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Mourning into Gladness - Lessons from the Gospel of John

Updated on January 24, 2015
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Mourning into Gladness—The Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11. 1 - 44)

Arguably Jesus of Nazareth’s penultimate miracle, the raising of Lazarus is preceded by stark comparisons between the Jewish authorities and their object of persecution, Christ. While the story of Lazarus was doubtless a well-known episode in the life of Jesus for early believers, the Johanine Gospel records the event for successive generations of Christians in attest to Jesus’ miraculous power. After another lengthy dispute with Jewish leaders, Jesus is alerted to Lazarus’ ailing health but discouraged by his apostles from travelling during such a volatile period in his ministry. Christ rebukes his followers but chooses to wait long enough to confirm Lazarus’ death in accordance with Jewish custom. The description of Mary and Martha in the aforementioned passage supports the proposition of the Johanine Gospel’s late composition date, given the familiarity with which the inspired author describes the sisters to the reader. It can be reasonable assumed that not only had the earlier Lucan Gospel been written but widely disseminated amongst early Christians to allow for John’s casual attention to several seminal episodes in the life of Christ.

In comforting Martha, the Gospel of John takes great pains to emphasize its high Christology by affirming afterlife through resurrection, a teaching that likely evolved throughout the first century B.C.E. John also takes steps to once again draw stark contrast between the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem and Jesus after the “awakening” of Lazarus from his burial tomb; Jesus brings life and sight to the dead and blind; the Jews plot Christ’s death in their self-imposed ignorance; Jesus demonstrates himself to be the true sovereign by even demonstrating dominion over death; the Jews seek to betray and murder Jesus in apprehension of Caesar’s response to his messianic claims. The differences, hitherto illustrated throughout the Johanine Gospel, likely assured those believers who had been dispossessed from the synagogue system that Christ was still in control of their destiny, regardless the level of persecution .

The Feast of Dedication—A Festival for Honoring God’s Unwavering Light

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukah and the Feast of the Maccabees, The Feast of Dedication remains one of the few religious event s recorded in Gospel record not explicitly prescribed by God in the Pentateuch. Primarily associated with the well-known menorah or nine branch candelabra, Instituted to commemorate the Second Temple’s dedication, Flavius Josephus describes the historical antecedents of the eight day ritual:

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights.

The above passage asserts the religious and national importance of the Feast of Dedication in the Jewish calendar. Not only did the festival celebrate God’s return to his Holy Temple, the event signified the solidarity of his people against pagan oppressors. That Jesus chooses this moment in the Jewish year to insinuate his divine sovereignty seems fitting with the Messianic portrait offered in the Gospel of John; Christ is abundantly described as a salvific light for all peoples; Jesus describes his body as the authentic seat of the Holy Temple.

The Gospel of John

A Peaceful Protector—Blessing of the Spirit (John 14. 15 - 31)

Spirit of adventure, free spirit, low spirit, good spirits, school spirit—current society proves just as vexed as Jesus’ disciples in defining this singular term. In keeping with the tone and message of the Johanine Gospel, Christ offers his closest followers an extended lecture on the dispensation, purpose and nature of the spirit. It is no accident that Thomas, Judas and Phillip are given special consideration during this episode. Each had been attributed with apocryphal gospels either contemporary with or shortly following the dissemination of John’s revelatory account of Jesus’ ministry.

One of the chief obstacles the inspired author was tasked with overcoming concerned the growing opposition of gnostic sentiments within the early church. One of the central claims of this dualistic movement was the notion that Jesus of Nazareth could not have been both sinless and incarnated in a fallen world; that any encounter with the corporeal realm necessitated the corruption of an entity, however, divine in origin. As Christ ascents, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In this testimony, John crucibles the ongoing themes of his gospel—light, life, witness—into a single quotation; that those who recognize Jesus as equal to Elohim shall share in God’s royal inheritance. Though such propositions seem self-evident by current standards of theology, the comparison of a mortal, regardless their achievements, flirted with blasphemy during the era of Hellenic Judaism. To compound his assertion, Christ, promises the blessing of his own spirit upon the attendant apostles; another radical proclamation for Judaism given the premium placed upon God being “set apart” from his chosen people. Throughout Old Testament scripture, inspired authors consistently warn readers that proximity to the living God could prove dangerous if not fatal to mortals. A common reason for such teaching attributed such phenomena to the moral failings of humanity. Perhaps the most innovative teaching of the Johanine Gospel is the assertion that through Jesus Christ, humankind was finally capable of “tabling” with their creator, even wielding their God’s miraculous power, provided such signs were wrought in a spirit of life and heavenly vision.

The Visual Bible - Gospel of John

The Role of the Paraclete in Hellenic Christianity:

One of Johanine Gospel’s most controversial teachings regards the role of the Holy Spirit or paraclete n the lives of believers. Even the lexical meaning of the term remains a topic of discussion if not debate among biblical etymologists, theologians and serious Christians. While the spirit referred to the blessing of comfort or encouragement in the Old Testament, the Gospel of John alters and strengthens its role in the development of the fledgling kingdom. Intercessor, advocate, counselor—while the exact translation of paraclete remains a chronic fixture of biblical interpretation, the common denominator among these translations seems to concern the possibility of miraculous wisdom and protection to those that attenuate themselves to its will. As Oxford professor N.T. Wright claims in his apologetic work, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.” A common misconception of understanding the paraclete’s nature has been to assume the Spirit of God waxes and wanes within the human vessel based upon issues of faith, morality or purpose. The overriding teaching of the Johanine Gospel is Christ’s promise to never abandon his followers, to persistently offer his aid and counsel to those that seek its revelation. Such a promise proves both comforting and intimidating since it implies Christ contends humans are worthy of his other worldy power even when they themselves feel unworthy of such blessings.

Word Became Flesh

Know any other online resources for studying the Gospel of John? I look forward to your comments and thank you in advance for any kind words. Check out my other Hub Pages for additional suggestions for navigating college assignments by working smart instead of merely working hard.

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