Friday, April 05, 2019

The Use of the Old Testament in the Gospel according to John

Lecture Notes for New Testament Survey: Lutheran Theological Seminary-Nyamira, Kenya
Joseph Abrahamson
April 2019

Preaching the Gospels well involves understanding the texts of the Old Testament that Christ pointed to in order to demonstrate Who He Is, and what He does. Each Evangelist shows the relationship of Christ to these Old Testament texts in different ways. Here we examine some of the ways in which John documented the continuity of the Old Testament with Christ.

The opening words of John’s Gospel ground the Person of Christ in the opening words of the Old Testament: “In the beginning.” And as Genesis begins with the creation, John states that Jesus Christ is the Eternal One, the Creator. The first day in Genesis is the creation of light and distinguishing the light from the darkness. John describes the Light that was coming into the world, the Onlybegotten Son of God, whom the darkness could not overcome.

John’s Gospel contains many assertions about the relationship of Jesus to the children of Israel and the institutions of that people. At the very beginning of the Gospel is the statement that Jesus belonged to the people of Israel:
1:11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 
This passage is also a reference to several Old Testament passages portraying Israel’s rejection of the coming Messiah. For example:
Isaiah 53:3 And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
Stressed in this is the fact that the children of Israel are Jesus own people. This is true in the sense that His human nature is biologically descended from Jacob. And it is also true in the sense that this is the people that the Eternal Son of God chose to be His own but who continually rejected Him — as we see in Isaiah:
Isaiah 1:3 The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider.”
Jesus’ claim that the people of Israel are “His own people” is made in the same way that He did in the Old Testament. In the Gospel of John, this kind of claim by Jesus is not obscure, nor is it isolated.

John chooses his words for the purpose of forcing the reader to recall Old Testament contexts. In the time of Moses the LORD gave instructions regarding the Tabernacle/Tent of the Lord.
1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt [ ἐσκήνωσεν ] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
This term translated as “dwelt” ἐσκήνωσεν  is a conjugation of the word σκηνόω, which refers to “tenting” or “tabernacling.”  There are hundreds of references to the LORD “tenting” throughout the books of the Law and the rest of the Old Testament.
[ Hatch & Redpath 1271ff  ]

But the significance John emphasizes here is the Tent of Meeting, the Holy Tabernacle where the Glory of the LORD dwelt with His people. Particularly consider the raising of the Tabernacle in Exodus 40:
Exodus 40:33b-38 So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. 
John did not leave it to the reader to make this connection. The Evangelist stated the continuity directly:
1: 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
In Moses the lamb is the substitute, both in the case of Isaac (Genesis 22) and the people of Israel during the 10th Plague (Exodus 11-13). the lamb is established as the substitute for the sinner in the sin offering (Exodus 4). The Evangelist records the testimony of the Baptizer to this continuity.
1:29 “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Throughout this John the Evangelist weaves in another theme of creation in Genesis.
Genesis 1:2 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
This is introduced in the first chapter with the exposition on the identity of the Baptizer. The theme permeates the Baptism of Jesus and the conversation of Nicodemus with Jesus in chapter 3.
1:32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
This look through the first chapter of John’s Gospel is certainly not comprehensive. It is meant to demonstrate how pervasively John uses themes, events, persons, and words from the Old Testament to demonstrate the continuity of the Person and Work of Christ with the Old Testament. The rest of the survey will be more brief. But before we leave the first chapter let us consider Nathaniel’s calling.

Nathaniel’s namesake is the Prophet Nathaniel through whom God  promised David that David would one day have an heir to the throne who would rule eternally and make peace for the people with God, and that his greater Son would build the true temple (1 Chronicles 17:10-14). The Temple of Solomon would become the first non-migrating dwelling place of the Lord, replacing the Tabernacle. In calling Nathan the Evangelist records Jesus stating that He Himself was the ladder in Jacob’s vision, at the place called Beth-El “The House of God.”
1:51  “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
He claims the Temple itself as His own. In the second chapter Jesus drives out the merchandisers from the the Temple. Jesus’ words describe the temple as His temple.
2:16-17 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
John cites Psalm 69:9, a Messianic Psalm. In the immediate context this Psalm also identifies the Messiah’s people and their rejection of the Messiah:
8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
    and an alien to my mother’s children;
9 Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up,
   And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
Not only does Jesus identify the Temple as belonging to Himself and the Father, John records Jesus’ statement that the prophecy of Nathan to David directly applies to Himself.
18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
John documents an event demonstrating that religious authorities at first acknowledged Jesus as being within the authority of the Mosaic Covenant.
3:1-2 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Like Moses, Jesus did signs and wonders. Like Moses, Jesus preached. Nicodemus had come to learn more. Perhaps he was carefully holding the promise and following the command of Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The question about the fulfillment of this passage on the coming Prophet was certainly on the lips of those who spoke to John the Baptizer:
1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
The testimony of John the Baptizer shows two streams of continuity from the Old Testament to Christ. First: John the Baptizer describes himself with the words of the Old Testament Prophets as the Forerunner of the Christ. John the Baptizer declares that he is himself the fulfillment of these particular written promises.  Thus, the one to whom John the Baptizer pointed, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God”, this is the One of whom the prophets spoke as the Anointed One..

We have already mentioned the theme of Creation the Spirit and the Water which is taken up in Chapter 3. This theme is emphasized especially in John’s record of Jesus’ words:
3:5-6 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
After this statement Jesus gives two references to the Old Testament, the first to Numbers 21:4-9 and the Bronze Serpent. John records Christ’s statement that He is the fulfillment of this particular historical act of prophecy.
3:14-15  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
In the very next verse, one of the most widely known of all Bible passages John records Jesus’ reference to Himself in the context of the Sacrifice of Isaac.
Genesis 22:2 “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
As we mentioned above, the lamb is substituted for Isaac:
Genesis 22:13 So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering in place of his son.
The Evangelist has already given us the Baptizer’s statement that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the sacrifice. Christ’s words to Nicodemus frame His Self sacrifice in terms of what God showed Abraham with his only and beloved son born of God’s promise.
3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The Evangelist does not limit his exposition of Old Testament continuity only to the Jews, the children of Israel. John ensures that the Old Testament promise to the Gentiles is not forgotten. An example: John’s Gospel documents Jesus’ interaction with a Samaritan woman where Jesus highlights the continuity  between Himself and the Old Testament.
4:21-24 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This particular example show both Jesus self identifying with the Jews, the people of Israel. And it shows the historical contrast between the inhabitants of Samaria with the descendants of the kingdom of Judah.

Statements about Himself

This brings us into considering several statements of Christ recorded in John’s Gospel where Jesus identifies Himself as the fulfillment of the Word spoken through the prophets. His own recorded claims are that His Person and Work are the same as what is recorded in the Old Testament.

The quotation from John just above continues with the woman’s confession of faith and Christ’s declaration:
4:25-26 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” 
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
The very setting of this encounter with a woman at a well recalls the Abraham’s arrangement to find a bride for his son through his servant meeting Rebekah (Genesis 24), Jacob meeting Rachel (Genesis 29), as well as Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:16-22).

John records for us a number of direct statements of Jesus and discourses where He identifies Himself as the source, content, focus, and goal of the Old Testament Scriptures.
5:36-39 But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. 37 And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. 38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
John records several times Jesus made this specific type of claim. In the context of chapter 5 Jesus went on to point out that the lack of faith exhibited by the Pharisees was due specifically to their lack of faith in the Old Testament, particularly, Moses:
5:46-47 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
John records examples of Jesus performing signs and then preaching about those signs as His own fulfilment of the promises of the Old Testament. From chapter 6 and following John records Jesus’ assertion that He is the one who provided Manna in the wilderness first through the miraculous feeding of 5000; afterward by direct statement that He is the one who is sent from the Father as the Bread of Life.

We will touch briefly on a couple more examples.

In John 10 Jesus directly claims to be the Shepherd of Israel, the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34, Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:10-11. And at the same time He claims to be the substitutionary sacrifice for His people in fulfillment of Exodus 11-13, Leviticus 4, Psalm 16, 22, Isaiah 53 and elsewhere.

The language of Christ which John records is of continuity between Jesus and Moses: continuity and fulfillment.

We discussed Christ’s title as Son of David discussed above with respect to Nathan and the Tabernacle in John 1. We should highlight also Jesus using an action to demonstrate His statement. John, along with the other Evangelists, highlights Jesus entrance into Jerusalem (ch. 12). Again, this action is a claim of continuity with the Old Testament. Particularly of the Davidic Covenant. It is an action that requires knowledge of the Scriptures teaching the Davidic Covenant, the succession and coronation of Solomon, as well as the continuance of the Davidic Covenant after Solomon’s death.

And as chapter 12 precedes, the Evangelist returns to quotations from Isaiah to describe their fulfillment in the outward rejection of Jesus by His own people.
12:37-41 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
Every chapter of John’s Gospel impresses this connection and continuity between Christ and the Old Testament books. Christ is the fulfillment of the Promise, He is the fulfillment of the Law. He is the Creator, He is the Redeemer. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep. He is the Heir to the Throne of Israel rejected by His own People for their sake. He is the High Priest who offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb. And even as the He passed over the firstborn of Israel in Egypt, He Himself is the lamb that is offered and whose blood is upon us that God’s wrath not be upon us.
19:36-37 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

John’s Gospel documents the actions and words of Christ constantly highlighting how Jesus forces those around him to recall these references to Himself in Old Testament motifs, persons, events, and promises. John spelled out his purpose in choosing to document these particular events and words of Christ and their connection to the Old Testament. He wrote:
20:30-31 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.