The Kingdom in the Gospel of John

nicodemus

Nicodemus

The Gospel of John, the latest of the canonical gospels, written at least 50 years after the crucifixion and 15 years after the Gospel of Mark, contains many events and passages not found in the other (so called “synoptic”) gospels. It is the only gospel in which Jesus openly calls himself the son of God. Nevertheless, many Christians consider it to be the most spiritually true of the gospels. While its author was actually anonymous (claiming only to be Jesus’s favorite disciple), for simplicity, I will follow tradition and call him John. [See the comments for a discussion on whether the author was actually John son of Zebedee; I personally make no claims to know.]

The following story is unique to the Gospel of John. A Pharisee named Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Jews, came to Jesus one night:

“Rabbi,” he said, “I know that you are a teacher sent by God. No man can perform the miracles that you do if God is not with him.”

“Truly, I tell you,” said Jesus, “that unless you are born again, you will not see the kingdom of heaven.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus. “Can he reenter his mother’s womb, and be born a second time?”

“Unless you are born from water and the holy Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” said Jesus. “Those born from the flesh are flesh, only those who are reborn from the Spirit are spirit. Do not be surprised that I say you must be born again. The wind blows where it wants, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from, and where it goes. So too, the Spirit comes and goes as it will, touching every one who is born of it.”

“How can this be?” asked Nicodemus.

“Do you, a master of Israel, not know these things?” replied Jesus. “When I speak of what I know, and testify to what I have seen, the people do not believe me. If I tell them of material things and them do not believe me, how will they believe if I tell them of spiritual things? No man can ascend to heaven but the one that came down from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted the plague of serpents in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man lift our affliction. Whoever believes in him shall not die, but shall instead have eternal life. God so loves the world that he will give us his only begotten Son. He will not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but so that through him, it can be saved. He who believes will not be condemned, but he that does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This condemnation is because light has come into the world, but some men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Every one that does evil hates the light, and will not come into it, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that acts truly comes into the light to make his deeds manifest, that they are done under the eyes of heaven.”

John mixes the message of the coming kingdom of heaven, ushered in by the cosmic judge, the Son of Man, who will descend from heaven and make the righteous immortal by the power of the holy Spirit, with the message of redemption by the Son of God. He does this by equating the Son of Man, the apocalyptic figure from the book of Daniel, with the Son of God, who he believed Jesus to be. He also mixes the idea that to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must be baptized and must act truly with the message that one must have faith in the Son of God.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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4 Responses to The Kingdom in the Gospel of John

  1. The Gospel of John is understood to not be anonymous. I wrote an entire blog establishing by the historical record that John wrote John. This is very simple. Jesus openly calls Himself the Son of God in all the other Gospels as well (for example, see Mark 14:60-64). I also don’t get your ridiculous sentiments when you claim that Jesus is not the Son of Man, although He references Himself as such around 80-88 times in the New Testament, including the verse I just referenced.

    • jimbelton says:

      According to Wikipedia: “The Gospel of John is anonymous, its author only identified as ‘the Disciple whom Jesus loved’. The evangelist was always called John, and Church tradition identified the Beloved Disciple as John the Apostle. This latter identification, however, is rejected by the majority of modern biblical scholars.” I have read books by numerous biblical scholars (e.g. Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels) who agree with this. I don’t claim to know whether it is true. Nor do I claim that Jesus was not the Son of Man or the Son of God, only that there is evidence that the earliest Christians did not make these claims. That evidence is summarized in Ehrman’s book “How Jesus Became God”. Ehrman himself makes no claims about whether Jesus was actually the son of God, only about whether Jesus actually said he was. The Gospels are not historical documents in the modern sense, they are religious texts. In the verse in Mark you quote, Jesus agrees that he is the messiah, son of the blessed. He’s hardly making a clear statement that he is the Son of God. I’ll have a look at your post and see what I think of your sentiments on the subject.

      • Wikipedia is not a reliable source, and I have posted a horribly extensive blog on the historical record and how it establishes John as the historical author of the Gospel of John. In order for there to be any progress here, you’re going to have to read it.

        Bart Ehrman has also already given up on his ridiculous and radical idea that Jesus did not claim to be God. Why? Because, there’s no evidence He didn’t claim so, and there’s overwhelming evidence He did claim so. I’ve actually also just so happened to have written a blog on this as well.

        The Gospels are in fact historical texts, not religious. This is where your own sources (Bart Ehrman) contradict you. It is an established fact that the Gospels are of the genre of Ancient Biography, there is no question about this at all.

        ““In recent years, many genres have been proposed for the Gospels, but increasingly they have been again seen as biography. The work of Charles Talbert and David Aune has contributed greatly to this development, while my own work has attempted to give a detailed argument combining literary theory and classical studies with Gospel scholarship”
        -Richard Burridge

      • jimbelton says:

        I read your article on the authorship of John. I didn’t find your arguments too compelling. I personally don’t think that the authorship matters much; neither do I think the historical accuracy is a huge issue. While I agree that wikipedia is not authoritative, I believe they are correct in characterizing the consensus of most scholars on the issue. I’m not a religious historian, but their claim reflects what I’ve read pretty accurately. If you can cite evidence to the contrary, why not edit the wikipedia page?

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