Lazarus writes: reading the Fourth Gospel in isolation
Lazarus writes: reading the Fourth Gospel in isolation
Bruce G Charlton
This is a c.35,000 word mini-book compiled and edited from posts at Bruce Charlton's Notions; if you wish to read the whole thing, it I would you to advise you to copy, paste and print-out a paper copy.
Since I became a Christian and engaged with the Bible as such, I have not been satisfied with the usual ways of reading and understanding the Bible. The Bible is divinely inspired and true; but, as a scientist, I have always known that 'true' does not mean without error, nor does it mean correct in every particular, nor does it mean fixed. Truth is the beginning of enquiry, not the end.
In sum, I have felt compelled to develop a way of understanding the truth of the Bible that seems better than those I have encountered.
What I reject include the following:
1. Regarding the Bible as a single unified book which is all equally true and without 'error' - when error is defined as the falsehood of explicit statements;
2. Regarding the truth of the Bible as something that resides at a sentence by sentence ('verse') level (and certainly not a word-by-word truth);
3. Regarding the truth of all sentences/ verses as requiring knowledge of the whole Bible;
4. That all the New Testament is equally valid;
5. That all the Gospels are equally valid and tell a single absolutely coherent story (coherent at either/ both the level of the whole or part-by-part).
So much for some of the negatives - what then?
Well, I reach the above decisions on the basis of what could be termed intuition or discernment - as all such decisions must be and are inevitably made -- the difference being whether that knowledge of intuition is explicit, or denied; and with the conviction that explicit intuition is more reliably and powerfully discerning than is unconscious or denied intuition.
On this basis I regard the Fourth Gospel ('John's' Gospel - but when taken in isolation better called the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple, whom I will later identify as the resurrected Lazarus) as the heart of the Bible on the basis that it uniquely claims to be the work of one of Christ's disciples, whom Jesus particularly loved; and I believe these claims.
Then - on reading it (in the divinely-inspired Authorised Version or 'King James' translation); I find a work of the highest level of beauty, profundity and coherence - a work which when considered as literature surpasses any other in the language in terms of beauty, profundity and coherence.
So, I start with the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple, and with the conviction that this should be placed first in the Bible, first among the Gospels and should be at the heart of Christian understanding and life (all the rest being regarded in the light of this coherent work of genius and inspiration).
And I try to know the light of this Gospel; so that I may know the other Gospels, the New Testament and Bible, and the Churches and traditions, and possible Christian futures - all in its light.
Reading the Fourth Gospel the way it was meant to be read
The author of the Fourth Gospel is the beloved disciple who is Lazarus (-raised), who is the brother of Mary of Bethany, who is the same person as Mary Magdalene, who is the wife of Jesus (them having married initially in a normal Jewish way in Cana, and then in some heavenly and eternal fashion in Bethany: the episode of the spikenard ointment).
The author of the Fourth Gospel was therefore Jesus's best friend, an ex-disciple of John the Baptist (who had an essential role in the ministry of Jesus), Jesus's brother-in-law on earth and eternally, and himself an eternal being - the first resurrected Man.
The primary validity of such a 'source' is self-evident!
My assumption is that at the time of writing of the Fourth Gospel, its intended readership will all have known the identity of the author, his nature, and his close and unique relationship with Jesus. This is therefore taken for granted in the text; and the text makes perfect sense in light of such knowledge.
This is certainly not an arcane, secret, occult, or gnostic interpretation of the Fourth Gospel! Quite the opposite. The Fourth Gospel was and is perfectly clear (because simple, and repeated), its message was and is on the surface and not hidden between the lines. Its message is available to all and not restricted to the 'initiated'.
The Fourth Gospel is simply the story of Jesus written by such a man as Lazarus was known to be, as clear as possible given the nature of the material, and in the 'poetic' way that such matters were written - at that time and in that place.
I read ‘poetically’. By 'poetic' reading, I mean that I am reading in a manner that empathises with the consciousness of the author and era, and therefore regards the language as poetry not prose.
Naturally, I am reading and re-reading the 'King James'/ Authorised translation of the gospel; as being the only divinely-inspired English version. And the KJB is poetic - indeed it is one of he greatest works of literature in its language, or any language.
Since poetic language (like all ancient language) is poetic, it cannot be translated word-by-word, nor concept-by-concept. Ancient languages meant many things at once in ways that are now impossible to express, except by more poetry (and poetry is currently extinct, or all-but). The nearest - which is not very near - is a list of semi-synonyms based on etymology; from-which a jump of sympathy, empathy, identification may be helped.
Because I regard the Fourth Gospel as by far the most valid and important part of the Bible - to understand Jesus and his work and message I need initially to understand it from the Fourth Gospel alone - without the endless-distractions and misleading tendencies of attempting to triangulate other and less valid New and Old Testament sources.
In other words, if I can attain clarity of the correct issues from the Fourth Gospel, regarded as valid; then this understand may then be applied to the other parts of the Bible (and indeed other sources).
Method of the Gospel
Note: The method of the Fourth Gospel seems to be in working through great sweeps of text which clarify; by approaching a question or point from many 'angles', and aiming to remove ambiguities or incomprehension. It seems necessary to read, therefore, at sufficient length to notice these convergences.
Most important is the essence of what Jesus offers - that he variously calls by terms such as the word meaning 'thought', making, creation, life, light... So that Life is the key word/ concept; and everlasting (or eternal) life is the main thing that Jesus brings or offers.
Everlasting life (and light) is everlasting creativity, generation - it is thus more like biology (with development and growth); than it is like physics. Therefore, what Jesus offers us is something 'in' time; it is active, dynamic, changing as living entities - it is not a blueprint for some final static state.
And he offers this on the basis that we 'believe' him - that is we trust him, have faith and confidence in him, love and esteem him, ally with him - and in doing so we ally with the primary creator who is Jesus's Father, with whom Jesus is in complete accord and whose mission he is fulfilling.
It really does seem that simple (and that complex): Jesus offers everlasting life (which is a situation arrived at via death and by bodily resurrection) by-means-of our attitude to the person of Jesus.
There are many passages in which, by his attitude and teachings, Jesus is clear that many or most people will-not-want-to-take-up his offer of everlasting life - for various reasons.
It seems that it is a mistake to try and persuade people that they want everlasting life.
Jesus works by trying to make clear the situation, and the nature of what he offers, what he brings; he explains things in several ways - with parables, and sayings, with miracles, and with analogies. Sometimes Jesus answers direct questions - but often there comes a point when he refuses to say any more to people; when he realises that they understand and know but reject his gift.
In effect: You asked me: I told you. You will Not accept my answer: yet you ask me again! I am not going to repeat myself. You ask for evidence: I give you evidence. You will not accept the evidence, yet you ask for more evidence!
My distinct impression is that Jesus did not expect his offer to be taken-up by everybody; he anticipated that everlasting life would be rejected by many people.
'Belief' in Jesus is clearly something conceptually simple (albeit that concepts such as belief were then far more complex/ multi-valent/ symbolic than they are now) and potentially instantaneous.
But this was when Jesus was physically present on earth in his mortal, or resurrected, life - and therefore his 'influence' was spatially limited.
Jesus explains to his disciples that this limitation will be overcome after he ascends to his Father, when he will send the Holy Ghost or Comforter - who will be an improvement on the physical presence of Jesus.
We moderns find this hard to believe, but Jesus was quite definite: it is better to have the Holy Ghost than the physical presence of Jesus. Because the Holy Ghost provides what Jesus did - but universally and from within each person.
Jesus makes clear that the Holy Ghost is in effect himself - the Holy Ghost is our direct and personal contact and communication with the ascended Jesus; a source that, without any other source, potentially provides every person with knowledge and guidance sufficient for eternal life.
Sometimes Jesus is talking to and about the disciples as a specific group - it was clearly of great importance that the disciples be a coherent and loving group after Jesus had ascended; at other times he seems to be to be referring to everybody alive and hereafter...
But, rather than the work of the disciples and their descendants; I think the Fourth Gospel is telling us that the core 'method' of Christianity is the direct contact with Jesus himself, in his universal form as the Holy Ghost/ Comforter.
The problem of the Fourth Gospel
The importance of coming to a decision concerning the relative authority of parts of the Bible, parts of the New Testament, and between the Gospels; can be seen by comparing the accounts of (apparently) the same event in the Fourth Gospel ('John') and Luke. (These are quoted in full at the end of this*.)
Now, although these accounts apparently refer to the same incident, they differ in many details - in particular they differ in terms of the identity of the woman - for 'John' the woman is someone well known and loved by Jesus, sister of his beloved friend Lazarus; for Luke she is just identified as an anonymous woman and someone regarded as leading a publicly-ungodly life ('a sinner').
Most importantly, the 'moral' of the story is different in each - For 'John' it references, I believe, some 'lost' ceremonies of a spiritual wedding of Jesus with Mary (who is, presumably, the woman he married in Cana - in an ordinary Jewish wedding) and a foreshadowing of the deal of the incarnate Jesus, and his burial - and linked with Mary (Magdalene) being the first to speak with the resurrected Jesus. And/ or the moral is about the eternal versus the worldly.
(Since 'John' was writing shortly after the ascension of Jesus, all such contextual details will have been well known to his intended audience.)
But for Luke the story is 'about' the infinite forgiveness or atonement of Jesus, and how this means the most for those with 'the most' sin, those whose lives are built-upon the denial of God - emphasising that Jesus (unlike the Pharisees, and those who regarded adherence to The Law as the only path to salvation) came to save sinners (which is everybody, but particularly those who were furthest from The Law and - up to that point - the most vehemently atheist, selfish, self-indulgent etc).
So, how can we makes sense of these apparent discrepancies? So far as I can tell, we need to assume one of four basic possibilities:
'John' is more authoritative, or
Luke is more authoritative; or
Both are equally authoritative, and are authoritative (both being valid alternative descriptions of the same event and meaning); or that
Neither are correct: neither is authentic, both equally wrong (and therefore nothing of this kind ever actually-happened).
If we regard 'John' as authoritative and the account of a recent eyewitness, then we make sense of Luke in terms of him later collecting scattered accounts of Jesus's life and teachings and - under divine inspiration - making the best sense of him that he could. In this account Luke has done something like conflating several stories into one. This Luke's account of the essential teachings and meanings of Jesus's life is correct (because divinely-inspired); but the historical details are sometimes mixed-up. This is - pretty much - what I believe is correct.
If Luke is authoritative, then 'John' - writing much later, and from a faulty memory, or via an unreliable scribe, or a representative of his division of the early church - has made a mistake based on a partial memory, and perhaps the conflation of various Marys with perhaps unnamed others.
The mainstream view is probably a mixture of giving Luke priority, and also using all available scriptural material pretty-equally, trying to triangulate upon the truth. Perhaps the two accounts are partly complementary, and partly selective. This also goes along with ideas of Biblical inerrancy, or 'literalism' or 'fundamentalism' - which generally assumes that the whole Bible, or, at least, the whole New Testament - or at least the Gospels and Paul's Epistles; are equally valid.
(Indeed, in practice - especially among traditionalist creedal Protestants, Paul's Epistles, rather than any of the Gospels, may be given Primary Authority - and the Gospels are interpreted in their light.)
Rejecting both 'John' and Luke in favour of some unknown, perhaps lost, primary text, variously garbled through several independent lines of transmission, is another possibility, in principle.
My point is that each approach represents different assumptions, and leads to different answers.
We therefore need to be clear about our assumptions - and, I would argue, to trace these assumptions back to our primary intuitions - which may be related to larger units of meaning.
For example many mainstream church-going Christians have a intuition of the validity and authority of a particular Christian denomination or church - and they accepts their detailed evaluations from that particular source of authority.
Others, like myself, try to discover more specific intuitions derived from scripture, church teachng and practice, theology... or whatever - including the prime intuition that these specific intuitions are ultimately valid....
John 12: 1: Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.
Luke 7:36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
Food Meat Flesh; Drink, water, wine
It strikes me that the overall pattern of this 'symbolism ' is for food etc to refer to earthly, mortal love while drink etc refers to post- mortal and Heavenly love.
The emphasis on Jesus eating and feeding is about his love and care for us, in this life; and this is the significance of him sharing a meal with the disciples after resurrection (continuing concern).
While the passages on drinking (and probably baptism) are about the nature of resurrected Heavenly life, among Jesus's followers.
On top of this are the passages referring to qualitative enhancement of eating and drinking, that Heavenly life is greater in form than this life.
So, eg the Samaritan woman at the well is being told of the greatness of life everlasting in Heaven, for followers of Jesus; by contrast with what she already believes from her existing religion, and its benefits in her life.
So food etc and drink etc are kinds of love. Drink is the first commandment - love of God (specifically Jesus); food etc is love of neighbour, the second commandment.
Dating the Fourth Gospel
Leaving aside the actively-misleading irrelevance that is Bible scholarship (which almost-always has been based-on the secular assumption that Scripture is Not divinely inspired, nor divinely protected, nor sustained and transmitted with divine assistance... In other words, Bible 'scholarship' operates on the basis that Scripture is Not scripture)... Leaving that aside:
The Fourth Gospel is, uniquely, an eye-witness account of the life and teachings of Jesus - written by Jesus's most beloved friend and disciple; the first written and most important Gospel; written independently-from the other three 'synoptic' Gospels (none of which claim to be eye-witness accounts, and which were, from internal evidence, compiled and created some time after Jesus's death).
But when was the Fourth Gospel written? From internal evidence (with a qualification, which I will mention) it was written soon after the ascension of Jesus, while the events were still fresh and vivid in the mind of the author; accounting for the detailed and extremely convincing vignettes that jump-across the millennia into the mind of the reader...
The exception is the last chapter of the Gospel. The early-written Gospel finished at the end of Chapter 20 with the words: "30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
The words of the final verse (coming after the 'Doubting Thomas' episode) complete and summarise the message of, and reason for, this Gospel: all throughout. Who Jesus was, and what this means for each of us: what we need to do-about Jesus.
Chapter 21 was written later, after the death of Peter; and is mostly 'about' Peter, his relationship with Jesus; including and the mission Peter was given by Jesus. (That is, when Jesus once says feed my lambs, and twice repeats feed my sheep. (The meaning of this episode needs to be the subject of a separate post.)
Chapter 21 concludes with a reference to Jesus having correctly foretold the manner of Peter's death - signing-off with a reference to the Fourth Gospel author's apparent immortality, and a reassertion of his identity and eye-witness status.
Chapter 21 is therefore of the nature of an appendix to the main body of the Fourth Gospel - in terms of its discrete subject matter - and was presumably added some decades later than the bulk of the gospel.
Is this stuff important? Well, yes - because a late date for the whole Fourth Gospel has been a major source of error in understanding the New Testament; relegating what truly is the single most important (and the only essential) part of the Bible, to the status of a late commentary upon The Synoptics.
Most scholars seem to say that the Fourth Gospel was composed after the Synoptic Gospels, probably by the extremely old disciple John the Son of Zebedee; and in knowledge of at least one of them – and was intended as a supplement to the Synoptic accounts (and, presumably) Paul’s Epistle’s. This enables any omissions and discrepancies of the Fourth Gospel compared with the Synoptics to be explained away.
In the end, one can only read the Fourth Gospel and gain an intuitive sense of its composition. And the Gospel’s unique coherence and eye-witness authority demonstrates its early composition, and the absence of any explicit or implied reference to the Synoptics and Epistles (and indeed the lack of reference Paul himself, and to the beginnings of the institutional church) makes more sense when it is recognised that they did not exist when the Fourth Gospel was composed.
Knowing the early date and unique authoritativeness of the Fourth Gospel (which is really only a matter of taking Scripture seriously, in its own terms) transforms the way we read the rest of the New Testament; and indeed greatly clarifies the nature and meaning of Jesus.
Jesus, marriage and family
There may be more of the subject of marriage and the family that is intentionally-implied by the Fourth Gospel than is obvious to most readers.
What the Gospel seems to be telling me, and I am not arguing this but stating it; concerns Jesus’s increasing involvement with the family from Bethany with Lazarus and Mary as siblings.
My understanding that: 1. the raised-Lazarus is the author of the Fourth Gospel – renamed the Beloved Disciple; 2. that the episode of Mary of Bethany anointing the feet of Jesus with spikenard was a mystical marriage ceremony; and that 3. Mary Magdalene is the same person as Mary of Bethany – renamed after her marriage to Jesus.
While there seems no way I could prove these Three Assumptions, and what I believe follows-from them; for me they cohere wonderfully with the subsequent events of the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, they raise it even higher to a supreme importance in all Scripture.
The following are not intended as argument or 'proof', but as illustrations of how the three assumptions cohere with the events of the Fourth Gospel; when I read it in what I regard as my best frame of mind.
1. Jesus is emphatically described as loving both Lazarus and the Beloved Disciple; but we do not hear of Lazarus’s fate, by that name.
2. The Beloved Disciple does not abandon Jesus after the arrest as do the other disciple (Jesus being now Lazarus’s brother-by-marriage).
3. The Beloved Disciple and Magdalene are present at the foot of the cross, where Jesus requests that his mother be cared for by the Beloved Disciples family (of whom Jesus is now a part).
4. Mary Magdalene first finds the empty tomb, and she is the first person to speak with the risen Christ. She immediately touches him.
5. The last episodes of the Fourth Gospel include the implication that the Beloved Disciple will live until the Second Coming – which is possible since he has been raised from the dead – I believe he was probably literally resurrected. (This chimes with the Pharisee's desire to kill Lazarus, but apparently not being able to.)
If my Three Assumptions are accepted, then Chapters 11-21 of the Fourth Gospel take-on a marvellous extra dimension of which the above are only a part.
I suppose that these facts were not mentioned explicitly because they were known to the intended readers, at the time of writing - and (more important) that the Forth Gospel throughout (and necessarily) is written in a style in which the most important things are implied rather than stated.
To unlock the Fourth Gospel entails the reader attaining an empathic identification with the intent of the Gospel... but then this applies to all Scriptures, if they are to be understood as divinely-inspired.
That is; God must help us to understand Scripture - each, individually, here-and-now. Nothing else will suffice; and one person's understanding cannot replace nor stand-in-for another person's.
But what became of Mary Magdalene? If she is as important as I have said, then why is her fate not mentioned? The answer is that her fate must be mentioned; but that the 'message' is not being recognised.
My best idea concerning an implicit reference to Mary's fate is the exchange of words with Mary at the tomb. This may imply that she would join the risen Jesus after he had ascended. “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” means, therefore: stop touching me just-now – we will be able to touch one another when I am ascended (after all, it wasn't forbidden to touch Jesus - Doubting-Thomas was invited-to.
My inference is that Mary touched Jesus in some fashion as a wife would touch him - but this was not correct or appropriate until after the ascension: until after their ascension.). Then Jesus describes his ascension “unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and to your God.”
Such a very specific form of address (the reiterated symmetry of my-your) is appropriate to the wife of Jesus; in the sense that God has become (by mystical marriage) Mary's Father ‘in Law’, and 'her' God – in the same kind of direct and personal way as for Jesus.
So, we are being-told (by her brother) that Mary Magdalene ascended to God to be with her divine husband - and Lazarus perhaps did not know exactly when or how this happened, but certainly that it did happen.
Historical downgrading of the Fourth Gospel
It seems that almost everything rests on assumptions... When reading, and indeed when originally making, the New Testament, our assumptions concerning relative authority, make a really Big difference to what we get from it.
Given that the Fourth Gospel is, by its own account, written by the disciple whom Jesus loved; it ought to have priority over all other parts of the New Testament. At the very least, and given it begins with the beginning of creation, it surely ought to be the First Gospel: first in position, first in composition, and first in authority due to its authorship.
However, if the Fourth Gospel had been placed first in position and authority, it would have framed the rest of the New Testament in ways that are very different from how Christianity evolved over the next many hundreds of years. As it is, the Gospels open with the three 'Synoptics' - Matthew, Mark and Luke - which are similar in structure and doctrine; that is, the accounts of Jesus open with the genealogy of Jesus leading back to the ancient prophets of the Old testament, and a version of the Nativity story.
Why are the Synoptics put first in sequence and in authority, when they do not even claim to be eye-witness accounts; and indeed have internal evidence of being compilations? - When by comparison the Fourth Gospel is a wonder of integration, harmony and unity!
(Except for Chapter 21, which seems to have been added some time after the death of Simon Peter; said to be in the early 60s AD.)
Unless we really disbelieve the claims of the Fourth Gospel - in which case it should not be in the Bible at all, since it is clearly dishonest - then it should be First.
Instead, the Synoptics are de facto given priority, by the simple means of claiming to regard all the Gospels as equal - or, indeed, especially among Confessional Protestants, inferior in authority to the Pauline Epistles.
Since the Fourth Gospel is qualitatively different from the Synoptics (and Paul's Epistles) in content, emphasis and several significant features; when it is regarded as 'equal' in authority, it is simply out-voted!
This means that, in actual practice (and for many hundreds of years), the Fourth Gospel (which ought-to-be First in priority) has-been and is merely fitted-into the other Gospels and/ or the Pauline Epistles; and any differences are explained-away.
This is simply a fact; the question is whether it is justified.
And that hinges on our understanding of what happened in the early 'post-apostolic' era of the Christian church - and to what extent it was divinely inspired, and to what extent it was human, flawed and corrupt.
Do we trust that the early and dominant theologians and church leaders were fundamentally correct? - I don't.
Do we trust that God inspired at least some translations of scripture to be sufficiently true? - I do: wrt the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther's and the 'King James'; which I regard as all equivalently valid (although not identical).
By these assumptions, we can trust and use scripture (in these four versions), overall; and we can (as I do here) use scripture as evidence against the compilers and interpreters of The Bible.
You may not believe my assumptions are correct - and I cannot argue for them with 'evidence', since they are assumptions - but this procedure is coherent and reasonable.
Assumptions about the nature of death
In understanding the New Testament, it is useful to consider the problems that Jesus is implicitly addressing; because they significantly differ from modern awareness.
In the Fourth Gospel, the 'answers' or 'solutions' that Jesus offers imply a background of existential awareness of the implications of mortality.
In other words, Jesus offers a resurrected life everlasting of a qualitative superiority to the possibilities of mortal, earthly life; and this offer implies that it is the problem of death that is being addressed.
So, when Jesus says we need to be born again, this addresses the problem that that this mortal life is not sufficient. When he talks of heavenly water or food, and contrasts it with ordinary well water and ordinary food (and even with the manna provided by God); Jesus is assuming that people recognise that the things of this world are not sufficient, do not satisfy... because they are cut off by death.
The resurrection of the body is a vital aspect; because any afterlife which is only of the spirit (and without the body) is not an afterlife for us as our-actual-selves - because pure spirits are not-the-same as incarnated spirits.
The miracles of healing are addressing that the problem of the mortal body is sickness and age: suffering - and Jesus heals these to show that the resurrected body in the life eternal will not experience such things.
And the decisive miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is a demonstration of what all may anticipate 'from now on' - from the time of Jesus.
The Fourth Gospel is therefore addressing the rational and true existential despair of Man when he becomes aware of the reality of mortality, with its severance of the soul from the body and no prospect of their reuniting.
This in turn implies that in the era and place of Jesus's life, such existential despair was normal and general - general enough such that it did not need to be made explicit in the Fourth Gospel. The Gospel just assumes that mortality is a huge problem for people, and that anyone who offers an answer to this problem will be welcomed.
(Welcomed so long as the answer being offered is true and real: much of the Fourth Gospel is about Jesus proving that he really is divine, hence able to fulfil his promises.)
What about nowadays, in The West? A very different situation - at least explicitly, and on the surface. Modern people claim to find sufficient meaning, at least potentially, within the scope of mortal life. Mainstream modern people do not acknowledge that the fact of mortality has the existential implications which were generally experienced at the time of Jesus; indeed, such existential awareness of the centrality of death was popular, indeed fashionable, into the middle twentieth century, among the Existentialist philosophers (Heidegger, Sartre, Colin Wilson etc.).
What, then, is the mainstream modern attitude to death? That it is something to be avoided, for as long as life is pleasant - then something to be welcomed so long as it can be achieved without suffering.
But there is a huge dishonesty at work - a mismatch between what moderns say, and how moderns behave. They say that life is sufficient; that they are satisfied to live well, die and face extinction; that to live in the residue of their actions and memories of others is enough (the fact that this obvious nonsense is so frequently and solemnly articulated is very significant).
Indeed mainstream moderns assert that it is a higher morality to embrace utter extinction; than feebly and childishly to crave eternal life like religious people do... Since modern materialist metaphysical assumptions rule-out the possibility of the spirit; such ideas can only be due to a combination of wishful thinking with some combination of ignorance, insanity and manipulative dishonesty.
So life eternal is rejected as both a possibility and hope by normal modern people; unless that eternal life were to become possible by progress in technology and medicine - in which case they would be happy to accept an eternal version of life-as-it-is - assuming disease, ageing and suffering could be eliminated from it. (This is, of course, the transhumanist project.)
Yet when it comes to behaviour (to 'revealed preferences' as economists call them); modern Western people don't really seem to appreciate life-as-it-is. The universality of sub-replacement chosen fertility is one strand of evidence; the engineering and embrace of Western population replacement by less-modern non-Western immigrants is another strand of evidence; the personal and cultural self-hatred of the intellectual and power elites is further evidence; the mass use of consciousness obliterating or numbing drugs is another thing, as is the mass scale of permanent self-mutilation by piercing, tattoos, scarifications etc.
On top of this there are the taboos against discussing death, sub-fertility, population replacement, self-mutilation... there is a significant combination of evidence that modern man is in a state of chronic and terminal despair plus evidence that this chronic and permanent despair must neither be acknowledged nor seriously discussed.
My diagnosis is thus that the modern mainstream West is In Fact afflicted by exactly the same existential dread of death and its implications as is addressed by the Fourth Gospel; but that we modern are in a deep state of denial. This denial is underpinned by materialistic metaphysical assumptions that exclude the possibility of the soul or spirit; but we also deny the existence our own metaphysical assumptions - claiming that these assumptions are not assumptions but instead rational deductions from obvious evidence...
Before the events and teachings described in the Fourth Gospel can have the effect on us that it had on the early followers of Jesus, before we can even want the gift which Jesus offered; we first need to become honestly aware of the existential implications of death.
Of course, such implications ought to be obvious, since they were known by all previous societies; and even in The West are known, at some point in their development, by all children. Nonetheless we deny them and refuse to think about them and they are excluded from public discourse.
We need to think-about death. Honestly.
Lazarus was resurrected
The Fourth Gospel is our only contemporary account of the 'raising' of Lazarus - and its central and pivotal position in this most important of all scriptures suggests that the event is crucial.
One way it is crucial is consequential - in that it provoked the Chief Priests and Pharisees to decide that is was expedient that Jesus be killed for the greater good (a misunderstood true prophecy).
The Fourth Gospel - as nearly always - tells us the story as evidence that Jesus really is the Christ, sent by God, and would become (after his ascension) fully the Son of God.
Beyond this, there are two possible interpretations. The usual is that the miracle was restoring Lazarus to normal life; the other, which I think is the one we are meant to infer, is that the miracle was resurrecting Lazarus to the eternal life that Jesus promised to all who 'believed on' his name.
The Gospel is really pretty clear that we are meant to understand the raising of Lazarus as a real resurrection, that same resurrection which we are all promised by Jesus following our mortal life and death - and which Jesus himself experienced.
1. The Gospel establishes that Lazarus really is dead, properly dead, irrevocably; such that (because he is rotting - 'stinketh') he cannot be brought back to mortal life. Because of this, Jesus shares the general grief and wept - as is appropriate with real, permanent mortal death.
2. In the discussion between Jesus and Martha, he makes clear that Lazarus is to be resurrected.
3. Lazarus is entombed in a cave, blocked by a stone - which explicitly prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus.
4. The references to the people witnessing the glory of God are appropriate to a resurrection. Glory is associated with the ascension of the resurrected Jesus - for people to see the glory of God in the resurrection of Lazarus suggests more than simply restoring him to mortal life. I am not sure; but I think it means that, in the act of resurrecting Lazarus - with the assistance of his Father, Jesus is displaying the power he will attain after his ascension to full divinity
With such in-your-face evidence - it is hard to explain the general mainstream view that Lazarus is Not resurrected. This I regard as an example of the way that scholars read the Bible through their pre-existing general theological considerations; and they seldom see the obvious, but only confirmation of the pre-existing theories of what they expect to find.
Most regard it as theologically vital that Jesus is the first Man to be resurrected - and therefore even the possibility of the resurrection of Lazarus is edited out of consideration.
Perhaps the supposed lack of further reference to Lazarus in the Fourth Gospel is seen as another problem - in that the first resurrected Man would presumably have some part to play in God's plan for Men.
But this is only a problem if you regard the author of the Fourth Gospel (never self-named, but self-described as the 'beloved' disciple) as John the son of Zebedee - however, if you regard the author of the Fourth Gospel as the resurrected Lazarus (as I do) then 'it all fits'.
John 11: 1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. 4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. 7 Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8 His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. 17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
That Lazarus was resurrected seems plainly stated in the Fourth Gospel, here:
John 11:17-27 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
Well, that seems conclusive to me; but the mainstream view is that Lazarus cannot have been resurrected because Jesus was the first to be resurrected - therefore this passage must be explained-away; and it is.
When we regard Lazarus as having been resurrected, it does change a great deal of the 'standard' understanding of what Jesus did, and how he did it. It seems that being resurrected 'at the last day' was already expected among Jesus' followers, and was not an achievement of Jesus.
What new thing Jesus brought was not resurrection; but the quality of that resurrected life; which is probably the main subject of the Fourth Gospel - in its many 'metaphors' (water, wine, bread, light etc) contrasting this mortal life with 'everlasting' life.
It was already expected that Men would be resurrected to dwell in Paradise (ie. a better after-life, but qualitatively similar to mortal life); and what Jesus newly-brought was resurrection into Heaven.
Why did not Jesus resurrect others, as well as Lazarus?
The author of the Fourth Gospel goes out of his way to state that Jesus loved Lazarus - just after Lazarus is first named (11:1) saying (11:5) "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister [Mary], and Lazarus." In 11:35-6 we get "Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!"
It strikes me that this love for Lazarus is linked to him being the first resurrected Man; since in this Gospel, love is mutual; and it is those who love Jesus that are resurrected to life eternal.
Perhaps, then, Lazarus was the first and only person who loved Jesus to die after Jesus became divine and commenced his ministry and before Jesus himself died.
Lazarus was, therefore, the only person 'eligible' for resurrection during the period when Jesus was divine and dwelling upon earth.
This would explain why Lazarus was resurrected, and why no other people were resurrected, during those three divine years of Jesus's mortal life.
Theosis is a teaching of the Fourth Gospel
Why is it so difficult for us to attain a higher form of consciousness? Why is success so rare and brief?
The reason is that the higher consciousness is a divine form of consciousness, and to participate in it we must be in-accord-with divine creation... and not many people are.
Especially given that we must consciously be in accord with divine creation - and also aware of it, and actively choosing it from our true selves (our souls). (This cannot be something unconscious or passive - because the divine is always conscious, always active and purposive.)
Many traditionalists find this line of thinking to be un-Christian, if not anti-Christian; so it is necessary to link it with Jesus. The best source on Jesus is the Fourth Gospel.
In the Fourth Gospel, aside from Jesus himself, the best example of a God-aligned Man is the author of the Gospel, the beloved disciple himself - if we agree that the author is the resurrected Lazarus. The Gospel itself is the product of exactly the kind of divine consciousness that we seek.
A serious question - though - is to do with mortal versus post-mortal life. Clearly we can look-forward to a divine consciousness if we are believers in Jesus as the Son of God and the Good Shepherd who (if we will follow) will lead us to life eternal, with divine qualities that are 'symbolically' depicted throughout the Fourth Gospel.
But why suppose that we ought to aim at divine consciousness in mortal life? And why suppose that our failure to do would be responsible for the most extreme sins of modern life, as Rudolf Steiner recognised in a great prophetic statement of a century ago.
Well, perhaps because that is a theme throughout the Fourth Gospel, a Second Message; if that is what is implied by (for example) the conversation with Nicodemus about being born-again, or the conversation with the Samaritan woman about living water, or the discussion after feeding the five thousand about labouring for that meat which endureth into everlasting life.
It seems that there is a core/ minimal requirement for salvation: believing that Jesus is the Son of God and loving, therefore having faith, in him; so we may follow him through death to Heavenly life everlasting.
This core message is about salvation, and refers to our state after death and resurrection - but it is not about what we should do in this mortal life. Salvation is attainable by anyone who has these core convictions (believes-in and believes-on Jesus), and only by them. However, this gives no guidance for our worldly-motivations during this earthly existence.
However, there is also this Second Message - focused not on salvation but on theosis, on divinisation or sanctification - and this second message is about what we should work-for and strive-for during mortal life. What should motivate us. The answer is that we should strive to attain a new way of thinking and being that is aligned with the divine.
In other words, we ought-to strive for a higher consciousness, by aligning our thinking with the divine and by participating in the work of creation, even before death and during earthly mortality.
And if or when we do not strive for higher consciousness - there will be bad consequences (as we see all around us).
Although the idea that Men may become fully divine is often regarded as being a distinctive doctrine of Mormon Christianity (and an heretical and obnoxious one!).
Yet, this idea is pretty clearly implied by the Fourth Gospel from three sets of statements: that Jesus is the son of God, that Men may become sons of God, and that Jesus is God.
However, the fact is not usually noticed due to the near-universal practice of reading scripture with a prior (non-scriptural) assumption of strict-monotheism - leading to the mystical-paradox of standard Trinity theology, which itself assumes that God is qualitatively distinct from Men.
Also, the Synoptic Gospels (and/ or Pauline Epistles) are, in practice, regarded as primarily authoritative - whereas I believe that the Fourth Gospel is the most authoritative book of scripture.
Anyway, the passages in the Fourth Gospel which lead to the conclusion that Men can become fully divine include the following (there are others). Jesus is the son of God
John 20: 31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Men may also become sons of God (like Jesus already is)
John 1: 12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Jesus is himself God
John 1: 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. The same was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
20: 27. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Command and Commandment
There is a sense in which the nature (and history) of Christian churches hinges upon understanding the implications of command and commandment. There is a sense in which the Fourth Gospel (of 'John') amounts to a redefinition, a change in meaning, of command/ ment, and thereby of the nature of what Jesus intended to happen after his death.
If we focus on the use of command/ ment in the Gospel, we can see than the early Old Testament assumption about what this means is subverted by its usage, until it is gradually made clear that the OT assumptions of the Master-servant, Law-obedience model of the relation between God and Men; needs to be replaced by a new 'model'.
In a nutshell: obedience unfolds and is redefined through the course of the Gospel. As Jesus explains (really very clearly, with repetitions in different words) just how he wishes his followers to behave and how they should relate to him, and to each other.
The wishes of Jesus are actually very obvious; but also very different indeed from how 'things turned out'.
12: 49-50 - For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
This first mention of commanding sounds much like the OT Master-servant relationship - command means law, law implies obedience - blind obedience when the reason for command has not been understood. A top-down model. But...
14:15 and 21 - If ye love me, keep my commandments... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
So far - what Jesus says is still compatible with the OT - but wait!... Jesus introduces love; and this ought to make us suspect something new and different is going on; because love is not something that can be 'commanded' in the sense of ordered: a command to love cannot be obeyed. One cannot (think about it...) rationally make a Law to love.
The simple fact that we cannot obey an order to love is (I think) obvious once pointed-out; but has failed to register because (it seems) that the Ancient Hebrews operationalised 'love' as 'obedience' - and people (apparently) ceased to notice that obedience isn't really love...
But Jesus is about to change this. What that fact of not-commandable-love means is that the first and primary two commandments - to love God and neighbour - cannot be 'commands' in the sense in which people usually tend to understand them. The concept of 'command' being used must be different from 'order' - and this is made clear later in the Fourth Gospel.
From Chapter 15: 12-17 - This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love...
Here is Jesus's new understanding of what command means. To 'abide in love' means something like a harmony of purpose, based on mutual love. And this is clarified by Jesus telling the disciples explicitly that their relation is one of loving friends and Not of Master and servant; that they are not supposed to obey blindly without comprehension - but that he will provide the understanding that is necessary for the disciples to obey from loving harmony of purpose.
Jesus is asking for love, faith, trust, friendship and loyalty - all of which is distinct from the obedience of a servant due to his Master. Duty may be ordered - but love cannot.
Therefore, a man must want to be a member of Jesus's 'family'. The community of Jesus's followers is being envisaged as a group of mutually loving friends who mutually love Jesus - that is, as a Christian family, a family of Christians - whose harmony of purpose derives-from this love. And the disciples are specifically told that the proper relationship is not any more to be in the old command-and-obey; Master-and-servant form.
As things happened, a Christian Church was formed, a legalistic organisation based on the assumption that love could be commanded in the sense of being ordered by a Master, and that people could and should obey (if necessary, without comprehension) - like servants.
But it certainly looks as if Jesus went to considerable lengths to explain that this was not what he wanted from his disciples - and that he envisaged his followers as cohering like a family, not as an organisation (legally regulated); growing-from loving personal relationships and a high vision of (family-like) friendship.
Jesus seems to be instructing his discples to discard the OT Master-servant, order-obey, uncomprehending, legalistic relationship; and for it to be replaced by a harmony of purpose, based-on loving friendship, knowedge of Jesus (provided to each individually by the Holy Ghost) - and presumably 'enforced' by mutual loyalty (rather than duty) deriving from the characteristic loyalty among loving family members.
Note: from the above one can certainly see why it was decided to demote the Fourth Gospel to a subsidiary and dependent role - implicitly inferior to the Synoptics and Pauline Epistles. Because when I regard the Fourth Gospel as the most authoritative source on Jesus's life and teachings, and read it in isolation, it does seem to contradict a lot of what has come to be taken for granted - and presumably that fact or problem was noticed by the compilers of the Bible and early scholars - who decided implicitly to disregard the internal evidence of the primacy of the Fourth Gospel, in favour of embedding it in a mosaic of other authors.
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
One of the most striking, and indeed shocking, aspects of reading the Fourth Gospel as the primary and most authoritative source about Jesus- is that Jesus tells the disciples to propagate the faith as a 'family' of believers and says nothing about setting up a church.
To use the old German Sociological terminology: Christians ought to be a Gemeinschaft, not a Gesellschaft - a loving community, not an institutional society.
In a long section (Chapters 13-17*) describing the night before the crucifixion; Jesus instructs the disciples on the meaning of his teaching and what they should do after his departure. What he seems to be saying is that the disciples have (since the departure of Judas Iscariot) a mutually loving 'family'; and that future Christians should be the same.
The themes (here and elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel) are all about love between Christians; in effect, a group cohering by a web of love. Love cannot be imposed. A loving group can and does grow, as a family grows by marriage and children - but only one person at a time, and only by mutual consent. It is clear that this is the consent of friends, not of master and servant.
Is there then to be no structure to the Christian community? It is not explicit, but the structure of family is sustained throughout the Fourth Gospel - including that between Jesus and his Father. The family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (who is himself the author of the Fourth Gospel) is a major feature of the Gospel; Mary's marriage to Jesus in indicated in three places; and Lazarus (Jesus's brother in law) is made the son of Jesus's Mother at the crucifixion.
I assume, therefore, that the Christian community would have the same kind of internal structure of authority as an ideal family.
What I take from this is that Jesus intended for his followers to be structured and operate like a loving family - a family that adopted new members, as well as marrying and procreating them.
*John 15:  If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.  As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.  If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.  These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.  This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.  Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.  Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.  These things I command you, that ye love one another.  If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.  Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
Addressing the fundamental problems of mortal life
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is offering us an explicit Answer to some implicit Questions - but these Questions are no longer obvious to modern people, and it is worth drawing them out from the first half of the Fourth Gospel (chapters 1-12, up to The Passion) - and making them clearer.
What Jesus offered, and how we are to accept it, is repeatedly stated in the Fourth Gospel - e.g. in the first and twentieth chapters: 1:12 - ...as many as received him, to them he gave power to becomes the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.'; 20:31 - '...believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.'
That is The Answer. But what was the Question? If we consider Jesus's main acts in the Fourth Gospel (of 'John'), the most heavily-emphasised events, then we can infer that he was addressing the basic, fundamental, essential problems of human life.
Some examples are: the discussion with Nicodemus about the need to be 'born-again'; the discussion with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well about the water of life; healings of the nobleman's son at Cana, the cripple at Bethesda, and of the blind man; the cleansing of the Temple; the feeding of the five thousand; the woman taken in adultery; and the raising of Lazarus.
Although these certainly not reducible in significance to single implications; we can see that Jesus was addressing the fundamental problems of mortal human life: birth and death; trade and labour; family and sex; eating and drinking; disability and disease. He did not need (in those days) to emphasise that these were problems - everybody knew by experience.
So, briefly put; this is a message of the Gospel, in a Question and Answer, a Problem and Solution, form - the Answer of Jesus was to the fundamental problems of mortal life. Jesus was 'saving' us from the otherwise-insoluble problems of living.
The Answer was wholly and permanently by resurrection to life eternal; but also Jesus makes clear (for example in talking with the Samaritan woman) that insofar as we believe in him and on his name (the nature of his reality) here-and-now, we can experience (albeit only partly and temporarily) the joy of life everlasting even during mortal life.
The special importance of John the Baptist
The prominence which Jesus gives to John the Baptist requires specific explanation. After all, he is put on a level with, or perhaps even above, Moses, Abraham, Jacob and all the other greats; yet by the usual understanding, that status seems hard to justify.
What exactly, did John the Baptist do that was so important and can stand comparison, indeed excel, the remarkable achievements of the ancient Hebrew prophets?
It would be expected that we would be told exactly what that achievement was, and indeed we are. We are told what John did, and its effect - he was The Baptist, and he baptised Jesus, and this was the act that put him above all other prophets.
As we are told John was supremely important, the baptism of Jesus by John must itself have been supremely important. Well, we are told in the Fourth Gospel that the (divine) Spirit came and rested and stayed upon Jesus. Since we were not told anything about Jesus's earlier life in the Fourth Gospel; implicitly, this marks the exact moment when Jesus became what he finally was, and without this he would not have been who he was.
In the Fourth Gospel, there is no 'origins' Nativity story, no genealogy of Jesus, no information concerning Jesus's childhood (nothing about Jesus being related to John the Baptist). John's Baptism is apparently the sole and sufficient explanation of Jesus becoming fully the Son of God.
Of course Jesus was already the Lamb of God, even before he was baptised, and was recognised as such... by John the Baptist.
Therefore, the Fourth Gospel is telling us that it was John the Baptist who first recognised that Jesus was the Messiah, and on baptising him was aware of the Spirit descending upon him and staying upon him.
We tend to assume that none of this was essential to the work of Jesus; but we are probably wrong to do this. At least in the Bible, God does things by Men. Perhaps if one man fails, then God may find another - but decisions and events have permanent significance.
It seems that the weight of the divine plan of salvation rested upon the shoulders of John the Baptist; and that he was needed as the specific person who was worthy and able, to recognise and baptise Jesus, in the decisive event which began the ministry of Jesus.
Since the author of the Fourth Gospel gives no other 'reason' for Jesus's status; the recognition and Baptism by John may count as the single most important event in the mortal life of Jesus.
If that is so; the prominence of John the Baptist in the Fourth and Synoptic Gospels is easily understandable.
Who are Christians supposed to love?
The following are (in order of occurrence) the verses when love is mentioned in the Fourth Gospel (of 'John') - leaving out the times when the author describes himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
What can be seen - and what is very striking, I think, is that Jesus does not ever advocate everybody loving everybody else. He is always talking in specific terms, mostly about the love of and for the Father and Jesus himself; or specifically of love for and among the disciples. I have noted this for each verse in italics.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God's love for the world
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Men's preference for darkness, evil
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. The Father's love of the Son
For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. The Father's love of the Son
But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. Lack of Men's love for God
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Lack of Men's love for Jesus
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. The Father's love of the Son
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. Jesus's love of Lazarus
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. Jesus's love of Martha
Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! Jesus's love of Lazarus
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Love as a metaphor for 'giving highest priority to'
For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Men's lack of love for God
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. Jesus's love of his disciples
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Disciples' love of each other
If ye love me, keep my commandments. Disciples' love of Jesus
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Men's love of Son and of Father
For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. The Father's love of the disciples
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
The Father's love of the disciples and of Jesus
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Simon Peter's love of Jesus
In conclusion - the Fourth Gospel has plenty about the need for love, the centrality of love - but this is always love in relation to 1. God the Father, 2. Jesus and 3. the disciples as a group, and specific followers of Jesus.
Specific love - that is love concrete, between named persons.
Whereas, in modern Christianity, the love that is talked about most - almost exclusively, ad nauseam - is the abstract love of all Men for each other, indiscriminately.
Love of neighbour is indeed important in some of the other Gospels - as the second 'great' commandment. Much hinges on what is implied by 'neighbour' - from the Fourth Gospel, assuming these are valid; it is likely that neighbour here has some specific meaning...
But our eye witness source, the author of the Fourth Gospel, the disciple who Jesus especially loved, does not mention this At All; and certainly he did Not make universal, indiscriminate love between people into the single and sufficient definition of being a follower of Jesus - which is the common and false understanding of 'Christianity'.
Why is Jesus called The Word?
"In the beginning was the Word" - we know that the word was Jesus, before he incarnated - but until just-now, I never understood why he was The Word (that is I never found the explanations adequate, nor did I comprehend what 'word' was here supposed to mean).
From reading Owen Barfield, I realise that to understand words we need to understand concepts; and that concepts change through history. The concept of The Word, as it is used in the King James Bible and the Fourth Gospel, needs to be understood by its usage. So, I did a word search for 'word' and read all the usages in the Fourth Gospel.
From that I realised something of the scope of the term, and that 'word' in the Fourth Gospel meant (in part) something more like knowledge - but an objective knowledge that was permanent.
And from my reading and brooding on Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom (1894); I knew what kind of knowledge that needed to be.
The Fourth Gospel tells us that we need to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by the Father. Why did the Father need to send him? The answer is that Jesus was The Word, and he became The Word incarnate; that is, The Word in This World.
Until Jesus was incarnated, Man did not have direct access to The Word - but only by indirect communications; however, by incarnating Jesus gave Man access to The Word - directly, objectively, permanently; if Men recognised Jesus as the Son of God.
Jesus would not have been much use if he was 'a teacher' merely, because a teacher needs to be listened to, heard, understood... and even when correct the understanding may be forgotten or distorted.
What was/ is needed is direct and permanent knowing; and this entails that when two people know something, they must know it direct and unmediated, and it must be exactly the same thing that they know. They must know the true-concept, not merely a copy or version of it...
We might picture this (as a simplified model) in the form that knowledge is located in a realm we can all access, and when someone thinks an objective thought he 'borrows' a thought from this realm, while he is thinking it - after which it returns to the realm to be available for anybody else to think.
This model is merely meant to emphasise that objective knowledge cannot depend on communication, or copying. Objective implies it is shared, public, identical between individuals. It is also necessarily true - which is another meaning of objective.
So, why do we need to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God? Because he is the only source of direct knowledge; it was incarnated with him - he is the source from-which we may know directly.
It is knowing that Jesus is the Son of God that 'points us at' the source of direct knowledge. (Because Jesus is The Word, we know that The Word is real, we know its location, we know what to do to find it.)
If we do Not acknowledge that Jesus is The Word, then we will 'die in our sins'. This is not meant as a threat, but as a simple fact. Jesus brings us immortality by resurrection; but unless we know and follow Jesus, that resurrection will merely be of our-selves as we-are here-and-now; that is, 'in' our corruption and sins (mixed in with purity and love - the mixture will vary between people).
Our 'heaven' will then be our-selves in a place with similar people to our-selves. Qualitatively, this heaven will be the same kind of place as this earth - but eternally.
But what about Hell? Jesus brought Hell into the world - as many have noticed.
Well, when knowledge is understood as objective and permanent and dwelling-in the soul (this being an implied property of The Word, in the Fourth Gospel); this means that once a person has known Jesus, has known him as the Son of God, this is permanent.
To know Jesus is to be 'born again' as Jesus describes it to Nicodemus. It is permanently to be transformed. We cannot ever be the same as we were before, because (as I said) The Word is objective - it does not depend on memory or attention, it cannot be eroded by disease or death. We cannot un-know that which we know.
This may clarify: To believe 'in' Jesus is to know he is the Son of God; to believe 'on' Jesus is to love, trust and follow him.
Both believing-in and believing-on are choices, they cannot be compelled upon anyone but must be freely chosen. However they are knowledge, as well as choices; and objective knowledge is permanent and cannot be undone.
Furthermore, objective knowledge is public - and our belief in and on Jesus is itself objectively-knowable; it is not private - God knows what we each know.
(Men do not know what other men know, and can indeed lie to themselves about what they themselves know; but the knowledge is objective, permanent. We must learn to distinguish objective knowing from our 'current psychological states'.)
Hell is when somebody knows that Jesus is the Son of God; but does not love him, does not trust him, will not follow him.
More exactly, Hell is an active rejection of what Jesus offered - it is to know and hate Jesus, to regard his promises as lies, to regard his heaven as a Hell...
It is to know and invert the scale of Good and Evil established by the Father and endorsed by the Son. And thus to prefer a life in company with those who think likewise - which is Hell.
In sum; Jesus was The Word - which is approximately objective knowledge.
By being born Jesus brought objective knowledge into this world - and Jesus's primary teaching was simply to 'point at himself', and who he was; and invite us to love him and have faith in him, because he loved us and would die for us.
By bringing objective knowledge into this world, Jesus made it possible to become Sons of God, like himself - on a par with himself. Because such a Son of God must know - merely doing is insufficient. A 'god' must know the truth; and know it explicitly.
But The Word/ objective knowledge - while real and permanent in this world - is a possibility; it is not compelled nor is it coerced. The Word must first be recognised, then embraced - if it is fully to be believed and to be effectual.
The 'system' was established between Jesus and his disciples - in Chapters 13-17 of 'John's' Gospel we can see Jesus describing how this has worked. The disciples have first done what others can now do - they believed in and on Jesus.
From that point, and the coming fo the Holy Ghost; direct and objective knowledge has been available to all - as it never was before that moment; that is available to all if they want it, and when they choose to believe what they find.
But all this is conditional upon having the necessary concepts - the necessary metaophysical understandings and assumptions. Because the wrong ones will block the possibility of knowing.
Modern people absolutely-need to know that knowledge can be direct, objective and permanent - utterly independent of the contingencies of communication, perception, comprehension, brains, biology, age and illness... and indeed independent of death.
Note added: The purpose of a satisfactory explanation of Jesus's incarnation, death and resurrection needs to include both objective and voluntary aspects. There needs to be some understanding of how these events changed objective reality in a permanent fashion (regardless of human knowledge), and also an understanding of how human freedom interacts with that reality.
Jesus was not ‘without sin’ – he was perfectly aligned with his Father’s will
Pondering the Fourth Gospel has clarified that the extreme importance placed on Jesus being 'without sin' is either misleading or an error.
Jesus being without sin means that his motivations, thoughts and actions - what he did, was wholly aligned with the Father's will. Thus, sin would be to be unaligned-with, opposed-to, God's creation and God's intentions.
This was intrinsic to Jesus's work, because he was sent by the Father and was faithful to his mission; but it is an unhelpful error to make this be about sinlessness - the idea of sinlessness seems to come from an inappropriate focus on the need for a perfect sacrificial animal in the ancient Hebrew religion - an equation is made between the sacrificial lamb being, ideally, a perfect example of its species, and Jesus being a similarly perfect example of our species - to make the sacrifice effective.
To put this interpretation at the centre of explaining the work of Jesus is to grasp the wrong end of the stick, and to refuse to let-go.
The Fourth Gospel is clear that the main thing about Jesus was his identity: who he was. It was not about what he did, but who he was.
What Jesus actually did was to prove his identity (by various means - miracles, testimony, fulfilment of prophecy) and to confront a lot of different people, in a lot of situations - and confront them usually in a confrontational manner! Just read the gospel: in almost every reported interaction, Jesus is dominant, distinctly sharp-tongued, accusing and convicting.
Most often, indeed Jesus is distinctly scathing in his comments to others!... Dismissive of the real motivations of the five thousand whom he fed, mocking about the dishonesty the Samaritan Woman, short-tempered with those who asked the same question more than once, and accusing the Pharisees of serving Satan.
Jesus went around hurting people's feelings all the time - even his disciples. The put-downs of Simon Peter are extreme, Nathanael is greeted with sarcasm, 'Doubting Thomas' is shamed...
Jesus does not seem to have been going around Being-perfect and Not-sinning; but going around proving his identity, his love; and stating what this meant for us - what people needed to do about him.
Note added: It seems to me that, from the Fourth Gospel; someone at the time - an informed and reliable witness, if asked about Jesus and 'what is he like?' surely would never had summarised him by emphasising negative-qualities such as 'he is without sin' or 'he is perfect'... He would have talked of positive and dynamic attributes such as Jesus's natural authority, power, wisdom... the way he said and did surprising things which were then recognised as exactly right...
Was Pilate saved?
Yes, he was saved; according to the author of the Fourth Gospel, and going entirely by that gospel (written as it is by an eye witness) - I think that is what we are intended to infer: that Pilate 'believed on' the name of Jesus; and therefore was saved.
I feel that this is why so much attention is given to each of several interactions between Jesus and Pilate.
For me the crucial aspects seem to be firstly that Pilate asserted plainly and repeatedly (and would not withdraw the statement) that Jesus was King of the Jews, meaning he was the Messiah, the spiritual king (by contrast, the Jews said - "We have no king but Caesar").
Secondly that Jesus said to Pilate: "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." - which, I take it, absolves Pilate of direct responsibility for crucifying Jesus.
In short, we are shown that Pilate believed Jesus's claims concerning himself, and behaved as such - this (and this alone), we are repeatedly told, is what qualifies us for Life Eternal; and this is why Pilate is given such great prominence in the Fourth Gospel.
Note: Pilate comes out worse if the other Gospels are also taken into account; but the purpose of my current reading it to take the fullest account of the greatest authority of the Fourth Gospel. Here is the relevant text:
From John Chapters 18 & 19: Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
Note: Pilate makes two more appearances after this, first to allow the the crucified men's legs to be broken and finish the process; and to allow Joseph of Arimathaea to take the body for entombment.
Christians should pray to Jesus (directly)
This conviction has been building on me since I began to immerse myself in the Fourth Gospel ('John's' Gospel) - which I take to be the most authoritative book of the Bible.
Again and again we are told that the essence of the Christian life is belief (i.e. faith, trust) in Jesus, in (or on) the name of Jesus; and that Jesus was the creator (co-creator) of this world - and that we know the Father by knowing Jesus, and that (in effect) this knowledge supersedes, makes unnecessary, the old religion of the Jews focused on the Father.
It sees like a plain, one-step, inference (if we are using the Fourth Gospel as our source) that we should pray directly to Jesus. (And not therefore, as is usual, to The Father, 'in the name of'/ mediated by Jesus).
The Eastern Orthodox do this already, in The Jesus Prayer (one version of which would be: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy upon me.') - so this is not a new-fangled innovation. Plus of course many/ most 'simple' Christians have always prayed to Jesus - whatever their priests or pastors might say.
It is, indeed, common sense and obvious - so much so that I wonder at the motivation behind the prohibition among most Christians against praying direct to Jesus. To me, this looks like an attempt to prevent the fullness of the new dispensation from taking effect - a pushing of Jesus away from us, to one remove; and an implicit denial of his sufficiency.
Anyway, it is worth the experiment - pray to Jesus; our eldest brother - the very act of doing which is salvation because it is an act of belief.
Fear is prohibited
However things may have been in the past; fear is prohibited now. It is the demonic plan to use fear to gain their objectives - the public realm has been turned into a discourse of fear; therefore Christians cannot use it.
This is difficult, I personally fail and lapse often - but it is a deep truth: fear is prohibited, absolutely.
Therefore, Christians cannot use fear to persuade, or to warn. I think we all feel this to be a fact of life?
We cannot use arguments of the If-Then type that depend on inculcating fear to avoid something - even if such arguments are effective in changing behaviour in the desired direction, the overall consequences of the argument having done so by the use of fear will more than negate any such benefit.
We must be able to present our Christian message without threats: we Just Must. It is the use of fear to manipulate that characterises our modern totalitarian world; but the use of fear is built-into the deep assumptions of The System; thus it is deniable and denied.
Anyone coming from outside the system, like Christians, who need to challenge the deep assumptions; can only hope to succeed in improving things overall if the outcome is a reduction in fear. The old method of inculcating 'holy dread', fear of hellfire' - then showing the way to escape... well, that will not do At All.
Not least because, in the current climate of endemic fear, to be effective the Christian would need to threaten something that induced even more fear than the high background level of fear. This would entail first convincing people of a world of premised upon more terrifying assumptions, greater dread and worse horrors than the modern media public realm... Well, you can see where this is going.
This is perhaps why the Fourth Gospel should be our Bible - since (with only a few and dubious exceptions among its many verses) here we get Jesus bringing and offering a positive addition to human life.
The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel does not argue by threats nor by inducing fear; not by threatening 'or else!'; but by offering something better than people already have, something wonderful - and simple: Heavenly eternal life.
And what should we do to get it? Simple. We get it by 'believing-on' Jesus, knowing he is the Son of God; by loving and following him through death into Life Everlasting, as a lost sheep follows a Good Shepherd.
We must not be drawn into the If Not side of things, the 'what will happen if I Don't follow Jesus', 'what will happen if I can't or won't believe he is the Son of God?' The simple answer is that Jesus has made an offer - and if you want it, you can have it. If you don't want it; well, you are not compelled to take it.
But what happens then - people will ask. What happens to me if I choose to reject Christ's offer/ The exact answer is not made explicit in the Fourth Gospel, and the outcome probably will vary from person by person; so each must work-out the answer for himself.
If not? The proper answer is a shrug?... You Tell Me?...
The mission is simply to tell what Jesus positively offers, what he adds to our earthly mortal lives, the cosmic, eternal, loving perspective... And what to do about it. Assuming that is what you want.
Why should we love one another?
There is a tendency to regard the injunction that Christians should Love One Another as something like a Law, imposed upon Man - with the main significance being that if you break the Law, then you will be 'sent' to Hell*.
Certainly that seems to be the way that this is used against Christians: non-Christians and anti-Christians are forever accusing Christians of insufficient love towards all-other-people.
Yet the appearance of the phrase Love One Another within the Fourth Gospel shows that that meaning can't be the one intended as primary.
Here is the context:
John 13:31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. 36 Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.
Jesus is talking with his disciples about his own glorification - his ascension to Heaven. The new commandment to love one another is about what they need to do to follow Jesus to Heaven.
Love between Men seems to be a part of the 'process' by which Men can follow Jesus through death to life everlasting; presumably mutual love between the disciples it is a part of life everlasting.
To my mind, from its context; 'love one another' seems to be primarily (not exclusively) about life beyond death. The way I see it is that it is love for Jesus that enables Men to follow him through death; and love of 'one another' that makes this more than a solitary glorification. It is about the loving family of glorified men, following Jesus together.
It is not an injunction for everybody to love everybody, but a specific injunction for the disciples to love each other. We assume that 'love one another' applies to all followers of Jesus: that is to all disciples - but there seems nothing to suggest it goes beyond that circle.
And its importance is rooted in the life to come: which means that 'love one another is not about 'getting to Heaven' so much as what happens when we get there. Following Jesus is not a matter of escaping something we fear as it is a matter of joining something we want.
Love one another is therefore not really a passport to heaven (even less a get-out-of-Hell card); but a fundamental insight into the nature of life everlasting, which is being offered by Jesus. Because love is the basis and matrix of the New Life - it is what hold-together God's creation.
Love is analogous to the 'unified field' that supposedly makes the universe cohere and develop; but love is about relationships between persons: that is the ultimate metaphysical reality.
*Note: The Fourth Gospel doesn't use the word Hell, nor say much about the horrors of the life after death without Christ; nor a place of torment - even to his accusers whom Jesus characterises as children of Satan; but focuses almost-wholly on the 'benefits' of Life Everlasting, or 'Heaven'. The overall message is of a New Possibility, a possibility that must be chosen.
Life and Light
The above is the fourth verse of the Fourth Gospel ('John' - in the divinely-inspired 'King James' version of the Bible); and this is the first definition of what-Jesus-was.
Jesus had Life in him... and this Life in Jesus was the Light of Men...
When striving to understand the key terms of Life and Light we moderns are up against the fact that people used to think in a different way from ourselves. Through its history language has become less 'poetic'; more precise, narrow, materialist. To recover the meaning we need to recover the thought-world, the way of thinking - and we can understand these terms only in such a context.
The Life that was in Jesus, implicitly to a high degree, comes up repeatedly through the Fourth Gospel. This Life of Jesus seems to be like a solidification and concentration of creation. Verse 4 follows a statement that Jesus (the Word) was creator of this world ('All things were made by him...'). So, Life is (partly) creation.
I think we are being told that Jesus offers Man the possibility of an eternal participation in the work of creation. Through this Gospel, the Life that Jesus offers is contrasted with normal life, the mortal life that ends in death; whereas the creative Life is 'eternal', 'everlasting' - and to reach it fully we need to go-through death, be born-again.
The Light is, mostly, a name for Jesus himself (like the Word); but simultaneously contains other meanings of light such as brightness, goodness, and something we can follow in the dark (darkness being the opposite of Light, and the world regarded as generally dark)...
So we could say that the Light is an aspect of Jesus's nature, and also some of the qualities that Jesus embodies: qualities at the heart of his message and work: him having made us able to become 'sons of God', that is to become like Jesus himself, a creator of worlds.
And that Jesus is Light is also what guides us, and enables us to follow Jesus through death.
Life eternal/ everlasting – Jesus’s primary promise
The promise of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel is that those who believe in him will have the reward of life eternal/ life everlasting.
As Jesus explains to Nicodemus; this is to be attained only after mortal life: via biological death and being born again.
Life eternal/ everlasting is the state of resurrection; and its consequence explained in terms of the various events of the gospel when Jesus contrasts the satisfactions of this mortal life - wine, water, bread, meat, sight - with the great, qualitative enhancement that these mortal experiences will have in the life to come.
How can we understand this?
The answer is that the resurrected body is what transforms worldly experience into Paradise. The resurrected body is eternal, everlasting, indestructible - and has divine powers of both perceiving and thinking.
(Because the incarnate body and the soul are indivisible, therefore transformation of the body is itself a transformation of the Man.)
The resurrected Man has, in effect, 'extra senses' unknown to mortal Men, and creative powers of imaginative and intuitive thinking.
(These we may experience briefly, in the context of our constantly-changing mortal state - but mortality is primarily for learning, rather than doing.)
Thus the promise of resurrection is itself the cause of the astonishing enhancements in the quality of living that Jesus promises. It is because Jesus brought resurrection that he also brought the possibility of Heaven.
What is it to be ‘born again’?
There is a wonderful scene in the Fourth Gospel* in which Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the need to be 'born again'.
This passage is about the need for each Man to die, before he can be resurrected to eternal life, and dwell in Heaven. This is to be 'born again'.
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus in the present tense, about a situation that is already possible, at the time of the conversation. Because, at the time of conversing with Nicodemus; Jesus had already become divine when he was Baptised by John; and from then onwards a pattern was made by which any Man could choose to follow Jesus from Manhood to Divinity.
Thus, Jesus began his life as a Man, then was transformed and became divine; and the 'template' was established. Any Man may be transformed because Jesus was transformed.
However, before a Man can be made divine - his body must die.
After death of the body, the soul remains; but the soul without the body is maimed and lacks agency; the soul cannot 'resurrect itself'.
The soul must be-resurrected by another; and that other is the divine Jesus, who himself went-through the process.
This is made explicit when Jesus says: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit". Jesus is referring back to the earlier passage 1:32-35; in which John the Baptist says that the identity of Jesus as the Messiah was confirmed when the Spirit descended upon Jesus and 'abode upon him'. Therefore, the baptism of Jesus was not only with water, but also with the spirit.
Since the baptism was the moment when Jesus became divine, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that Men can only attain to the Kingdom of God by first becoming divine; and for Men to become divine they must first die and be reborn (resurrected).
Later in the gospel, Jesus will teach that this divinisation is accomplished by following him through death, as the sheep follow the Good Shepherd.
Note: When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus; the transformation by Jesus of Man to divinity by resurrection was already possible - and soon afterwards Jesus resurrected Lazarus - but to remain on earth rather than dwell in the kingdom of God; as a miraculous demonstration of the new dispensation.
*John.3  There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:  The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.  Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?  Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?  Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?  And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Following Jesus to life eternal
Modern people assume that death is the end of everything personal, the destruction of the self; they assume that when the body dies then nothing is left.
The ancients, before Jesus, also believed that death was the end of everything personal, and that there was destruction of the self - but the difference was that after the body has died, they believed that something was left: that the soul remained.
The soul minus the body wasn't any use, it lacked self-consciousness, it could not help-itself... but the soul remained alive, like a witless 'ghost'. (The Underworld/ Hades/ Sheol was populated by such ghosts; left-over after death of the body.)
Before Jesus only a perfectly divine-aligned Man could become fully-divine; because being divine means to join with God in the creative work of the universe. To join in the work of creation, one must wholly embrace that work and its aims; to have something distinctive to contribute to creation, one must have free will, must have agency.
Therefore one must have 'a body' because the body is what enables us to have divine free will: it is incarnation that separates our will from that of God.
So resurrection - with an immortal, indestructible body - is necessary for us to become divine agents.
In sum, before Jesus divinity was not possible to a Man unless one was already fully divine-aligned. However, Jesus was a perfectly divine-aligned man, and therefore Jesus could and did become fully divine (at his baptism by John).
And that event changed everything.
After Jesus, who began as a Man, had become fully divine; then it was possible for any other Man to become fully divine, simply by following the path that Jesus had made. In other words, one needed to love Jesus, to have faith in who Jesus was and what he could do; and then anyone could follow Jesus to full divinity - but only after death, only via death.
Why only after death? Because we are not perfectly-aligned to God during our mortal lives (that is, because we are all sinners) our body must first die, before our soul can be resurrected. Our personal self must be ended before it can be remade (from the remnant soul)
This process began before Jesus himself died, with the resurrection of Lazarus. What we know of Lazarus is the mutual love between him and Jesus. Lazarus was the first Man to die who had faith in Jesus, and Lazarus was therefore the first Man to be resurrected by Jesus - but uniquely Lazarus was resurrected back into earthly life, as a miraculous sign of the new dispensation.
Lazarus then went on to write the Fourth Gospel as the 'beloved disciple', being the best possible witness to the reality of this new dispensation; and the Man who best knew the nature of Jesus and what gift he brought.
So, now, after Jesus - the Good News is that we can each and all have life everlasting and the resurrection that entails; no matter what our state of sin or how far from being God-aligned we may be. We may have resurrected life everlasting after we have died; 'simply' by loving and trusting Jesus to lead us, and by following the same path to full divinity that Jesus first took, and which (by taking) he made for us.
The marriage and miracle at Cana
After Jesus was identified as the Messiah and baptised by John, and after he had collected some disciples; the first incident in the Fourth Gospel is the marriage at Cana, the turning of water into wine; which is described as the beginning of the miracles.
The marriage at Cana describes Jesus's wedding (i.e. it identifies Jesus as the bridegroom - this interpretation being confirmed later in John 3:29). And then Jesus does his first miracle; why then?
My understanding is that the marriage was the moment when Jesus assumed his ministry - at the late age of thirty. I assume that the baptism by John what made it possible; the marriage was what made it happen. This is my interpretation of the governor's comment, addressing Jesus: 'thou has kept the good wine until now'.
Presumably, this was why this miracle was done at this time - as a sanctification of the marriage; that this marriage was, compared with an ordinary marriage - symbolically and literally - as wine is to water.
Otherwise, this miracle of transformation seems rather a rather feeble, even trivial, achievement; at least by comparison with Jesus's miracles of healing. Yet we are told that it 'manifested forth his glory' - so there must have been something very important about it.
(Note: Unfortunately, I get the feeling that there is something wrong with the Biblical text of this episode - especially 2: 3-5, where there is both an impression of alien interpolation and of omission.)
Note added: I suspect that the marriage of Jesus being followed by the performance of miracles is related to the dyadic nature of fully creative divinity. This is implied by Mormon theology, with its assertion that celestial-eternal marriage is required for full divinity; and full divinity is characterised by the procreation of spirit children. This would suggest that it was necessary that Jesus was celestially-married in order that he would attain full divinity, with the same fullness as his Father (albeit, the Son lives and creates within the creation of the Father).
John. 2:  And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:  And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.  His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.  And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.  Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.  When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,  And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.(...) John. 3:  John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.  Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.  He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
What does God want from us?
It seems to me that William Arkle explained this (in terms I can grasp and validate intuitively) better than almost anyone else I have encountered.
Arkle generally used the word 'friends' (specifically defined) to try and capture what God wanted us to become (in the fullness of eternity) - meaning by this that God wanted to raise us to full divinity, to bring us to a spiritual maturity, such that we could become like ideal friends.
This raising and maturing of God's children is the purpose of creation - to provide the necessary experiences. Friends is nowadays, however, a rather weak word - since most modern people have few (or no) friends in Arkle's sense - just colleagues, acquaintances, buddies... Friendships, as we know them, are far feebler than marriages and families (even the trivialised and besieged modern marriages and families)... how many friends would move house to be near a friend, or give-up work to look after an ill friend? It happens, but far less often than with spouses, parents or children.
In that sense family relationships are closer to what God wants from us - and Arkle used the analogy of a father's possible relationship with (for example) a grown-up son who has himself married and has a family; in an ideal situation when both become friends as well as remaining father and son. If this ideal is extended horizontally, to include non spouses and not family - we have a vision of the heavenly society.
As a picture of this ideal and its extension, the Fourth Gospel explicitly shows us Jesus and his disciples; and the siblings Lazarus, Martha and Mary; and Jesus teaches us the way that this love works.
We can also see how this Love grows and extends incrementally, person by person, through time - and not by some sudden generalised and imposed state of being. So we are not intended to conclude that Christians are supposed - suddenly and somehow - to love everybody in this world indifferently; and the same would no doubt apply in the eternity to come.
Real, actual, Christian love is particular (of particular people), as well as being quantitative (some more than others). Jesus spoke quite specifically about love.
As both friends and as family we therefore have a vision of God's ideal, and we can see how and why Love is the central quality necessary; and we can see the reason for the emphasis on love in the Fourth Gospel. But this love is - in an important sense - incomplete; because it describes a static state; whereas we know that love is dynamic, fluxing, changing - we love people as we do things together...
So what is it that God wants that we do, ideally, in Heaven? The answer is simple enough - it is to participate in Creation; to become colleagues in the work of Creation.
But for this to be clear and comprehensible, we need to remember that God's Creation is composed of Beings, and only Beings. God did not create by some kind of celestial physics of life-less minerals; on the contrary, everything God created is and always has been alive, conscious and purposive. It is this living, developing Creation in which we are to participate. And this includes the creation, begetting, of persons - in a general sense the having of 'children'.
What God wants from us is two fold. We are God's children, and God wants us on the one hand to grow to become fully divine friends, bound by love; and on the other hand God wants us to participate in the divine work of Creation.
The two things go together, and indeed grow together.
Polytheism is good
The main point of creation is to make gods, as many as possible; living as a loving Heavenly family, and sharing the end-less work of creation.
The lesson of Christ's incarnation is that we Men are gods in our nature (albeit immature and flawed gods), and that God (the Father: prime creator) is a Man. So there is a continuum between mortal Men on the one hand; and creator gods such as the Father (who was the one prime creator) and the Son (Jesus Christ).
The Father is unique as prime creator, including being Father-creator of Men (including Jesus); and Jesus is the creator of this world (but not of the Men in it - as told and implied in the opening of the Fourth Gospel) - so creation is not restricted to the Father; creation has been done by both to Father and Son (at least).
Jesus tells us (clearly, explicitly, repeatedly in the Fourth Gospel) that if we know Jesus, then we know the Father; they are not the same person (else why would Jesus pray to the Father, defer to the Father, distinguish between himself and the father); but they are the same in nature: they are 'one' in love and motivation. And Jesus is a Man in his nature, therefore so is the Father.
Jesus is the Son of God, and tells us that we too can be Sons of God - we can be of the same kind as Jesus, and Jesus is of the same kind as God.
All this is perfectly clear and explicit in scripture; but it is obscured by the false (and wrongly-motivated) mania that Christianity 'must be' a monotheism. Yet it's a terrible and destructive error to try and argue that Christianity is a monotheism; because in a vital sense Christianity is an ultimate form of polytheism - maximum polytheism; (to repeat) that is the main point and purpose of Christianity.
Few, very few, errors have damaged Christianity as much as the attempt to insist that it is a monotheism: this was and is a primary error with often lethal and unavoidable consequences. It blocks understanding of the main purpose of mortal life. It puts an evasion at the heart of Christian theology. It institutionalises incoherence.
We need to be clear: the Father hopes for as many as possible of us Men to become gods and creators, like Jesus. That is what creation is for. There is only one God (capital g), one prime creator (albeit God may actually, factually, be - as I believe - a dyad of primary Father and Mother); but the plan is for there to be many gods (small g), many creators.
That's the main point of it-all.
The necessity of Jesus and the mechanism of salvation
The beginning of the Fourth Gospel tells us that it was Jesus, The Word, who made this world; and it is this work of creation which enabled Jesus (and only Jesus) to be our saviour.
Having made this world; Jesus was then incarnated-into the world he had created; that is, he was incarnated from his creation, using the stuff of his own creation. This world has that primal and fundamental unity - of being created by Jesus - everything is inter-related and mutually-affecting, by kinship of shared origin.
So we too are all incarnated from this world, from the creation of Jesus.
When Jesus died and was resurrected; this was the death and resurrection of the creator of this world, Jesus's mortal body and his resurrected body were both of this world (which Jesus himself had made).
We are incarnate from this world, Jesus became incarnate from this world (which he had made); we and Jesus are both Men; and therefore Jesus's death and resurrection had universal significance for Men.
This it was, that made it possible for other Men to follow Jesus into resurrected life everlasting; and why only Jesus is our saviour.
Why then do we need to have faith in Jesus? Why doesn't salvation just-happen?
Because there are two things Jesus gave us; the first is 'physical' resurrection to eternal life, the second is 'dwelling' in Heaven (life 'everlasting', and life qualitatively greater - not merely unending existence...).
Resurrection just-happens, and it happens to all men. Instead of remaining as a severed soul - as was the case for all Men before Jesus; since the resurrection of Jesus, all Men (including those from before the time of Jesus) are resurrected.
Resurrection is not a choice - it 'just happens' - it is something like a change in physical reality; a change in what happens to the soul after death.
But Heaven is a choice, a decision, an act, an opt-in - and salvation therefore happens only through faith - that is love, trust of Jesus.
To understand this requires recalling the fate of the soul after the death of the body, and before the resurrection of Jesus - the soul was a witless, demented thing of little intelligence, little memory, little judgement, no free will... incapable of helping itself...
(This, at least, is how both the ancient Hebrews (with Sheol) and ancient Greeks (with Hades) regarded life after death - and other variants may be understood similarly. The soul after death was a damaged, incomplete, incapable thing - eternal life was merely eternal existence.)
I regard the Good Shepherd parable as providing the key to understanding salvation - which is that while the soul is always resurrected, resurrected Man cannot find his own way to Heaven.
The resurrected soul must be led to Heaven; that is, Man must choose to follow the guidance of the Good Shepherd. This following is not imposed, it is chosen.
This was made newly possible by Jesus because the resurrected soul has greater capability than the discarnate souls destined for Sheol/ Hades; the resurrected soul has sufficient capability to recognise Jesus, to know him; it has the capacity and necessity to choose whether to follow the Good Shepherd, or not.
Why would the resurrected soul follow the Good Shepherd to Heaven, except that the soul loved and trusted the Good Shepherd?
That is the need for faith.
Thus Jesus was necessary to our salvation, only Jesus could give us salvation, only faith in Jesus can lead us to salvation.
The Holy Ghost
Fourth Gospel 'John' 7:39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)...
14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you....
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe...
15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning...
16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you...
20:21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Ghost to the disciples, seems to come with And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.
But on the other hand, Jesus has several times indicated that the Holy Ghost will not come until he is glorified, until he is ascended - that the Holy Ghost cannot come until then. It seems to me that the Holy Ghost is Jesus's presence after the ascension: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
Perhaps, then, Jesus breathing upon the disciples prepared them to receive the Holy Ghost, that is to receive his presence, after his ascension; in the well-known episode described in Acts that is celebrated today.
The necessity of John the Baptist
I've written before about the person of John the Baptist, who has always puzzled me by his extreme prominence in the Fourth Gospel ('John') especially.
This prominence now seems to require a more specific explanation than that the author of the Fourth Gospel was previously JtB's disciple, and that the Baptist was a high status Holy Man and Prophet who could confirm Jesus's identity as the Messiah.
I now believe that John the Baptist was necessary to the ministry of Jesus; by which I mean that it was necessary that Jesus was baptised by John (and not somebody else) in order that Jesus could fully become the Messiah, could fully become both Man and God, could perform miracles (including raising the dead), and could have the self-knowledge to do all this in full awareness of its significance.
In other words, when John describes how he knew that Jesus was the Messiah because when he baptised Jesus the divine Spirit came down upon Jesus and stayed upon him - and John had previously been told directly by God that this would be how the Messiah was known - this represents a very significant and direct intervention in reality by God the Father specifically via John.
(Plus, John the Baptist's own miraculous conception and personal history, and its prior linkage to the lineage and life of Jesus, is described in the other Gospels.)
John 1: 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
This carries the implication that in every other case when John baptised, the Spirit descended from heaven but did not abide - that the baptised person was 'touched' by the divine spirit - but not transformed by it into a qualitatively different being.
(This passage also confirms that the Holy Ghost came only with the ministry of Jesus, and that the many previous examples of divine Spirit intervening in the world - for example in the Old Testament, and before this point of the New, were distinct-from the Holy Ghost. I understand this to mean that the Holy Ghost was/is Jesus.)
This suggests to me that baptism by John was of miraculous nature for everybody - in being touched by the divine; but that this touching and abiding made a decisive transformation for Jesus. After which, Christ's miraculous ministry began.
In other words, John the Baptist's role in the incarnation of Jesus was not merely to help or assist; but was a necessary and decisive part of Jesus becoming what he became.
Now, perhaps if John had failed to do the baptism of Jesus (because John could not be compelled by God, he had to choose to do what he did, and for the right reasons), some other way would have been found - by God - by which the necessary and decisive transformation could be accomplished... This is quite possible, given God's power; just as perhaps God could have found another to bear Jesus had Mary declined.
But as it actually happened; I think we need to acknowledged that John the Baptist was as personally important as Mary - and indeed the analogy is a close one, since John's baptism was Jesus being 'born again' (as indirectly implied by the later discussion with Nicodemus).
Mary was responsible for Jesus being born as Man; John the Baptist for Jesus being born-again as Man and God - that's a measure of how important John was!
Son of God becomes Son of Man
In the New Testament; Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Son of God, other times as the Son of man - and the meaning and difference has been hard to define.
However, if the Fourth ('John's') Gospel is taken as the primary and authoritative Gospel and source of knowledge about Jesus, and if we consider Jesus as living in linear-sequential Time (so that 'before' and 'after' make a real difference in ultimate reality); then the usage of 'God' and 'man' is seen to be consistent - and potentially enlightening.
In sum, Jesus was born as a Son of God, but became the Son of man after he was resurrected - and it was the Son of man who ascended to Heaven.
The Chapter and Verse references (according to my Kindle search facility for the Gospel of John in the King James Bible) are as follows:
'Son of God': 1:3; 1:49; 3:18; 5:25; 9:35; 10:36; 11:4; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31.
These all refer to the mortal Jesus, during his earthly ministry and before his resurrection - but seem to include the period after his death and before his resurrection when, in 5:25 it says 'The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.' Presumably this refers to 'the harrowing of Hell' - or more accurately (since Hell did not exist until after the ascension) the ministry of Christ to the souls in Sheol.
The references for 'Son of man' are: 2:11; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27; 6:53; 6:62; 8:28; 12:23; 12:34; 13:31.
These refer to the resurrected and, especially, to the resurrected-ascending Christ.
The 'switch' from naming Jesus the Son of God to the Son of man, gives us important knowledge of Christ's mission - why it was necessary for him to be incarnated, die and be resurrected. Before incarnation, Jesus was already a Son of God, and was 'maker' of everything that-had-been-made (which, I take it, does not include Men).
But the Son of God could not save Men, could not offer us life everlasting; that entailed Jesus becoming the Son of man - that state of having-died as a Man, and then been resurrected to eternal life.
Jesus as Son of man was a higher being than when he was referred to as the Son of God: it is the Son of man who is our Saviour.
Bread of Heaven
The Fourth Gospel ('of 'John') mostly works by having fairly extended sections in which an important point is made by multiple uses of paired words/ concepts (indeed, Gospel as a whole, excluding the last Chapter - works this way). An example is the discussion following 'the feeding of the five thousand'. (I cite the relevant Bible passage at the end.)
What I wish to draw-out here, is that Jesus says, in different ways, that two things are required of those who are to attain everlasting life: I have termed these believing-in and believing-on Jesus; by which I mean approximately that we first need to recognise Jesus as who-he-is (the Son of God, sent by the Father, doing the Father's will) and secondly that we need to trust and have faith in him to lead us to everlasting life.
What this means is expressed in the various pairings of this passage; and in relation to bread/ food/ flesh/ blood and hunger; as contrasted with drink/ blood and thirst. It really is quite hard to explain more clearly or accurately than in the actual Gospel! - but you can see that there is a pattern of some-thing, and Also some other thing.
Then, there is the other matter (mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel several other times) that "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" and again "no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father".
My understanding of this, is that Men are divided into those who are for creation, and those against it; those who regard God as Good, and those who do not; God's party and the devil's party; those who acknowledge God as their Father, and those who have chosen Satan.
Unless a man already be of Jesus's Father's party, and regard God as Good, and wishes to be of-creation - then Jesus is irrelevant: that is the necessary background assumption to Jesus's gift.
So three things: 1. Believe in the goodness and desirability of the Father and of Creation; 2. Believe that Jesus the Son sent by The Father; 3. Belief/ Faith/ Trust in Jesus to lead us to everlasting life (Heaven).
John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. 28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. 30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? 31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. 36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. 37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. 41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. 42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? 43 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. 46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. 47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. 48 I am that bread of life. 49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. 52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. 59 These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. 60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
Love, unity obedience
Christians are not always, or indeed very often, good at expressing what kind of thing we are (or ought to be) aiming at in relation to God.
There have been metaphysical errors from very early in Christian history - and over the centuries they have become hardened into falsehoods; and too often Christians, when pushed, will hold to their metaphysical errors rather than the essence - pushing Christianity either towards Hinduism on the one side, or Islam on the other.
This particularly applies in the matter of God.
Some Christians are misled by the idea of unity, to come to believe that it is their job to become unified with God - which is actually an Eastern, Hindu, kind of belief and goal. To suppose that total unity with God is our proper goal, is implicitly to regard the creation of Man, with an apparently autonomous self, as an error (or evil) that needs undoing. The end-point aimed-at is to cease to be a self, and to be reabsorbed by and into the divine.
Other Christians see their main role in being obedience to the will of God - and they see disobedience as the main sin (which they may term pride - although I would argue that the prime sin of pride is not captured by disobedience). But this goal implicitly regards it as an error (or evil) that Man has free will or 'agency' - except for the single act of choosing to obey God.
This means that humans have no active role in creation, but act only as (dispensible, un-needed) tools of the divine - and it implies that love is Not of fundamental importance in the relationship between God and man (or between Men).
The errors of unity and obedience comes from the same source; which is misunderstanding the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. The one-ness between the Father and Son is properly to be understood as a perfect harmony of purpose, not of being. The perfect obedience of Jesus to his Father is also a consequence of this one-ness of purpose. And that purpose is the on-going work of creation.
The centrality of love in the teaching of Jesus is mainly revealed in the Fourth Gospel ('of John') - which is the premier Gospel in terms of authority. The one-ness that the Father and Son achieved, and that we Men should aim for, is a unity of love; and love implies permanent differentiation of selves - love is obliterated by any fusion, absorption, assimilation of a Nirvana-like kind.
And it is love that explains why Men are agents -that is, originative centres of consciousness distinct from God; because love must (ultimately) be chosen. (Coerced love is not love, unconscious love is not an act of freedom.)
Much of this can be understood in terms of the relationship between the Father and the Son; but only when that relationship is regarded as one that all Men could and should aim to emulate. God is to be known as our Father, Jesus our elder Brother, all Men as Children of the Father; and the Father, Jesus and Man are all of the same basic kind - different quantitatively, not qualitatively.
So, we need a schema stating that all Men could (and, it is intended should - but by choice) become divine in the sense that Jesus was divine, and that all men could (and should) work towards achieving a one-ness of purpose with the Father that is based in love and by agent-choice (such as Jesus attained).
This one-ness of purpose may be glimpsed in mortal life in a good marriage; where the man and woman are distinct persons, agents, selves; and that distinctness is what makes love possible. We may also imagine that such love could make possible a one-ness of creative purpose; and may further imagine that this situation could be permanent.
So eventually there are two persons, indeed potentially many persons: a 'family' - distinct and unmerged but inseparable, with a one-ness of purpose; and love as the ultimate reality that makes it possible.
Who is the Good Shepherd?
The twenty-first and last (and I believe, later added) Chapter of the Fourth Gospel is intensely mysterious and difficult (relevant passages are reproduced below). It focuses on the disciple Simon Peter, and also the author of the Fourth Gospel himself (the disciple 'whom Jesus loved' - and who I believe to be the raised Lazarus).
It begins with the episode of the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples when they are fishing. This is clearly freighted with what we regard as symbolism, but what was then a kind of depth and multiple-applicability of language, that was due to a different form of consciousness, a different way of thinking and being in the world - and which is sometimes possible for us to intuit or express poetically, but which cannot be explained in prose. But the episode seems to be about the disciples gathering of what we would term 'converts', as well as about 'feeding'.
The matter of feeding is very difficult to grasp in the Fourth Gospel - there are many passages about eating, feeding, bread, meat, flesh... and at present I find it hard to grasp and impossible to express what they mean altogether; but the feeding of the five thousand is probably the main key to it - with the idea of food being God-given, and the Food of Jesus potentially giving of eternal life (in contrast to the manna of Moses).
After the disciples had gathered fish and dined; Jesus asks Simon Peter three times whether he loves him (three times in an echo of Simon Peter's earlier three denials of Jesus).
But the first time Jesus asks 'Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?'- these presumably being the other disciples. After Simon Peter says yes, then Jesus tells him to feed his lambs.
Lambs imply sacrifice, and I think this refers to Simon Peter's role in leading the other disciples. Simon Peter is told, prophetically, the manner of his own sacrificial death. So, Simon Peter, and most of theother disciples, are sacrificial lambs.
The next twice, Jesus repeats the same phrase: 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? This time Jesus leaves-out 'Peter', which is his disciple name, given him by Jesus. So, presumably what follows relates to Simon Peter not as leader of the disciples, but in a different, more general role - perhaps as future 'bishop'?
And then his instruction is to 'feed my sheep' - not lambs. The symbolism of sheep is very different from lambs. Lambs are disciples, but sheep are the followers of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
So, Simon has to feed the lamb/ disciples and the sheep/ people... but wait a minute! People don't feed lambs or sheep. Lambs are fed by their mothers (by female sheep), while grown-up sheep feed themselves.
So this passage is Not about Simon Peter becoming a Shepherd, or Pastor; because the Shepherd's job was to protect and lead the flock - not to feed them...
And anyway, Jesus is The (Good) Shepherd - and this symbol is close to being his essence - Jesus, and only Jesus, will lead us through death to to life everlasting.
So, whatever 'feed' means in the Fourth Gospel, Simon Peter is being asked (for his love of Jesus) to do this both for the disciples, and for the people in General...
But not for the beloved disciple, author of the Fourth Gospel, who has a different task and role. Jesus asks Simon Peter to 'follow me' - meaning, through death to eternal life. Simon Peter is himself one of the sheep/ followers, as well as a lamb/ sacrifice.
But a different identity and fate apply to the beloved disciple, who is not one of the sheep who follow the Good Shepherd through death (because, being Lazarus, he has already died); but instead he is to 'tarry' until Jesus 'comes' again...
Fourth Gospel ('John') Chapter 21: 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. 15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Jesus did not ask Simon Peter, or anyone else, to be a Shepherd (aka Pastor) of his people: Jesus is himself our only Shepherd.
The Shepherd's role was to lead and protect his flock, and the flock is all Christians who believe in Jesus.
(Only the Good Shepherd can protect our souls in this mortal life, and lead us through death and into eternal life.)
Simon Peter was asked to 'feed' the disciples and Christians; but Shepherds don't feed their sheep; their sheep feed themselves, and (because ewes feed lambs) sheep feed each other. This Gospel cannot have meant that Simon Peter was to be any kind of stand-in or substitute or analogous 'Good Shepherd'.
And 'to feed' is a word-concept with what seems to us moderns to be an exceedingly deep, complex and multiple meaning in the Bible... yet was, to people contemporary with the writings, just the way that language and consciousness were in that time and place.
God the Father is incarnate, embodied
Reading the Fourth Gospel ('of John') it is almost incomprehensible how mainstream Christians became dogmatically fixed on the idea that God the Father was a spirit, and not incarnate; given the multiple and clear references to Jesus stating that he and the Father are the same in form.
The Father, we are told, is incarnate, has a body - this isn't in doubt, but the question is what this state of incarnation means.
Part of the prevalent misunderstanding that The Father is spirit derives from the already-existing philosophical idea among Classical pre-Christian intellectuals that God 'must be' a discarnate spirit, because spirit was the highest form. They regarded bodies as matter, and matter as lower than spirit - more restricted, prone to corruption etc...
Another element is that the nature of purpose of incarnation is mis-stated by the word in-carn-ation itself, with its reference to the body - asif that was the most-important aspect of the definition.
But if we accept that the ultimate reality of creation is consciousness, and that God 'thinks' creation into manifestation and sustains it as such, and that it is by our thinking that we may come to be like God... then matters become clearer.
The facts of Jesus being incarnated (from his pre-mortal state as a discarnate spirit), and that he was resurrected into the same incarnate form as ourselves, ought to show us that incarnation is a higher form than spirit. But it is not the addition of 'matter' or 'solidity' that makes incarnation higher than spirit (matter/ solidity etc. are merely consequences of incarnation) - rather it is the mode of consciousness of an incarnate that is higher than a spirit.
Incarnation is a step towards divine consciousness
We began as children of God in the form of pre-mortal spirits, immersed-in the divine consciousness. As such we were all happy and good; but in the incomplete, immature ways that a young child is happy and good - by virtue of our environment, not from-our-selves.
Spirit consciousness lacks full agency - a spirit is, to a considerable extent, immersed-in the consciousness of other spirits - the individual is not divided clearly from other spirits, or from God the Father. Therefore, our pre-mortal spirits were passively immersed-in the divine consciousness - we lacked 'free will'.
To fulfil a destiny of becoming fully Sons of God, of the same kind as Jesus became; entails that our consciousness become rooted in itself; and then (like Jesus) chooses (from this state of autonomous agency) to ally with God, with creation.
Physical, material bodies are 'merely' the manifestation, the consequence, of a greater degree of separation, greater self-generated activity, greater agency.
Therefore, mortal incarnation is the first step towards that agency without which we cannot become full children of God. Jesus needed to become incarnate to become fully divine.
When Jesus was incarnated as a mortal - and after he had been baptised by John to commence his ministry; Jesus had the divine mode of consciousness. He was separated from the Father, and could have rejected Him. Thus, Jesus needed to make a choice, an act of will; to Love the Father, to align-with the father's creation. And of course he did.
And after death Jesus was resurrected to a permanent and incorruptible incarnation - but he remained incarnate because it is a higher mode of consciousness; and this Jesus needed to become fully-divine.
What this aims-at, what it is 'about', is divine consciousness; which is consciousness of truth and reality. More exactly; when Jesus was thinking - he thought only and always in truth and reality and with Love for it. And - because Jesus did this; this is what we can now be offered as a choice.
It was this choice and act of Jesus to align with The Father in truth and reality, in his thinking; that made it possible for our-selves to follow the same path. Once Jesus had done it, reality was changed (because Jesus's thought was reality) - now, because reality has been changed, this path and choice is universally available for anyone else to do.
We can know this directly (without any mediation of 'communication'), and for our-selves (regardless of circumstances) by thinking in the divine way; which thinking is made possible by two things: first the fact of us being children of God; and second the fact of the Holy Ghost which will show us the way, if we seek it.
In this sense, consciousness is the centre and unifying fact of the Christian scheme. It was in order that all Men could become fully-divine, children of God, that Jesus did what he did; and it was necessary for Jesus to do what he did in order for Jesus himself to become fully-divine: he needed to become incarnate, like his Father.
By recognising The Father as incarnate, we can therefore quite easily recognise why Jesus needed to become incarnate - and (at least in outline) how the incarnation of Jesus made it possible for other Men to become fully children of God.
(Note: These End Times have the characteristic of locating and amplifying what seem like small errors in Christian theology, to make them decisive in chosen damnation. The error of insisting that The Father is spirit and not incarnate was not very important in earlier times and places; but it has become important now - because it is has become the tip of a wedge that leads to rejection of the goodness of incarnation, hence to the denial of Christ's necessity to Man's salvation.)
Good motivations transcend just laws
The whole story of 'the woman taken in adultery' is fascinating (see below); but its core seems to be in the phrase He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
This is contrasted with I think Jesus is Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
So, the essence of what is going on here is the clash between the law: objective and public definitions of behaviour versus subjective, private and motivational facts. When Jesus says that only he that is without sin is entitled to stone the women; he is saying that the motivational state of a person is what makes an act good.
Even when a law comes from Moses, and even when its transgression is certain, and when there is a prescribed punishment... this way of morality is not Good. Jesus is pointing out the evil motivations of the people who want to stone the woman; and on reflection each potential stoner recognises this fact; and recognises that this evil motivation (vengeance, disgust, sadism, lust... whatever it may be) destroys the rightness of inflicting the punishment.
Jesus is not discussing how to set-up a system of justice or how to run a society; he is talking about true morality; and making clear that true morality is Not a matter of having a set of rules and implementing them impartially and with factual correctness.
He is saying, instead, that true morality is a thing of Man, it is about the motivations of Man - and that Good morality is only to be found when a person's motivations are Good.
So, to be good, to do-good, a punishment - or any other kind of judgement - must be Not be 'implemented', but must come from a loving heart, and for the right reasons. Jesus is, here as in many other places, stating that The Law is Not the ultimate authority - but is on fact orthogonal (nothing-intrinsically-to-do-with) to Goodness.
The new dispensation of Jesus is that Goodness comes only from a loving heart: from right-motivation.
John: 8 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. 12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life....
Who gets resurrected?
A couple of days ago I read through the Fourth Gospel (again) - this time all-through in a couple of hours, to try and get an overview. Several things stood-out and were clarified; but probably the most important was an answer to the question of who gets resurrected.
And the clear answer is - those who believe on, who follow, Jesus.
Or, to put it another way, only those who believe on, who follow Jesus, will be resurrected to that Eternal/ Everlasting Life which Jesus brings us.
This is in contrast to mainstream Christian belief that all are resurrected (but not-all are saved); and it also contradicts a single but explicit sentence in the Fourth Gospel+; however, the overall structure of the Fourth Gospel and multiple, repeated, references support the answer that it is 'only' those who regard Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah, that will be resurrected.
(This opens a further question of what happens to those who are choose Not to follow Jesus and who are Not therefore resurrected - but I will deal with that below.)
Assuming this interpretation is correct, how could this simple teaching have been missed? The answer is quite simple: Biblical understanding has operated on the basis that the whole Bible is equally true - therefore a specific teaching in 'just' one Gospel (especially the Fourth Gospel) is ignored/ explained-away when it contradicts other parts of the Bible - and especially when it contradicts the three Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline Epistles.
Whereas I believe that if we believe the truth of the Bible (truth in at least a general sense, recognising that this must mean interpretation of specific verses), then we believe the Fourth Gospel is true - including its claims about itself; and these Fourth Gospel claims mean that it is the single most authoritative Book in the Bible, which ought to be given the highest authority, above any other Book in the Bible.
(By contrast the other Gospels are, and claim to be no more than, secondhand and post hoc compilations of accounts about Jesus; and Paul's knowledge is from intuitive revelation that is, for Christians, intrinsically unlikely to be detailed and specific.)
Therefore, to check this claim for yourself - I would simply urge you to read the Fourth Gospel as an autonomous text in light of this interpretation, and looking for evidence of this teaching. (Assuming that you do already have a personal revelation of the truth of this Gospel; and if not then you would need to seek one.)
If we take the original Fourth Gospel to run from Chapters 1-20, with Chapter 21 added later (but presumably by the real author) - then the Gospel begins and ends with two core teachings - which are repeated throughout:
1. That Jesus is who he claimed to be - the Son of God, the Messiah sent by God; and that he died, resurrected and ascended to Heaven to become fully divine.
2. That Jesus came to bring resurrection and Life Eternal/ Life Everlasting to those who 'believed on' him (including believing his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God), who followed him as a sheep follows a shepherd, who loved him and believed in his love for each of us, who trusted and had faith in him.
In fact, we see that these two teachings are linked, and are - in a sense - a single teaching.
Most of the Fourth Gospel is taken up with providing 'proof' that Jesus was who he claimed - and this proof is of the type that would be effective for those living just after the death of Jesus and in the same region - evidence suitable for that time and place.
So, the evidence is the witness of John the Baptist (who was very well known and would have been regarded as the best possible witness); the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies (which, again, would have been well known); and the evidence of the miracles including the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus, at a time when many witnesses of these events were still around.
None of this evidence is very convincing to people 2000 years later and in different places and cultures; but the further teaching of the Fourth Gospel is that after his ascension Jesus sent the Holy Ghost, the 'Comforter', to provide a direct witness and knowledge to the disciples - and implicitly (although probably not explicitly) to everyone else who sought it.
The rest of the Fourth Gospel is, via stories (parables), miracles, reported conversations and direct teachings - to explain the enhanced, divine nature of Life after resurrection - this being termed Life Eternal or Life Everlasting; and to promise this to all who would follow Jesus.
That is, pretty much, everything that the Fourth Gospel says (aside from some specific remarks to the disciples - and a single hint that they ought to teach about Jesus following his ascension). There is little or nothing specific about how to live or about a 'church' of any kind - which is probably another reason that the Fourth Gospel has been historically down-graded from its proper supremacy over the rest of the Bible.
If it is true that only the followers of Jesus are resurrected, then this removes certain problems that arise from the alternative view. It means that resurrection is chosen, it is voluntary; and therefore resurrection is not compelled nor is it enforced. I was always troubled by the idea that Jesus brought resurrection to all, whether they wanted it or not - especially since the prospects for someone resurrected but not saved seemed so grim. It seemed that Jesus was giving with one hand, but taking with the other - which would not be very loving, and seemed sub-optimal (for a creator God) - surely something better could be managed for the children of God?
But apparently that was a misunderstanding. Those who do not believe Jesus, or who do not love him and do not wish to follow him, or who do not want Life Everlasting in a (Heavenly) world of love and creation - these are Not resurrected - but shall instead return to spirit life (as we began; before we were incarnated into earthly mortality).
This fits with the beliefs of many non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and some other paganisms) - who see post-mortal life in terms of a return to the spirit world.
It also opens the possibility of reincarnation, which has probably been the usual belief of most humans through most of human history. The Fourth Gospel teaches that reincarnation is a possibility, when it discusses whether John the Baptist was one of the Old Testament prophets reincarnated... the conclusion is that he was not one of a series of possible named prophets, but the possibility of reincarnation is assumed.
We could even speculate (and it would be a speculation unless confirmed by revelation) that the world contains some mixture of newly incarnated mortals, and a proportion of reincarnates who did not accept Jesus in previous lives but have returned (presumably by choice) to enable further chances.
But again, it seems intrinsic to Christianity that all higher theosis is by choice; and post-mortal spirits would not be compelled to resurrect, nor to reincarnate - but might remain in spirit form as long as they wished.
Mortal life is best seen as an opportunity. As Jesus explained in his conversation with Nicodemus, Heavenly Life Everlasting is available only via death and being resurrected or 'born again'; and this was the path that Jesus himself needed to take in order to attain to full Godhood at the ascension. Jesus brought us this possibility - but it must be chosen, and the reason for choice must be love.
+This is John 5:28-9: ...'all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and come forth; they that have done good, until the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.' I regard this, from its interruption of the structure and its contradiction of the rest of the gospel, as a later, non-canonical insertion.
I want any seriously interested reader to do what I suggest above; which is to check this claim for yourself - I would simply urge you to read the Fourth Gospel as an autonomous text in light of this interpretation, and looking for evidence of this teaching.
However, below I have made a selection of relevant passages from just the first six books of the Fourth Gospel (you will need to search the rest of the Gospel for yourself) - and the last verse of the (original final) Chaper 20. These are consistent with the understanding that resurrection is to life eternal/ life everlasting by means of 'receiving' Jesus; and that those who do not accept Jesus, shall not be resurrected to this new kind of Life as Sons of God: Life eternal/ everlasting is for the resurrected, both together - there is no sense of there being a distinction or sequence between resurrection and the New Life.
1:  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
2:  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
5:  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.  I receive not honour from men.  But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.  I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
6:  Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.  Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.  Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?  Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.  They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?  Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.  Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.  And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.  But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.  All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.  For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.  And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.  And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.  The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.  And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?  Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.  No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.  Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.  I am that bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.  The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.  This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.  But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.  And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. (…)
20:  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Apparent inconsistencies within the Gospel
Long-term readers of this blog will know that I am trying to understand Christianity using only the Fourth Gospel, as if it was my only source; because I regard it as qualitatively the most authoritative scripture.
On that basis I have come to regard the author (the disciple who 'Jesus loved') of the gospel as the resurrected Lazarus (and that Lazarus was resurrected, not just brought back to life); that Lazarus's sister Mary (of Bethany) was married to Jesus in Cana (in an 'ordinary' Jewish ceremony) when the first miracle was performed, and that there was a further mystical marriage at the time of the anointing of Jesus's feet with Spikenard on Mary's hair, and that this Mary is the same person as Mary Magdalene ('both' Mary's treating Jesus with loving but respectful familiarity, and 'both' engaging in physical contact appropriate only to a wife)...
Anyway; this is the background for trying to interpret an anomalous verse John 2: 4 - when Jesus says to his mother "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is yet to come."
To me, there is something clearly wrong with this verse - certainly it does Not mean any kind of rejection of Jesus's mother, since she accompanies Jesus (and his brothers) to Capernum in verse 12. The verse might be garbled, or interposed - but my guess is that - since Jesus is the 'bridegroom' of the marriage feast, it may refer to Jesus's new allegiance to his wife.
And this may answer another puzzle about the Fourth Gospel: why did Jesus's ministry start when it did? The answer seems to be that Jesus's ministry began when he was baptised by John the Baptist, and JtB recognised Jesus as the Christ, as the divine Spirit descended upon him and stayed - causing Jesus's new self-awareness as Son of God (to become Son of Man, at his ascension), and his new powers.
But why did Jesus get baptised by JtB? Well, the author doesn't say that Jesus and John are cousins (that is in another gospel) - which seems like a strange omission, since the author of the Fourth Gospel - Lazarus - was a disciple first of John then of Jesus. So, if they were cousins, then he would know!
However, I think we can assume that it was Lazarus who brought his future brother-in-law Jesus to be baptised by his then-Master John the Baptist, just two days before the wedding. Perhaps (as in my own extended family) terms like 'sister' (referring to John's and Jesus's mothers), did not necessarily mean sharing the same parents - and perhaps the real link was the marriage-link between Lazarus's and Jesus's families, and that was underpinned by some childhood relation between the mothers of Jesus and Lazarus... (The beloved disciple is asked, by Jesus on the cross, to look-after Jesus's mother.)
Thus it was Lazarus who was responsible for the timing of Jesus's ministry; and Lazarus was present at his sister's wedding to Jesus in Cana two days later when Jesus's new status as the Messiah became explicit with the first miracle - in which water to wine is both literal and deeply symbolic (the symbolism - which is itself literal - being multiply expressed in other parts of the Fourth Gospel).
The second omission is more obvious and important than the garbled comment of Jesus to his mother; and it is the dispute among the Jewish leaders about whether Jesus could be the Messiah given that he had not been born in Bethlehem.
John 7: 41-3 - Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh out of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where Davis was? So there was a division among the people because of him.
Having raised this as an important issue, the author of the Fourth Gospel does not resolve it for us. Of course, we are told in Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born in Bethlehem... But we are not told this in the Fourth Gospel, where the issue is left 'up in the air' and (so far as I can see) never resolved for the reader.
This could be some omission from the Gospel, something that was lost - a statement that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; because it seems strange that, if Jesus was indeed born in Bethelehem, the dispute reported in the Fourth Gospel was not simply settled.
Or, if nothing was lost; and since I regard the Fourth Gospel as more authoritative than any of the Synoptics (or Epistles); perhaps this really was one way in which Jesus did not fulfil all the prophecies - but one which was later patched-up by oral history and legend...
After all, the Fourth Gospel provides in abundance all the evidence necessary to prove that Jesus really was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah... There is, in particular, the testimony of John the Baptist (the most authoritative witness of that time and place); the miracles - especially the raising of Lazarus; and of course Jesus's resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Ghost.
A fake interpolation
When reading the Fourth Gospel, some passages stand-out as wrong.
How these passages got-into the text I am reading is not really important to me - clearly there are many times and ways it could have happened; and equally clearly, when dealing with divinely inspired and sustained texts the normal understandings of secular 'historical' scholarship are inadequate and misleading.
(Mostly, the provenance of error is unknowable because there are an open-ended number of possibilities; it is the provenance of truth which is vital.)
The Fourth Gospel has a form, a method, a shape - overall it is a highly-perfect work, perhaps the most perfect of all sustained works; this means that errors stand out. Furthermore, the gospel is true, and known-as-such; so wrongness stands-out.
From Chapter 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe...
The italicised are wrong, furthermore they are detached from the narrative - which runs straight from verse 20 to verse 24. .
Verse 21: The analogy between the Father sending Jesus, and Jesus sending the disciples, is basically-false.
Verse 22: Jesus has previously explained at length that the Holy Ghost cannot come to the disciples until he has ascended to Heaven - so he cannot breathe the Holy Ghost onto them at this point.
Verse 23: The bald statement that the disciples are being given power to remit/ retain sins (whatever that may mean) is at odds with the rest of the Gospel. The possibility that the disciples be given power over sins, or that such a remission is even necessary or coherent, is in stark contradiction to the overall teaching of this gospel - in the sense of having nothing-to-do-with the rest of the gospel. Furthermore (in this gospel), whenever Jesus says anything as important as this would have been; he always says it several times, in several ways, generally in several places; to ensure it is appreciated and understood.
(Why were these verses wrongly interpolated? Well, at the cost of contradicting the core gospel message; it seems fairly obvious that these verses imply that Jesus ordained his disciples as a priesthood analogous in power and status to himself, and as necessary to salvation. Maybe that explains why they were inserted at some point?...)
The Fourth Gospel is - on the one hand - hard to understand; being expressed in an unfamiliar way; on the other hand it is understandable by anyone who gives it sufficient of the right kind of attention - because it is a window onto universal consciousness.
The fact that the Fourth Gospel is a human product, as well as divine, will not block that possibility - because God is on both sides of the situation: as-it-were present in the text and also as a part of our-selves: present (not in perceptions, not in mental concepts) in the thinking of the real self.
Furthermore; if one is reading the gospel for the best kind of reason - that is, as a kind of meditation/ prayer, for personal and direct knowledge (rather than in order to extract from it rules and regulations for general, public communication and control) -- then the process of understanding, or knowing, is itself of great value and greatly satisfying.
Understanding the Fourth Gospel is not really a finite task that could be done and finished-with; nor is it 'objectively' checkable whether or not the task has been achieved. This is because when talking about the Fourth Gospel - we are only talking about it.
Knowledge comes first - but the communication of knowledge, and its reception, is a different matter altogether.
Heaven as Nation or Family
I argued that the Fourth Gospel tells us that our salvation is straightforward (quick, simple - believe, love, follow Jesus); and the difficult thing for us to do in mortal life, is to struggle for higher consciousness; more specifically to struggle for a divine consciousness - that is, a consciousness aligned with God's motivations.
It may be asked why? It may be asked - what is the effect our our struggling for higher consciousness - how does it cash-out in an eternal timescale? What difference does it make whether I attain a higher consciousness or not?
Crudely: what's in it for me?
It is a fair question that needs answering. We need some idea of how this struggle in mortal life relates to what happens in life everlasting. On Earth and in Heaven.
What, then, is Heaven like - how can we begin to understand it?
Heaven is more like a family than a nation.
There is a tendency to regard post-mortal life as being structured on the lines of a traditional society; as a hierarchy, as a formal-structure with appointed duties... Something like the societies of Medieval Western Europe - with a King, Princes, Earls, and Nobles; gentry such as merchants and professionals, craftsmen and peasants... Or, the idea may be more like the medieval Roman church, with Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests and monks...
The idea implicit is that in Heaven there are certain, relatively few, jobs - roles; and we are each appointed to serve in one or another of them; and these jobs are linked hierarchically and as specialised functions.
But if Heaven is more like a family, an ideal-imagined extended family that occupies its own world - a family that coheres by love and is motivated by participation in God's work of creation - then each child born into the family has an unique, unpredictable destiny. Nobody knows how the child will 'turn-out', and the grown-up child will 'contribute' to the family in some unique way.
The child is not shaped-into a predetermined job; in a family ideally the child and the family interact to take account and benefit from what the child is and what he becomes. Each niche is unique (or, can be).
By this account of the nature of Heaven, mortal life is meant to make us each become more our-selves - not to fit-into pre-determined niches.
Salvation corresponds to the basic orientation, the desire to be in the family, to live for the family, to pursue the goals of the family... and beyond that, the striving for higher consciousness is like growing-up, becoming more adult; which is more aware, more conscious, more purposive more free - because one who is unconscious and passive is not free.
Note: Back beyond the above account is a further layer, or depth - which is that we each begin as an unique being. There is an assumption that all people begin as spiritually-identical; but I am suggesting that the opposite is true. In the beginning there were no two the same. This universe is one in which every person (probably, every entity) is unique, ultimately - and the Christian principle of cohesion, is love between non-identical, un-like things; which develop to become more themselves... Since we are to be gods (Sons and Daughters of God) the entire dynamic process being 'powered' by the fundamental and structuring complementarity of man and woman. We should set-aside ideas of sameness of origin, or sameness as a goal; we never were nor can be nor are meant-to-be the same as anybody or anything else - and glory entails the development of individuality within that power of love and directed by the eternal delight of participation in creation .
Why is traditional Christian evangelism so ineffective in The West?
Well, to be exact, it isn't always ineffective - indeed, conservative evangelical protestants are among very few denominations still winning converts among native European-descended people. But the numbers are small, and most Westerners are immune to their message.
Why? Because traditional Christian evangelism focuses on salvation - on saving-from Hell. (Note: All the following is true, and I endorse it...) Traditional evangelism focuses on sin, and the need for repentance from sin. It focuses on getting people to recognise their sins, acknowledging that sin really is sin; and on having faith in Jesus as Saviour - in understanding that faith in Jesus is both necessary and sufficient for salvation.
All of the above is true and necessary and absolutely-must be affirmed by all Christians - and yet it doesn't work.
It doesn't work because people don't believe God - consequently they don't believe in the reality and objectivity of sin, they don't believe in Heaven, so they don't believe in Hell... even worse, they prefer Hell to Heaven; because Heaven would entail giving-up some favourite (usually sexual, but maybe emotional) sin. It doesn't work because people don't feel the need to be-saved; and they are unimpressed/ uninterested by what they are being saved-for.
And it doesn't work because the primary suffering experience of modern people is alienation - of being cut-off from the world; of finding life (meaning this mortal life) meaningless and purposeless: of finding nothing really-real, and of being haunted by a conviction that life is merely a senseless and lonely spark in eternity.
To save someone from alienation is not like saving someone from the consequences of sin; saving from alienation requires, more than anything, a purpose for life. From that purpose can come meaning, and that purpose may also give meaning to relationships; and when that purpose extends beyond biological death then a great deal has been achieved.
Christianity as a faith has, so far, been bad at providing positive purpose. Instead, purpose has traditionally been provided not by the faith but by the church, by the human organisation. Yet most Christian churches are now corrupt, and indeed anti-Christian overall; and those which are not corrupt are small, scattered; and mostly incapable (through lack of persons and resources) of providing an 'alternative purposive life' for alienated moderns.
What is needed, then, is development of Christian doctrine that goes beyond salvation; moves directly from saving-from on to living-for; from the negative to the positive.
I think this means Christianity picking-up from the incomplete 'project' of Romanticism - as exemplified by Blake and Coleridge; of seeking to reconnect Man with a living nature, of recognising that God is within as well an an external person, of thinking much more about the nature of Heaven than the avoidance of Hell. And understanding Heaven as an active, dynamic, purposive world - a world of loving relationships united in divinely creative activity.
And recognising that this is something we can, and should, be doing here and now, on earth, during mortal life.
This is the Good News of Christianity for moderns; and ought to be the first point of contact and primary message. Salvation is absolutely-necessary; but it is a means and not the end. As it says in the Fourth Gospel (John 20:31):
...these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Which makes clear that the ultimate purpose is 'life', which (through this Gospel) means the divine, Heavenly consciousness.
Even knowing this; not everybody will even want life everlasting, life more abundantly, the life of Sons of God - most of Jesus's audience rejected it, after all. But modern people ought to be clear, at least, the magnitude of what it is they are rejecting.
If they can first understand the nature and scope of what is positively 'on offer' - only then, and if they want it, they can then decide whether or not this offer is real and possible.
What was the effect of Jesus's life in this world and the next?
The crux of my book - a radical revision of the history of Christianity
In the Fourth Gospel, much is made of the question of whether Jesus was King of the Jews; and, if so, what this meant. The conclusion seems to be that he was indeed 'king' but not in the usual sense of the word.
Jesus was king, but not of this world. So, the advent of Christ was not, apparently, intended to usher in a new kind of politics and social organisation...
The life of Jesus himself seems to have made little or no immediate and large impact on anything in this world - it was only after several generations of growth in the Christian church that the world began to change.
From the moment he became divine (at his baptism by John); what Jesus immediately did - with permanent effect - was to change what happened after death.
The situation was immediately changed for all of humanity that had lived before Jesus and died, and all who died from that moment onwards. This is indicated, and was demonstrated, by the miraculous example of Lazarus, a man that Jesus loved who died and who Jesus resurrected to eternal life.
This is worth remembering - since it is easy to suppose that Christianity is 'about' living in a certain kind of social or political arrangement. That is how many or most religions see things, and it is how Christianity has often seen things.
But of course Christianity is not just about ourselves as individuals, because it is about love. I think that Jesus's ministry was substantially about planting a seed of love among Mankind. What was needed was that there were people who knew that: 1. That Jesus was the Son of God and 2. Loved him.
When Jesus died, he left behind a small family of Christians. It was Not an 'organisation' - it was a group of people joined by their love of Jesus And of each other.
So The Christians formed a network of love that was joined to Jesus. This is - and always has been - the true 'church'.
How this loving family of believers relates to society and to politics is extremely varied by time and place, and the extent to which it is reflected in formal organisations is likewise extremely varied. But it is the family structure of Christianity that is primary.
In sum: Jesus had an immediate effect on the afterlife, by his offer of resurrected, eternal divine life. And he had a delayed effect on society by his founding of a family of believers, who grew through history (or not) by person to person inclusion in a 'loving web' of Christ-believers.
The crux of my book - a radical revision of the history of Christianity
There is a crux - either we believe the Fourth Gospel and explain the reasons why the Synoptics and the Epistles are united in disagreement; or we discard the Fourth Gospel for the same reason, wherever it is in a minority of one and incompatible.
If, as I do, we decide that the Fourth Gospel is qualitatively the most valid source (overall - not that it is without any error) then this implies that Christianity took a wrong turn early in its history - but that wrong turn did Not include the author of the Fourth Gospel.
So, where there is substantive disagreement the Fourth Gospel is correct, and all other parts of the Bible are wrong, even when they agree in their wrongness.
That is indeed what I have come to believe. There is a hint of this in the relationship between Simon Peter and the beloved disciple in the Fourth Gospel - and indeed the whole account of Simon Peter - which can be interpreted as double-edged.
And, on the other side, I regard this as the reason why Lazarus is never mentioned by anybody else. The Apostle Paul, for example, would probably have regarded the views of the Fourth Gospel, its account of the primary meaning of Jesus's life, and the nature of his teachings, as fundamentally wrong; at any rate they contradict his own accounts.
I am suggesting that Simon Peter, Paul and (presumably) the bulk of the disciples and followers made some important errors of interpretation, and diverged from the proper and intended line of development as described in the Fourth Gospel.
One example is that the Fourth Gospel suggests that the followers of Jesus should be like a loving family, not an institution (Gemeinschaft not Gesellschaft); and implied that therefore there would not be any priests. But Simon Peter and Paul made a new church, a new priesthood, and a formal religious organisation. Other examples are the fundamental description of the nature of Jesus, his mission and teaching, and what he did.
It is hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the difference in perspective.
So, accepting the primary validity of the Fourth Gospel turns-out to be an extremely radical decision - since it requires are massive re-interpretation of the whole recorded history of Christianity.
Regular readers will no doubt be relieved to hear that I think my 'project' of reading the Fourth Gospel in isolation, on the basis that it is most important book of the Bible, seems now to have reached its natural end-point.
I regard the Fourth Gospel as chronologically the first, and qualitatively the most authoritative, source on the life and teachings of Jesus. As I read and re-read, I found that the discipline created a situation as if the Fourth Gospel was the only scripture.
And indeed, whenever I turned to other Gospels, or to the Epistles and Revelation, they looked very much inferior; very much like rag-bag collections of theology, memoirs, theories and folk tales about Jesus; and of very mixed validity - since many things in them contradict the Fourth Gospel.
I don't know that I can ever again regard the bulk of the New Testament as any more intrinsically authoritative than I already regarded the Old Testament - which I see as a collection of many types of writing (including myth, fiction, poems, rulebooks, histories and prophecies), made over many years and with no single purpose in mind - a collection of potentially valuable resources.
At any rate, I feel a sense of completion - and I no longer feel internally-driven to continue. My initial assumptions about the special and unique validity of the Fourth Gospel remains and has been greatly strengthened; and I can understand why it has been systematically downgraded by the historical churches throughout history.
(By 'sytematic', I mean that the method and assumptions by which the historical churches created and have interpreted The Bible, and especially the New Testament, have downgraded the Fourth Gospel in multiple ways. By choosing Not to accord it primacy, the unique and challenging qualities of the Fourth Gospel have been negated, simply by its being 'outvoted'.)
This downgrading seems inevitable, given that the Fourth Gospel provides no authority for churches, nor for a priesthood, nor for celibacy, nor for the ritual communal life that has often dominated Christian practice; the Gospel's vision of the Christian life is highly individual, personal, un-institutional.
In the Fourth Gospel; Christians are seen to more like a new kind of family, than a new version of ancient religions.
And the historical church has mostly portrayed Jesus as a rescuer of an otherwise-doomed Mankind - a double-negative description, with Jesus negating the negative state of a 'fallen' world. Whereas the Fourth Gospel shows a Jesus dealing with individual persons to enhance their existence - a positive addition to human possibility, with Jesus making possible a qualitative transformation of mortal to divine Life.
The Fourth Gospel sees 'Christianity' as a one-at-a-time opt-in life, likely to be chosen by a minority of people; not a thing of masses, not a matter for politics or organisation.
So, on the one hand, a Fourth Gospel-centred understanding tends to undermine the validity and relevance of a great deal of historical Christianity - including undermining things that have been, and are, seen as the very essence of the religion.
On the other hand, Fourth Gospel-centred Christianity may be exactly what is most needed in a world where, already, most of historical Christianity (in the West) has-been not just undermined, but subverted and inverted into purposive anti-Christian evil...
The Fourth Gospel is a message of hope directly and immediately applicable to every person in every situation - no matter how isolated. Across the centuries, leaping the millennia; the Fourth is precisely the Gospel for here and now.
Postscript: Using the Fourth Gospel in evangelism (for people like me)
If I knew then what I know now, I would do as follows:
Sit down with The Bible, in the (divinely-inspired) Authorised/ King James Version - and read Only the Fourth Gospel (ie. 'John's Gospel).
Try to read it as if you knew nothing else about Jesus, or Christianity; and read it, study it, live-with-it... under the assumption that it is true and was written by a truthful eye-witness whom Jesus especially loved.
You will (if you are like me!) find it one of the most beautiful prose compositions in the language - and perhaps that will be your overwhelming first impression: keep reading...
It isn't easy to read - but it makes its core points over and over again in different ways, and in different words; so that there is nothing important that is left ambiguous or unclear... so if you don't get it the first or second time, you will catch-on sooner or later.
Then you can go back and check you impressions and conclusions. Read it skimming through quickly, read it in-order; and also read slowly, it out of order: homing-in on parts of special interest.
Read the Fourth Gospel as if it was the only truly authoritative, first-hand source we had about Jesus - because, in a vital sense, it probably is. At any rate, read it as if there was nothing else and you had never heard anything else about what Christianity was, or should be - extract all this from the Fourth Gospel... And see what you make of it.
In other words, if you are thinking of becoming a Christian - extract the essence of what that means, what that is or might potentially be, from the Fourth Gospel. Don't read anything else, don't ask anybody else, don't think about investigating a church... until after you have grasped the nature and teachings of Jesus from the Fourth Gospel.
That is not what I actually did myself; but more than a decade down-the-line that is what I would advise - although probably few would agree with me!
10 May 2019:
We all knew Jesus - in premortal life
This only struck me today - I have only just realised that every single person that has lived, lives now, or will live - knew of Jesus and his 'mission' during his pre-mortal spirit life.
This has many and very important implications. One is that after death, when we encounter Jesus again 'face to face'; and when we make the choice of Heaven or Hell, resurrected eternal life participating in divine creation or its rejection - this will not come as a surprise.
Even if we never encountered the name of Jesus during mortal life, even if we disbelieved what we were told or discovered about Jesus during mortal life; we will then remember what we had-known of him before our mortal life; and remember also why we chose to incarnate and biologically-die.
Even it our knowledge of Jesus had been forgotten, suppressed or denied; we will then recall that we always have known it - that it was built-into us.
We all knew Jesus... I can't think of any source that has specifically articulated this fact to me - I have had to work it out for myself, joining the dots; but it strikes me as something of great importance.
What happened to the souls born before Christ?
The title reveals my assumption that these souls experiences a pre-mortal life, which extended back far beyond the existence of Man. Therefore, all Men, whenever and wherever they were born and lived, will have known about the 'plan of salvation' involving Jesus; and when each soul incarnates as a mortal Man, will have known the range of possibilities for that time and place.
Until Jesus became divine (when he was baptised by John) Men's souls could not become divine - they could not be resurrected to eternal and Heavenly life. From this point all souls of Men could become divine, by believing/ having-faith-in/ following Jesus - and all souls knew-about Jesus from their experiences in pre-mortal life.
Before the divinity of Jesus, souls were 'waiting' - at least, that seems to be the essence of pagan beliefs. It may be that some dead-souls (after mortal death) simply awaited in an unconscious and dreamlike state; probably some souls reincarnated to gain further mortal experience (in that probably the majority of pre-Christian 'religions' assume some kind of reincarnation).
My general conviction is that the plan of salvation is one that allows for unique specific trajectories, tailored to the unique dispositions and potentials of each human soul, but there are a few stages in the evolutionary development which must unfold linearly.
It seems likely that some experience reincarnation (of various types) while others do not. Some choose eternal resurrected life after one mortal incarnation, and for many this incarnation is extremely brief and takes place entirely in the womb.
And within divinity, there are many levels between ordinary Men and the fullness attained by Jesus, and some will probably choose to remain at lower levels.
And some Men choose damnation - quite likely these souls were already very-probably corrupt, and mortal life was a kind of 'last chance' for them. I suspect there are a large number of such premortally evil souls incarnated at present - at least, that's how it appears to me. Modernity is, overall, perhaps designed to make the issue of salvation versus damnation as clear as possible to such souls (the phenomenon CS Lewis called 'things coming to a point').
As for the souls born before Christ; and indeed until modernity - I don't think we need 'worry' too much about their hopes of salvation. Each will have known Jesus in pre-mortal life (as well all did) and almost all will have lived in a society sufficiently 'Good' that they can make the right choices - there was a great core of commonality in perspective, including morals, (what CS Lewis called The Tao) between all known traditional religions.
The kind of mainstream, official, inversion of Truth, Beauty and Virtue which we Westerners (and increasingly everybody else) experience as our everyday life, was extremely rare during past times; but has become the prime shared experience and the main challenge of our mortal lives.