Passover Theme in John: Jesus as the fulfillment.

Introduction

John is often referred to as the evangelist. This is because, in the literature attributed to him, he states quite directly that his purpose in writing was “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”[1] John writes with Greek words, however, those words are crafted in a way that seems intended to appeal to a reader who could appreciate the connection between the work of Christ and the history of Israel. By linking Jesus to the history of God’s people, and picturing Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of that history, John gives the reader insight into God’s design for salvation. Namely that God saves, for, to and from himself, by means that are beyond human ability. God’s power to save and method for saving are explained in the great protestant proclamation of the Five Solas: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.  The story of God’s purposes is the joy of the Biblical exegete seek out; employing language study, historical background, and cross-referencing the texts are just some of the skills required to dive deeply into the bounty that the scripture provides. In the Gospel John agrees with the other New Testament writers as to Jesus being the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan for redemptive history; because God accomplished redemption through the ultimate “Lamb of God”[2], fulfilling what the Passover promised: Jesus’ story can be traced from before the first Protevangelial promise[3] to the last text as his people enjoy eternity with their savior and king. The story of redemptive history is about Jesus, for Jesus, and through Jesus, to the glory of God so that sinners would be saved from God.

Historical Background of the Book of John

Date and Location

            Since Clement (c. ad 150–215)[4] cites from John, the authorship can be safely assumed to be prior to Clement. Irenaeus makes probably the clearest reference to the location and by that gives a clue as to its date when he said that John wrote the Gospel “during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”[5] This means that the data would be somewhere between the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. and, assuming John is the author of Revelation, 95 AD. This date is further supported by the p52, (papyrus) which is dated in the early second century.

Authorship

            Overwhelmingly the church fathers, Papias, Clement, Polycrates, Irenaeus, and Dionysius attributed the authorship to John the Apostle.[6] John is also listed as the author in the Muratorian Canon documents.[7] In the early years, there was an advantage to apostolic authorship. As the Canon was not fully recognized, yet it was almost universally agreed on that apostolic authorship was expected for any document that belonged Canon. This atmosphere of argumentation about the Canon would give any early centuries person a good reason to push for John’s authorship, if for no other reason than making the case that the text was scripture. However, in the intervening centuries, several theories have been broached about the authorship; though none of them have been able to clearly refute the attribution to John. As Strauss put it, even with all the other theories about authorship, “The most likely candidate for authorship remains the apostle John.”[8]

Audience and Purpose

            John’s overarching purpose is stated in the text “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”[9] However, there is some speculation as to other motives that might have driven John to write. Speculations range from John feeling the need to supplement the other gospels, John’s battle with Gnosticism, or John wanting to inform the readers as to the institution of the sacraments.[10] However, Kruse points out a very compelling point about purpose when he said, “[s]eeing that the Gospel was probably written originally in Greek, we may say it was intended primarily for unbelieving Greek-speaking Jews.”[11] This hypothesis fits with John’ stated purposes. It seems reasonable to guess that John wrote the Gospel with the local Greek-speaking Jews in Ephesus in his mind; so that they might come to believe.

Passover Theme in the Gospel of John Cross-Reference Old Testament

The lens John uses in his Gospel is fully fixed on Jesus. Wang points out that John’s Gospel gives more time to “Jesus’ passion” than any of the Synoptics.[12] The reason John writes is to foster faith in Jesus and, as Lee puts it, to stress “the identity of the Johanne Jesus.”[13] This identity that Lee speaks about is the Jesus who fulfills the plan of God’s redemption. Even though the fulfillment themes in John are many, perhaps the most powerful is that of the Passover. Dvorak points out that the Passover is a major theme in John because while the “Synoptics record Jesus’ attendance only at the Passover Feast that immediately preceded his death, [but] John, however, recounts three [Chapters 2, 6, 12] Passovers ….”[14] In the prologue, John sets the stage for Jesus’ climatic fulfillment of the Passover when he reports John the Baptist’s proclamation “Behold, the Lamb of God!”[15] There is only one reason to associate Jesus with a Lamb. That reason is pictured in the Exodus account of the first Passover where the Lamb took the death that would have been for the firstborn and by its sacrifice provided covering and life for the firstborn children of Israel. In contrast, the Egyptians, who had no covering, lost their firstborn to the angel of death that God sent.[16]

After the reference to the Lamb in the prologue, in Chapter 2, Jesus is said to go to Jerusalem for the Passover and, on this occasion, Jesus drives all the of animals out of the temple. Clearly, in Jesus’ words, this was about how they had made “my Father’s house a house of trade.”[17] However, when it is put into the great theme of John’s narrative, we see that John is using this incident to communicate Jesus as the true purifier of the temple. R.C. Sproul seems to interpret John’s words here consistently with the idea of Jesus as the purifier when he wrote, “Jesus is the final and full expression of what was only a shadow in the OT (Heb. 10:1).”[18]

Jesus again visits the temple on Passover in Chapter 6 and this visit is right on the heels of feeding the multitudes and walking on the water. John is linking the reader’s mind back to the Old Testament when he recounts these, just as the Hebrews had walked through the sea[19] by God’s power Jesus walked across the sea[20] of Galilee and just as God had fed the people with the bread of heaven,[21] Jesus fed the people.[22] Jesus makes this connection plain when he said, “Moses who gave you the bread from heaven.”[23] Jesus goes on in Chapter 6 to expand on the theme of himself as the Passover Lamb. In the Old Testament, after the Lamb was sacrificed and the blood covered the door to the house, the people were to eat the Lamb and leave nothing of it[24] and Jesus tells the crowd that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”[25] This picture proved too enigmatic for most of the crowd who left off following him.

The final Passover in John is the one in all the Gospel accounts. R.C. Sproul says of this Passover account, that starts in Chapter 11:55, “[a]t this Passover feast (cf. 6:4), the Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sins (1:29), will be sacrificed.”[26] It is interesting to note that Jesus in John 18:1 crosses the Kidron valley this night after promising a new covenant in his blood, this is the place where all the false altars were cast when Hezekiah rededicated the temple[27] and Selman points out that it is at this point in Israel’s history that “[t]he original smearing of doorposts and lintels (Exod. 12:7, 22–23) is replaced by sprinkling on the altar.”[28] Since this was Passover night, it would have been the 14th day of the month, Jesus as the Lamb goes out into the twilight[29] to be taken like the Lambs from Exodus. Charles Spurgeon very clearly explains Christ as the Passover fulfillment with these words,

Come, let us keep the Passover this night, and think of the night when the Lord delivered us out of Egypt. Let us behold our Saviour Jesus as the Paschal Lamb on which we feed; yea, let us not only look at him as such, but let us sit down to-night at his table, let us eat of his flesh and drink of his blood; for his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed.[30]

Reasons and Purpose for the Saving of Mankind

The Lord tells the Children of Israel, not for you I have done this.[31] God in no uncertain terms declares that salvation is for the vindication of his name alone. In John, we see the Monergistic formula for salvation more than any of the other Gospels. In John 6 the only people that come to Christ are the ones drawn by the Father,[32] in John 10, only those that are his hear his voice,[33] and in John 17, Jesus intercedes for his alone.[34] Jesus over and over again in the text of John states that he has come to do the will of the Father and the Fathers will is that Jesus will “raise him [the one the Father draws and evidenced by faith in Jesus] up on the last day.”[35]

The Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation codify how the scripture describes salvation. In answering the question of God’s purpose in salvation, Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone) is the most pertinent of the Solas. God said in Isaiah 43:1–7, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! … whom I have created for My glory.” [36]

The need for the salvation of mankind is because of God’s justice. As a just God, he must punish the wicked; but, because of His love, He makes a way for salvation so, in the end, it is God the sinner needs to be saved from, His justice, and it is God who saves the Sinner for his glory because of his love, as a display of his Grace. The scripture says that God desired to “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”[37]

Skills of a Detailed and Accurate Exegesis

The exegete finds great joy in deciphering and interpreting the scriptures. The three main categories of understanding the scripture are understanding the text itself, understanding the historical background, and being able to locate the text in the greater narrative of the passage, the book and the story of redemptive history.

For the passages in John, one of the primary keys was seeing the theme of Old Testament Prophecy fulfilled. This requires knowledge of the overall biblical text. For example, seeing the significance of the fact that Jesus crosses Kidron before he is turned over to the Jews and that it happens at twilight takes knowing the Exodus account and the accounts in 2 Chronicles. The exegete must have a good grasp of scripture and that is why Paul says that it takes a skilled tradesman in the word to handle it correctly.[38]

The second most important skill for the Johannian texts, in this case, is a good grasp of the flow of the text itself. The passage where Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven is attended by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:57) was problematic to the people in Jesus’ day because they did not know what to do with it. Paying careful attention to the text in this case and seeing that Jesus starts with the statement (6:40) that believing in him gives life, then two times after that, one positive and one negatively, he equates eating and drinking him to the thing that gives life. It becomes clear that Jesus is using eating and drinking him as a metaphor for believing in him.

The last of the primary skills required for this text is the historical setting of the book. The exegete must rely on the historian for a lot of the information in this part. There are always some clues in the text about place and authorship but, especially with John, the clues can be few and far between. Knowing the historical setting can give many clues and to the who, what, where, when and why of the text.

Conclusion

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of redemption. He is the serpent crusher. He is the ark. He is the Passover lamb. He is the promised Messiah. John’s gospel text is about showing Jesus as God’s promised means of salvation. Through Jesus, God saves his people, from himself, for himself, and by himself. Jesus is the Lamb that covers the sin of the world.

 

References:

[1] John 20:31, ESV.

[2] John 1:29, ESV.

[3] Genesis 3:15.

[4] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 24.

[5] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[6] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 24.

[7] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 25.

[8] Mark L. Strauss. 2007. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 334.

[9] John 20:31, ESV.

[10] Colin G. Kruse. John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 24.

[11] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 21.

[12] Wang, Lian (Pseudonym). 2017. “Johannine View of Persecution and Tribulation.” Lutheran Mission Matters 25 (2): 359.

[13] Lee, Dorothy A. 2015. “‘Signs and Works’: The Miracles in the Gospels of Mark and John.” Colloquium 47 (1): 91.

[14]. James D. Dvorak. 1998. “The Relationship between John and the Synoptic Gospels.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41 (2): 201

[15]. John 1:36, ESV.

[16]. Exodus 12:1-31, ESV.

[17]. John 2:16, ESV.

[18]. R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1855.

[19]. Exodus 14:22, ESV.

[20]. John 6:19, ESV.

[21]. Exodus 16:4, ESV.

[22]. John 6:11, ESV.

[23]. John 6:32 ESV.

[24]. Exodus 12:8, ESV.

[25]. John 6:53, ESV.

[26]. R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1879.

[27]. 2 Chronicles 30:13–22, ESV.

[28]. Martin J. Selman, 2 Chronicles: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 519.

[29]. Exodus 12:6, ESV.

[30]. C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ Our Passover,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856), 1.

[31]. Ezekiel 36:32, ESV.

[32]. John 6:37–46, ESV.

[33]. John 10:27, ESV.

[34]. John 17:9, 20, ESV.

[35]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 6:40.

[36]. Isaiah 43:1–7

[37]. Romans 9:23, ESV.

[38]. 2 Timothy 2:15, ESV.

Posted in Blog, Theology.