The heart of John’s “high Christology”

With this as our framework, we should be able to read right through John and discern what he is actually doing. His Jesus is a combination of the living Word of the Old Testament, the Shekinah of Jewish hope (God’s tabernacling presence in the Temple), and “wisdom,” which in some key Jewish writings was the personal self-expression of the creator God, coming to dwell with humans and particularly with Israel (see Wis. 7; Sir. 24). But this Jesus is no mere ideal, a fictional figure cunningly combining ancient theological motifs. John’s Jesus is alive; he moves from one vivid scene to another, in far more realistic dialogue with far more realistic secondary characters than in most of the synoptic gospels. In particular, he goes again and again to Jerusalem, not least for various festivals—but in each case he appears to trump the festival itself, declaring at the Festival of Tabernacles that he is the one who provides the real living water (John 7), at Hanukkah that he is the true (royal) shepherd, and ultimately at the final Passover that he has overcome the world and its ruler, like YHWH himself overthrowing Pharaoh in Egypt, in order to liberate his people once and for all. John describes Jesus not only as the Temple in person, but as the one in whom everything that would normally happen in the Temple is fulfilled, completed, accomplished. That is why, in the incomparable final discourses of chapters 13–17, generations of readers have had a sense of entering the real Temple, the place where Jesus promises, as God promised in the ancient scriptures, to be with his people and they with him, climaxing in the prayer of chapter 17, which has often, with good reason, been called the High-Priestly Prayer. All the functions of the Temple—festival, presence, priesthood, and now sacrifice—have devolved onto Jesus. This is the heart of John’s “high Christology.”

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N. T. Wright

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