The Cruciform Emphasis of the Johannine Gospel
Of the Gospels, it could be asserted that the Johannine version is that which is most replete with cruciform language. Though each Gospel makes its own “turn” towards Jerusalem and, therefore, towards the cross, John’s narrative is uniquely concerned with the Son of Man’s accomplishments on Golgotha’s tree. His being “lifted up” and “glorified” on the cross (John 3:14; 7:39; 8:28; 12:23, 28, 32, 34) speaks to the comprehensive work of Christ in his passion, which not only served to be his mortification but his coronation, too. (John 12:16; 17:5) It is thus that we are made to see the full picture of John’s cruciform emphasis, which isn’t explicitly or exclusively dealing with the crucifixion itself, but is distinctively tinged with the light of the resurrection.
John’s Gospel is bound together by the narrative themes of death and resurrection, with a suspense that drives the reader towards Jesus’s atonement. This can be seen right from the very beginning of the Johannine account in the record of Jesus’s cleansing of the temple. (John 2:13–22) John is quick to explain, however, that when Jesus professes, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days,” he is, of course, “speaking about the temple of his body.” (John 3:19–21) We might also see this motif brought to the fore in Jesus’s address on the Good Shepherd in John 10, in which he is apt to declare death and resurrection are of his own volition. “I lay down my life so that I may take it up again,” he maintains. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:17–18)
In contrast to the Synoptics, John’s language for Jesus’s resurrection is of the variety that stresses its present reality. For John, eternal life wasn’t merely a future, far-off hope; it was a present possession because of the Incarnation of the Son of God. (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 20:31) “His emphasis,” writes C. S. Keener, “lies on the reality already established by the promised Christ.” (431, emphasis mine) Such is what makes the horrific scene of the crucifixion a paradoxically glorious event. Since Jesus was not only the Christ but was Jehovah in the flesh, the event of his death was never a questionable reality. His sovereign control extended even to all the affairs which led up to his execution. And as Jesus prophesied throughout his earthly ministry, the certainty of his resurrection was never in doubt. That’s because it’s who he is. “The death of Jesus is therefore not simply an event to be explained,” writes D. W. Pao, “it reveals the true identity of Jesus.” (635)
In the resurrection, we are given the sharpest image of the glorified Messiah. It reveals Jesus as the Lord Christ, the “Living One” who holds “the keys of death and Hades” in his hands. (Rev. 1:17–18) The exalted Savior King is the formative melody of both John’s Gospel and his Revelation narrative. In both, he’s desirous that the reader see the paradoxical hope of the gospel. For instance, at Calvary, what appears to be abject defeat is actually victory in disguise. In his passion and death, the Son of Man overthrows all the forces that stand in opposition to life and righteousness by invading death’s domain and becoming the executioner of Death itself. (1 Cor. 15:26)
Accordingly, John’s resurrection apologetic serves as the adamantine substructure for the church itself. The power and promise of Christ’s resurrection is extended to each and every one who puts their faith in God’s good news. This is the bastion of the church and all its disciples, that by faith, one is made to snatch victory from the jowls of death. “Believing in his resurrection,” writes John Angell James, “we believe our own; for he rose not as a private individual, but as our representative.” (194) “For since death came through a man,” writes the apostle Paul, “the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:21–22)
It is thus that the church stands in the victory her Bridegroom secured. The church is made “more than conquerors” because the conquest was won by the Vanquisher of death itself. (Rom. 8:37) The death of death sounded when Christ cried, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) This is the victory cry for all who belong to the Body of Christ. “God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24) Just as Christ could not be “held by death,” but walked out of the cold grave with death’s carcass in his wake, so will the church.
John Angell James, Christian Hope (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1858).
C. S. Keener, “Gospel of John,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).
D. W. Pao, “Old Testament in the Gospels,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).