Thursday, February 20, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 6)

Why mention the Temple here and in connection with John’s conception of love?  It has to be mentioned because the presence of the Creator God among His covenant people, with Jesus understood to be serving as the Temple (especially in the light of the fact that at the time of these writings the Temple of Jerusalem no longer existed), signaled the end of exile.  The Creator God’s presence meant that exodus was at hand and that the new age of His rule on earth had begun. 

The Creator God’s personal presence in the Temple was the sign that Israel was free from its oppressors.  A new and glorious Temple (“the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth---John 1:14b) would cause a hearer or reader to hearken back to the construction of the first Temple, under the reign of Solomon, when Israel’s glory was believed to have reached its full height and extent, and all nations came streaming to Israel and to Solomon, paying homage and tribute.  This could be understood to be a component of the Isaianic vision of the messianic banquet (shared by Luke and seemingly embraced by Jesus Himself), which itself was a marker of the Creator God’s love for the whole of His creation. 

This could also call attention to what is to be found in Ezra and the story of the establishment of the second Temple, in that those that had seen the glory of the first Temple wept.  If this situation of glory in relation to the Temple was again in effect (and the language suggests such thoughts), then the messianic age---the kingdom age---had dawned in and with Jesus.  Consequently, the remainder of the narrative, including the notion of the love modeled by Jesus, which was to be meted out to and in and for the world by Jesus’ disciples, must be heard as echoes of that fact.  Jesus’ words and actions can then be understood within that context, as they serve to reveal the love of the Creator God while providing the model for love for one another that will be what marks out the fact of the presence of the kingdom of the Creator God on earth that was inaugurated commensurate with all that was included in the life and mission of the One understood as the incarnated Word. 

In light of all of this, it will be the concrete activities of Jesus, as reported within John, that identify what is to be the lived-out love of the Christian community.  Therefore, the first instance of Jesus’ activity, apart from Him coming to be baptized at the hands of His forerunner, is the call to follow Him.  Surely, the greatest example of love to be expressed between the Christ’s disciples is the ongoing encouragement to follow Jesus and submit to Him as the Lord of all.  Of course, the idea of what it means to follow Jesus (and therefore love in the way that He loves---which is the way that God loves) must be rounded out and given its full orb through the procession of the presentation of His life, which is precisely the path of John’s narrative. 

Jesus first calls men to follow Him in the very the first chapter of John, as He answers a question posed to Him by two of John the Baptist’s disciples in regards to where He was lodging with a simple “Come and you will see” (1:39a).  In the forty-third verse, Jesus speaks to Philip and says “Follow me.”  These disciples will go on to learn about what it will mean to follow Him, as He reveals to them the kingdom of His God through His own proximate functioning as the Temple, which will also be the experience of those that hear or read this Gospel record.  To that end, the first chapter of John closes with Him telling these newly minted disciples: “I tell all of you the solemn truth---you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:51). 

These words, with the use of “Son of Man” language, are likely designed to evidence messianic and therefore kingdom of Creator God sensibilities while building on the Temple language previously used, while also causing the informed hearer to think of Genesis and “Jacob’s ladder.”  In that story, following the vision of his dream in which angels were going up and down on the ladder or stairway (depending on the translation), Jacob exclaimed, among other things, that “This is nothing else than the house of God” (28:17b), thus prompting him to name the place “Bethel” (house of God).  By using these words, the author makes clear the fact that Jesus is presenting Himself as the Temple (Bethel – the house of God), thus defining Himself to these would-be disciples as the locus of the Creator God’s activity and as the ordering principle of the life of the covenant people.  All of this serves to prepare for seeing Jesus as the Creator God in the flesh, and by extension, the outworking of the love of the Creator God that is to be the model for living life in the way of Jesus.        

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