Skip to main content

Why Foreign Mission? 16. John’s Christological Mission Theology: Jesus’ Revelation of the Father

Why Foreign Mission?  16. John’s Christological Mission Theology: Jesus’ Revelation of the Father

The first revelation of Jesus in John’s Prologue that I discussed (study 14) had to do with Jesus’ creational revelation of light and life.  The second revelation of Jesus had to do with Jesus’ revelation of grace and truth (study 15).  The third revelation of the Logos in John’s Prologue (Jn. 1.1-18), now presented in this study, is Jesus’ revelation of the Father. 

Jesus’ Mission as Revelation of the Father

Jesus’ revelation of the Father is related to the first two revelations already discussed from the Prologue.  First, his giving of life is a work that draws Jesus’ into the divine identity of the Father:


Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life25 "Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself… (Jn. 5.24-26).

Second, Jesus’ revelation of God’s character as grace and truth (study 15) and not only as the giver of the Law to Moses is even closer to the point to be made here.  Jesus’ actually works grace and truth in his ministry.

Indeed, Jesus’ mission is to reveal the Father.  From the very beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as Jacob’s ladder that extends into heaven and up which people in the world can see heavenly realities being revealed through his ministry:

And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (Jn. 1.51).

Thus anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn. 14.9).

Jesus as the One Who Can Reveal God’s Identity

The first and the last verses of John’s Prologue affirm Jesus’ divine identity, and therefore his ability to reveal the divine identity.  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and what God was, the Word was’—to draw out the meaning of the Greek in Jn. 1.1.  Also, as we know from Ex. 34, no one has ever seen God, not even Moses, but the monogenēs theos—the ‘only-and-dearly-loved’ God—who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known (Jn. 1.18). 

The term monogenēs is difficult to translate, but its meaning is clear: it is the term one would use of an only child who is, therefore, a most loved child—both points being brought out in the translation I have offered.  The emphasis does not fall on begetting a child but on ‘only’ and ‘beloved.’[1]  This is the major point that the Prologue in John makes, as can be seen in the intriguing fact that the number of syllables in Jn. 1.1-18 equals the sum of the numerical value of the letters in the word monogenēs—496.[2]  John uses this term monogenēs in reference to Jesus twice in the Prologue (Jn. 1.14 and 18) and twice in ch. 3 (vv. 16 and 18).  Who but the monogenēs is in a position to reveal divine identity so clearly?

Jesus’ Mission of Revelation to the Jews and to the World

John’s Gospel presents the story of God’s revelation of his glory in Jesus Christ to a sinful world.  John sums up his view of the human condition in the word ‘world’ (‘kosmos’).  For John, ‘kosmos’ can mean the created order, with no negative connotations, but the usual meaning is negative in John: the world is where God’s revelation in Jesus is rejected (for both meanings, see 1.10).  God and world are opposites, yet God created the world, loves it, and works to save it (3:16f; 12.46).  The world is also depicted through other Johannine terms: darkness (1.5; 12.46); death (5.19-27; 8.37, 44); sin (8.21, 34); slavery (8.34-36); and falsehood (8.44).  In this understanding of the world John shares the perspective of apocalypticism (Daniel, Zechariah, Is. 24-29): an evil world needs God’s redemptive intervention.[3]

The group designated by John as the ‘Jews,’ like ‘world,’ is typically a negative group.  This is no more anti-Semitic than saying 'the world is sinful' is anti-human.  Both terms are distinguishable from the disciples, who are both Jews and humans from the world.  Moreover, the term ‘Israel’ is positive in John’s Gospel.  Jesus dies as ‘king of Israel’ in John’s Gospel, and he is her ‘Messiah’ (Jn. 1.41, 45), the one who would restore the kingdom to Israel.[4]  However, he avoids being made king (6.15), and yet kingship in some deeper sense is something that Jesus embraces (18.28-19.26). Jesus enters Jerusalem as a kingly figure (12.13), as in the Synoptic Gospels.  In the purpose statement of John’s Gospel, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Messiah’ appear to be equated: ‘But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’ (Jn. 20.31).[5] 

Yet Jesus’ functioning as ‘Messiah’ for Israel is a story within a story.  The larger story is that Jesus functions as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1.29).  He is the Son whom God gives in love to save or give eternal life to all who believe in him in the world (Jn. 3.15-16).  As the Samaritans testify, he is the ‘Savior of the world’ (Jn. 4.42), and, as Thomas confesses, he is ‘my Lord and my God’ (Jn. 20.28).  Thus, Jesus’ messianic restoration of Israel despite opposition from the Jews is, on a larger scale, a salvation of the world despite its opposition.

John’s Gospel is about God’s redemptive coming to intervene in this world.  He comes by sending his Son to save the world (3.16f).  Jesus is the light of the world (1.5; 8.12), the resurrection and the life (11.25), and the one who has descended from God and ascended to him (3.13; 6.38; 17.13). 

Mission entails God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and his salvation in Jesus Christ for a sinful world that he loves (cf. Jn. 3.16).

Revealing God’s Identity in the Cross

John offers a profound interpretation of Jesus’ revelation of the divine glory.[6]  On three occasions, Jesus speaks of his being ‘lifted up,’ which has the double meaning of glorified or exalted and being lifted up on the cross: Jn. 3.14-15 (twice); 8.28; 12.32-34 (twice).  This double meaning is already present in Isaiah, where the servant—whose suffering is described in ch. 53—is first described as exalted and lifted up by God (Is. 52.13). 

The middle of these ‘lifted up’ sayings in John’s Gospel, Jn. 8.28, is also the middle of the seven occasions when Jesus speaks of himself as the ‘I AM.’  In John, Jesus’ use of the absolute ‘I AM’ saying (Jn. 4.26; 6.20; 8.24; 8.28; 8.58; 13.19; 18.5-8 (3 times)) likely alludes to God’s use of ‘I AM’ to reveal himself.  As in John, the Greek Old Testament uses the absolute ‘I AM’ seven times (Dt. 32.39; Is. 41.4; 43.10; plus the double ‘egō eimi, egō eimi in Is. 43.25; 45.18; 46.4; 51.12).[7]

Thus Jesus’ revelation of divine identity, of himself as the ‘I AM,’ and his speaking of his own glorification or exaltation on the cross coincide at Jn. 8.28.  Jesus says,

‘… When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM….’ (Jn. 8.28, my translation).

What John is showing by this is that the very identity of God the ‘I AM’ is revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross.  How can this be?  God reveals himself in the cross as the God of ‘grace and truth’ or mercy and faithfulness in his relationship to the world (not only to Israel).  He gives his only-and-dearly-loved Son to die (Jn. 3.16-18), just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22).  Just as Abraham’s character was revealed to God in his willingness to do what God told him to do, horrible as it was, God reveals his character in his willingness to do the unthinkable, horrible as it was—to give his only-and-dearly-loved Son.  He sent Jesus to die on a cross to take away the sins of the world.  Thus, when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he is also exalted and shows forth the glory of God—and that glory is the glory of God in his willingness to suffer the death of his Son to remove the world’s sin.

Conclusion

God’s identity is not one only for Israel.  It is an identity that has profound reverberations throughout his entire creation.  His mercy and faithfulness are not only a matter of maintaining covenant relationships with Israel.  They are his very character, a character of grace and truth.  This gets to the heart of mission as both a revelation and outworking of God's grace and mercy in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Mission is revealing God’s divine identity, which is most profoundly revealed in the only-and-dearly-loved Son’s death on the cross.  To reject the cross is to reject God’s identity, the identity of the ‘I AM’ in Jesus as he dies for the world’s sins.  To receive this Jesus is to receive God.  Jesus’ coming into the world raises the stakes: one can no longer accept a partial understanding of God’s identity—even of his mercy and benevolence[8]--and reject the full revelation that Jesus offers.  One is called upon, as was Thomas, to place one’s fingers in Jesus’ wounds from the cross and declare, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20.28).



[1] So +Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Press, 2003), pp. 410-416.
[2] +Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History and Theology in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 275f, with reference to M. J. J. +Menken, Numerical Literary Techniques in John: The Fourth Evangelist’s Use of Numbers, of Words and Syllables, NovTest.Supp. 55 (Leiden: Brill, 1985).
[3] D. Moody Smith, The Theology of the Gospel of John (New Testament Theology; Cambridge University Press, 1995).
[4] D. Moody Smith, The Theology of the Gospel of John.
[5] ‘Son’ or ‘Son of God’ means more than ‘Messiah,’ of course; it carries a broader range of meaning.  It does not, of course, mean that God had a child.  The term ‘Son’ is used of Jesus relationally, not as a term for an offspring.  It is also a term that conveys a sharing of divine identity with God the Father.
[6] Richard Bauckham makes the following point in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, pp. 275f.
[7] In an earlier study, I noted the uses of ‘I AM’ in John that take a predicate—‘I am the way, the truth, and the light,’ for example (Jn. 14.6).  The absolute use of the statement takes no predicate.  It cannot be easily observed in English translations, however, because translators typically alter the statement to something like ‘I am he.’  This rather misses John’s point.
[8] I have discussed this point with respect to Islam in: Rollin G. Grams, ‘Revealing Divine Identity: The Incarnation of the Word in John’s Gospel,’ in Jesus and the Incarnation: Reflection of Christians from Islamic Contexts, ed. David Singh (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), pp. 47-59.