Now, though it would be both challenging and entertaining, this study will not to explore every use of “love” or one of its derivatives within the Johannine corpus. To do so would take go far afield of the primary task, which is ascertaining the way in which a disciple of Jesus is to define love, doing so based on the terms on offer in the various John writings and in accordance with Jesus’ command of the thirteenth chapter to “love one another.” However, it is appropriate to begin with the first use of “love” in the Gospel of John, as it does lay the groundwork for what will follow.
Following up on the assertion that the Creator God’s faithfulness to His covenant and His creation was foundational for His actions in and through His Christ, it only makes sense that the first use of love, as it forms the premise of the way in which to understand the insisted upon love for one another on John’s own terms, is the well-known sixteenth verse of the third chapter. As this Gospel is presented orally (it would not be read privately be individuals), the very first mention of this foundational element for the Johannine community falls from the lips of Jesus as the audience hears “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
For John then, giving is demonstrated to be foundational for love. However, it is not giving for the sake of giving, but giving that is purposed in the direction of redemption. The concept of redemption provides the context for the tension between perishing and eternal life. The interpretive framework that stands behind the contrast between perishing and eternal life would have been that of exile and exodus. For a Jew of the first century (and it can be surmised that the author and the audience of John were primarily Jewish, and if not Jewish by descent, well- instructed in the history of the Jewish people, as it is only in being well versed in the story of the Creator God’s covenant and His activities for and through His covenant people, that the message of the Gospel of the Christ is going to make any sense whatsoever, especially in light of the fact that Christianity is simply a messianic Jewish movement centered upon Jesus), unlike the vast majority of overly Greek-influenced Christendom in the early twenty-first century, perishing would not have produced thoughts concerning an eternity in hell.
The key is the contrast between perishing and eternal life. Whereas perishing did not produce a connotation of an eternity in a fiery hell, so likewise, “eternal life” would not have conjured up thoughts of going to heaven when one died. This was not about the post-mortem destination of one’s eternal soul. Rather, perishing would have been equated to exile (according to Levitical and Deuteronomic curses, as well as the continued oppression of Israel under foreign powers), whereas eternal life would have been equated with exodus into a promised land. Ultimately, when viewed through the lens of the Resurrection of Jesus, that promised land would have been understood as the Creator God of Israel’s renewed creation (His kingdom come on earth with all things set to right), enjoyed by those that have been resurrected to new life with bodies suited for that glorious age.
Therefore, it should be understood that the love of God (for John) is to be comprehended in accordance with the coming of the Creator God’s kingdom on earth. So immediately, based upon the foundation that has already been laid in this study up to this point, there is a sense that the love of one another that will evidence the fact that one is a disciple of Jesus is love that serves as a signal that the kingdom of the Creator God has come and is coming. This would seem to be reinforced by Jesus’ statement that love between and among His followers would be modeled on His own love for them. Since John appears to be operating with a very early and very high Christology in which Jesus’ is presented as the Creator God manifest in the flesh from the very outset (John 1:1), the love of Jesus for His disciples can be equated with the Creator God’s own love for the world. So along those lines, it would not be a stretch to say that love, as desired by Jesus (according to John) must function redemptively. Going forward, it is this thought that will serves as a guide.