Books Faith

The Gospel of John

John is to the Gospels what Leviticus is to the Torah: the door to mysticism: the apprehension of the inexplicable divine.

max conlan power of the cross


Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
Genesis 32:-29

Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!”

So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)
1 Samuel 3

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
John 18:33-34

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
John 14:16-17


After a disorienting prologue, the Gospel of John appears to follow the generic pattern of the Synoptic Gospels. Miracles are told, places are named, and the same strong implication than Jesus is the LORD is presented.

This identification is done in a different style than in the Synoptics, but the meaning is the same. In particular, John uses an interesting trick of referencing the part of the Hebrew Bible that the reader must know to understand the claim. For instance, the claim that no one has seen God is paired with a reference to Moses

The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him know
John 1:17-18

Moses of course did see the LORD, to whom he spoke face to face.


Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
Exodus 33:11

Another example, which importantly brings up Israel, is when Jesus meets the woman at the well.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon…..
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
John 4:4-5,19-20

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Jacob also met a woman at a well.

While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
Genesis 29:9-12

But here is where the logic of John becomes non-linear. This scene is physically boring. There’s no battle next door, no Pharaoh, and no lions to motivate action. So the mind wanders — but to where.


There’s only one other time a man meets a woman at a well, where the man and the woman do not marry.

As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”

“He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”
1 Samuel 9:11-13

The feast, the sacrifice at a high place, the blessing, the invitation, all of those prefigure events of the Gospel of John.

But…. the head of the party who meets the woman — who will become King of All Israel — is Saul.

Or perhaps we are meant to follow another thread, the moved boulder at the mouth of living water…

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb…
They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
John 20:1,13-15

Or perhaps the reference to the rule of the Benjamin Kings (Saul, and his son Ish-bosheth) are supposed to draw attention to an odd detail, that Jesus seems to be in Jerusalem to commemorate the establishment of another dynasty, the line of Levitical Kings that started with the Maccabean Revolt

At that time the Festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon
John 10:22-23

What is going on?

max conlan birth of jesus

The Rhetoric of the Inexplicable

The Hanukah activity also one the oddest exchange in the Gospel. An angry crowd, who accept the reality of the healings but note that when Jesus calls himself “Son of Man” he is calling himself God, prepares to stone him. I’ve bolded the triply-odd reply:

Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?
John 10:32-34

Here is why that is odd:

1. The Torah is referred to as “your” law
2. There are two levels of quotations in the verse
3. The reply, “You are gods,” is so unexpected and surprising that it stops the stoning. The crowd, angry at blasphemy, is so disoriented by what appears by this they retreat to ensure they actually understand what blasphemy is occurring.

The verse is a reference to the 82nd Psalm

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…
Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!
Psalms 82:1,8

The reply appears to bundle two arguments

1. When god is used to refer to a creature, it’s can be a factual and not a blasphemous designation. Thus, as the Son of Man, the Creator, become a Creature, incarnate on earth
2. The rest of the Psalm appears to accuse the gods of injustice, not blasphemy. Thus stoning Jesus would lead to greater injustice for the sick, regardless of the blasphemy charge

But if Christ’s response is true, it is also difficult to grasp.  Jesus is demanding interpretation. In John people can believe the truth, and state the truth, without understanding the truth.  Caiaphas and the Holy Spirit certainly agreed, when the High Priest declared

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”
John 11:50

Some men knew the name of the LORD since shortly after the first murder

Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Genesis 4:26

But in John, it ss now accessible to all

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them
John 17:6,26


The God of Israel

If “you are gods” is the most troublesome verse in the Gospel of John, the intellectually most slippery passage is in Exodus

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Exodus 32:9-14

The Lord (who spoke to Moses face-to-face, like a friend) of course is the human God, and has human emotions. This is not shocking.

But the entire Gospel of John centers on another aspect of this. What is the focus of the Hebrew Bible?

Is Moses the primary intercessor between the Lord and man? The Gospel of John answers, no

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:7-13

Not only will the Spirit still speak (unlike Moses, was who buried), the spirit will not speak on his own (unlike Moses, who became increasingly sinister in his old age).

Is God exclusively the God of the people of Moses’s Law? The Gospel of John answers, no… in the passage of the woman at the well, the same passage mentioned before

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon…..
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
John 4:4-5,19-20

Jacob is also an ancestor to the Samaritans. Jesus ministers to the Samaritans. And of course, Jacob himself is the “Israel” that Moses asked the LORD to remember

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
Genesis 35:9-10

The God of Israel is a human God of a human man. This is the same message as the Gospel of Luke.  But unlike the earthiness of Luke, there’s something ethereal and disorienting about John


After the stone was rolled away from the tomb

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
John 20:11-13

The word translated above as “angel” simply means “messenger” — messengers who obviously look like men, and the LORD appeared with two Messengers before to Abraham and Sarah.

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.
Genesis 18:1-3

One wonders if — and how long after, if so — the LORD and the two men met Abraham after he saw Mary by the tomb.

One wonders if — and how long after, if so — the LORD walked with Enoch, and took him so that Enoch was “no more”:

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.
Genesis 5:24

Mary says that Jesus was taken, where is he?

(Right behind her)

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
John 20:4-15

Where was Enoch taken?

( )

And Israel wailed, while his sons were taken, using the same term as for Enoch, his sons are “no more”

And their father Jacob said to them, “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!”
Genesis 42:36

Where was Joseph taken?

(Alive, alive, he is alive!)

Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Genesis 46:29-30


The LORD himself, taken but right behind you, lives before and after. The stone is not just by a well nor just by a tomb. The Rock is not just commanded to feed His sheep

He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:17

But is engraved forever

That with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
Job 19:24-25

The Incarnations

In every Gospel it is clear the Son of Man is God Incarnate. But as the LORD spoke to ate with Abraham and spoke face-to-face with Moses, this is hardly shocking. Indeed, in The Gospel of Matthew, the most shocking element is the Transfiguration, the constitutional reform that united the offices of King, Prophet, and Legislator.

But there are social incarnations as well. The Church incarnates with Jesus’ command to Peter, to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep. The Spirit will speak directly to men. And in this world, where men must feed men, where Spirit (but what else?) speaks to them, it is Pilate who asked the question

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
John 18:37-38

Jesus seems almost exasperated by the standards of evidence used by his believers

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

The people seem to believe in him because of “signs,” which may or may not be more impressed than keen eyes for those sitting under fig trees

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.
John 2:23

The woman by the well herself believes Jesus is a prophet, at least, because he’s able to know a whore when he sees one

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
John 4:17-19

Jesus himself gives better standards for belief:

First, that he (the LORD in the flesh, the Great Law) is logically obvious if you believe what the Torah said about Moses

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
John 5:46-17

And second, that his works are from God

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father
John 10:37-38

The context — to believe the works, if you cannot the person — do not refer to the magnitude of works, but to their nature. The command — believe the works if you cannot believe Him — are in the episode where Jesus was nearly stoned during Hanukkah. He cited the Psalm of God passing judgment on the gods. Their crime was their lack of words. They may or may not be powerful, but they do not care for the poor and the weak

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Psalms 82:3-4

A stained-glass window depicting a lamb, symbolizing Jesus, is seen at St. Charles Church in Chippewa Falls, Wis. In Christian literature and art, Christ has often been linked to the image of the Passover lamb. (CNS photo/Crosiers) (Feb. 27, 2013) With Faith Alive No. 12 STORIES March 18, 2013.

The Gospel of John is disorienting. 2,000 years of history — the emergence of the Hebrews in Egypt through their union with Rome — is revealed to be contingent. The Law given by Moses was exactly that — given by Moses — a mortal advocate and intercessor inferior to the Spirit of Truth, the eternal Advocate, and the eternal Intercessor. We’re reminded not just that the LORD is a human god, not just that Messengers are men, but that Israel, too, is a man

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28

The Gospel of John points the way to an inward, and lonely, journey.


And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children
Genesis 32:9-11

The Hebrew Bible is not just the story of wars, migrations, superheroes, kings, and the mighty, but of individuals who cross rivers alone.

Unlike the LORD God, the gods are nothing, not because they are not mighty (they may be), but because they do not know that.

dove st peters basillica

The Gospel of John also features an unnerving rhetoric device, where the second person, “you,” is unreliable. As the dialog starts, it’s clear that “you” refers to those Jews persecuting Jesus

esus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
John 5:19-23

But somewhere in the repetition of “Very truly, I tell you” and the increasing divorce of the speech from the context, the easy assurance that “you” means “them” and not you” is rattled

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…

And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you
John 5:24-25,37-39

(He’s right behind you.)

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3 thoughts on “The Gospel of John
  1. Thank you for this post.
    I have read through the Gospel according to John twice, and you bring some fresh insights to it.
    You ask, where is He?
    He’s right behind you.
    But you have to go looking for Him.
    Or do you?
    The apostles on the road to Emaus we’re running away, but he showed up anyway!
    Generally speaking, the best advice is to go looking for Him, but occasionally glancing over your shoulder is probably also something to include in the search protocol!

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