Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 13)

When it comes to the question of love on display, the fifteenth verse of John’s sixth chapter informs the reader that “Jesus, because He knew they were going to come and seize Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone” (6:15).  How does this show love?  There is a marked and remarkable self-restraint on the part of this man Jesus, as He refuses to succumb to the people’s desire to make Him king; and perhaps even the temptation to receive the acclimation must at least partially stem from the fact that an acclimation of Him as king is going to come with a declaration of war against Rome. 

Of course, the author writes from a position of the knowledge of what happened when the Jews rebelled against Rome a few decades preceding the time of the written composition of this work (though it is a possibility that the oral tradition that eventually took this written form preceded the written work by a number of years), whereas Jesus is presented as having an implicit knowledge of what will happen if He allows Himself and His people to travel the path that will follow from their desire to make Him king.  Not only will destruction come to Israel, but the plans for the kingdom of the Creator God, and how it is to be brought about, will be nullified.  Here, through this withdrawal, Jesus preserves His disciples, these people, and His nation, in a way that does not derail the purposes of the kingdom that He believes begins and is to be found in unity with Him.  So indeed, this could be looked upon as an example of love to be worked out, understood, and manifested by the community of those that claim allegiance to Jesus.   

The use of “miraculous signs” in the second verse of the sixth chapter of John has been mentioned, as it is this instance that took this study down this particular path.  The sixth chapter contains another usage of the phrase, and it occurs following the story of the feeding of the five thousand.  There, when pressed as to how it is that He had been able to make it to the place at which He was now encountered, Jesus says “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for Me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted” (6:26).  To that He adds, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life” (6:27a).  Here, as in the third chapter and the conversation with Nicodemus that stemmed directly from His actions in the Temple as they were recorded in the second chapter, the witness of miraculous signs is tied to “eternal life,” which the hearers of this story know is linked to the need for belief in Jesus as the harbinger of the kingdom of Israel’s God. 

The notion that Jesus’ miraculous signs, especially as they relate to the provision of bread, are connected to the kingdom of God, is given further concretion by the people’s response, which is “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” (6:28b)  This, of course, comes as Jesus expresses the love of His God, and as there is a desire on the part of the hearer or reader to know what it means to express love to and for one another in aspiration towards discipleship, as this is what Jesus is said to desire from His people.  Relating to the belief in Jesus in connection to the presence of the kingdom of the Creator, Jesus simply offers “This is the deed God requires---to believe in the one whom He sent” (6:29). 

Here, Jesus insists that belief must take on the form of a loyal allegiance to the Creator God and to His purposes to lead His people in an exodus (eternal life---the life of the age to come invading the present) and to bring them into that which He has promised to them, as the statement makes a push towards the previously mentioned reference to Moses.  This push towards Moses culminates with the response to Jesus’ statement about the deeds required by God, which is “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (6:30-31) 

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