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THINKING BIBLICALLY ABOUT GOD

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THINKING BIBLICALLY ABOUT GOD

CHRISTOLOGY IN JOHN’S GOSPEL

CHRIST THE ETERNAL WORD

CHRISTOLOGY IN JOHN’S GOSPEL

CHRIST THE ETERNAL WORD

JOHN’S CHRISTOLOGY

The Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus earthly Ministry, the Gospel of Matthew emphasises Jesus Davidic lineage and begins with His genealogy, and the Gospel of Luke focuses on Jesus humanity and details his genealogy all the way back to Adam. However, John’s Christology is unique in that he emphasises Christ’s pre-existence before His earthly life and even before the world began.[1] In John 6:51 Jesus says that He is the bread that came down from heaven, in John 6:62 Jesus says His disciples will see Him ascend to where he was before, in John 7:33 Jesus says He will return to the one who send him, in John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him with the Glory he shared with Him before the world began and in Revelation 1:17 Jesus says He is the first and the last.[2]

John’s Gospel begins by revealing Jesus as the Word of God Who was in the beginning with God when the world was first created. In fact, John sees Jesus as the very Word that created the universe in Genesis 1:1-26.[3]  The idea that the Word of God is a distinct person with relational qualities is not unique to John’s Gospel, it is also found throughout the Aramaic Targums.[4] The Aramaic Targums were approved for public reading in synagogues by the ancient Rabbis because in many areas Jews spoke Aramaic and did not understand Hebrew. In Genesis 3:8 the Aramaic Targums state that Adam and Eve heard “the Word of the LORD God walking in the midst of the garden”. The ancient rabbis added “Word (Memra)” because they could not accept the idea that Yahweh Himself was walking in the garden.[5]Interestingly, in Genesis 28:20-21 the Aramaic Targums have Jacob saying, “the Word of the LORD will be my God” and in Deuteronomy 4:7 the Targum says, “the Word of Yahweh sits upon His throne high and lifted up and hears our prayer whenever we pray before Him and make our petitions”.[6]  

John’s Gospel is also unique in that Jesus specifically applies the divine name “I AM” to himself on a number of occasions. When God revealed His name to Moses in Exodus 3:14 He told Moses to tell the Israelites that “I AM” has sent me (Moses) to you”.[7] In Isaiah 43:9-10, God says to Israel that He alone reveals the future so that they may know and believe that “I AM”.[8] In John 8:58 Jesus says to the Jews that before Abraham was “I AM”, and in John 13:19 Jesus, while speaking to His disciples, says, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am”.[9] Through these “I AM” sayings, John is making it plain to his audience that Jesus specifically claimed the divine name for Himself. What is particularly interesting is that Jesus seems to draw upon both Isaiah 43:9-10 and Exodus 3:14 when he says that He is telling His disciples what will happen in the future so that they may that “I AM who I AM”.[10] John wants his readers to see Jesus as nothing less than the eternal, uncreated God of the universe. 

John also presents Jesus as the “Eternal life”. In 1 John 1:1-2 the Apostle John tells us that they proclaimed, “the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us”. In 1 John 5:12 it says that “whoever has the Son has life, and whoever doesn’t have the Son has not life”.[11] We naturally tend to think of eternal life as living forever. But even people in hell live forever. Life and death, from a biblical perspective, are not straightforward terms. Death is separation from God. When Adam was commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was told that on the day he eats from it he would surly die. However, Adam did not die physically, he was removed from the Garden of Eden and from God’s favourable presence. When the prodigal son returned to his father, his father stated that his son was dead but now is alive. What’s fascinating is that in John 17:4, Jesus defined eternal life as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent.[12] Eternal life is being reconciled to God through knowing the person of Jesus Christ. 

Some have argued that Jesus explicitly denied deity in John’s Gospel. For example, in John 14:28 Jesus said, “the Father is greater the I”, and in John 5:19 He says, “the Son can do nothing by himself”. However, these passages can be understood in light of the fact that although Jesus is presented as being equal to the Father in terms of His divine essence, John nevertheless presents Jesus as being subordinate to the Father in terms of His role in creation and redemption.[13] John portrays Jesus as the Son of God sent by the Father.[14] The Son is a servant whose teaching is not his own and who does nothing on his own authority. Jesus only does what he sees the father doing and only speaks what the Father tells him to speak.[15] This implies that the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father.[16] 

In the same way that John introduces Jesus as the pre-existent Word of God, he also introduces Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God. For John, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the ultimate fulfilment of the Jewish Passover.[17] John wants his audience to view Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of Israel and the Passover lamb who brings about Israel’s deliverance and salvation from the bondage of sin.[18]  Interestingly, John presents Jesus as being sent not merely for the Jews but for the entire world.[19] Jesus sacrifice is not just for those who would ultimately receive Him, it is also for those who reject Him.[20] Christ was sent to save the whole world without distinction. For John, the benefits of the atonement are appropriated by faith in the work of Christ on the cross.

In summary, John sees Jesus as the eternal, uncreated Word of God who was sent by the Father to do and to teach what the Father gave Him to say and do. John’s view of Christ as the Word of God is steeped in Jewish thought as revealed in the Jewish Targums. Although Jesus is equal with the Father in terms of the Divine essence, He is nonetheless subordinate to the Father in terms of His role. The redemption and salvation of Jesus is not for the Jews only, neither is it only for those who would ultimately receive Him. Jesus was sent for the salvation of all mankind.  

 

[1] Van der Merwe, Dirk. “Divine Fellowship in the Gospel of John: A Trinitarian Spirituality.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 1 (2019), 2. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2315011085?accountid=35347; David Pawson, Come with me through the Gospel of John, Anchor Recordings, Kennington, Ashford (2012), Kindle Edition, 22, 31-32.

[2] Van der Merwe, Dirk. “Divine Fellowship in the Gospel of John: A Trinitarian Spirituality.”, 9; Van der Merwe, Dirk G. “The Divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John: The ‘lived Experiences’ it Fostered when the Text was Read.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 1 (2019), 3-4. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i1.5411. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2315011202?accountid=35347.

[3] Matera, Frank J. “Christ in the Theologies of Paul and John: A Study in the Diverse Unity of New Testament Theology,” Theological Studies 67, no. 2 (06, 2006): 239, https://search.proquest.com/docview/212709936?accountid=35347; Dr Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel. Jewish Studies for Christians (Tel Aviv), 2015, 2, Kindle Version; Van der Merwe, Dirk. “Divine Fellowship in the Gospel of John: A Trinitarian Spirituality.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 1 (2019), 2. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2315011085?accountid=35347

[4] Dr Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, Baker Books, Grand Rapids Michigan, eBook Edition (2011), 18-21; Dr Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel. Jewish Studies for Christians (Tel Aviv), 2015, 2, Kindle Version.

[5] Dr Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, 19.

[6] Dr Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, 20-21.

[7] RC Sproul, John: An Expositional Commentary, Reformation Trust Publishing, Sanford, Florida (2009), Kindle Edition, 174; David Pawson, Come with me through the Gospel of John, Anchor Recordings, Kennington, Ashford (2012), Kindle Edition, 22, 31-32; DA Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), Kindle Edition, Comments on John 13:19.

[8] DA Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), Kindle Edition, Comments on John 13:19.

[9] RC Sproul, John: An Expositional Commentary, Reformation Trust Publishing, Sanford, Florida (2009), Kindle Edition, 190;

[10] DA Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), Kindle Edition, Comments on John 13:19.

[11] Robert H. Gundry, Commentary of First, Second and Third John, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, (2010), Kindle Edition, Comments on 1 John 1:1-4, 5:11-13.

[12] DA Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), Kindle Edition, Comments on John 17:4.

[13] RC Sproul, John: An Expositional Commentary, Reformation Trust Publishing, Sanford, Florida (2009), Kindle Edition, 100-101; Van der Merwe, Dirk G. “The Divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John: The ‘lived Experiences’ it Fostered when the Text was Read.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 1 (2019). https://search.proquest.com/docview/2315011202?accountid=35347.

[14] Matera, Frank J. “Christ in the Theologies of Paul and John: A Study in the Diverse Unity of New Testament Theology,” Theological Studies 67, no. 2 (06, 2006): 248. https://search.proquest.com/docview/212709936?accountid=35347.

[15] Paul N. Anderson, The Having-Sent-Me Father: Aspects of Agency, Encounter, and Irony in the Johannine Father-Son Relationship, 35; RC Sproul, John: An Expositional Commentary, Reformation Trust Publishing, Sanford, Florida (2009), Kindle Edition, 100-101.

[16] DA Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), Introduction, Kindle Edition.

[17] Christensen, David Vincent. “Atonement in John: The Death of Jesus in Light of Exodus Typology.” Order No. 10682511, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2017, 27-28. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1973594568?accountid=35347.

[18] Christensen, David Vincent. “Atonement in John: The Death of Jesus in Light of Exodus Typology.” Order No. 10682511, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2017, 29. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1973594568?accountid=35347.

[19] John Goodwin, Redemption Redeemed: A Puritan Defence of Unlimited Atonement, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene Oregon, (2004), 20.

[20] Jerry L. Walls Does God Love Everyone: The Heart of What’s Wrong with Calvinism, Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon, 2016, 16-17.