Exile to New Creation in John's Gospel (Part 2)
In the first entry of this series we looked at the theme of a return from exile that is present as a theological backdrop to the Gospel of John. With the second entry we will look at those who are part of the exilic return to the New Creation.
The Lord Jesus is described as the "Light" who has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome the light. Consequently, those who follow Jesus are those who do not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12). Meaning, those who are disciples of Jesus, or those who follow him, have been liberated from the realm of darkness, sin, and death and no longer comport themselves as such. Instead, they have the light, which is life. The Greek construction is an genitive of apposition. This means that the second word identifies the first. It could be equated to drawing an equal sign between the two words. The light of which Jesus speaks is life. This, however, leads to a key question approached in John. Who participates in this exilic return?
It would seem to be a simple answer to the question if one looks at John 20:31. Those who believe in the name of Jesus are those who have life and are those who participate in the exilic return. Obviously, this is a true statement. The deeper question relates to who are those who believe.
The exilic return is not a specifically isolated to Jewish people. It is to all those who are believing. Those who are believing include believing Jews, but also believing Gentiles. The light came into the world and came to his own (that is Israel), but his own did not receive him. Later in the gospel "his own" becomes redefined as disciples who are with Jesus in the Upper Room and then those who would believe their message (see John 13-17). Furthermore, those who do receive Jesus are given a particular title; "children."
Who are these believing "children"? Contrary to those who advocate that any person without distinction is a "child of God," the title is reserved for those who believe in Christ and it is something that is granted versus something that is simply innate.
According to John, the children (of God) are those who have been born of God. This is what accounts for the reception of Christ. This is what accounts for believing in Christ. This is something that is all grace. It is all within the good and sovereign prerogative of God. The emphasis is obscured a bit in the English, but John 1:13 would read something like this: "who, not from blood and not from the will of the flesh and not from the will of man, but from God have been born." The emphasis is upon what God has done versus the instigation or machination of man.
The emphasis is on what God does. It is not from our own will or power. It is not simply by conventional birth that you become a child of God. It is because God has granted this to you. It is a passive verb meaning that those whom this is referring to were not doing the action, but the action is done to them. Just as a baby doesn't bring themselves into the world by their own will or under their own power, they are passive. So we are not born of God by our own power. It is God who grants it and those whom he grants are those who believe and those who believe are given the right to become the children of God. This is truly the evidence of the grace of God. We are the children of God and we are the people of God and those who believe have been given life (birth) and will have life (eternal).
This birth comes about by the sovereign agency of the Spirit of God. One cannot see the kingdom of God "unless one is born from above" (John 3:3). This birth is not orchestrated by the efforts of man, but by the Spirit who is likened to the wind. One can see the effects of the wind, but one does not control where the wind blows.
If this birth from above is according to the sovereign work of God, who are those who receive this birth? In the "Bread of Life" discourse, Jesus says that those who come to him will never hunger or thirst (6:35). This is another way of saying that those who come to Jesus will have eternal life. Those who come to Jesus are those who have been given to him by the Father (6:37). Furthermore, those who come to Jesus are those whom the Father draws. Without the drawing of the Father individuals are unable to come to the Christ and thus have eternal life. These people have been given to the Son by the Father in order that the Son would give to them eternal life (17:2).
In other words, those who participate in this exilic return are those who have been given to the Son by the Father. Those who are given to the Son by the Father will most certainly come to faith in Jesus Christ because the work of the Holy Spirit ensures they will. The Spirit causes the new birth in those who have been given the Son by the Father. Thus, they come to faith and have eternal life. Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ have been born of God (1 John 5:1). The ones who believe are granted the right to become the children of God. It is the children of God who are part of this exilic return.
In the third installment of the series we will turn our attention to the substance of the exilic return; namely the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.