NTiR: John writes a new end to the Gospels (John 19-21)

By | May 24, 2010

Bible and magnifying glassThank god we are at the end of John. Unfortunately, this means we have to re-live Jesus’s torture and execution one more time. It’s so depressing, and traumatic. Remind me again why Christians celebrate this? And remind me again why Jesus has to die? I am still baffled, as I mentioned when writing about John 3:16.

Chapter 19
Ask and ye shall receive! John answers my question about the Romans and their odd caving in to the Pharisees. Turns out that Pilate was going to stand firm and not allow Jesus to be crucified. The Jews started a mini-revolt against this, however, and threatened to report to Caesar that Pilate was defying Caesar. Apparently, this threat carried enough weight to sway Pilate.

All of the other Gospels have mentioned this, as have I, but I want to go back over it. Pontius Pilate did not want to allow Jesus to be crucified. He actually did everything in his power to keep Jesus from being killed. His methods were brutal, but that’s to be expected from the time that they lived in. Roman leaders were not gentle, by any means. But Pilate tried. He had Jesus beaten, stripped, and the crown of thorns put on his head, then Pilate tried to reason with the crowd, in effect saying “Look, I have humiliated, debased and tortured this man. Surely this is enough for you?” When the crowd still demanded Christ’s death, Pilate tried to get the Jews to accept Barabbas – an admitted criminal – to be executed and Jesus released. The crowd would not have that, either. Finally, since he was cornered and had no way out, Pilate washed his hands of the whole thing, and told the Pharisees to do as they would.

I am not saying that Pilate is innocent, nor that he couldn’t have done more. But Pilate does have a lot more nobility in him than how other stories have depicted him. John adds a little bit more, saying that Pilate refused to have the sign reading “King of the Jews” changed to “He claimed he was King of the Jews.”

John changes another fact: in John’s Gospel, Jesus carries his cross all by himself. In the previous three Gospels, Simon is pulled out of the crowd and forced to carry the cross for Jesus. This is again one of those small discrepancies which creates a major change in the context of these stories. John’s gospel leads to most Christian denominations saying that followers “must carry their cross” as Jesus did. But 75% of the Gospel authors don’t say that Jesus carried his cross. It is intriguing to me that so many Christian sects have adopted John’s interpretations of events.

Jesus is crucified and hangs on the cross with two criminals on his side. Jesus’s mother, aunt, Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene are with Jesus. John then says that when Jesus saw “his mother and the disciple that he loved,” he proclaimed them mother and son. Which is interesting… if Jesus loved the disciple so, why wasn’t that disciple named? And why would Jesus send his mother to live with one of the disciples? It makes more sense to me that “the disciple that he loved” was Mary Magdalene, and he was instructing his mother and his wife/partner to look after each other once he was gone. Anyway, Jesus takes one drink of wine and dies.

Bodies were not to be left out on the Sabbath, so the three who were crucified were brought down. Soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals, so they couldn’t flee as they died. Since Jesus was already dead, he was spared that insult. One of the soliders stabbed him with a spear to make sure that Christ was dead, and to complete the number of wounds that Jesus was supposed to have.

For some reason, John again tries to give evidence that what he has said to this point is the truth. And he does so with a very clumsy sentence: “The one who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows he is telling the truth so that you, too, may believe.” Or, in other words, “this guy saw it, and he says that he is telling the truth. So you should believe him!”

Joseph of Arimathea arrives to claim Jesus’s body. Joseph is apparently a secret disciple of Jesus’s, which does explain why he petitioned Pilate to release Jesus’s corpse. Joseph takes Jesus’s body to a nearby tomb, where Nicodemus anoints Jesus with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. Seriously! John 19:39. I have to note that only John says that Nicodemus was there. In the other three Gospels, Joseph himself wraps Jesus in cloth and lies him in the tomb.

Chapter 20
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds that Jesus is no longer there. She finds Simon Peter, and Peter and the disciple Jesus loved ran all the way back to the tomb. Peter arrives and goes into the tomb, but only finds Jesus’s burial cloths. Mary waits outside of the tomb, sobbing unconsolably. Two angels appear and ask why she is crying, and she tells them. She turns and finds a man standing behind her; it is Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him. She begs Jesus to tell her where Jesus’s body has been taken. He calls her by name, and she realizes that it is Jesus. She tries to run and embrace him, but Jesus tells her that she cannot yet, because he is not ascended. Which seems odd – wouldn’t it be too late to touch if he is ascended?

Mary goes to the 10 (Judas is dead, of course, and Thomas is out of the house) and tells them what she has seen. Suddenly, Jesus appears inside of their locked house. He shows them his wounds to prove that it is he, then blesses the disciples, and breathes the holy spirit onto them. Ayup, that didn’t make much sense to me. Apparently the holy spirit was in Jesus’s lungs all this time?

A week later, Jesus again appears before the disciples. This time, Thomas (of Doubting Thomas fame) is home. When Jesus comes up to him, Thomas refuses to believe until he can put his hand into Jesus’s wounds. Jesus invites him to do so, but instead, Thomas acknowledges that Jesus is “my lord and my god!” And there’s another difference from the stories that I remember. The way I remember being told, Thomas actually put his fingers and hands in Jesus. However, according to this, Jesus showing Thomas Jesus’s wounds and inviting Thomas to touch them is enough to make Thomas a believer.

The chapter closes with a rather perplexing note: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book.” Obvious question: what other signs? Follow-up question: why weren’t they recorded? You know how in some movies there’s a scene or two thrown in specifically so a sequel can pick up that storyline? That sure sounds like what John just did.

Chapter 21
We have finally arrived at the end of the Gospel of John. John isn’t finished chronicling events that none of the other Gospel authors witnessed, however. Actually, this chapter is completely new material. We heard nothing about this from Matthew, Mark or Luke. So I have some fresh material to work with. 🙂

Seven or eight of the disciples, plus the disciple that Jesus loved (who I am just going to refer to as Mary Magdalene from now on, since that is my agenda) are fishing, but not having any luck. A man on the beach suggests that they try throwing the nets on the other side of the boat. Once they do, they catch so many fish that their nets can barely hold. When they have time to count, the disciples find that they caught 153 very large fish.

Mary realizes that this man is actually Jesus, and shouts “IT IS THE LORD!” On hearing this, Simon Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore. The other disciples more sensibly stayed in the boat and pointed it towards shore. Simon Peter gained shore a little faster than the boat, but Jesus commanded him to bring some fish, so Peter still had to meet up with the boat anyway. Always choose the option that doesn’t get you wet!

Jesus roasts the fish and passes out bread for breakfast. The disciples are rendered speechless. I think that I would be, too: how does one get used to being in the company of a dead man? Even after he’s visited you three times?

Jesus is not quite himself this time around, though. He keeps asking Simon Peter if Peter loves him. Peter answers first “yes I do” twice, then gets annoyed and says “you know everything! You know that I love you!” Jesus babbles something about sheep and lambs, then turns again to face Peter. “when you get old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten your belt and take you where you don’t want to go.” John says this foreshadows Simon Peter’s future grisly demise.

Peter notices that Mary is there, and asks Jesus what will happen to her. Jesus says “If it is my will for [her] to remain until I come, how does that concern you? You must keep following me!” The remaining disciples don’t get the hint that they should butt out of Jesus and Mary’s relationship, and instead decide this means that Mary will live forever. That’s another one of those unfathomable conclusions that are littered throughout the Gospel of John.

John closes the Gospel by first saying that Mary is the person who is relating the stories set within his book. And then he finishes it off with yet another sequel line: “Of course, Jesus also did many other things, and I suppose that if every one of them were written down the world couldn’t contain the books that would be written.”


Wrap up
Well, thus wraps up the gospel of John. I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to say that I did not enjoy this Gospel. John painted Jesus with a very unflattering paintbrush. I understand that John was trying to make Jesus out to be a divine, perfect shepherd, but in reality, John’s Jesus is cocky and insecure about his divinity. How John accomplishes to bring this out in a character is beyond me.

The bit at the end with Jesus appearing to his disciples a third time after his death is a nice coda. Except for Peter, of course, since it prophesies his death by crucification. Talk about a downer.

Up next: The Acts of the Apostles. Written by… who?

New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.

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