In this post, I’ll write more about realized eschatology in the Gospel of John, as discussed in Lee Harmon’s John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened. In my latest reading, key eschatological themes are said to be applied in John’s Gospel to the first coming of Jesus Christ and to his spiritual reign (if you will). The Beast, or the man of sin, in John’s Gospel is Judas Iscariot, for both are called the son of perdition (John 17:12; II Thessalonians 2:3, and Lee also refers to Daniel), and both lead soldiers against Christ. The parousia takes place when Christ sends the Holy Spirit, which is how Christ will dwell with his disciples, since Christ is so united with the Holy Spirit that the two (in a sense) are one. The devil has already been cast down from heaven in John’s Gospel (John 12:31). And Moses and Elijah in the Gospel of John are not figures who will come in the future to inaugurate the end times, nor was John the Baptist Elijah, since John denied being Elijah in John 1:21. Rather, according to Lee, Jesus in John’s Gospel is Moses and Elijah, for Jesus fed the multitude with loaves like Elijah, and he brought manna like Moses. Actually, I should note that it was Elisha (not Elijah) who multiplied the loaves (II Kings 4:42-44), but Elijah did multiply flour and oil (see I Kings 17:7-16).
And who is the false prophet of Revelation 13 in the Gospel of John, in Lee’s view? In my latest reading, John actually identifies himself as the false prophet. According to Lee, John was probably John of Giscala, who led a Jewish revolt in Palestine during the years leading up to 70 C.E. John at first embraced Jesus’ spiritual message, but then he took a militant apocalyptic approach, which he displayed when he wrote the Book of Revelation. But, years later, John once more embraced a more spiritual, realized eschatology, and he regretted his days as an apocalyptic prophet. (Lee provides arguments that the same hand was behind John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation, notwithstanding their stylistic differences, and that John was an eyewitness to Christ. Lee discusses his identification of John with John of Giscala in more detail in his previous book, Revelation: The Way It Happened, which I have not yet read.)
One thing that I have wondered as I have read Lee’s book is this: Does Lee think that John in his Gospel believes in an afterlife, a hope for the believer that extends beyond the grave? To be honest, I’m having my doubts. Lee interprets Jesus’ statements in John 14 about preparing a place for his disciples, not in reference to them going to heaven to be with Jesus after their deaths, but rather in reference to Jesus through the Holy Spirit coming to be with them on earth, in a new spiritual temple. What, then, does God’s victory concretely mean in John’s Gospel, according to Lee? What I’m getting is that it entails such things as God protecting believers from the evil one, God expanding the borders of the Christian community, Christ through his death drawing people to himself, the believers loving and serving one another in obedience to Christ, people having a new outlook as a result of their spiritual rebirth, and the church experiencing Christ’s presence.
All of this realized eschatology is good, in my opinion, but, as I said in my last post on Lee’s book, I have a hard time conceiving of a religion being hopeful when it lacks a futurist eschatology, or at the very least a belief that there is a post-mortem realm where things are made right. I have a hard time believing that John’s Gospel—-in which Jesus stresses life, calls himself the resurrection, comforts Mary and Martha by raising Lazarus from the dead, and rises from the dead himself—-viewed resurrection solely as a spiritual rebirth, without some notion of the afterlife being attached to it.
(UPDATE: Later in the book, Lee addresses the question of whether John had a belief in some sort of afterlife. Stay tuned for my post on that!)
(UPDATE 2: Actually, I’ll comment on the afterlife right now. On page 343, Lee says that “Not once does John promise an afterlife or describe heaven”, and on page 355 Lee criticizes the “afterlife-oriented teachings of today’s churches.” Lee understands eternal life in John’s Gospel as abundant life and as knowing the Father and Christ, and such passages as John 10:10 and John 17:3 may very well support that. At the same time, Lee does appear to be open to the notion that John could have had some conception of the afterlife, or at least that is my impression. On page 332, Lee says that Jesus’ soul going to the Father and the two of them coming down to dwell with believers may give us insight into John’s view regarding the afterlife. And, on page 339, the dying John tells Ruth that he will not leave her, for “Life is everlasting, our Christian spirit forever entwined, for we are one.” Personally, I see no problem with regarding eternal life as abundant life and as knowing God and Christ in the present, but I don’t think that precludes it applying to the afterlife, as well.)