Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Gospel of the King in John


The Gospel According to John does not use the noun “gospel” (Greek, euaggelion, evangel) as in Matthew and Mark, or the verb for “preaching the gospel” (Greek, euaggelizo, evangelize, “gospeling”), but it is about the gospel all the same.

John uses the word “kingdom” only five times. Two of these are found, significantly, in Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, which we will look at in just a moment. The other three are found in just one verse, John 18:36, which we will also see in a minute. However, John does use the word “king” quite a bit, as do the other Gospel writers, and all in reference to Jesus. Also, like the other Gospel writers, he frequently uses the word “Christ,” which means “Messiah,” or more literally “Anointed One,” and which refers to the one God has anointed to be King (see Psalm 2). And, as in the other Gospels, He is called “Son of God,” the implications of which, also in view of Psalm 2, identify Him as King.

All three —“Christ,” “Son of God” and “King” — establish the identity of Jesus as King in the Gospel of John and, indeed, in all four Gospels. We find these three in the first chapter of John and they all attest to Jesus as King.
  • From John the Evangelist’s exposition on Jesus as the Word: “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 18).
  • From the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus: “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (v. 34).
  • Andrew’s testimony to His brother Simon Peter after encountering Jesus: “We have found the Messiah” (v. 41).
  • Nathanael’s exclamation to Jesus: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49).
Let’s look at Jesus’ famous encounter with Nicodemus, who came to him late one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A few verses later, He reiterated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 6).

The language of being “born again” has everything to do with seeing and entering the kingdom of God. The language about being born of water and the Spirit goes back to Ezekiel 36:24-28, which looked forward to the time of God’s Anointed King coming to establish His kingdom on earth. (For more on this meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, see my four-part series: 1. Nicodemus and the Gospel of the Kingdom, 2. The Promised Kingdom, 3. Water, Spirit and the Kingdom of God, 4. Believing the King.)

Now, let’s look for a moment at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which all four Gospel writers record. All four understand it in terms of the kingdom of God and its King. Matthew sees it as fulfillment of Zechariah’s messianic prophecy: “Behold, Your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:5, quoting Zechariah 9:9).

The people shouted loud Hosannas, a word which comes from the first part of Psalm 118:25 (Hebrew, Hoshia na!, “Save now!”). Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm about the stone rejected by the builders but who has become the chief cornerstone, and about Israel’s day of deliverance and victory over the nations.

The Gospel writers draw out different elements of praise that were brought along with those Hosannas. Mark shows the people saying, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:10). Luke records them saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD” (Luke 19:38). And John recalls, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). John also quotes Zechariah in connection with it: “Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:15).

All four Gospel writers also deal with Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate. John’s treatment, though sparse, is the most extensive:
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”

Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:33-37)

Pilate then had Jesus scourged and, at the insistence of the chief priests and Jewish leaders, had Him crucified. Then we read:
Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was:

JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:19-22)
The crowd on Palm Sunday, the chief priests and Jewish leaders, and Pilate all recognized that Jesus claimed to be the King over Israel. The Jewish crowd received His claim and celebrated Him. The chief priests and the mob they instigated denied His claim. Pilate accepted His claim, though he clearly did not understand the deep significance of it.

Throughout the Gospel According to John we also see the identity of Jesus as Christ (Messiah) recognized and affirmed.
  • John the Baptist identified Him as Christ (John 1:20-30; 3:28).
  • Andrew told his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
  • The Samaritan woman at the well testified, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).
  • Many of her fellow Samaritans agreed, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
  • Simon Peter and the disciples affirmed it: “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69).
  • Many Jews agreed. “And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” (John 7:31). And again, “Others said, ‘This is the Christ’” (John 7:41).
  • Jesus understood Himself to be the Messiah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
  • John wrote his Gospel account so we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The significance of Messiah, as found for example in Psalm2, is that He is the one anointed by God to be King. Likewise, the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, seen in some of the examples above as well as other places in John, also shows Him to be King, because the one God anointed to be King, in Psalm 2, is His own Son.

The Gospel of John, then, is the good news about God’s Anointed King.