A Season of Hope: Advent Themes through the Four Gospels Part 4
John’s Gospel does not begin with a birth story but rather, a creation story. In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not arrive as a baby in a manger or as a star-crossed infant refugee. Rather, Jesus is the Word who coexists with the Creator of the universe before time began (John 1:1). In the Gospel of John, Jesus transcends time and space; he was always part of God.
When we hear the words “In the beginning…” we are reminded of another creation story: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). John deliberately uses the same wording – “In the beginning” – to tell readers that Jesus was present when God created the heavens and the earth. Not only was Jesus present, he helped create everything that is (John 1:3).
John touches on a foundational question about who Jesus is. He is both divine (“the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” 1:1) and human (“the Word became flesh and lived among us,” 1:4). The bottom line is hard to grasp – that Jesus is at the same time fully divine (equal to God) and fully human (a flesh-and-blood person, just like other human beings).
John does not try to explain how a pure spirit like God could enter into the human world; nor does he attempt to tell us how the preexistent Word became flesh. The point for the Gospel writers was not how but why God became flesh; God came into the world to be with us and to offer us new life that transforms our existence so that as humans we can experience the fullness of God’s light. “For Go so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).
John affirms the importance that Jesus was fully human because it shows that Jesus really does understand human pain and suffering, as well as human joy, fear, grief and hope. Also, that God raised a human Jesus from the dead means that humans also have hope of resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). Jesus was not just a divine spirit that escaped from a mortal body on the cross; he was a human who died and was raised from the dead.
Though John takes pains to show Jesus as fully human, he also portrays Jesus as equal to God. It was, and is, important for Christians to know that Jesus is fully divine, because it means that God dwells among us to this day. It is not difficult to find Jesus’ divinity in the Gospel of John, as John alludes to Jesus’ divinity throughout the Gospel.
The disciples ask Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (14:9). The Gospel asks us the same question: do we believe that Jesus is in the Father and the Father in him? In the garden, at the scene of Jesus’ empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus says to Mary, “Whom are you looking for?” (20:15) Again the question is meant for the readers: Who are we looking for? Do we recognize Jesus?
Jesus tells his disciples that the world will no longer see him (literally, he will be gone) but they will see him (because he will be with them in spirit; 14:9). After Jesus’ death and resurrection, when Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead without visual proof, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (20:29). This statement addresses readers today; we are the ones who must believe without seeing.
Among the four, John’s Gospel is peculiar in that there is no real beginning point for Jesus (he exists before time) and there is no real end either. The other Gospels have warnings about the end times coming and the need to be prepared for Jesus’ return. This is because for the Gospel of John, Jesus is the presence of God, then and now and always. There is no time when Jesus did not exist. There is no time when Jesus will bring existence to an end. We are living in a “realized eschaton,” that is, we have everything we need right in front of us, if we could just see it.
Instead of a birth narrative, the Gospel of John has a creation story, with Jesus featured as co-creator with God. Through Jesus, people experience God as light and life, living water, and bread of life. John offers us a vision of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. Humans can live a full life now, touched by the Divine. We don’t have to wait for some future point in history. Jesus is the light of the world now.