In his gospel message, John’s Gospel starts with the first creation. “In the beginning was the word.” John shows that, through the word, all things were made. Then he says this word is the light that lights every person who comes into the world. Thus the Logos (living Christ, who is the wisdom of God, the way, the truth and the life) in creation is also in the conscience and cultures of all humanity, and the darkness has not extinguished it. John continues that this word put on flesh to dwell among us, and we beheld his glory (shekinah, meaning spirit). John speaks of the three Old Testament themes which, in the Hebrew mind, mean the presence of the one true God: light, word and spirit. John says that all these are present in Christ.
John is making several points here. He is showing that, just as God rested on the seventh day and dwelled among his people, so he came again in Christ to dwell among us. The gospel of John is the coming of heaven to earth. It is about God making earth his dwelling place once again. This time he comes in Christ to set up a new temple on the earth, through the church, so that he can dwell amongst the nations. This joining of heaven and earth in one healed, new creation is the theme John shows in the end of Revelation. In John chapter one, John is quite intentionally speaking of Christ coming in the flesh to establish God’s new creation within the world.
By saying that the word put on flesh and “tabernacled” among us, John was saying that Jesus is the Spirit and he is YHWH of the Old Testament. He was saying Christ is the YHWH who inhabited the temple of the Old Testament by his Spirit, now present among us in a different kind of tent, a man’s body. John is simply showing Christ as the presence of the YHWH of Israel. This opening to John’s Gospel is reflecting the Hebrew faith of monotheism in Jesus more concretely and with less confusion than Greek trinitarianism did.
In John’s opening chapter he shows that God is once again present among his people. Just as the word, light and Spirit of God brought forth the first creation, God has appeared once again in Christ to bring forth a new creation, a new heaven and new earth, through the gospel. He does this by bringing forth a new temple in the world through his death and resurrection. When John says, “The light shines in darkness and the darkness cannot prevent it”, he is referring to Genesis chapter one: light sent darkness back. So Christ has come to extinguish darkness fully from God’s creation through renewing all things. John turns the creational language of Genesis 1 into new creation language through the incarnation, the appearance of God in flesh.
The themes of light, word and spirit continue all the way though John’s Gospel. He shows his glory (shekinah) at the wedding, where, by a creative act, Jesus turns the water into wine. He does the same with the feeding of the multitude, and by creating eyes in a man born blind, using the same dirt with which he made Adam. John compares Jesus to Moses who gave manna, the author of Genesis. In all these accounts John is showing that God is at work once again and has come, in Christ, to initiate a new creation, a new era. To a Jewish mind reading the Gospel of John in the first century, this creational view, of a new heaven and new earth, would have been unmistakably noticed and understood. The message of John is clear. His way of understanding and presenting the gospel as impacting and renewing the whole world we live in cannot be missed.
Traditionally, we have often read these accounts as John establishing the divinity of Christ. The accounts do show his divinity, but this is not the full extent of John’s purpose. That is not where John stops. He is leading the Hebrew people into new creation, to join with God in the gospel, to follow Christ into the nations, to bring about the renewal of the world. This Gospel of John isn’t just a calling to come to Christ, but a calling to join with God in his redemptive plan for our cultures and communities. John said that he wrote these things so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ (Jewish Messiah) and, in believing, would have eternal life. But we must understand this from the first century Jewish position. They believed that, when the Messiah came, he would renew all things and heal the natural world. Isaiah plainly foretold this and the Jews were eagerly expecting it. They didn’t see eternal life as simply going to heaven, as if that was all it was, but as the coming of the kingdom of God to earth. Eternal life was new heaven and new earth. This is what the Prophets promised to them.
We can also see from this opening of John the meaning of sonship. “To as many as received him he gave the power to become the sons of God.” This is given in the context of the Hebrew creational worldview from Genesis 1 &2. Adam and Eve were given power (dominion) over God’s creation. “Sonship” refers to Adam’s and Eve’s rulership over God’s creation. Sonship means being made in the image of God, to rule with him over his works as joint heirs. This sonship shows again that John is declaring the gospel of Christ as a re-creational gospel about this world we live in. Our sonship is restored to renew our nations. This is how Paul speaks of sonship and image in Romans 8 and in 2 Cor 3-5. It comes to set the world free from its corruption.
All these themes of sonship, image and Torah mentioned throughout the New Testament always point to new creation. As the light of Christ shines in our heart, darkness is driven back, as in Genesis 1, and cannot prevent the light from renewing all things. (Gen 1:1-5, John 1:5) The reign of Torah through the Spirit comes to our hearts and renews our communities through the shema: love for God and for others. This gospel is very much Hebrew centred. Torah is not set aside, but becomes the very centre of our sonship and Adamic commission in the world. The Torah of Deut 6:4-5 becomes the Torah of a renewed/circumcised heart spoken of in Deut 30:6. Deut 30:6 says when God circumcises our heart and we keep Torah we live. This means renewed land and community, the promise to Israel fulfilled in the gospel. To the Pharisees, Torah meant washing hands; to Jesus, Torah meant love the Lord your God with all of your being and your neighbour as yourself. Torah meant the cross.
In John chapter 13 we see the nature of this new creation. God is bringing us back to Adam and Eve’s first call, to reflect God’s nature and character to others. To do this, God desires his full image in the world as the basis for this reflecting and renewing of our cosmos. This is why his image dwelt with Adam and Eve, and again with Israel. This is why his image came fully in Christ and now shines through those who follow him. The gospel is plainly as much about reflecting God’s image through Christ to renew the world’s corruption (Rom 8:19-25), as it is about our personal justification. We are called to move from personal justification to become image bearers for the sake of the world God loves. Such is the outworking of God’s new earth renewal plan.
This is often missed in Western theology. In Romans, for example, justification will normally be seen as the main point, along with sanctification and glorification. These three are seen as referring to the individual, who is at the centre of the gospel. But the justification Paul is speaking about is that which unites us as one family from otherwise different traditions. And the glorification part has been taken wrongly. It doesn’t mean going to heaven, but being restored to full sonship and the Adamic commission in ruling the world. This is what Romans is dealing with: the restoration of the image of God in man to work with God in new creation. Justification is a stepping stone to transformation into his image. This is the goal. And both justification and glorification are community issues, not centred on promises just to an individual.
But what exactly is that image or character of God, in John 13, that the Spirit reflects through us? It is one of self-giving for others. God lays down his life in Christ in order that he might serve the world. He gives his blood, represented by the Last Supper in the upper room, and, by so doing, calls us to do the same for others. This is reflecting God’s image to the world. He washed the feet of his students and friends and calls to us to follow his example with all others in the world. This is his new creation spreading through the church, imbibing the nature of our creator and redeemer. This is the salt and light that transforms our communities, relationships and creation. God just needs a people to walk in it.
In chapters 14 to 17 of John, we see Christ’s temple language. Through the cross, God was coming once again to dwell among his people. We would become his temple. What did this mean to the Jews? It didn’t mean going to heaven. The temple was always about God’s plan to inhabit the world so that he might bring his image, blessing and healing to the nations. This was the reason for the temple in the Garden and in the Promised Land. This temple is the meeting place between heaven and earth, so God’s merciful rule can spread throughout the world. Without the temple, all the world had was the curse. With a restored temple the earth now has his benevolent presence again.
When Israel was exiled to Babylon and the presence and glory left the temple, God promised in Ezekiel that his presence would return. After Israel returned from Babylon to their land and Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, and Herod later built it again, the shekinah never did return to the new temple. Haggai promised the glory (shekinah) of the latter house shall be greater than the shekinah in the former temple (Solomon’s temple), but that glory never returned. God said he was returning to his land and temple but, up till the time of Jesus, that had never happened. There is no account, after the return of Israel from Babylon till the days of Jesus roughly 400 years later, of the shekinah filling the second temple as it previously filled the tabernacle of Moses and the temple Solomon dedicated.
In chapters 14-17, John shows us that this returning to his people is what the coming of Christ means. He came to fulfil God’s promise of his return to his Jewish people, and his return to his temple. These chapters in John are the shekinah chapters. Christ shares how, through his death and resurrection, and through our obedience in following him, he will fill his body/temple/church with his Spirit so we would become the dwelling place of God. “Through the Holy Spirit, I and the Father in you.” (See also Acts 15:16, the return of God to Israel in the New Covenant) This is the direct fulfilment of the Old Testament prophets concerning the return of God to his temple. “Father, I have given them the shekinah you gave me.” (John 17:22) This was fulfilled in the church on the Day of Pentecost.
And what was the reason for the coming of God back to his temple? Ezekiel makes it plain. When the temple is rebuilt by the Messiah, it issues forth the blessing and renewal of God throughout the whole world. The whole world is brought to life by the presence of God in his church (Ezekiel 47). Ezekiel speaks of all nations coming to life. Then Ezekiel goes on to show the land divided up between the twelve tribes of Israel and being filled with God’s glory. The twelve tribes are symbolic of the blessing of Israel going to the whole of humanity and the land is the whole of the earth, just as the twelve tribes carry the same symbolism in the book of Revelation. Israel fulfils its mission to the world though their Messiah and his shekinah-filled body/temple. This is the new heaven and new earth John is declaring in his shekinah chapters.
Moving on in John, we see the new creation being declared through John’s account of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s a historical account, but it’s also a poetic one, reflecting the creation narrative in Genesis. Its purpose is to show the Jewish people the work that God is doing in raising Christ from the dead. It is the beginning of a new creation era. John declared that Christ was crucified on the sixth day of the week. He was buried and rested in the grave the whole of the seventh day. Then John states, “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…” Here John announces the beginning of a new creation week. In Genesis we have the first creation week. Here, Jesus rises on Day One to start his new creation, his kingdom reign, the beginning of the era in which he subdues all his enemies on earth under him.
And in what form does Christ rise? He rises with his earthly body transformed. So, in this new creation, it is the flesh of this world that is renewed. It is our material creation that is transformed. This shows us an understanding of the faith of the Jewish people. For them, resurrection isn’t merely spiritual. It involves our fleshly bodies, and the eventual transformation of the whole natural world we live in. Fleshly bodies are for living on this earth. A resurrected fleshly body is to live in God’s new, transformed, united heaven and earth. Christ is the first fruits of this resurrection and of the transformation of our whole creation. The first body (Greek: soma) covers the mortal soul psychikon), the second body (soma) covers the immortal spirit (pneumatikon). (1 Cor 15:44) The difference is immortality. (1 Cor1:54)
Moreover, one of the most glaring things John mentioned is who it was that first came to the tomb and, subsequently, became the first apostle of Christ’s resurrection and new creation. It was Mary Magdalene. Not only was she a woman, but a former prostitute, out of whom Jesus drove seven demons. In those days, women were not allowed to be witnesses in a court of law. However, here Jesus makes them the number one witnesses of his resurrection, the most important event in eternity. This was a very deliberate act of God in showing the nature of his new creation; that a renewing had begun that would transform all the values of our societies, turning covetous empires into caring communities. In the societies of that day, women were shunned. The Pharisees used to pray, “Thank you Lord that you didn’t make me a gentile and you didn’t make me a woman.” It was a completely patriarchal and self-centred society, just as we see right through the Old Testament cultures. But here in the gospel, God sows a new leaven into the world that will renew us all.
God makes the greatest announcement in eternity through a renewed sinner, someone despised by society. By worldly values, this looks like a great indignity for Christ – conceived out of wedlock, rejected by the religious people, welcomed by loathed shepherds, and now announced by a former prostitute. Most people like their arrival to be announced by important people. You would think God would want the president of the USA to announce the dawn of our new creation. Instead, Mary was God’s choice. This is a demonstration of the new world God is making through his church.
This brings us back to John 13 and the nature of this new creation. It isn’t based on the values of the old world, which is now passing away. In the new world, it is the meek who rise, it is the sick who are cared for, it is the sinner and looser who are sought out. This first example we see after Christ’s resurrection begins to permeate all our societies. Slavery, racism, and the exploitation of others are eventually brought under Christ’s reign as we wake up to God’s purpose for the church in the world: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul and strength, and you shall love your neighbour (friend and enemy) as yourself.” “And Mary sat at Jesus’s feet…” (Luke 19:38)
Here, we are shown the non-bigoted nature of the new kingdom. The above phrase is an idiom which meant that Mary was a disciple of a rabbi, able to learn and to expound the teachings of the kingdom. This would have been inconceivable in the patriarchal ages. No woman could be in a rabbinical college. This just shows how we are to treat others of difference in God’s kingdom, in a new age, eventually abolishing slavery and all systems of exploitation.
Paul’s writings are distinctly non-hierarchical. The cultures of his day were entirely hierarchical, with strict and unjust social orders between male and female, rich and poor, citizens and non-citizens, owners and salves, within marriage, priests and laity, on and on. Paul taught all these social hierarchies are overthrown by agape in Christ. Because we were all sinners and have been freely forgiven and accepted, we are to accept and treat all others the same way. Care of those different to us replaces oppression.
Paul and Peter (see 1 Peter) both taught the way we infiltrate these selfish social institutions is to follow Christ. Whether government, marriage or economic relationships, we are to take Christ’s path of respect. Paul and Peter weren’t teaching hierarchy, but the Christ way of infiltrating and renewing the powers of our land. (“Follow God as his dear children… do as Christ did…” Eph 5:1-2)
In Ephesians 5, Paul likened marriage to the relationship of the church with Christ. As Eve came out of Adam’s own flesh, so the church is the blood and body of the Lord, coming from his side on Calvary. In marriage there is a respect/love relationship from both parties. Paul is calling for respect for the social customs on marriage, without differentiating between the wife and husband on a hierarchical level. The word used for the wife “obeying” her husband, is the word used in the previous verse for us “submitting to one another in love.” It isn’t hierarchical, but in agape.
This doesn’t mean the woman is lower than the man, nor is Paul teaching “gender roles” for believers, as Paul points out when quoting the error of the Corinthians (1 Cor 11), “every man also comes from a woman”. In Genesis 1, both male and female are made in the image of God and are both given dominion. Woman wasn’t “made in the image and glory of man.” Paul’s conclusion about “head-coverings” was that the churches had no custom to contend over, and that that which is deemed proper in culture should be followed. This is in line with Paul’s usual point about our love for others overruling our desire for personal freedom or self-centred revolution against customs. We transform powers through “washing feet”, as Christ did.
Following Christ’s teachings and life, Paul and Peter make leaders within society, and all of God’s people, servants. (Matt 20:25-26) Leadership within our social institutions, offices and customs takes on the form of a servant. This is God’s infiltrating, undermining plan, rather than taking up Satan’s methods of rebellion. God only has one plan for changing the world and that is the path Christ took. We are his followers and we are God’s plan of renewal.
Gordon Fee said, “The language and style of 1 Corinthians are especially rhetorical and combative. Paul is taking them on at every turn. There is little to suggest that he is informing or merely correcting; instead, he is attacking and challenging with all the weapons in his literary arsenal.” 1 Cor 6:12, 13, 7:1, 8:1, 4, 10:23, 15:12 are all accepted verses in which Paul is quoting the Corinthians, not using his own words. This is clear in Romans as well, in 3:1-7 for example, where he extensively quotes others, without saying he is doing so. In Corinthians, Paul is responding to reports from Cloe’s household church and also responding to an earlier letter written from the Corinthian church to Paul. Paul is answering their false claims. This is also the case in 1 Cor 11 and in 1 Cor 14, where men, following the cultural ideas of the day, were seeking to silence women.
This is the only way to reconcile these texts with Paul’s clear approval of and work with women gospel ministers and leaders. We know of Junia and Priscilla and the women who prophesised at Corinth, and Lydia who led a group in Philippi, and Chloe who led the group in her house in Rome, and Phoebe who carried Paul’s letter to the Roman church. In that day the carrier was also the one who read the letter in the churches and interpreted/commented/preached on the letter, to convey its proper meaning for Paul. Saying women should learn in silence (as in 1 Tim 2:11), just as men aren’t to be “contentious” in the church, since “Eve was deceived”, shows that Paul didn’t approve of the culture of the day which didn’t allow women to be taught. He turned it against them: “If women are deceived, as you say, then they better learn.”
This brings us back to Paul’s foundation and paradigmatic example in Jesus, who brought Mary into his rabbinical school, to learn and to share his word of life with others, and who used a woman delivered sinner (Mary Magdalene) as his first apostle of new creation.