THOUGHTS FROM JOHN’S LETTERS

3 TWO CRITICAL QUESTIONS

1John 1: 1 – 3 shows us that John and the other apostles were absolutely certain that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, was also the eternal Son of God. This belief began when they were Jesus’ disciples. It was grounded in his teaching and his miracles, and was confirmed by his resurrection from the dead:

‘Nathaniel declared, “You are the Son of God”’ (John 1:29).

‘Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”’ (Matthew 16:16).

‘Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”’ (John 20:28).

Paul wrote that the man Jesus was ‘declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 1:4).

But this concept that Jesus Christ is both man and God, without alteration or reduction of either his real humanity or his real deity was a difficult one not only to grasp, but also to accept.

During the years of his earthly ministry it is quite obvious that everybody knew that he was a real human being. And it was his evident, ordinary humanness that made his numerous claims to equality with God appear to be utterly blasphemous. The question ‘is Jesus of Nazareth a real human being?’ never arose. And so in the Gospels we find people, particularly the religious leaders, pointing to his obvious real humanness. Indeed, it was because he was a man, making claims to be God, that the leaders planned his death:

‘Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ (John 5:17, 18).

‘... the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”’ (John 6:41, 42).

‘Jesus ... cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him ...’ (John 7:28 – 30).

‘”I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him ...’ (John 8:58, 59).

‘”I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these to you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God”’ (John 10:30 – 33).

During those three years, the big question was ‘Is Jesus the Son of God? Or is he not?’ Is he, as he claimed ‘one’ with God? Is it as he said: that to know and see him is to actually to know and see God? John wrote his gospel precisely so that ‘you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).

When John wrote his first letter towards the end of the first century AD, this question remained central. But there was by then a second question that is equally critical: was Jesus Christ really human? It was difficult for people to accept both the real and full humanity of Jesus Christ and his real and full deity. Attempts were being made in one way or another to modify or even explain away the concept of his real and full humanity.

So John stressed the importance of holding to both. His first three verses, as we have seen in the two previous meditations, confront us with the real humanity and the real deity of Jesus Christ. They do not allow us to reduce or discard either the true humanity or the true deity of Jesus Christ.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2021