tells them he is not the Messiah but rather has been sent ahead to
announce him, reminding them "no one can receive anything except what has
been given from heaven" (28). He uses the metaphor of one rejoicing in the
presence of the bridegroom. The revelation continues, extending to the Samaritan
woman who acknowledges the 'Messiah is coming" to be told overtly, "I
am he, the one who is speaking to you" (26). After feeding the five
thousand, Jesus emphasizes the importance of believing both what Moses has
written and what he himself has demonstrated:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever
believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you
have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father
gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38
for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of
him who sent me" (6.36-38). Even after the questioning Jews begin to
complain, Jesus restates "I am the bread of life...the bread that comes
down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread
that came down from heave" (6.41-51). Many
among the crowds indicate belief based upon what they have seen Jesus perform
(7.31), with even some authorities beginning to suspect he really is the Messiah
(26). Again, in John, the revelation is
straight forward. Nonetheless, because his time has not come, Jesus continues to
walk among the people, revealing himself by yet another metaphor, this of the
Good Shepherd in John's chapter ten. The reader should recall, as pointed out
earlier in our deliberations, that shepherd motif brought with it rich
connotations of Messianic expectation. Finally comes the climactic resurrection
of Lazarus in chapter eleven with the continuing promise:
am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die,
will live, 26 and everyone who lives
and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (26) to which
Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son
of God, the one coming into the world" (27). Following this resurrection,
the tempo increases with Jesus telling his disciples "The hour has come for
the Son of Man to be glorified" (12.23). With his departure in sight, Jesus
next begins in chapter fourteen to instruct concerning the way to the Father:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me" (6). Even still, Philip must ask to be shown the way, only to
be reminded, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (10). Yet
another metaphor reveals itself in chapter fifteen: "I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinegrower" (1). Technically, Jesus instructs
concerning unity and love." With the hour realizing itself, Jesus tells the
disciples he will not much longer speak to them in figures of speech, for they
having loved him and the Father through him, believe that he has, in fact, come
from God (16. 25-28). His glorification, Jesus knows, comes from having
completed the work of the father (17. 1-8). Under Pilate's questioning, Jesus
pointing Pilate to the state of his own heart, Jesus tells Pilate, "You say
that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to
testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my
voice" (18.37). At the tomb, Jesus tells Mary not to hold onto him but to
go to his brothers and tell them, "I am ascending to my Father and your
Father, to my God and your God" (20.15-17). And finally, John concludes,
summarizing everything that he has written, "But
these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,the
Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (31).
If, in fact, these chapters have been so written, then the one questions
remains: Whom do you say I am?
I've been intrigued by John Shelby Spong's Liberating the Gospel: Reading the
Bible with Jewish Eyes (HarperCollins, 1996); I've also read his Rescuing
the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. Much
of what Spong says about John resonates with sound scholarship and truth.
For example, John, as the last gospel written records a Christian
interpretation of Jewish religion. A migration does seem to have occurred, with
Paul, writing first, designating the resurrection as the ultimate revelatory
point; Mark, the earliest gospel, emphasizes Jesus' inauguration and
baptism; Matthew and Luke point to the conception as
revelatory; John takes the designation and revelation even further back,
declaring that "Jesus both came from God and had returned to God"
(227). Like Spong, I believe "the power and presence of Jesus... lie behind
the literal words of holy scripture" (333), that much is to be learned by
looking biblical symbols, myths, legends, midrashic traditions (333). I
share with Spong the belief that the Western concentration on an external world
anchored in time, space, and objectivity has trouble embracing the truth found
in myth, legend, intuition, and poetry (18). I do not agree, however, that one
must forfeit much of the literal view of the gospels but suggest, rather, that
the literal reveals a less profound interpretation of "the God experience
encountered in Jesus of Nazareth." In fact, I find it interesting, perhaps
ironic that as time moves forward in a linear way, the revelation of Jesus in
the gospels moves backwards in that same time frame to a progressively more
complete revelation of Jesus' impact on the community of believers. Like Spong,
we find insufficient evidence to dismiss Jesus' historicity and a great deal of
evidence that what people encounter in Jesus is God. Jesus' presence certainly
points to a God moment:
For that moment was a
God moment, not an earthly moment, and we do not have a God language available
to us . So the words they used [the writers] were neither objective nor
literal. These words...were much more like curtains drawn apart to reveal
the mystery of a living God, a God who was for them real beyond the power that
any words could finally describe. (327).
The writer of John
knows that indeed people yearn for sense and conviction and are drawn by
that yearning and sometimes will seek "security at the price of truth"
(329). Spong answers personally whom he has found Jesus to be:
Jesus is for me the
life of God being lived out in the human arena. His was a life so full and whole
that it was not diminished when he was abused. It is the kind of life that
removes the barriers that impede others and calls them to abundant living... The
divine life has but one purpose, namely, to invite you and me into the fullness
of our own lives... Jesus is... the conduit through which the love of God was
loosed into human history. Jesus lived the love of God. This love was and is
wasteful love, embracing love, inclusive love... Jesus is...a human expression
of the 'Being' of God. This is the Being expressed under the human
limits--inside both time and space. (332)
This Jesus teaches
people to be themselves, to be the selves they are, but more than simply living
as selves, this abundant and wasteful love demands a right relationship with
Our consciousness is
raised to the realm of the holy. That realm surrounds us constantly but is
rarely seen. Yet when our lives are touched by a God presence, scales do fall,
as it were, from our eyes, and we see far beyond our own limits into the realm
of the hold. It is in that realm that we begin to understand the essence of this
Christ... Ultimately, the role of the Christian is to build a world in which all
people might be given the strength that would enable them to live, to love, and
to be all that God created them to be. So disciples of Jesus must finally live
for others. (334)
John's gospel seeks
to soar beyond timebound words to reveal the ineffable wonder of Jesus, to carry
us "beyond all our human limits into the wonder and transcendence of God...
for abundant life in the Spirit carries us into the timelessness of God" (Spong,
232). Thus, John uses metaphor to convey a truth too great to contain itself in
words. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God."