John, Chapter 1
Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?
The Passover celebrates the end of slavery, the end of death, and the passage into life. It began when the Jewish people were delivered from Egypt and embarked on their journey to the promised land. Nine plagues had been visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, each designed to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave. Nine times, God relented when Pharaoh stated he would let them go. Nine times Pharaoh recanted. The 10th plague would kill every firstborn Egyptian and firstborn of their livestock. Like the other plagues, this would not touch the Israelites. They were instructed to kill a lamb, paint the lamb’s blood — reckoned as the life of the lamb — on their doorpost. They were then to consume the flesh of the lamb and be ready to march. This blood would signal the angel of death to pass over that dwelling. Those dwelling behind the lamb’s life were untouched by that whirlwind of death that swept through the land.
John’s account opens with the very essence of the Passover:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehended/overpower it.
The Hebrew word used by the prophet Isaiah to describe the Messiah’s work of bringing people out of darkness has the connotations of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. Thus when he wrote:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
he is writing about those who have walked in misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. The “great light” is that light that will bring them out of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. And again Isaiah wrote:
…we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness…we are in desolate places as dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10)
Jesus answered this passage saying:
I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
The light that comes from the life that is in the Word is the antidote to the misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. This is the sense of this opening portion: the Pascal Lamb is come into the world. We are to follow his light and come to dwell in his life. Thus are we given power to become sons of God.
Then comes that turning point in John’s narative:
And the [Passover] became flesh and tabernacles among us full of grace and truth.
The law came by Moses. But efficacy to bring us out of darkness, out of misery, out of destruction, out of death, out of ignorance, out of sorrow, and out of wickedness; and to bring to us all that is trustworthy, all that is certain, all that is filled with faithfulness, all that is righteousness, all sureness, all firmness, all security, all fidelity, all stability — God’s very covenant — all this comes by this Passover!
Having now set the stage, John then begins his narrative with a brief account of John the Baptist. The Baptist’s pronouncement at the end of chapter 1, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is usually viewed as an announcement concerning Christ being the sin offering so that God can pardon us for all our mis-deeds.
However, consider: man’s sin is that where God expects to find life, we are dead. This death is not passed on through genetic make up anymore than is the life. John wrote, “In him was the life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) The life comes by hearing and following the light. Death comes by turning away from that light. We can now look at the Baptist’s pronouncement in light of the Passover.
“Behold the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world.” Having established this theme in the abstract at the beginning of his book, John now, using two iterations, ties it to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry. How does it fit with the theme of Passover? We will start looking at this in the next post.