N.T. Wright: The Gospel of John & Second Genesis

The following post is worth reading. I found it during my Easter sermon study and preparation as I prepare to trace the New Creation theme through the Gospel of John. I have read the book he’s referring to by N.T. Wright. I, too, am a huge fan and student of Wright. Get the book!  Enjoy! -JB

The Gospel of John, the Creation Story in Genesis, and Discipleship by Danny DaVinci

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 14)

It’s official: I’m an N. T. Wright fan.

I think every Christian should at least read one book by N. T. Wright.  You may or may not agree with everything he writes (for instance, I’m not quite sure if I agree with his take on justification), but he’s one of the most top-notch and accessible biblical scholars today.  Go to any major bookstore and you’ll find several of his works in the Christian/religion sections.

Basically all of the thoughts here on this post are from the 4th chapter of his book Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship titled “The Glory of God: John.”  His brief, yet profound insights into the meanings and nuances of the gospel of John really opened my eyes to not only the text itself, but more importantly, how everything in it connects (eschatologically) with the message of the whole Bible and how it ties to what it means to be a Christian, or more specifically, a disciple of Jesus Christ today.

So let’s get right to it.

The gospel of Matthew takes us into the synagogue if you will, where the people of God are learning to recognize Jesus as their King.

In Mark, we’re given a handbook on discipleship and how to be a follower of the Servant King.

Luke presents Jesus to the cultured Greek world and is presented to a predominantly Gentile audience.

With the letters of Paul, we feel as if we’re in a seminar room: we argue things out, look up references, take notes, think deeply about things, reflect, and analyze what the gospel means and then we’re sent out to preach the gospel to the nations.

But then we get to the gospel of John and we’re not even given a chance to breathe or to even take a moment to catch a breather.  Almost immediately we’re thrust up to the mountain top.  He invites us to be still and peer deeply into the human face and eyes of Jesus of Nazareth.  As we read his text, he leads the reader to be inundated with the awesome reality that we’re not just looking into the face of a great prophet, teacher, or revolutionary, but rather, we’re brought face to face with the living God as we look at the face of Jesus of Nazareth.

The face of God is most recognizable when it wears the crown of thorns.  And when John mentions, “We beheld his glory,” he is thinking supremely of the cross.

The gospel of John is full of multiple meanings, words, and phrases which resonate at different levels.  One of the major themes you’ll find in John’s gospel are the occurrences of Jesus’ “signposts” or “signs.”  He mentions six of them and each of them refer to beholding the glory of Jesus:

  1. The Wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine
  2. Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s servant
  3. The healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda
  4. The feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness
  5. Healing of the man born blind
  6. The raising of Lazarus from the dead

After the sixth sign, we then move to the Last Supper, Jesus’ farewell discourses, and then the crucifixion and resurrection.

But why does John stop at 6?

As some may know, numbers carry a certain significance in the Bible.  And the number 6 is nothing compared to the number 7. And why should we have the number 7 in mind?

Well, think back to the opening words of the gospel again: In the beginning… : John starts off as though he’s writing a new Genesis, or better put, he’s writing a new creation story.  John is describing to us the seven signs of the new creation.

That’s not a typo.  John does mention a 7th and final sign: the cross.

The cross is where the glory of God is supremely revealed.  Jesus is lifted up as the true revelation of God, lifted up in the supreme work of love, of gentle and heartfelt compassion, and the supreme example of the creator’s yearning love for his lost and self-destructive world.

So the “signs” point to the new creation through the cross.  When Jesus is “lifted up” the cross itself is the moment of glory, the moment when sovereign love meets a world in agony and grasps that agony to itself. The climax of the creation narrative in Genesis was the making of human beings in the image and likeness of God – the great work of the sixth day, bringing creation to its completion.

The climax of John’s prologue is the incarnation of the Word. Humans were made to reflect God, so that one day God could appropriately become human.  John drives this point quite vividly near the end when Jesus is on trial before Pilate.  Pilate has him flogged, ridiculed, dressed in purple, and with a crown of thorns on his head.  Then he brings him out before the crowd.

“Behold the man!” (John 19: 5), Pilate yells out to the crowd.

By now, John’s reader knows what this means: This is the true man, the truly human being, the one, wearing the crown of thorns, torn, ripped apart, and bruised, who truly reflects the image of the loving creator b/c he is the image of the loving creator – the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the creative self-expression of God.

The Word became flesh, and was crowned king in our midst; we beheld his glory, glory as of the human, bleeding figure, the one given by the Father to save the world.

And, just as the creation story ended in triumph when God finished on the sixth day all the work he had undertaken, and rested on the seventh day: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing (Genesis 2: 2), so the last word of Jesus in John’s gospel is just that: When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished!”  (John 19: 30)

On the Friday morning, the sixth day of the week, Pilate brought out the man who was God incarnate; on the Friday afternoon God incarnate finished the work he had undertaken.  And on the seventh day, God incarnate rested in the tomb, rested from his completed labor just as God rested on the seventh day when he completed creation: [S]o on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  (Genesis 2: 2 – 3)

There is a mysterious link between the creation and the crucifixion that culminates to the inauguration of the new creation.

John’s gospel isn’t only about Jesus. It’s about us as well. Jesus was lifted up to draw us all to himself, and to enable us to be for the world what he was for the world. In John 7: 38 Jesus says, “He who believes in me – out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  He uses creation image again:

 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2: 10 – 14)

He’s even mentioning Temple imagery too:

The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side…

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river…Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live… Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47: 1 – 12)

Now the rivers of living water that flow out of God’s Temple in the new creation come, not just from Jesus, but from all those who believe in him, who follow him, who become in their turn the channels through which his healing love can flow to the world.  Therefore the risen Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  (John 20: 21)

And he breathes on the disciples (John 20: 22), just as God breathed upon Adam in the beginning, and gives him his own spirit, his own breath of life:  Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  (Genesis 2: 7)

Do you get the point?

The whole amazing story of Jesus, with all its multiple levels, is given to us to be our story as we follow him. This is John’s ultimate vision of the nature of Christian discipleship. Then come Jesus’ final words in the gospel of John: If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!”  (John 21: 22) In other words, don’t think about what I may or may not require of the person standing next to you.  Your call is simply to follow me.

Personally, this is something I’m grappling and just beginning to understand.  God has given a specific vision and individual, unique destiny to all of his true followers- so who am I to judge or be overly concerned or critical about where God is leading them?  The only thing we can all come to an agreement on is that he has all given us one lasting, eternal call: Follow me.

Because of the cross, Jesus offers us, here and now, his own sonship; his own spirit; his own mission to the world.

The love which he incarnated, by which we are saved, is to become the love which fills us beyond capacity and flows out to heal the world: so that the Word may become flesh once more, and dwell (not just among us, but) within us; having beheld his glory, we must then reveal his glory, glory as of the beloved children of the Father, full of grace and truth.

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