About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Jack Painter at Simpson University during my junior year for a class on Johannine literature.
In the Gospel of John, the dark side of the gospel of love is the wrath of God, meaning that the love of God will lead to eternal life for those accepting Christ while the love of God will lead to judgment for those rejecting Christ. However, presently there is a misunderstanding about who God is. The popular belief understands that God is all good and loving and would never hurt a fly. Apparantly God is not allowed to get angry, nor is He allowed to do anything contrary to His “good” nature. This line of thinking ignores the fact that God is a just God, and even though he is a loving God, part of that love is his wrath. God is a righteous God and that means his wrath must be satisfied either through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, or by our separation from him eternally. It must be understood that God is a loving God, but his wrath is a part of that love. It is necessary, then, to understand what the gospel of love is in the Fourth Gospel, how it developes throughout the Gospel, and how it interacts with the other themes within the Gospel.
The first hint to the gospel of love is found in John 1:29 which says, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Here we see what Christ was going to do: take away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ came to save the world, and he did, but the benefits of this—being freed of sin, being justified by faith, being alive in Christ, having eternal life—are only available to those who believe and accept Jesus as the Christ. This verse serves as a precursor to the real essence of the theme in the rest of the book.
The theme passage for the gospel of love in the Fourth Gospel is revealed in 3:16-18. In fact, the rest of the Gospel should be read in light of this important passage, for it reveals the love of God for the entire world and the purpose for which Christ came. Not only does it say what he will do (as 1:29 does), but it also tells what he did not come to do: Christ came to save the world and not to condemn it (v. 17). And this is the dark side of the gospel of love, that God sent his only Son into the world so that anyone that believes in him will not be condemned but will have eternal life (v. 16). Those who believe in Christ are not condemned, while those who reject Christ are already condemned (v. 18). It is in these three verses that we find the world is not condemned by Christ. It is already condemned, although these verses do not say how or by whom. Yet those believing in Christ will be picked up out of their condemnation to eternal life. It is through this lense of condemnation and believing that the Gospel of John should be read, especially when approaching any passage dealing with the gospel of love.
Although John 3:16-18 does not state how the world already stands condemned, John 3:36 does reveal the one that condemns: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Therefore, it is God who has condemned the world for its unrighteousness, and those that do not believe in Christ will not be saved from their current state of judgment, but rather they will remain in it.
In chapter four of the Gospel of John we find Jesus speaking to the Samaritan Woman and proclaiming, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (vv. 13-14). It is best to understand this statement in light of the theme verse. Those that are “thirsty” are those that are already condemned, and when they partake in any other water except that which Christ would give them, they would still thirst. In other words, they would still be condemned. However, those that do drink the water which Christ offers will “spring up” to eternal life; that is, their condemned status will be lifted off of them and they will receive eternal life through Christ Jesus.
When speaking to the Pharisees in chapter 5, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (v. 24). Believing is a crossing from death to life; it is the leaving from one state and going to another. Those believing in God and that He sent His Son, and those hearing Christ’s words and believing in them are the ones who will not be condemned, for they have been brought out of their state of death and grafted into a new state of life. Conversely, those that do not believe do not cross over from death to life but stay in their state of death. Therefore, the gospel of love now states that those that accept Christ cross over from death to eternal life, while those that reject Christ remain in their state of judgment, which is death.
In chapter six, Jesus tells of himself being “the bread of life” (vv. 35-40). He says that those who come to him will never go hungry. This metaphor is very similar to his water metaphor from chapter 4, and indeed he refers to the thirst language again. Thus, he ties in hunger and thirst to being in a state of judgment, while those being full and quenched are in a new state of eternal life. But it is necessary to understand that those in this new state of eternal life will never be hungry or thirsty again, for indeed Christ has saved them and these he “will never drive away” (v. 37).
The former section of verse 37 is quite interesting: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” How is it that the Father gives a people to Christ? Did he not send his Son to die for the whole world, not just a certain few? Similarly, verse 44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Apparantly it is only possible to come to Christ by first being drawn or chosen by God. But how is this to be understood through the lense of John 3:16-18? Perhaps the key to understanding this issue is verse 39, for Christ will not lose any of those that God has given to him, and it is Christ who will raise them up on the last day. Therefore, those that believe in God’s Chosen One are given to Christ by God who raises them up to eternal life on the last day. In other words, God is the one that picks up those who believe out of their state of judgment and hands them over to Jesus Christ, who then raises them up to life on the last day. Now the gospel of love is such that those that accept Christ cross over from death to life and are no longer condemned, hungry or thirsty; they have received eternal life. However, those that reject Christ remain in their state of judgment, hunger, and thirst; they remain in death.
Christ came to the world to save it from dying in its sin; those not believing will die in their sin (John 8:21, 23) while those believing are set free from their sin (John 8:32, 34-36). Thus, those accepting Christ are lead to eternal life, but those rejecting Christ stay in their current state of judgment, which leads to eternal separation from God. Notice Jesus’ controversial statement to the Pharisees in chapter 9: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (v. 39). According to the theme passage, however, Jesus did not come to judge. Instead, Jesus’ actions brought about judgment. Therefore, Jesus came to save the world and his death brought about the judgment of the world. This judgment declares that those who are blind and admit their blindness will be healed, while those who are blind claiming they need not be healed remain blind. This is to say that those who are in their condemned position and realize that they need help, that they need Jesus, will be saved and brought out of their state of judgment. However, those who are in the same condemned position claiming they do not need help and that they do not need Christ will remain in that state. The gospel of love has now developed to mean that those that accept Christ cross over from death to life, they are no longer hungry or thirsty, and they have been freed from the bondage of sin; namely they have received eternal life. On the other hand, those that reject Christ remain in their state of judgment, hunger, thirst, and sin, which means they remain in death.
Chapter 10 describes Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In verses 27-30, we see that those in Christ follow him and receive eternal life. They will never be pulled away from Christ’s love nor slip away from it either, for he will not lose one of those given to him and no one can snatch them out of his hand (v. 28). Again, Jesus proclaims that those who accept him receive eternal life. He will never lose them since he is the Good Shepherd; he will never lose one of his own sheep, nor will he allow it to be stolen by a thief or eaten by an animal. Because he is the Good Shepherd, his flock listens to him and no one else. They follow him exclusively. This is because he has brought them out of their old state, which lead to death, and brought them into his own sheep pen of eternal life. Now the gospel of love is that those that accepting Christ cross over from death to life, are no longer hungry or thirsty, have been freed from the bondage of sin, can now see, and are secure in Christ. Thus, they have received eternal life. On the other hand, while those that reject Christ remain in their state of judgment, hunger, thirst, sin, and blindness. Their only assurance is death.
Jesus proclaims in chapter 12 that he came into the world to be a light and to shine so that anyone who believes would be in the light and stay out of darkness (v. 46). This is to say that those who do believe will not be in darkness any longer; they will be brought out of their condemnation (darkness) and into eternal life (light). However, those that do not believe will remain in darkness. Jesus made a distinct claim that one can only get to the Father through the Son (14:6). It is only possible to reach the Father and be lifted up (for God is the one who lifts anyone up out of their state of judgment) by first going through Christ. The gospel of love has developed even further, taking into account darkness and light. Those that accept Christ cross over from death to life, they are no longer hungry, thirsty, slaves to sin, blind, or in the darkness. Instead, they are satisfied to the fullest, freed from the bondage of sin, able to see, secure, and stand in the light. In short, they have eternal life. Those that reject Christ stay in their condemnation, hunger, thirst, sin, blindness, insecurity, and darkness. This means they are still in a condition of death.
In chapter 14, a new addittion to the gospel of love appears: those that love Christ walk in obedience (vv. 15, 21, 23-24). However, those that do not love Christ are disobedient to his words (v. 24). Chapter 15 takes this concept and developes it even further through the metaphor of the vine and the branches. Those that obey Christ are those that remain in him, and those that remain in him are the ones that produce fruit; outside of Christ, no fruit will be produced. Understanding John 15:1-8 in light of John 3:16-18 shows that those that do not produce fruit are the ones remaining in their condemned state and are unable to please God, while those producing fruit have been grown by God out of Christ. Those that produce no fruit are going to be thrown into the fire and burned because they never truly accepted Christ. They did not believe and obey, and, therefore, their state of standing in judgment never changed.
Now the dark side of the gospel of love is fully developed. On the one hand, those who accept Christ cross over from death to life, they are no longer hungry or thirsty, they are freed from the bondage of sin, they can now see, they are secure, they stand in the light, and they remain in Christ. In other words, they have eternal life. On the other hand, those who reject Christ continue to stand in their condemnation, hunger, thirst, sin, blindness, insecurity, and darkness. In other words, their position has not changed and they are still in a state of judgment.
Not only does this theme progress on its own throughout the Gospel of John, but it also interacts with the other themes. This theme seems to be intertwined with the theme of light and life, and witness and truth, and it relates with the themes of seeing, believing, and knowing, origin, festival, and signs. Perhaps it is noteworthy to see how these themes work with the dark side of the gospel of love in specific instances in the Fourth Gospel.
In John 11, Jesus comforts Martha and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (vv. 25-26). Jesus’ words express this theme of light and life. When he performed the sign of raising Lazarus from the dead, he revealed the reasoning behind his words: “it is the crucified and risen Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life” (Beasley-Murray 1987, 36: 201). Only after the sign could Jesus’ words be fully understood. His words show that “In union with him the believer has the Life, and is assured of its consummation in the ‘last day’” (Beasley-Murray 1987, 36: 201). Those that accept Christ will be granted life eternal; it is a guarantee from Jesus himself. Indeed, because Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Resurrection and the Life, “Christian existence in Christ is life before death” (Beasley-Murray 1987, 36: 201). We are made alive when we are in Christ. This is the dark side of the gospel of love because those who do believe will partake in Christ—both in his resurrection and life—yet those not do not believe will not partake in Christ but will receive death.
Jesus proclaimed that he was the Bread of Life in John 6. In verses 38-39, he claimed to be sent from heaven for a specific purpose, to do the will of the Father. His mission was not to lose any of those whom God had given to him but raise them up at the last day. These words reveal three things: one, Christ’s “reason for appearing among men was to do the Father’s will” (Tenney 1948, 119); two, “The Father’s will was the preservation of those whom He had given to the Son” (Tenney 1948, 119); and three, “This preservation is the guarantee of eternal life to the believer, sealed by the resurrection at the last day” (Tenney 1948, 119). To believe in Jesus is to accept his origin; unless the believer accepts that Jesus was from heaven, that he was God and was sent by God, and that he came to do the will of God, he would not receive eternal life. The theme of origin is part of the dark side of the gospel of love. It shows that those not accepting Christ’s origin do not accept Christ, and those not accepting Christ will not receive eternal life but will remain in their state of judgment.
The idea of truth in Greek is understood by Bultmann as “the complete or real state of affairs” (Dodd 1968, 171). This is to say that truth is the actual state or reality of something. In John 5, when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (v. 24), Jesus is claiming the reality that those believing have eternal life and have been brought out of their condemnation. The reality is that they have crossed over from death to life, and they have entered into this reality by believing in God and by believing God sent Jesus to save the world. This is no strange phenomenon, for according to the common Hellenistic usage of the Greek word for truth, it entailed “‘reality’, or ‘the ultimately real’, and ‘knowledge of the real’” (Dodd 1968, 177). Jesus was not saying it is a miracle; he was saying it is a fact. Those that believe in him have an eternal reality which is made manifest in Christ who is the revealer of truth and is in all actuality truth himself (Dodd 1968, 178). To accept Jesus is to accept the truth, and in doing so, life eternal will be granted, but not not to accept the truth is to be condemned.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament themes, specifically the theme of festival in the Fourth Gospel. This theme works with the dark side of the gospel of love in John 6 when Jesus proclaims himself as the Bread of Life (vv. 48-51). These verses are a metaphor to show the relationship between Jesus and the bread sent from heaven to the Hebrews in the desert. The former bread that came down from heaven did not keep the forefathers from dying, however the latter bread which came down is of such a kind that “if anyone eats of this bread (i.e. appropriates Jesus by faith, as in the preceding verses), eternal life is the assured result” (Carson 1991, 295). William Barclay said that, since Jesus is the bread of life, he is “the essential for life; therefore to refuse the invitation and command of Jesus is to miss life and to die” (1975, 1: 220). If anyone is to believe in Jesus they must also believe that he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and those believing in this will be given eternal life. Alternately, those not believing will die.
Believing is an integral and vital part of the dark side of the gospel of love, for those that choose to believe will be saved, yet those who choose not to believe will die. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” However, both eternal life and condemnation are present realities: “For the believer, eternal life is a present possession, not a reward bestowed at the gates of death. Wrath is the present lot of the unbeliever; he is already under condemnation” (Tenney 1948, 91). Therefore, this theme of seeing, believing, and knowing relates with the dark side of the gospel of love in that those that do believe will receive eternal life.
The theme of signs in the Gospel of John is indirectly related with the dark side of the gospel of love. We can infer that they work together because the dark side of the gospel of love seems to follow up the work of a sign. In John 5, Jesus heals an invalid. Afterwards, while speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus spoke directly about the dark side of the gospel of love in respect to his sign. Jesus said, “Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (vv. 20b-21). Jesus was able to heal a man of his impairment, and still he “will perform ‘greater things’: he will assume the authority and prerogatives of God himself and give life to the dead (v. 21) and pronounce judgment (v. 22)” (Carson 1991, 252). Thus, Jesus’ sign relates with the dark side of the gospel of love because “Just as he chose one man out of the crowd of ill people by Bethesda (v. 6), so he chooses those to whom he gives life” (Carson 1991, 253). Jesus chooses those who choose him, and he gives life to those that please him by making the choice to believe in him.
The overall theme of revelation in the Fourth Gospel is included in the dark side of the gospel of love. What is the revelation in the book of John? It is the “remarkable invasion of the world by God” (Burge 2000, 29), and in this invasion “is also a message of sacrifice and redemption” (Burge 2000, 29). This revelation of Jesus Christ must be accepted if anyone is to receive eternal life, for he was the one who invaded the world, who was sacrificed for the world’s sins, and who is the world’s redeemer. Certainly, those embracing “this revelation, who identify with the light and have faith, will gain eternal life” (Burge 2000, 29).
But what of the gospel itself? How does the dark side of the gospel of love advance the purpose of the gospel? Indeed, the dark side of the gospel of love advances the gospel by showing that if someone does not accept the gospel there will be serious consequences—eternal death. Jesus Christ is the gospel; “The man who refuses to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord has missed the target in life. He dies with life unrealized; and he therefore dies unfitted to enter into the higher life with God” (Barclay 1975, 2: 17). Without the dark side of the gospel of love there would not be much motivation, if any, to accept Christ. Yet it is not that the world should accept Christ out of fear of death, but it should accept Christ because of his love. This is the dark side of the gospel of love: accept Christ’s love and live or deny Christ’s love and die.
The study of the dark side of the gospel of love in the Fourth Gospel has invoked two different feelings in me. The first is a feeling of happiness, for it is a happy realization to know that I am a chosen one of God who believes in Jesus—that he is life, that he is the Chosen One of God, that he is truth, that he is the fulfilment of the Old Testament, and that he is God revealing Himself in human form—and for this I have eternal life. Two, it invokes a feeling of sorrow for this world, which God loves very much, will not believe in Jesus Christ and all that he is; therefore, their position in judgment will not change and they will die. After studying this theme of the Fourth Gospel, I have been given a new challenge to embrace Christ and all that he is, and to proclaim him to all those that do not know him. It is a terrible thing for anyone to miss the target, Jesus Christ, and it is my hope that as I walk with the Lord the world might see Jesus through me and, in turn, believe in him. My desire is that of Jesus’ own words: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me […] streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38).
Barclay, William. 1975. The Gospel of John. Vol. 1. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster
__________. 1975. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster
Beasley-Murray, George R. 1987. Word Biblical Commentary: John. Vol. 36. Ralph P.
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Burge, Gary M. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Carson, D. A. 1991. The Gospel According to John. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.
Dodd, C. H. 1968. The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. London: Cambridge University
Tenney, Merrill C. 1948. John: The Gospel of Belief. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans