THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #29 (Most quotes are NIV)
JESUS LIVES! BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY ABOUT IT!
We have omitted many of our Lord’s appearances, including one episode where Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time. In fact, a judge once commented that there were so many eye-witnesses to the Resurrection that in any court in any country a judge would necessarily declare Jesus legally alive!
Yet we have seen that the Jewish leaders are not happy about the turn of events, and have tried to quash the story. They are hardly alone. The enemies of Christianity are not in short supply! Roman Emperors have tried to kill everyone who believes it (and this behavior continues in many Muslim countries even now). People have invented false “versions” of Christian in order to destroy Christianity (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or to make it more “palatable” for their brains (Christian Science). Yet in our hearts, we know it is true: “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”
JOHN: THE MOST ‘HATED GOSPEL’
Over the centuries, those who despise Christianity have focused upon the Gospel of John as their attack point. Why? No other Gospel points to Jesus the way John does in God Himself—in the flesh. If John has a message, it is this: “Jesus is God!”
You might ask, “Why is this a big deal?” If Jesus is only a man, then he said some nice things and we can take it or leave it. But if Jesus is God, His Word is absolute Truth; He then cannot be ignored! Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (This is, naturally, in John 8:31-32)
APRIL 16, 30 A.D. Is that a special date? It certainly was for the Apostle John: that is the day when “Doubting Thomas” says to Jesus “My Lord and my God!” John was in the room at the time! The whole Gospel points to this great statement. But before we look at that defining appearance, we need to “set the stage” for John ultimate story of the Risen Christ.
I am going to propose an interpretation of John’s Gospel which you will hear nowhere else. This is not done “off the cuff” or with little preparation. I have spent two years of my life in research in the vast library stacks of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and written a 250-page thesis on some aspects of what is suggested here. What I propose may be “wild” but it is not “baseless.” There is support for what I say. (And there will always be plenty of argument against it.)
JOHN’S GOSPEL IS PLAYING A GAME OF HIGH STAKES!
John’s Gospel was the last Gospel to be written. In its original form (without chapter 21), a date around 65-70 A.D. seems about right. There were already three Gospels; why does the world need a fourth one? John begins to see the Christian faith under attack on the issue of Christ’s Divinity. Matthew, Mark and Luke all had references which pointed to Jesus as God. But people were trying to “reinterpret” the message or undermine it.
In 1977, A.D. Harvey published an important work, Jesus on Trial: A Study in the Fourth Gospel, in which he proposed that John’s Gospel presents itself as a trial in which Jesus is the defendant. I believe that Harvey was on to something, but he got it backwards. It isn’t Jesus who is on trial—it is you and me. John is presenting his Gospel as the reader on trial: the facts as presented are a puzzle for us to solve while we sit in the defendant’s chair. He will provide evidence, swear in the witnesses, present conflicting testimony. If the reader gets the right answer, he gets to go to heaven (justification). If the reader doesn’t get the right answer, hell awaits (eternal capital punishment)!
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: JOHN 1:1-18 (“THE PROLOGUE”)
How far into the Gospel do we have to read before the game starts? Verse one ought to do it! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Do any bells go off here? “In the beginning…” is a deliberate reference to Genesis 1. The act of creation is done by speaking: “and God said…” over and over again. That is “God’s Word” coming out of God. The Gospel of John is saying that the “Word of God” in Genesis 1 is Jesus Christ himself! And the goes on to say that “nothing came into being without him” v. 3.
There is not one thing in the previous paragraph that some theologian won’t argue about. And that is the point: John KNOWS IT! Are you going to keep an open mind during this trial, or aren’t you? The simple claim here is: Jesus is God—the God who created everything.
The claim is compounded: verse 14 “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us and we saw his glory…” a new claim is now added: “God became flesh” is the strongest possible way to say it. He didn’t STOP being God. God became a human being. Look at the phrase “pitched his tent.” English translations don’t get it—but that IS the Greek verb. And to the Jewish reader, “pitch a tent” is a reminder of Moses and the 20 years in the wilderness. What did God require of the Israelites? He ordered them to make a TENT (tabernacle) and God would move in and live with his people. His glory showed up as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of smoke during the day. Now, God has become human and again pitched his tent AMONG US (he lived with us!) so that WE could see his glory too: the greatest glory of all is “I am here to save you! I’m going to teach you, I’m going to predict, and then I’m going to do it.”
To the Jew, Moses is the greatest man who ever lived. But John throws cold water on that idea in verse 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” All Moses gave you was the 10 Commandments–Jesus offers us a lot more! And then comes the frosting on this cake: verse 18 “No one has ever seen God—ever! But the only God who is in the bosom of the Father has shown Him to us.” (That’s my own translation. That is what the Greek says! English translations try to smooth it over and “make sense” of it).
Read that last verse again and try to make sense out of it! The actual translation DOESN’T MAKE SENSE, does it? This is John’s set up verse” for the story of Jesus. “Folks, you are about to hear something that makes absolutely no sense. God came to die for us! You can twist it, you can turn it, you can stand on your head. But unless you have the eyes of faith, Jesus will make no sense at all. All you will see in the following chapters is double-talk and gobbledygook.”
LET’S TRY A ‘GOBBLEDYGOOK” EXAMPLE!
It would take a year to cover every subtlety in the Gospel of John, but let’s try a quick example from John 1:19-28. John’s first story is about John the Baptist and the Jewish Council.
John the Baptist starts preaching and baptizing out in the sticks, and he is drawing a crowd and creating a buzz. The Jewish Council in Jerusalem needs to be aware of things, so it sends a committee to investigate this guy. They want to know who John the Baptist claims to be: are you the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet? In each case, John the Baptist answers “NO” but he doesn’t answer the same way each time. Are you Elijah? He says Οὐκ εἰμί (I am not). Are you the Prophet? He says Οὔ (no). But for “Are you the Messiah,” he uses a very odd phrase: Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός (literally, “I not I am the Christ”—yes, it is not only bad English but it is bad Greek as well). A simple “No” would suffice. Why this gobbledygook?
As it turns out, Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ is a possible way of saying “I am not I AM” The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament uses Ἐγὼ εἰμὶ as an invented way of saying God’s proper name, Yahweh, without actually saying it—because the Jews were always afraid of misusing God’s name (2nd Commandment). Is this what John meant to say in his Gospel?
Nay-sayers come out of the woodwork: “That’s not what that means. It’s just another way of saying ‘no!’” Are you sure? Ἐγὼ εἰμὶ (pronounced “egg-oh ay-ME”) has had theologians arguing for centuries! John’s Answer is just a teaser. It’s going to get worse!