Gleaning From The Text
John 1:43-51, much like the entire first chapter of John, seeks to establish the true identity of Jesus. By the end of the first chapter, the Fourth Evangelist piles on Jesus no less than six messianic titles, including the Word, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and the King of Israel. In case anyone was wondering, the Johannine community believes Jesus to be the Messiah (Kysar, 37).
Another striking feature of John’s Gospel is the advanced time-table by which his disciples recognize Jesus as the Messiah. While the Synoptic Gospels show Jesus chronically misunderstood by the disciples, receiving only fleeting glimpses of his true identity, John’s characters see things with crystal clarity. With little narrative explaining why, save for Nathanael, the first disciples of Jesus immediately declare Jesus’ identity with the above-mentioned titles (Brown, 26; Malina, 56). The Gospel of John ends its 20th chapter with a postscript indicating that the entire Gospel was written so that the reader might come to believe the same, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
In this text, the disciples immediately see him as the fulfillment of all that has been promised, and yet Jesus pushes them even further. He goes on to say that he is much more than the Messiah. At the end of the first chapter, after Jesus has been given the name of every Messianic figure imaginable, he uses yet a different title to describe himself – Son of Man. Differing again from the Synoptics, John uses the term Son of Man to speak of Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth, between divinity and humanity. He blends it with the image of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis 28:12 and identifies Jesus as the “locus of God’s activity on earth” (Keck, 532). This only enhances the powerful claims made by the incarnational hymn of verses 1-14, which claims that the “Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Food For Thought
The clarity with which John’s cast of disciples understands Jesus is a unique gift of this Gospel. Being a disciple is not simply being in the company of Jesus, it is an active recognition of Jesus’ identity. What is similarly astonishing is that they all use different voices, a variety of languages. To John the Baptist he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; to Andrew he is both Rabbi and the Messiah, to Philip he is the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote; to Nathanael he is the Son of God and King of Israel. Not one disciple articulates Jesus’ identity in the same way. Discipleship through John’s eyes entails a clear understanding of who Jesus is to you. And yet, at the same time, Jesus is always enhancing, always adding onto our limited conceptions of him, always revealing himself to us in new ways.
Sink Your Teeth Into This
It seems to us that this text highlights a tension in the practice of discipleship. On the one hand, as followers of Christ, we are called to articulate our Christology (the failure to do so could be named the mainline protestant epidemic). Mark Douglas, Professor of Ethics at our rival seminary, tells about a church that had a thriving ministry to the homeless that was supported by a wide range of individuals and civic organizations. Many of the people who attended the church came because of its social commitments but were fairly uninterested in the Christian faith. As a way of welcoming these people, the ministers and members downplayed the peculiar beliefs and activities of the faith. Over time, the church withered while the shelter they ran maintained its strength. The shelter still exists; the church closed its doors several years ago.
On the other hand, as followers of Christ, we are to be open to where the living Christ continues to reveal himself to us in new ways. When or where has your understanding of Christology been stretched and expanded?
Raymond E. Brown. The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist
Mark Douglas. Unpublished Manuscript, 2008. (Might be called Believing Aloud)
Leander Keck, et al. New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9: Luke/John. Nashville: Abingdon
Robert Kysar. John: The Maverick Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.
Meg Peery McLaughlin graduated from Union-PSCE with a Dual Degree (MDiv/MACE) in 2005. She is currently serving as Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care at Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.
Jarrett McLaughlin graduated from Union-PSCE with a MDiv in 2005 and a MACE in 2006. He is currently serving as Associate Pastor of Mission and Young Adult Ministry in Kansas City.