Exile to New Creation in John's Gospel (Part 1)
The gospel according to John is rightly a "beloved" book book of the Bible (pun intended). It's central message concerning Christ and his redemptive accomplishments are simple enough that even the "unlearned" can understand. Yet, it is also so richly profound that a lifetime can be spent mining the depths of its theology and the bottom is never reached. It is my intention in this multi-part series to look at one of the rich underlying theological themes of John's gospel. As the title bears out, the theme is exile to new creation. This first post will draw out some preliminary matters addressed in the first five verses of the Prologue. The theme of exile, return from exile, and new creation are hatched in these opening verses. Furthermore, I will address how these relate to the stated purpose of John's gospel. The Prologue is especially important in understanding the theology of John's gospel for Carson rightly states, "The Prologue is a foyer to the rest of the Fourth Gospel, simultaneously drawing the reader in and introducing the major themes" (Carson, 111). Furthermore, as I develop this theme I will draw primarily from the Old Testament book of Isaiah as there seems to be a correspondence and connection between the prophecy of Isaiah and the Gospel of John (see James Hamilton "The Influence of Isaiah on the Gospel of John," Perichoresis 5/2 (2007): 139-162).
Isaiah's prophecy looks to a time when God creates something that is new; a new heaven and a new earth. The terminology used in Isaiah mirrors that which is used in Genesis 1. The trajectory of the Bible points us to the fact that God will dwell amongst his people. Where God, in the original creation dwelt amongst them in the first garden temple so to in the final creation God would dwell in the midst of his people (Rev. 21:1ff). Israel was a type of what was to come as the Lord dwelt in her midst (Deut. 6:15). However, sin spoiled the original creation. Man was exiled from the garden temple of Eden (Gen. 3). Israel, which had the tabernacle and temple where God dwelt with his people, was exiled because of violation of the covenant stipulation given at Sinai. This exile of Israel was pictured by Isaiah as a time of darkness (see Isaiah 9) and return from exile is ultimately pictured as the light dawning in the darkness. The exile is more than just a physical relocation, it ultimately looks back upon the condition of all of humanity being in exile from the Lord because of both Adam's sin (corporate) and our own personal sins. Thus, the light dawning or shining in darkness is the redemptive work of God being made manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the light who has come into the world.
How does this relate to the beginning of John? What is invoked is creation imagery. The Word who was both with God and was God is the one through whom "all things were made." Therefore, as we read John with Old Testament anticipation we ought to be clued in to the dawning of the new creation coming by means of the same "without him was not any thing made that was made." Furthermore, John melds together both creation and exilic return language "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." The very one whom the original creation was made is the one through whom the new creation comes. Isaiah 65 speaks of a new creation, which is marked by life, peace, blessing, and prosperity. The almighty God will bring about a new creation and it is through the agent of the original creation; the Lord Jesus.
In John 1:5 there is a contrast between light and darkness. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Darkness is the sphere of evil. It is where sin is carried out (John 3:19). Darkness is the sphere of sin and wickedness, but it is also more. It is the sphere of positive evil where people walk in darkness conducting themselves in manners of sinfulness and wickedness (Jn. 8:12). The one who walks in darkness is lost (Jn. 12:35). Darkness is something that people need delivered from (Jn. 12:46). Furthermore it is the realm of Satan who is a liar and a murderer. The light (Christ) has come into the realm of darkness; the realm of sin; the realm of evil; the realm of exile. Yet, the darkness does not prevail. Sin does not prevail. The light pierces the darkness or overcomes the darkness. The darkness never overcomes the light. Darkness only exists when there is no light.
The point that is made here is that when the almighty God came into the world as a man, he was triumphant in his mission. He overcame the darkness. Of course this begs a question? What did he overcome when he overcame the darkness and how did he overcome it?
Light and darkness are not equal forces. In many lines of thought light and darkness or good and evil are two equal forces that are locked in this cosmic battle of sorts. There is no sure outcome. It is a push/pull relationship. Sometimes good triumphs while other times darkness or evil triumphs. The picture is one of this cosmic tug of war. There is no assurance of any outcome. However, this is not the picture that is given in the Scriptures. Good and evil; light and darkness are not equal forces. The Lord God and Satan are not equal powers and the realm of darkness will never prevail over the kingdom of light. The darkness does not overcome the light. The light is triumphant. The light overcomes. The Lord Jesus is the triumphant God who overcomes darkness (Satan, sin, and wickedness).
Isaiah 9:2 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." John picks up this theme from Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking of the Lord Jesus (see also Matt. 4). Those who walk darkness on them the light has shined. It isn't that Jesus simply overcomes Satan, sin, and wickedness in the world; he overcomes it even in our own hearts. The darkness is the world estranged from God; spiritually ignorant and blind, fallen and sinful. This described us. But we have seen a great light; the Lord Jesus Christ who has shined upon us that we would have life.
How Jesus is triumphant? Or by what means is he triumphant? This speaks to Jesus' resurrection and his ultimate return.
The greatest day of darkness was Good Friday. The day on which the Lord of glory was crucified. It is recorded that when Jesus was crucified their was darkness over the land. However, on the third day, the light emerged from the tomb. He was triumphant over sin, Satan, and death. The light overcame the darkness. The reality is we must be firmly focused upon the Lord Jesus who emerged from the tomb triumphant. Sin is overcome. The exile is being brought to an end. The return from exile is becoming a reality.
How do we understand the fact that the Bible tells us that Jesus is triumphant, but we still see evil in the world; we still see death. Satan has been vanquished at the cross and resurrection and he is like a wounded animal now. He is in the death throws, but when the Lord returns, the triumph that was accomplished at the cross and resurrection will be finally brought to its consummation. The light will fully and finally triumph over the darkness and God will dwell with man.
How do these themes relate to the stated purpose of John's Gospel? John explicitly states that which he wrote was "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" (20:31). In the overall scope of the of John's Gospel the realm of darkness is equated with sin, exile, and darkness. However, conversely, light is equated with the Lord, righteousness, and life. Therefore, those who "return from exile," so to speak, are those who identify with Christ and believe in his name. Consequently they are the ones who have life.
As Christ Jesus entered the world at his first advent, the light pierced the darkness and those who dwelt in darkness upon them a light has shined. The one who is the light is the source of life and he gives life and light to those who dwell in darkness that they would share in the new creation where God dwells with man in a garden temple that transcends the first one in that it fills the whole earth.
In our next segment we will look at another key section of the Prologue that further establishes who participates in exile to new creation.