Why Foreign Missions? 14. John’s Christological Mission Theology: Jesus as Light and Life
The previous study noted that John’s theology is a Christ-centred theology. Thus his mission theology is also a Christological mission theology. How does this look? The present study explores the revelation of God in Jesus in John’s Gospel.
In the prologue to his Gospel, John calls Jesus the ‘Word’—God’s revelation. He is the revelation of God in three ways--creation, grace and truth, and God himself:
(1) Creation: as creator, the one through whom all things came into being, Jesus is the one who gives life and light to all people (1.3);
(2) Grace and Truth: whereas Moses revealed God’s law, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1.14);
(3) Seeing God: whereas Moses did not see God, Jesus—God’s only Son and the one close to the Father’s heart--has made God known (1.18).
These themes are developed in the rest of John’s Gospel. I will look at the first of these, Jesus’ revelation of life and light to all people, in the present study. The next two will follow.
Mission as the Revelation of Life and Light to All People through Jesus Christ
Jesus is the Source of Life and Light
The Word’s revelation in creation is continued in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Those who reject Jesus reject his life-giving ministry, and so they will die in their sins (Jn. 8.21, 24). Yet those who believe in Jesus, even though they die, will live; they will never die because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11.25-26). Just as Jesus gave life to Lazarus, he gives life to all who follow him (ch. 11). He gives water that becomes in those who receive him a spring gushing up to eternal life (Jn. 4.14). The water that gushes from Jesus’ side on the cross is likely symbolic of this water of life that Jesus gives (Jn. 19.34). There is no alternative source of life, not even the Scriptures. The Scriptures are rather a witness to Jesus, the source of life (Jn. 5.39-40). Thus Jesus, the giver of life, was himself raised from the dead. Or, rather, he who had power to lay down his life and did so willingly also had power to take it up again (Jn. 10.17-18).
Just as sin and death are related (Jn. 8.21, 24), so too sin and darkness are related in John’s Gospel. Because people’s deeds were evil, they preferred darkness to the light that came into the world (Jn. 3.19). They feared that their deeds would be exposed (v. 20), whereas people who ‘do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God’ (v. 21). Not much is said about ethics in John’s Gospel, although such verses (Jn. 3.19-21) assume a clear ethic in the Christian community. John’s point here is worth stressing, since often one hears people say that so-and-so is a good person, just not a believer or perhaps someone who claims to believe but practices a life-style that is opposed in Scripture. John’s view is that, if a person’s deeds are good, they will be drawn to the light—the light of Christ--rather than reject the light, and so their deeds will be done in God. Moreover, the ‘commandment’ in John is more than ethics; it is first belief that Jesus is the light that has come into the world and, second, through this belief, to leave the darkness of sin (Jn. 12.46-50).
Jesus’ healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam is indicative of his giving light to the world. Indeed, he is the light of the world during his earthly ministry (Jn. 9.5). Part of the metaphor of light in John’s Gospel pertains to Jesus’ coming (as light) into the (dark) world. This healing at the pool of Siloam illustrates that Jesus was sent into the world as God’s revelation. Whatever else the symbolism of Jesus’ smearing the man’s eyes with mud might mean, it involves making the man doubly blind. A blind man with mud on his eyes is a man who cannot see! The Pharisees, who have double sight--both physical sight and a knowledge of Scripture--are unable to see that Jesus is from God (v. 16). Their disbelief makes them blind. Once the doubly blind man washes in the pool of Siloam, which means ‘Sent,’ he is able to see physically and to see that Jesus was the one sent from God. He declares, ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’ (Jn. 9.33). The man comes to believe in Jesus, and he worships him (Jn. 9.38). Jesus responds, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind’ (Jn. 9.39).
Mission, then, entails revealing that Jesus is this light and life that has come into the world.
Those Who Believe in Jesus Receive Eternal Life
The only right response to Jesus’ coming into this world is faith. Believing in Jesus is the way to receive eternal life. A key text making this point is Jn. 3.15-16:
… that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God 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.
Since the opposite of belief is not simply disbelief but disobedience (Jn. 3.36), belief has to do with more than affirming the fact that God sent Jesus into the world. Belief has to do with obeying the revelation that God has made in Jesus. Put another way, belief has to do with consuming the ‘bread from heaven,’ which is the revelation that Jesus gives (Jn. 6.27), the one who has the words of eternal life (Jn. 6.68). Yet Jesus’ revelation in his words is, more profoundly, not different from the revelation of himself. He is the bread of heaven, and to consume his revelation is to consume ‘the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood’ (Jn. 6.53). Jesus’ revelation from God is, therefore, to be seen most completely and profoundly in the cross. Believers receive the cross of Jesus as the removal of their sins that they might have eternal life and not walk in the darkness of their sins (Jn. 8.12). The reason that the author writes this Gospel is so that people will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and, by believing, they will receive life in his name (Jn. 20.31).
Jesus Has Life in Himself and Will Raise the Dead
Jesus’ revelation of himself as creator during his earthly ministry is seen in his giving life just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life (Jn. 5.21). Jesus’ claims to divine identity come out clearly in his claim to have the power to give life. He has the divine authority of the Son of Man (cf. Dn. 713-14) to raise the dead and execute judgment (Jn. 5.24-29). His authority is exercised not just in the giving of eternal life but in causing the disciples to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent (Jn. 17.2-3). Indeed, this knowing God and Jesus is eternal life.
Jesus foreshadows this authority in his raising of Lazarus from the dead. When he does so, Jesus says to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (Jn. 11.25). Later, he says to his disciples,
‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’ (Jn. 14.6-7).
Jesus Lays Down His Life for His Sheep
Jesus’ life-giving power is given, ironically, through death on the cross. He came to give life (Jn. 10.28), and yet he does so as the shepherd who gives his life for his sheep (Jn. 10.10-11, 15, 18). The Father reveals his love in sending the Son (Jn. 3.16), and Jesus reveals his love by laying down his life for his friends (Jn. 15.13). The disciples, too, are called upon to give up their lives in the sense of serving and following Jesus (Jn. 12.25-26). They are the sheep who follow the good shepherd because they know his voice (Jn. 10.3-5).
Christological Mission Theology
A Christ-centred mission theology emphasises that Jesus is the one who gives light and life. The light and life that Jesus gave at creation are given again in Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is the light that has come into the world, the revelation from God. He is the one who gives eternal life to all who believe. His light draws people out of darkness if they receive him, and he literally gives his own life that others might have abundant and eternal life. There is no other way to come to the Father but by Jesus (Jn. 14.6).
One should also note that this linking of Jesus’ work in creation and in Jesus’ earthly ministry entails an offer of light and life to Jews and Gentiles alike. Jews who reject Jesus do not have eternal life but die in their sins (Jn. 8.24). Greeks come to ‘see’ Jesus, the light (Jn. 12.20). Thus Jews and non-Jews alike must receive the light and life of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is ‘the true light,’ and he came into the world to enlighten everyone (Jn. 1.9).
Jesus’ mission as a mission to every person and every group of people is sometimes seen as intolerance: are there not other ways to God? Western culture so highly values tolerance that it inevitably hears a Christ-centred mission as an exclusive and negative message. However, in John’s view, Jesus’ mission of light and life is a demonstration of God’s love for a world in sin. If one wishes to remain in darkness, in sin, then Jesus’ message will appear as intolerance. If one claims to have no sin, then Jesus’ offer of life to sinners sounds presumptuous and intolerant. If one confesses one’s sin and receives Jesus’ death for sin, then Jesus’ light and life will be received as a mission of divine love.