The Mystery of God: Introduction to John
There’s no Gospel like the Gospel of John. Out of all the Gospels, it is the most mystic and mysterious. If we liken it to an animal, it reminds us of an eagle, soaring high above our common thoughts about Jesus. Like the king of birds it gives us a heavenly perspective of the Word above all words. It sees things that the average onlooker would overlook.
The Gospel of John is the most majestic of the Gospels. It follows in the legacy of Genesis, the most lofty book of the Torah. It’s of the same origins as Isaiah, the grandest oracle of the Prophets. It also emulates the Psalms, the most exalted of Old Testament books classified as the Writings. This is not to demean any of the other sixty six books of the Bible, rather it is to say that these are the Mount Everests of Scripture, and if you climb them you will be able to see all the rest of the Bible in a new light.
John’s Gospel is mysterious. And yet at closer examination it actually reveals a mystery. Not just any mystery, but the mystery of all mysteries: the mystery of God. As a child I was always attracted to mystery. Upon arriving at the library I would immediately be drawn to the mystery section. I vividly remember the dark and smokey covers as a scanned for another detective novel. Later, down a small aisle, I found an area where the Librarian hid the books on codes and cyphers. I constantly borrowed and renewed these treasures as I endeavoured to learn all the fundamentals and secrets of the spy world. Soon, my good friend, John, got into it. After school we would spend time learning codes, sending secret messages and writing a massive password-protected computer program on a Commodore 64 that was our version of a wikipedia on all the codes we discovered. My friend went on to be a computer programmer, and myself, a pastor. But, while they seem like two quite diverse vocations, there is much similarity between the two.
The Bible is like the unfolding of a mysterious code. I’m not talking about the way Michael Drosnin portrays it in his book, The Bible Code. Rather, I mean it in the way that the Apostle Paul talks about “the mystery of God.” To understand the mystery we need to realise the structure of the Bible. The Bible begins with the imagery of mystery. Listen: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1:2). “Formless”, “empty”, “dark”, “deep”, “Spirit”, “waters”: all words of enigma. This is what the first half of the Bible, the Old Testament, resembles. The Old Testament is like the police who discover a crime scene, but do not yet know who did it. The New Testament is like a detective that solves the mystery. The first part of the Bible presents the mystery; the second part of the Bible unveils the mystery. Both Testaments are essential to our understanding of God.
As we turn the pages of Scripture from beginning to end we discover more of God’s mystery unfold. We happen upon Genesis 3:15 (God judging the serpent) and read, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Who exactly is this “He” that will crush the head of the serpent? And who exactly is the serpent? Is the serpent a mythical figure personifying evil or an actual entity. When we read Genesis, as well as the other thirty nine Old Testament books, we are presented with mystery. Light is shed on some of this mystery in the Old Testament, but much of it remains a riddle.
When we get to the last book of the Bible in the New Testament, Revelation, we see the fullness of the mystery unveiled. Jesus Christ is the “He.” The King of Kings is on “a white horse…[and] with justice he judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11). “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Soon we see the serpent: “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, an bound him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:2). We also read, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
In the book of Revelation (also written by the apostle John) the mystery of Genesis 3:15 is uncovered. Jesus crushes the head of the serpent by waging war against him and assigning him to eternal judgment. Yet, in the process his “heel” is struck and his robe is dipped in blood. Yet, it’s that very blood, as we will discover in the Gospel of John, that overcomes Satan’s resistance and a rebellious world. Paul says it like this: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). The mystery of God, first presented in Genesis, is now revealed through a new Genesis– found in Jesus, the Gospel of John and the rest of the New Testament writings.
The prophets brought to the surface God’s mystery, but it was the apostles who solved the puzzle. Paul, the apostle, said, “I have become its [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness––the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ, in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:25-27, the comma between ‘Christ’ and ‘in’ is added by author to make clearer what I perceive as Paul’s point).
The Gospel of John is an introduction, a doorway into the mystery of who Christ is. We cannot settle for the fact that we know Christ is the mystery, instead we need to see all the contours and colours of who Christ is. It is discovering the infinite, eternal and multifaceted Christ that will feed our souls, empower our spirits, enlighten our eyes and give us inspiration for everyday life here on earth, as we await our King who will one day descend from heaven to fully crush the serpent and save his people and the world.