< January 16, 2011 >

Commentary on John 1:29-42

 

The Gospel of John is a dramatic, gripping narrative.

John 1:29-42 divides into two main parts: verses 29-34 and verses 35-42.

Act I: Background
The play has already begun at John 1:1, of course, with the great Prologue (1:1-18) in which John the Baptist first appears (1:6-8; 15). John the Baptist looms large in 1:19-28. The leaders of Jerusalem interrogate John, asking after his identity. John treads the path of via negative, which the Prologue has taught us to expect from him. The Prologue states that John was not the light, but was a testifier (from the Greek martyr whence we derive the English word martyr). Likewise, John triply confesses that he is NOT the Messiah (verse 20), he is not Elijah (verse 21), and he is not "the prophet" (probably a reference to Moses' declaration in Deuteronomy 18:15).

Still, the leaders press antagonistically, demanding a statement, so John turns to Scripture and places his ministry in the context of words of the prophet Isaiah. They ask him about the meaning of his baptizing practices and he immediately does what he does best in the Fourth Gospel: he testifies to Jesus and his preeminence in the spirit of the words already mentioned in the Prologue at verse 15. And he makes a key observation about the Inquisitors: they do not know Jesus; here we should hear dramatic music or a gong or something of that sort since we are supposed to recall 1:11 at this point ("He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him"). John the Baptist and Jesus have not yet interacted in the narrative but we have been superbly set up for that pregnant imminent moment.

Act II: Jesus and John the Baptist Interact (verses 29-34)
The day after his run-in with the authorities, John the Baptist (JB) sees Jesus and testifies about his identity: "See the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Note the following:

1. Jesus takes away the sin of the cosmos (Greek: kosmos), not the church, just as in 3:16 we hear that God so loved the cosmos and in 4:42 the Samaritans recognize Jesus as the savior of the cosmos. Jesus himself declares in 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth [referring to his crucifixion], will draw all people to myself." 

2. Try not to read the atonement theology that you are familiar with from Hebrews and perhaps Paul and certainly the Johannine Epistles into the Gospel of John. Jesus becomes a Paschal Lamb of sorts in that every holy metaphor, tradition and space dear to Judaism (and Samaritanism, for that matter) finds its fulfillment in Jesus according to the Johannine community, including the Temple (chapters 2 and 4), Moses, scripture (chapter 5:39ff), the manna in the wilderness (chapter 6), the various "festivals of the Judeans," Abraham (chapter 8, especially verses 53-59), and so on.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the significance of Passover would in some way be fulfilled in Jesus for John. Indeed, in John Jesus is killed a day earlier than he is in the Synoptic Gospels. That is, by the time he is enjoying the Last Supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he is already dead in John. In John, he is killed on the day when the Passover Lamb is sacrificed (for a helpful chart on this, go to http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Jesus-Death.htm ). 

But Jesus is never considered a ransom in John nor is he a "lamb led to the slaughter" whose death was a "humiliation" (as in Acts. 8:31-32). In fact, Jesus clearly and repeatedly states that he lays down his life of his own accord. He has the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again (10:17-18). No, John simply piles up metaphors on Jesus to impress upon you the significance, identity, and ultimacy of Jesus. He is simultaneously the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd (chapter 10) who knows his sheep and who asked Peter to feed his lambs (chapter 21).

In the rest of this Act, you find John the Baptist again testifying to Jesus, promoting Jesus, and demoting himself (cf. 3:30). Notice the emphatic, repetitive language. He sees (verse 32), he hears (verse 33), he moves from ignorance to knowledge (verses 32-33) by a revelation, and then he testifies: "And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." The whole Gospel of John was written for no other reason than to reveal Jesus to us, to provide a space for us to encounter him in his full identity. The author clearly tells you in 20:31 (probably the original ending of the Gospel): "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

Act III: Come and See (verses 35-42)
The Final Act of John's inaugural proclamation parallels the previous day. Once again John sees Jesus and testifies: "See the Lamb of God." On the basis of hearing the testimony of another person, John's disciples follow Jesus. It begins with Jesus directly addressing them: "What do you seek?" (Jesus always asks pointed, direct questions in John). He invites them to "Come and See." They hang out with Jesus (Greek: meno, "abide") which leads to their deep intimate encounter with him. This results in a rich, eternal-life-giving experience of their own with Jesus such that their faith is no longer derivative of someone else's but is now based on their own intimate relationship with Jesus.

And so goes the pattern throughout John, as you see already in verse 41. Andrew has been found by Eternal Life and what does he do? He immediately testifies that Jesus is the Messiah (remember 20:31?) and invites his brother Simon to come and see/encounter Jesus for himself. An intimate encounter occurs and Simon follows. In the passage right after ours, Philip becomes a follower and immediately testifies to Nathaniel, using the same words as Jesus did: "Come and See" (1:46).

The Samaritan woman does the same thing in chapter 4. She hangs out and engages Jesus deeply, his identity is revealed to her, she is flooded by Eternal Life and she goes out to testify and to tell her fellow Samaritans to "Come and See." They do come and they "hang out" with Jesus (verse 40) and they have a direct revelation of their own which leads them to testify: "They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

What are we waiting for? Let's go testify for the sake of Abundant, Eternal Life!