Bishop Cliff Kroski’s Roman Catholic theology education is from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.
The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent was John 3: 14-21. This passage contains the well-known sentence, (3:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”
No doubt, you have seen people hold up a sign that reads, John 3:16 at various sporting events. This passage also lays the foundation for the central belief of many Christians: Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone and those who do not accept Jesus are not saved. Little do the sign holders know that their sign contains a profound and complicated theology which is only found in John’s Gospel.
The Fourth Gospel contains theology and Christology (the theology of how Jesus is viewed) but is not found in the other three Gospels. In the earliest written Gospel of Mark, Jesus is seen as a limited human being, perhaps somewhat divine-like, and a “godly” person. In Mark, Jesus is called the “Son of Man.” Jesus is also a mystery to the people. In the Gospel of Matthew, said to be written second, Jesus is the promised Messiah and Matthew stresses Jesus’ relationship to God as “Son.” In Luke, Jesus is born of Mary, is human, but by God’s power, Jesus is raised to “the Christ” and has the title of ”Lord.” In John’s Gospel, from the very first verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” Jesus is God. Jesus is both “with God” and is God.
John has the beginning of the Trinity developing in his Gospel. Why this progression of Christology?
John’s Gospel was the last gospel written out of the four in the official canon of scripture. Scholars place its origin from the late 90’s to perhaps even 100 AD. It’s been 60-70 years since Jesus died and the way the early Church viewed him increased significantly. By then, in the 2nd century AD, Jesus was not only the Son of God, Jesus was God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus does not speak in parables as in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Jesus gives long monologues in which he describes himself as “The way, the truth, the life and the light.” John’s Gospel also had something called “realized eschatology.” Eschatology is concerned with the “end time,” the end of the world as well as the judgment that comes at the end of the world. John’s judgment is not from God, with Jesus coming on the “clouds of heaven.” John’s judgment comes when each person accepts or rejects Jesus. God has revealed the Light and humans respond to the Light by their belief or disbelief. In other words, realized eschatology means that we judge ourselves by our belief or unbelief in Jesus, the way, the truth and light. The end is happening now, (and every day) by the world’s response to Jesus. John’s Gospel is primarily a gospel of faith. When “doubting” Thomas sees the wounds of the risen Christ, who appears to the disciples, Thomas’ response is, “My Lord and my God.” It’s as simple as that in John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel also carries Gnostic traditions. The words above of Logos, (Word) life, light, and words such as “true” and “know,” and the esoteric dualities of “light and darkness,” spirit and flesh” all have Hellenistic, Gnostic connotations. Also, the idea that gnosis, meaning knowledge, has been made known to humans by a revealer—God—who has revealed his Son—Jesus, who has come to rescue humanity from its entrapment—sin, is also very gnostic. The fact that it is by humanities inward, personal response to this revelation (knowledge) that we in essence, save ourselves, smacks of Gnosticism. In other words, the revelation has been presented and we respond (ourselves) to this self-revelation. We have been given the knowledge, now it is up to us to make the response in belief or disbelief.
So, the next time you see the sign John 3:16 being held aloft at a sporting event, the question to ponder is, “I wonder if the person holding the sign knows about realized eschatology, gnosis, and the Christology of the Gospel of John.”