Lesson 2: The New Testament: Christ and the Gospels

In the previous lesson, we examined central types of Christ in the Old Testament that showed how God was making his people holy so that they could dwell with him. Here we will examine the four Gospels to see how they present Christ as the fulfillment of the story of the Old Testament.

The Gospel of John

The prologue of John (1:1-18) is a cornerstone of the Church's meditation on Christ. John's Gospel does not begin in Bethlehem, but before the creation of the world with the preexistent Word (Logos in Greek). Echoing the first lines of Genesis, it announces a new creation story of the universe, one centered on the role played by the Word of God who became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made" (Jn 1:1-2). Creation forms the pattern for the redemption, or re-creation. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (Jn 1:14). (Later Christians will argue over whether "became flesh" means that the Word merely had a human body or both a soul and body.) This prologue shows that in Christ, the eternal Word, the Son, brings the glory of the Father to dwell among men. Those who receive this glory share in the life of the Son and are given power to become "children of God" (Jn 1:12).

In Lesson 1, we have already seen how John presents Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Temple (Jacob's Ladder), and the good shepherd. Jesus shepherds the people of God, taking away their sins by his sacrifice on the cross so that they can enter God's dwelling of the Temple, which he reveals to be his very body. John above all reveals Jesus as the mystery of the indwelling of God. From the prologue, in which he writes "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (lit. tabernacled among us), John reiterates this mystery. At the center of the Eucharistic discourse of John 6, Jesus speaks the language of abiding, a remaining with, or an indwelling. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6:56).

The mystery of the indwelling of the Trinity is most clearly depicted in the long upper room scene in John 13-17. This begins with the foot-washing scene in which Jesus gives an example and commands his disciples to follow. The disciples are to imitate his service and thus mediate his presence. "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Jn 13:17,20). The pattern evolves: God's presence mediated through Jesus; Jesus presence mediated through the apostles. (The word apostle means "one who is sent".) In terms of our encounter with God, the pattern reverses: the Apostles mediate Jesus; and Jesus mediates the Father.

God - Jesus - the Apostles - believers -- or -- believers - the Apostles - Jesus - God

By way of intensifying the mystery, in John 14, Jesus shifts from the language of receiving the Father, to that of seeing the Father. Just before Jesus' death and resurrection, Phillip asked Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied" (Jn 14:8). Jesus answered him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). To have seen Jesus is to have seen the Father.

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to carry on this mediated vision of the Father in a succession of passages about the coming Counselor (Paraclete), or Spirit of Truth. "I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth" (Jn 14:16-17). "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:25). "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but when I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7). "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn 16:13-14). The Spirit is sent from the Father and the Son into the world to continue the presence of God in the world. We see here that the mission of the Spirit extends the mission of the Son. They are distinct but inseparable.

The response of the believer to Jesus' invitation in John unites faith and works. To believe in Jesus cannot be separated from keeping his commandments, especially his new commandment to love one another as he has loved them (Jn 14:34). But keeping the commandments is not an end in itself, but rather the mode of the indwelling of God (holy land). "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (Jn 14:21).

Finally, in the great high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17, this indwelling of God is manifested through the concepts of God's glory, God's name, and his unity. The glory that the Son shared with the Father from the beginning, he now shares with all believers (Jn 17:5,22). The Father's name, given to the Son, is now given to the disciples (Jn 17:6,22). Also, the believers are now brought up into the unity of the Father and the Son (Jn 17:22-23). In the Old Testament, Israel was meant to have access to God's name and glory which dwelt in the one Temple. Now in the New Testament, the Church as the new Israel has access to God's name and glory in the one Jesus Christ. Because the glory, unity, and name of God have come down through the Words dwelling among us, man now can rise up, be born from above (Jn 3), and participate in the eternal glory, unity, and name of God.

God's Name, God's Glory, and God's Unity

The Father - The Son - Humanity | Humanity - The Son - The Father

John's Christology cannot be separated from his ecclesiology nor vice versa. Both depict the wonderful indwelling of God in Christ and through Christ in the Church.

It is crucial to recognize, before we proceed, that the speculative analysis involved in understanding the Incarnation -- that is, the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the Person of the Son -- is simply a way of articulating what is meant by Jesus' declaration that whoever has seen him has seen the Father.

Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke

The Synoptic Gospels are an inexhaustible source for the Church's contemplation of her Bridegroom. Every detail manifests the mystery of Christ. Overall, however, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all present Jesus chiefly as the long awaited son of David through whom God will fulfill his covenantal promises.

From the very beginning, in the annunciations to Joseph (Matt 1) and Mary (Lk 1), Jesus is shown to be the Son of David who will inherit the eternal throne promised to David's heirs in 2 Samuel 7. At Jesus' baptism, he is anointed king by John the Baptist, just as King Saul and King David were anointed by Samuel. The Father's words, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22; and parallels in Matthew and Mark), are taken from Psalm 2, a coronation Psalm for the Davidic King, and Isaiah 42:1, the servant God will choose to lead his people. The baptism also reveals Jesus as the great prophet and miracle worker. In the Old Testament, at the river Jordan the prophet Elijah passed on a double portion of his spirit to Elisha who went on to perform even mightier acts. So in the New Testament, at the river Jordan, John the Baptist passes the mantle to one who is much greater than he. Jesus stands as the awaited Davidic King, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ who establishes the peace and righteousness that the Old Testament kings proved unable to do.

Jesus establishes righteousness, thus forming a holy people, by giving a law. All kingdoms are defined by the rule of law that exists within them. Christ announces the Kingdom of God and promulgates his New Law, the Law summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7; Lk 6). St. Augustine called the Sermon on the Mount "the perfect pattern of the Christian life." The New Law exceeds the Mosaic Law not only because it is more intensive -- "but I say to you whoever looks at a woman lustfully is guilty of adultery" -- but because it calls its hearers to receive God's own beatitude or happiness by becoming his children. "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Christ is the new Moses giving the new law from the mountain. Even more, he is the new David who gives the law for a new kingdom.

In the Old Testament, the vocation of the Davidic king was to establish a holy kingdom, that is, a kingdom of holy people dwelling in a holy land. Jesus thus not only gives the new law, but he also must build the new temple. He will not build a physical temple, as did the earlier son of David, King Solomon, but the spiritual temple of the Church. After Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, Jesus says that he will build his Church on the rock of Peter. The Church will be the new temple in which God's name will dwell.

Through the theme of Jesus as the Davidic King, the synoptic Gospels present in their distinctive language the same theme present in John, namely, the indwelling of God in man through Christ. Through his announcement of the kingdom and the giving of the new law, Jesus establishes his followers in righteousness. Through his establishment of the new temple (note the common strand of his language about the destruction of the physical temple, Mk 13, Mt 24, Lk 21), Jesus allows his followers to enter into the holy land, no longer physical, the Church, made holy by indwelling of God by his Spirit.

Reading Assignment

John 1-6, 13-17, 21; Mt 1-2, 5-7, 16, 24

Writing Assignment

Write a two page essay in which you show how one Gospel presents the theme of God's indwelling of man in Jesus Christ. Choose either John or one of the synoptics.

Suggested Reading

N. T. Wright. Jesus and the Victory of Our God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

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