The last supper speech attempts to frame the coming events in prophetic tones explicating Jesus’ words. He tells the disciples that the Son of Man will be glorified, and he gives them a new commandment,”that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”i. Furthermore, Jesus goes where his disciples cannot to “prepare a place for them”. The world will persecute and hate the disciples of Christ because they hated Jesus first (Jn15:18). This would especially resonate with John’s community, who fought against the Ioudaioi who reject Jesus in both reality and throughout the Gospel. Finally, Jesus states “I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”ii Thus, not only does John establish theology, but gives his community an ethical framework – is is by loving one another that they show themselves as followers of Christ.
In the passion, the world of evil takes Barabbas into its arms rather than Jesus, the physical over the spiritual. Jesus is also called the king of the Jews, but the chief priests say “We have no king but the emperor.”iii. Thus, the people of the world fully reject Jesus and call for his crucifixion. In a way, Jesus’ rejection reflects the Johnannine community’s rejection by the Jews. Jesus knows he will be rejected, however; in fact, he even knows exactly how long he must remain on the cross, for John never depicts Jesus in any kind of pain or suffering. Jesus does not merely die on a cross – he decides when he will die. In this death, and then his resurrection, he fulfills the things he had said about himself – this is all John needed. Through this death, Jesus has conquered the powers of evil and death, releasing the true community from the darkness of the world. As well, this willing death and servitude to the Father bespeaks total obedience and belief in God, regardless of circumstance – this is the Johannine ideal.
Sectarian concerns, arguments, and ideological bickering led the Johannine community into seclusion from the Jewish community; much like Mark, John provides a validity to their separation while also proclaiming their ideas as the message and significance of Jesus. The Ioudaioi are the prime example of those who do not “worship spirit.”iv The Ioudaioi‘s inability to understand that Jesus is the new “bread of life” in John 6, as well as their prophesied rejection by Christ himself led the Ioudaioi to reject him, intending to find and kill one who would equate himself as one with YHWH, whom Jesus calls the Father.v In many instance in John, the people are afraid to express their belief in Jesus as the Messiah due to the influence of this group.vi In the text, Jesus grapples with these Ioudaioi who, as John probably experienced, questioned Jesus’ authority and whether or not he was demon-possessed. Jesus, thus, becomes a figure willing to defend his beliefs against belligerent opposition, similar to how the Johannine community felt about its own struggles. It reaffirms, in Meeks’ view, their sectarian concerns are grafted through a dialectical process between social experience and ideology.1
Is this not what both Gospels do, though, if not all of them? As far as historical evidence will take scholars, each gospel has its own specific sociological context which inevitably changes their depictions of Jesus. Each gospel pours out of the experience of the community, but not simply at the level of physical trials and travails. Each also reflects the spiritual wrestling of the community in question. The Word of Abandonment, for Mark, perfectly encapsulates Mark’s community and their longing for Jesus’ return. For John, Jesus’ certainty and confidence in his message, even on the cross, lends confidence to his community in its struggles. The community, in a sense, vicariously validates, affirms, and rebukes itself through the person of Jesus. Certainly, both Gospels have entirely different views of their religion, but both take an eerily similar approach to the story of Jesus – Jesus can be reinterpreted and re-used to meet the needs of the community and lend authority to a new idea. Like the writers of the Hebrew Bible before them, reinterpretation and reformulation of old stories was a vital way to reinforce and revive struggling religious groups. For the audience of these Gospels, they are indeed “good news”.
iii John 19:15b
viJohn 7:13, and John 9 are striking examples