The John-Revelation Project: Study Paper No. 2

Study Paper No. 2 on the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation



Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

On the Incompleteness of the Gospel of John:
A Clue to John’s Revelation?

Surely it must seem impertinent to suggest that the Fourth Gospel, the beautiful account of the Savior by the beloved Apostle John, is somehow deficient by itself. After all, commentary after commentary has been written on the Gospel of John. What major interpreter can be cited who laments some lack in the narrative of the Gospel? Sermon after sermon has been dedicated to expositing the Book of John. Almost all of these studies appear to be quite comfortably developed within the four corners of the text. Faithful expositions have been well received by the church and most evidently blessed by the Spirit of God. Moreover, the Fourth Gospel appears to follow the familiar format of the other three Gospels in recounting the ministry, death, and resurrection of the Savior. What is it about John’s Gospel that could possibly be construed to suggest a defect in its completeness?

It has, however, been widely recognized that John’s Gospel is strangely unique. There is something that prevents us from calling it “synoptic;” something that distinguishes it fundamentally from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What is the reason for this Johannine divergence from the companion Gospels? For example, commentators have long puzzled over the fact that John appears to describe the temple cleansing so early in Jesus’ ministry (John 2:13-22), while the other evangelists place the event at the end of His ministry (Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46). A quarrel has consequently ensued as to whether John requires us to understand a second temple cleansing, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. So the question is posed, what is governing the arrangement of John’s episodes in his account? Must we read the Gospel chronologically, or is there some literary pattern that perhaps we have overlooked that reconciles John’s Gospel with its synoptic companions?1 What is the relation of John’s Gospel to the synoptic Gospels?

While the issue of the temple cleansing has gotten considerable critical attention, other issues have been largely overlooked or left unaddressed.2 Looking at only the two opening chapters of the Gospel, we find several questions left open altogether. For example, Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see a remarkable vision that recalls the dream of Jacob in Genesis 32. The promised vision, with the open heavens, reveals a stairway upon which the angels of God are ascending and descending, the Son of Man surmounting, or perhaps constituting, this great bridge between heaven and earth. What is the significance of this promise to Nathanael? The question is posed more urgently in the Greek text, for the vision is clearly not something privately promised to Nathanael. The “you will see” spoken to Nathanael uses the plural form of the verb (John 1:51). The text appears to be prompting us to ask who are the ones who will see the vision, and when and what do they see? There is no evident answer to these questions in the Fourth Gospel, for the vision is not mentioned again. The commentaries often recognize the problem. But they pass over the question without an adequate answer, finding none within the Gospel itself.3

Thematic issues that appear to suggest the incompleteness of the Fourth Gospel are likewise often left unattended. One of the most evident themes of the Gospel of John is the presentation of an Adamic typology of Jesus. John opens his Gospel as a New Genesis, with an account of creation “in the beginning,” stylized after Moses’ account of the first Adam. God the Word creates the world, John writes. Light shines into darkness. Then the Word is made man (John 1:14): a new Adam. The implication of John’s typology is that once the Word becomes authentic man, it is not good that He should be alone (cf. Gen 2:18). There must be a “bride” for Christ. The evangelist makes this explicit when he introduces John the Baptist as a “friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29).

So Jesus must have a bride. The evangelist identifies Jesus as the Bridegroom, but where in his Gospel does he describe the bride of the One the Baptist called the “Lamb of God”? Where does he tell us of the wedding of the Son of Man? Christian, and especially Pauline, theology makes the identity of the bride of the Lord quite clear, but reading John’s Gospel within the four corners of the text does not. Is the Fourth Gospel gesturing toward something else? something external, perhaps, to itself? 4

The only wedding described in the Fourth Gospel is not the wedding of the Lamb; rather, it is the wedding at Cana to which Jesus is only an invited guest. In the context of the shortage of wine at the wedding of a friend, Jesus’ mother appears to ask Him to supply the wine. But the wine service is the responsibility of the bridegroom, according to the wedding steward (John 2:10). It is not His hour, Jesus says (John 2:2-4). Nonetheless Jesus supplies the wine for His friend, and the steward complains to the bridegroom that he has violated the protocol of serving the better wine first and the worse wine afterwards, after the guests have drunk (John 2:9-10). Why does John report the consternation of the wedding steward? Is the point of the evangelist simply that Jesus made the better wine? Is the significance of the steward’s comment exhausted in the suggestion that the wine of Jesus’ table will be sweet? Or is the account of the wedding at Cana gesturing toward some other wedding. Is there an anticipation of a wedding where Jesus will be the Bridegroom? But when is this wedding? And when the hour of His wedding does come, will Jesus respect the customary protocol, serving the better wine first and afterward the worse wine, after His guests have drunk? 5

In short, John’s Gospel opens with a reflection upon “the beginning” of all creation. But where is the ending that makes the Gospel whole? The ending of the Gospel attempts to answer a rumor that went out in the early Christian community about the time and circumstance of John’s death (John 21:18-25). Is this false report the conclusion John intended for his evangelistic enterprise, an ending deemed worthy to be juxtaposed to the “in the beginning” of John 1:1?6

On the Interrelationship Between John’s Gospel and the Revelation

Aristotle taught us to look for literary completeness in a plot, characterized by a beginning, a middle, and an end (Poetics 50b).7 The question we are raising is whether the ending of the Fourth Gospel, with the refutation of a rumor circulating in some early Christian communities, is an adequate literary ending to the majestic prologue that opens John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18). Alternatively, should we inquire whether there might be another ending, one that corresponds to the grand beginning of the Fourth Gospel and which better rounds out the Johannine Evangel?

The thesis of these papers is that John’s Gospel and his Revelation are one enterprise by the same author. Together they constitute a literary diptych. Consequently, both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse have been composed by one author in a conscious interdependence upon one another. While the notion of common authorship has not been taken seriously in modern critical interpretation of these “Johannine” books,8 it is nonetheless consistent with the (virtually) unanimous testimony of the church fathers for the first three centuries of the Christian era.9 In spite of the overwhelming testimony of the early church, those rare modern commentators who are brave enough to defend Johannine authorship of these two great works rarely, if ever, treat these books as capable of offering interpretive assistance to one another. It is as though a “Chinese wall” has been erected between these two Johannine books in conservative as well as critical commentary. This in spite of the fact that no one trained in literary interpretation would make so fundamental an error as to neglect the “canon” of the same author, once a commonality of authorship was acknowledged.

Now the thesis that the two great works traditionally attributed to the fisherman son of Zebedee are interdependent has significant interpretive implication. Such a claim would mean that neither the Gospel nor Revelation was intended as a stand-alone document. If these books were conceived and composed as a diptych, then John will help us to interpret Revelation and Revelation will be crucial to completing our understanding of John’s Gospel as well.

We have proposed a hypothesis that the books of John and Revelation are composed as a conceptual unity. If that be the case, such a theory implies that the ending of John’s Gospel is not John 21. Rather, the ending of the entire Johannine enterprise, corresponding to the beginning of the Gospel, would be the conclusion of the Apocalypse, the climax of Revelation.

Let’s examine the beginning of the Gospel of John, looking for significant words and themes that are introduced and that find their appropriate conclusion at the end of Revelation. The number and extent of these correspondences is significant, as we will see. According to our customary convention, words presented in bold type are derived from the same Greek root in the original texts of John and Revelation. Italicized terms appear to be related thematically, but they do not share the same Greek root.

The first verbal and thematic juxtapositions that we observe between the beginning of the Gospel and the end of the Apocalypse are the names and titles of Jesus. The evangelist introduces Jesus as the Word of God in John 1:1, a unique title that he only elsewhere uses to describe the Christ in the vision he relates in Revelation 19:13, where Christ is called the Word of God. The evangelist introduces the One through whom all things came into being in John 1:3. In Revelation 21:5, however, Christ claims, “Behold, I make all things new.” So the opening of the Fourth Gospel is a reflection upon the original creation while the ending of the Revelation is an anticipation of the new creation. The One who was in the beginning with God is now the One who is both the beginning and the end (John 1:1 and Rev 22:13). Moreover, John tells us that the divine Word tabernacled among us in the beginning of the Gospel (John 1:14). He reports at the end of Revelation that God will tabernacle among men forever (Revelation 21:3). And he tells us that Jesus commanded the Jews to destroy the temple, but that they did not understand that He was the Temple (John 2:19,21). But in the eschaton John tells us that he saw no temple, for the Lamb is the Temple (Rev 21:22).

John likewise introduces several themes in the opening of the Gospel that are only adequately resolved at the conclusion of Revelation. He tells us of a quarrel between light and darkness (John 1:5,9). Only at the end of the Apocalypse, however, does John assure us that the light triumphs over the darkness (Rev 22:5). Similarly, the evangelist reports that the prophet John identified Christ as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). At the climax of the Apocalypse, John reports that there will be no more curse, for the throne of God and the Lamb is there (Rev 22:3).

It is noteworthy that the evangelist records that Jesus said “Come and see!” and that Philip, who heard Him, likewise saysCome and see!” (John 1:39, 46). The double invitation at the beginning of the Gospel is matched by a double invitation at the end of Revelation. The seer reports that the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” and “let him who hears say,Come!'” (Rev 22:17). Likewise, the Gospel opens with John the Baptist seeing the Spirit descending out of heaven upon Jesus, whom he would call the Bridegroom (John 1:32, 3:29). Revelation ends with the holy city descending out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride for the Son of Man (Rev 21:2). In other words, the Gospel opens with a Bridegroom who has come to earth from His Father in heaven (John 1:14, 3:29), and Revelation ends with a bride who has come to earth from the Father in heaven (Rev 21:2). Thus the Gospel introduces the bridegroom. Revelation presents the bride. Like a husband and wife, these two books must not be set asunder and read separately. The two great works of John are thus made “one flesh and bone” with each other.

Moreover, the Gospel account of the wedding at Cana is clearly written with Revelation’s marriage supper of the Lamb in view. The extent of overlapping vocabulary and the conjunction of theme is unmistakable. Both accounts speak of those called to the wedding (John 2:2, Rev 19:9). Both accounts speak of the coming of an hour of judgment (John 2:4, Rev 18:8, 10). In the Gospel Jesus has the waterpots for purification filled with water that becomes wine (John 2:4). In Revelation, the great whore, the imposture bride, has a cup filled with abomination (Rev 17:1-2,4,6). Jesus makes wine for both weddings (John 2:3, Rev 19:15). After the whore and her paramours are drunk, the Lord serves the wine of the wrath of God (Rev 19:15, cf. Rev 17:1-2). Having served the better wine of grace in the Gospel, Jesus serves the worse wine of wrath in Revelation, after the unrepentant are drunk. Thus Jesus has respected the wedding custom announced in John 2:10.

Similarly, the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, reported in the Gospel, reflects the warfare of heaven against the temple in Revelation 16-22. Jesus pours out the coins of the moneychangers in the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:15), emblematically anticipating the angels of heaven who pour out the vials of judgment upon the earthly temple (Revelation16:1-17). Jesus laments that His Father’s house has been made a house of merchandise as He overturns the tables of the astonished merchants (John 2:16). At the judgment of Great Babylon, the merchants of the earth stand in dismay as the torment of her city begins (Rev 18:3,11,15). Consequently, it should be clear that the evangelist has arranged his Gospel thematically to reflect the opening conflict between the heavenly Temple and its earthly imposture in Jerusalem’s second temple (John 2:21) so as to juxtapose it to the final conflict of the heavenly and earthly temples that constitutes the dénouement of his Apocalypse. There is no need to posit a second temple cleansing, based upon literary grounds. The beginning of the Gospel of John is written in a ring structure to correspond to the end of Revelation. We conclude, therefore, that the Gospel’s temple cleansing episode is presented chiastically rather than chronologically.

Implications Drawn From These Studies

We believe that these studies demonstrate a profound and deep connection between the two great works of the Apostle John, the Fourth Gospel and Revelation. Moreover, we believe that the connections are so evident that the inability of modern conservative exposition to recognize them is symptomatic of a serious deficiency in theological education.

While it should not be unexpected that critical scholarship would fail to search for the beauty and unity of the Bible, since such critics are presuppositionally adverse to the doctrine of inspiration, it is dismaying that conservatives often fail in this enterprise as well. This failure, we suspect, is often due to the fact that many of our brightest young scholars are tutored at leading universities by critical mentors. The methods they learn are thus almost entirely analytical, as would be appropriate to an anthology of random religious writings expressing a particular tradition. But that method, which is normative in much current biblical exegesis, practically denies the possibility of the synthetic message that is vital to the Living Word of a Living Savior. It neglects the “metanarrative” of the Holy Scripture, and myopically misses the grandeur of the history of our redemption narrated in the Scriptures as a canon.

Men and women trained in biblical exposition have learned to parse the text, but have not been taught to see the Person of whom the text speaks. We are training pastors who are literate but not literary. Modern theological method is thus analytic to excess, disregarding almost entirely the synthetic possibilities of the Bible read as a metanarrative. We need a radical reformation in theological education today. It is time that we recapture the Grand Story of the Bible, and train up a generation of pastors who are conversant with the imagery and beauty of the Holy Scriptures as a whole. In that light, we dedicate these studies to those who have “the eyes to see,” to those who would join with us, not simply in confessing the inspiration of Holy Scripture, but who would join us in exploring the splendid unities of the Bible as they display the heart and portray the beauty of the Savior of the World.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

1 See our Study No. 4, p. 6, in this series.

2 One of the most striking “oversights” in the Gospel of John is the failure of the evangelist to establish clearly the Davidic lineage of Jesus. There is, of course, no nativity account or genealogy, such as we see in Matthew and Luke. The issue of the right and title of Jesus to the throne of David is clearly raised in the Gospel, however. John reports that the Jews discussed the lineage issue, citing the fact that the Christ must come from Bethlehem, the city of David (John 7:40-43). Moreover, the evangelist reports the objection posed by the Pharisees that no prophet had arisen from Galilee (John 7:52), all the while John reminds us repeatedly that Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee (John 1:45-46, 18:5,7, 19:19). But nowhere does the evangelist reconcile the Nazareth origin of Jesus with the claim that the Christ must come from Bethlehem, the city of David. Why does John’s Gospel apparently leave unattended an issue that is absolutely preclusive to the Lord’s claim to be the Christ? The evangelist is certainly aware of the cruciality of the issue. Is he depending upon the familiarity of his reader with the birth narratives of Matthew or Luke? Or might he be gesturing toward his own assertion of the Judahite and Davidic lineage of Jesus, which he makes most clear in Revelation 5:5?

3 See our Study No. 5, in this series.

4 See our Study No. 4, p. 18, in this series.

5 See our Study No. 4, p. 5, in this series.

6 See Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).

7 See our Study No. 4, pp. 17-19, in this series.

8 A notable modern exception is Austin Farrar, whose poetic sensibility intuited a deep and profound connection between the two great works of John. See A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John’s Apocalypse (London: A & C Black Ltd., 1949).

9 The only serious orthodox objection to Johannine authorship of Revelation among the Fathers was Dionysius of Alexandria, whose third century rejection was dogmatically driven by his anti-chiliast bias (see Eusebius’ Hist. Eccl. vii 25).











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