Continued from: The Sending of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: As the Father Has Sent Me (Part 1). This series examines the mission of God in the sending of Jesus as portrayed in the Fourth Gospel.
The question of motive must be raised—why is God sending? To what end and for what motivation? This article presents the radiant glory and redemptive grace of Jesus as twin Christological motifs in John’s Gospel which have significant missional implications. The discussion of these motifs in the following sections will illustrate the absolute centrality and primacy of Christ in the missio Dei.
John 1:14 describes the glory and grace of God in the incarnation of Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” These motifs, seen clearly in the life of Jesus, characterize the essence of the missio Dei and epitomize the ultimate mission of the church.
Seeing Glory and Grace
Hues of the radiant glory and redemptive grace of God may be seen in creation. John’s Prologue presents Christ Jesus as the uncaused One who created all that is and is life itself. Tozer would have us imagine a pre-creation world in which we might see, “as the uncaused one, God is absolutely self-sufficient in Himself and needs nothing from anyone.”1 And yet, he created the world, not because he needed something, but because he desires something. In the creation of the world, the radiant glory of Jesus as Creator is seen—glory that inspires worship. The Psalmist proclaims, for example, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
We may glimpse early hints of redemptive grace motif in creation as well. In the world, God created man in his own image and breathed life into his being. Even before the need for redemption because of the fall, we see the desire of God for relationship. Before the fall, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden in sweet fellowship. God’s immediate giving of the proto-evangelium (the first gospel, Genesis 3:15) after the fall, evinces His enduring desire for relationship. Peters accurately poses a view of God’s nature of love in “out-going, dynamic relationship.”2 He concludes his discussion of God’s nature and missional theology with this pertinent observation:
The triune God in His very being as Spirit, as light, and love is an outgoing God, a missionary God, ever sending Himself in benevolent relations to mankind, ever searching in love to bestow Himself in blessings upon mankind, and ever spending Himself in great sacrifice to make man’s salvation possible. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are cooperating and coordinating to bring man back from His sinful wandering and blundering, and restore man to his pristine state, purpose, destiny, and glory. Our God is, indeed, the God of our salvation.3
Glory and grace are missional motifs evident in salvation-historical and eschatological contexts as well. Both the radiant glory and redemptive grace of the missio Dei are evident from the calling of Abram from the community of nations to the great scene of worship around the throne in Revelation chapter seven and through all eternity.
Jesus: Sent with Radiant Glory
THE WORLD IN DARKNESS
The fourth evangelist presents a view of humanity in darkness. The world, as humanity, is in darkness because they do not or will not believe in Jesus, and they continue in darkness because of their love of their sinful ways (3:19). This is the pervasive darkness of unbelief, a perverse nature and willful rebellion. Jesus also implies in the ninth chapter that there is a blindness of spiritual pride that darkens the heart in unbelief as the Jewish leaders acknowledge the sign Jesus has just performed. Ultimately, the deep shadows of death loom over the unbelieving with ominous warnings about perishing and condemnation.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
The radiant glory of Jesus as essential to the missio Dei is evident in the second of his “I Am” sayings. In John 8:12 at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the World.” This beautiful portrayal certainly is a bold messianic construct. It brings to mind, in the Feast of Tabernacles context, the pillar of light symbolizing the presence of God by which the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea while the pursuing Egyptians were lost in thick cloudy darkness, and by which they were led through the years of their wilderness wandering. So Jesus adds, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As the Israelites followed the pillar of light in the wilderness, so Jesus is inviting all to follow him.
As the Israelites followed the pillar of light in the wilderness, so Jesus the Light of the World is inviting all to follow him.
Jesus’ self-designation as the Light of the World also has missional import. The world is in darkness and Jesus came to be the Light for the world. Matthew and Luke show the messianic fulfillment of Isaiah 9:2 and Psalm 107:10, depicting Jesus as bringing light to those who are sitting in darkness and under the shadow of death. Peters comments, “The positive and missionary message that is conveyed by the metaphor becomes evident when we keep in mind that light is diffusive, penetrating, searching, spreading itself over all space, and entering every nook and corner.”4 It illuminates the darkness with the glory of God in the person of Jesus. The darkness cannot overcome this Light (1:5); even on the blackest of nights on Mount Calvary, it radiates glory. By its nature, it exposes the darkness of evil, sin, selfishness and pride. Jesus, as glorious light, reveals who God is in the brilliance of his holiness and love.
GLORY IN THE SIGNS
The Johannine perspective of the missio Dei in Christ Jesus is filled with references to glory. Jesus continually sought to bring glory to the Father. In John’s Gospel, there are six miracles performed by Jesus commonly acknowledged as “signs” which John documents to substantiate his assertion of Jesus as Christ. Kostenberger notes three criteria for these signs: 1) They were publicly performed. 2) They were plainly identified as signs by Jesus or John. 3) They display God’s glory in Jesus.5 Accordingly, Jesus’ last sign, the raising of Lazarus, resulted in a display of Jesus’ radiant glory as Martha made her stunning confession (11:27) and many eyewitnesses to the sign believed in him (11:45).
GLORY IN THE NATURE OF CHRIST
What does it mean when John writes, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father” (John 1:14)? While we indubitably see the glory of God in the great signs and works of Christ, Tozer suggests that his radiance was seen in the revelation of his moral attributes. “His glory lay in the fact that He was perfect in a loveless world; He was purity in an impure world; He was meekness in a harsh and quarrelsome world.”6 In the darkness of a sinful world, Jesus shines with holy brilliance.
GLORY IN CHRIST’S PASSION
Through the Johannine record, Jesus several times referred to his “hour,” recognizing through the first half of John’s Gospel that “his hour had not yet come” (8:20). In John 12, there is a pivot as Jesus proceeds through Holy Week in the days just preceding his passion. Now, Jesus begins stating that his hour had come. This hour is directly linked both to this matter of glory and to the mission of Jesus.
- John 12:23, And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
- John 12:27, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.”
- John 12:32-33, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
- John 17:1, When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”
- John 17:4, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
- John 19:30, When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
We may plainly see from these references that the hour of glory is in his death on the cross and that the cross is central to the missio Dei. When one hears the Pauline cry, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14), it is understood that Paul was simply following the heart of his Lord whose glory was the cross.
Jesus: Sent with Redemptive Grace
THE WORLD IN JUDGMENT
Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world (3:17); “The Son of Man came into an already lost and condemned world.”7 The world was condemned because “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (3:19). The pre-incarnate Word was in the world “as a presence and light”8 but not recognized or received by the world (1:10). The world is perishing and needs to receive eternal life (3:16). The world is condemned and needs to be saved (3:17).
THE LAMB OF GOD
To this world in condemnation, Jesus is sent with redemptive grace. The concept of a substitutionary atonement for sin by which lost humanity can be freed from their condemnation and reconciled to God is not discussed at length in John’s Gospel, but it is given a place of prominence. In the first chapter, we have the dual public proclamations of John the Baptist regarding Jesus as the Lamb of God (1:29, 36). This Lamb of God, he unequivocally announces, “takes away the sin of the world” (29).
Jesus Christ is central to the mission of God and the cross is central to Christ’s mission.
This, of course, has deep significance to the Jewish people who were raised with the knowledge that their acts of sin would necessitate the sacrifice of an innocent, pure and unblemished lamb. Isaiah fifty-three portrayed a messianic lamb who would bear the iniquity of all who have gone astray. The substitutionary atonement would necessitate the innocent lamb being bruised and crushed for other’s transgression and iniquities. Kostenberger also suggests allegorical parallelism between the ram provided for Abraham in place of his beloved son, Isaac, and God himself who gave his one and only Son and did not spare him “but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). The important difference—God provided Abraham a ram as substitute so his beloved would not have to die; the Lamb which God provides the world is his beloved Son.9
Notice the global reach of God’s redemptive grace. The Lamb of God is provided to take away the sins of the world. This does not mean that since Christ died, all sins are blotted out automatically, but rather that he has made a universal provision for the sins of the whole world. As sin is a universal problem affecting the whole world, so also God in his unbounded, enduring love for the world provided a solution for the sins of the whole world. His remedy is effectual. It takes away the sins of the world. Judgment is certain for those in condemnation, “but there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The redemptive grace of God is primary to the missio Dei. It is not an afterthought or a secondary notion. This is the purpose of the sending of the Son by the Father. The redemptive grace of Jesus can certainly be noted in the ministry and teaching of Jesus. How faithful, patient and gracious he was in dealing with the woman of Samaria in the fourth chapter! How generous was his offer! While the redemptive grace of God may be seen in every effort of reaching and drawing and yearning through history, it culminates in the work of Christ on the cross. “[Father], I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (17:4), Jesus prayed, then he advanced to the cross where he, as the perfect, pure Lamb of God, would shed his blood for the atonement of the sins of world in absolute fulfillment of his mission objective.
The Glory and Grace of Christ in Mission
Jesus Christ is central to the mission of God and the cross is central to Christ’s mission. All redemptive history cruxes on the person and work of Jesus Christ. “Jesus is God going out in the cold black night, over the mountains, down the ravines and gullies, eagerly hunting for His lost man, getting hands, and face, and more, torn on the brambly thorn bushes, and losing His life, in the darkness, on a tree thrust in His path, but saving the man.”10
So we see that “Christ is the crescendo of the story of God’s glory,”11 a glory that reaches its climax through his redeeming grace. “At the end of all things, He will have bought and brought people from every tribe and tongue to honor the Father”12 in reverential love and worship.
Coming soon: The Sending of the Disciples: So Send I You (Part 3).
- A. W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John, compiled and edited by James l. Snyder (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 31.
- George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody Press), 60.
- Ibid., 81.
- Ibid., 59.
- Andreas J. Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church, (Grand Rapids: William B, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 48-49.
- Tozer, 84.
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to JOHN, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 207.
- Tozer, 56.
- Andreas J. Kostenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 56.
- S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Jesus, (Shippensburg, Penn.: Divine Image Publishers, 2003), 43.
- Steven Hawthorne, “The Story of His Glory” in Perspectives of the World Christian Movement, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 49-63. 4th ed., (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.), 59.