Continued from: The Sending of Jesus in John’s Gospel: With Radiant Glory and Redeeming Grace (Part 2).
John 20:21 serves as a Johannine version of the Great Commission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus links the mission of his disciples and by extension the mission of his followers today to his own mission, but how far should we go in drawing the parallels?
Andreas Kostenberger concludes in his seminal work on mission in the Fourth Gospel: “The fourth evangelist conceived of the mission of the Christian community as ultimately the mission of the exalted Jesus carried out through his followers.”1 This means Christ’s mission is central and pre-eminent; his followers’ mission is a derivative and continuation of his mission.2
The Sender is Greater
The unique person of Jesus had a unique and exalted mission. In the incarnation of Christ, we see both radiant glory and the redemptive grace in the identity and mission of the Word: he enters our world with “the glory as of the only Son from the Father” and being “full of grace and truth” (1:14). The unique and exalted nature of this aspect of Jesus’ mission is underscored by the use of monogenēs in regard to the Son designating him as the “one and only Son.” This exalted designation for Jesus is used in John 3:16, connecting his unique person to the central mission of redemption.
Missiologists are quick to note many comparisons between the incarnation of the Word and the entering of a missionary into a new culture.3 Incarnational models see the missionary sent into a foreign culture as Jesus was sent to our world and draw parallels with his full identification with humanity and the need for a missionary to immerse themselves into the receiving culture to live amongst the people as one of them and present the gospel contextually. Such parallels may be useful for illustrative purposes of valid objectives. They should go no further though lest the unique aspects of Christ’s incarnation and redemptive mission be attenuated.4
The mission of Christ is pre-eminent. In the Fourth Gospel, he demonstrated the radiant glory of God with signs. He alone accomplished the glorious and gracious work of redemption on the cross. No disciple can enter into this aspect of his mission—it is already completed. Jesus’ statement that the one who is sent is not greater than the one who sends still applies.
Though an exact equivalency of mission and being cannot be understood from John 20:21 and 17:18, being sent as Jesus was sent has important connotations. The parallel we see here is not in incarnation and identification but rather the nature of relationships between the sender and the sent.5 Though Kostenberger has popularized this view and authoritatively defends the incarnation and atonement from theologically unsound missiological models, others have noted the relational parallels of the twin sendings as well. Barclay comments here:
The sending out of the Church by Jesus is parallel to the sending out of Jesus by God. But no one can read the story of the Fourth Gospel without seeing that the relationship between Jesus and God was continually dependent on Jesus’ perfect obedience, perfect submission and perfect love. Jesus could only be God’s messenger because He rendered to God that perfect obedience and that perfect love. Therefore, it follows that the church is only fit to be the messenger and instrument of Christ when she perfectly loves and perfectly obeys Him. The church must never be out to propagate her message; she must be out to propagate the message of Christ. She must never be out to follow her own man-made policies; she must be out to follow the will of Christ.6
Also of note, Jesus draws a parallel between the unity of the Father and Son and the unity of the Son and his disciples (17:21-23). This is not an ontological unity by which one might grasp at equality with Christ, but relational unity (love) and a functional unity (purpose). Being unified with Christ in love and purpose, the sent one remains subservient to the sender. As Jesus seeks his Father’s will, speaks his Father’s words, and strives to do his Father’s work for the Father’s glory, so the followers of Jesus in mission find a model of faithful, loving and obedient subordination to Jesus.
Without denigrating the exalted mission of Christ, his disciples are united with his missional purpose of radiant glory and redemptive grace. It is incorrect to say that the mission of redemption is complete and mankind is saved. Radiant glory and redemptive grace are elemental to the missio Dei. Christ, in his unique person and exalted mission, accomplished his redemptive objective on the cross with his atoning sacrifice. The Pauline pronouncement in 2 Corinthians 5:19 is revealing: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” The mission of God in reconciling the world to himself through Christ becomes the mission of the church, not supplanting Christ’s mission with our own, or devaluing it as insignificant. Rather Christ’s mission is central and primary; ours is derivative and complimentary.
Thus, radiant glory remains central to the missio Dei. The eternal God is glorious and deserves worship. Christ’s radiant glory was revealed in fullness with the brilliant essence of his character, the magnificence of his signs and the fulfillment of his “hour” on the Cross. The mission of the Spirit is to bring glory to Christ (16:14). The mission of the church involves bringing glory to God in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
Using the Johannine Light of the World symbolism, Jesus ignites his light in dark hearts (Psalm 18:28), making new lights (Matthew 5:14) in a dark world which radiate Christ’s glory long after he ascends to the Father (John 9:5). “While you have the light,” Jesus would say, “believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (12:36). Those who believe in Christ find that His light dispels the darkness of condemnation from their hearts (12:46, 3:18-19).
The implications of the radiant glory of Christ’s light within the disciple should be evident:
- Holiness. The sent ones are first called out of the world (John 17:16), and then transformed in their moral nature by saving and sanctifying grace so that Christ’s glory may be infused in them (17:22) so that they may be filled with Christ’s love (17:26).
- Charity. Matthew 5:16 indicates that Christ’s light shines through good works and brings glory to God.
- Diffusion. A holy character and loving thoughts are not to be lived only in the quietness of our own little world. The light is to be set on a candlestick. The disciples having been called out of the world and filled with the radiant light of Christ, are now sent back into the world (17:18). 1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” “Not only is God’s glory the ultimate goal in mission, but the practical work of mission is one of proclaiming God’s glory and is in itself a priestly act of worship.”7
The redemptive grace of God in Christ through the cross is the central theme of the gospel. For Jesus, the redemptive grace motif in the missio Dei has a definitive objective; he accomplished his work (17:4) and cried, “It is finished” (19:30) becoming the propitiation for the sins of the world. For the disciples, the redemptive grace motif in the missio Dei is not discarded. Their definitive objective could not possibly be propitiation, but it must certainly involve proclamation of the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ. Their message is central to this mission—“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (3:17).
The Beloved Evangelist was present for the sending of the disciples in John 20:21. In the very writing of the Fourth Gospel, John enters into the missio Dei seeking to proclaim the radiant glory of Christ and publish the good news of God’s redemptive grace through Christ Jesus. These twin motifs fixed John’s Gospel on Christ for a missional purpose. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
Coming soon: The Sending of Jesus: Seeing the Missio Dei in John’s Gospel (Part 4).
- 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), 210.
- Ibid., 101.
- Ott and Strauss, Encountering Theology of Mission, 97.
- Ibid., 103.
- William Barclay, The Gospel of John: Vol. 2. (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1956), 317-318.
- Ott and Strauss, 81.