Episode 2: Life
LIFELife is an interesting word. We all want life, but very few of us understand it completely. The English word we use for the study of life, zoology, originates from the Greek. What makes animals thrive? Life. So what makes humans thrive? The Gospel of John has something to say about that answer.
What the Word brought about was life,
now this life was the light for humanity;
this light now shines in darkness,
and darkness is unable to put out this light.
John’s Gospel indicates that Life originates in the Word/Logos.
Everything came about through the Word,
apart from the Word nothing that exists came about.
Everything Zoology and Biology seek to study, everything Physics, Chemistry, and Geology seek to study, all that exists originates in Logos. Such a lofty view about Life almost exceeds human ability to discern. What in this Logos-Life makes humans thrive?
John uses the word for life, Zōē, on 36 different occasions. Over half of these times the noun appears with the word translated “eternal”, so “Life” in the Gospel of John is overwhelmingly identified as “eternal life” or as I often translate the phrase, “life of the ages.” In nearly every instance, Life is associated with Jesus and is spoken of by Jesus.
Elsewhere in John
In his discussion with the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus begins by requesting a drink of water. When Jesus reveals he has his own source of water he indicates that those who receive the water he provides will be refreshed by life eternal. Later in John 7, during the festival of booths which occurs in the fall season, Jesus stands up in the middle of the crowds gathered in the Temple courtyards and invites the thirsty to come to him and drink. As the source of water, Jesus is metaphorically the source of life itself. Given the relationship of this Gospel with the book of Genesis, it doesn’t take much creative thinking, once the Gospel indicates that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit, to go back to the beginning, when the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters, for a mental image of water as the source of life.
Yet, as the source for life, Jesus is more than a mere thirst quencher. John 6 reports a miracle of bread provided to a crowd in the Transjordan region-the same side of the Jordan River where those who followed Moses ate manna. A discussion ensues between the people who ate the bread Jesus provided and Jesus himself. After an initial correction for the people to remember that God, not Moses, provided the manna, Jesus proclaims himself, not once but twice, to be the true bread from heaven, the bread of life. Just as water was, and remains, crucial for humanity’s existence, so too at that time bread served as a staple for life, although it doesn’t remain as critical in more prosperous regions of the globe during our time. This conversation escalates as those engaging with Jesus challenge his claims in order to ignore the obvious conclusion for his words. Jesus’ continues to confront them with the conclusion that he is the provider of Life, even to the point of using the disturbing language that they must munch on his body and drink his blood.
Since it is not possible for one to drink Jesus’ literal blood and eat his literal flesh at a point 2000 years after this encounter, what does Jesus’ metaphoric language indicate for the woman at the well and the crowd near Capernaum? Perhaps one should examine the less confusing conversations Jesus has with his accusers that often get overlooked. After healing a man near the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus becomes involved in a heated discussion with those brokering God to the common folk. While their problem appears to be that Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath–thus breaking guidelines for keeping the Sabbath, Jesus addresses a deeper issue that troubles them.
I speak truthfully to you, “The one who hears my word
and believes the one who sent me possesses life of the
ages and does not come to the judgment, rather he has
passed from death into this life of the ages.” I speak
truthfully to you, “The time is coming, actually it is here
now, when those who are dead will hear the voice of the
Son of God, and those who hear this voice will live.” (5:24-25)
The Life Jesus provides is experienced when someone hears his voice, i.e., the words from The Word, and fully recognizes where those words originate–with the Creator of Life. This passage refers to Life 5 times between John 5:24-29.
The Life provided by Jesus consists of more than mere breathing, eating, and sleeping. As Jesus indicates in this passage, the Life of which he speaks originates with God.
For just as the Father holds life in himself,
so too, He has given this same life to the Son
so that he holds life in himself.
He also gave the Son the authority to make decisions,
because he is the Son of Man. (5:26-27)
Since Jesus holds life in himself, it is no surprise when he declares that he has come to provide life that exceeds expectations for those who follow him. (10:10) But what might this life look like? It is described most often as “eternal” or “the life of the ages.” We see it being described as abundant and remarkable. But Jesus also indicates that he provides the Life of the Resurrection. This life is not limited by death.
The one who believes in me will live even if she
dies, and everyone who lives and trusts me
will never die in this age.
Do you believe this?” (11:25b-26)
But critical to this Gospel’s presentation is that life originates in Jesus. Thomas’ question, arising as it does from a place of confusion at Jesus’ words, demonstrates once again the identification of life itself with Jesus himself.
Thomas spoke to Jesus, “Master, we do not know
where you are going, so how can we know the
way to where you are going?” Jesus told him, “I
am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. No
one comes to the Father except by me.” (14:5-6)
Whether Jesus’ is proclaiming to be the Water that provides Life, the Bread from heaven that provides Life, or Life itself, the message from the first few verses holds sway, “What the Word brought about was life.”
Throughout the Gospel, Life may seem as though it is a symbol of many changing colors. This is not the case. Rather, Life remains steady although there are many ways to understand the same thing. As Jesus prepares for his arrest, trials, and own physical death, he gives one last insight into this Life that has been so integral to the story.
This is eternal life that they might know you,
the only true God, and might know the one
whom you sent, Jesus Christ. (17:3)
The Life which the Word brings about is the knowledge of God, the one whom the Word makes known and whom many humans seek to worship in truth and in spirit. Eternal life is truly life of a different realm, is truly life beyond what we ordinarily encounter. This life is available simply by believing the words of the Word.
TAKE 5 MINUTES MORE
Do you ever sit for a few minutes in order to contemplate your life? Do you consider yourself as just living or are you alive? We use that word, alive, in different ways yet we often say someone “is alive with blank” to mean that our perception of them is that their existence is bleeding over into our existence. That person is more than just living, their living is giving life to others.
Can you confidently ask God to bring life to you from your encounter with Jesus? Are you willing to step into the different realm of life available from God?
Can you truthfully ask God, “Lord, grant me life so that others may experience eternal life, so that my aliveness may help them know you, the only true God.”