Israel Redux: The Image of Christ in the Gospel According to John (Part II)

John 6.16-70: Joshua

The book of Joshua documents the nation of Israel entering the Promised Land. Consider the order of events: (1) Israel is still receiving the daily miracle of manna; (2) Israel miraculously crosses the Jordan on dry foot; (3) The day after Passover, Israel eats produce of the Promised Land, and the manna stops (Josh 5:11-12); (4) From here on, Israel’s new homeland will feed them.

John 6:4 mentioned that “Passover was near.” Then (1) Jesus miraculously feeds the 5000. (2) Jesus walks on the water and guides his disciples to the other side. (3) The day after,Jesus does not give the pursuing crowd more miracle food. (4) Instead he preaches to them: “I am the bread of life: Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die” (John 6:48-50). Like the Promised Land would feed and sustain Israel, Israel would feed off Jesus himself. Howard Teeple writes, “The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John makes eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man a requirement for salvation.”1

When Joshua nears the end of his life, he asks the 12 tribes to choose whom they will serve, to which Israel replies: “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” As a lasting witness to this national profession of faith, Joshua sets up a memorial rock (Josh 24:24-27). In John 6, Jesus asks the 12 disciples if they want to leave him, triggering Peter’s profession: “You have the words of eternal life…you are the Holy One of God.” As regards Joshua’s memorial rock, consider that John 1:42 notes that the name Peter means rock.

Jesus mentions in John 6: “‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)” In Joshua, the twelve tribes of Israel had the disobedient Achan in their midst (Josh 7). Achan stole from Israel by stealing from the things devoted to Israel’s treasury. Judas stole from the common money bag of the Twelve, according to John 12:6.2 John uses the expression “the Twelve” only twice in his gospel– here in John 6:70-71 and again in John 20:24. The term may indicate the parallel John draws between Jesus’ twelve disciples and the twelve tribes of Israel. Moreover, Achan was from the tribe of Judah. Judas (literally “Judah” in Greek) was the son of Simon Iscariot.  Iscariot means “man of Kerioth”. Joshua 15:25 notes that Kerioth is a town alloted to the tribe of Judah.3

John 7, 8: Judges

The Book of Judges chronicles leaders of Israel raised up by God (Judg 2:16,18). John 7 and 8 has Israel discussing whether Jesus is from God. D.A. Carson notes about John chapter 7 and 8 that under the heading ‘Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles’ these two chapters constitute a unity.4

The annual “Feast of Succoth” (the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Booths”) was instituted by God at Sinai as an annual celebration that God led Israel out of Egypt and through the desert. Leviticus 23: 33-43 outlines the feast: “After you have gathered the crops of the land … rejoice before the Lord … Celebrate … Live in temporary shelters … so your descendants will know … I brought them out of Egypt.”

In the Book of Judges, the Israelites do camp out in temporary shelters— but in the mountains, to hide from invaders who camp on their land “like swarms of locusts” and ruin its crops (Judg 6:2-6). We are introduced to Gideon, the greatest judge,5 at harvest time. This is the time for Succoth, Israel’s annual Feast of Tabernacles. Deuteronomy 16:13-15 reiterates: “Celebrate … after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.” But Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from potential raiders. This is both the time for, and the antithesis of, Succoth, and Gideon knows it: “Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt? But now the Lord has abandoned us…” (Jud 6:13). The height of irony is that Gideon’s complaint about God no longer being close to Israel is directed at the visiting “Angel of the Lord.” God is right there with him but Gideon doesn’t see it.

Following Gideon’s call as judge of Israel, and Gideon destroying Baal’s altar and the Asherah poles, the men of his town, Gideon’s own people, want to kill him for blasphemy (Judg 6:28-30). John 7 opens with the religious leaders wanting to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

In Judges, Gideon pursues the defeated Midianites. During the pursuit, he asks his fellow Israelites in the town of Succoth for nourishment, but his own people refuse to help him, voicing their doubts about his abilities (Judg 8:6). In John 7, we read that during Succoth (the feast) Jesus’ “own brothers didn’t believe in him.”6

The verses that follow John 7:14 record intense debate about Jesus’ identity: Did God raise up Jesus? Is he Israel’s ultimate leader or not?

Note that Gideon was the only judge to fight descendants of Abraham (Midianites). In comparison, in the entire second half of John 8 Jesus’ enemies reiterate that they are descendants of Abraham.

The first half of John 8 has judgment as its theme. John 7:53-8:11 forces the issue of whether Jesus was raised up by God by putting Jesus on the spot—as a judge.7 A woman caught in adultery is brought to him for judgment. Adulterous Woman v. the Law of Moses echoes the story of the adulterous woman at the outset of the final, catastrophic chapters of Judges.

Judges 17 and 18 show how far Israel has drifted from the law of Moses. In chapters 19-21, the chickens come home to roost. An adulterous woman is the secondary wife of a Levite. Unfaithful to her husband, she has returned to her father’s house. But her husband, desiring her back, picks her up. On the two-day trip back home, the reunited couple and their servant stay overnight in the Benjamite town of Gibeah. What follows is an essential repeat of what happened to Lot’s visitors in Sodom—except this time, no angels intervene. The whole tragedy escalates into civil war once the Levite graphically informs the other tribes what happened in Gibeah.

The latter chapters of Judges restate four times in whole or in part: “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).  The message is clear: there is a thin line between Israel and the world. The glue that holds Israel together is the law of God. Ignore the Mosaic law—from an individual to a societal level—and Israel disintegrates. In Judges, the neglect of the law of Moses ultimately resulted in civil war with nearly 100,000 dead.

In John 8, predatory authorities drag an adulterous woman in front of Jesus and the gathered audience. How will Jesus judge? Will he dare to neglect the law of Moses? Jesus does not condemn her—he will later absorb the consequence of the Mosaic law on her behalf—and the fate of the woman stands in sharp contrast to that of the adulterous woman in Judges.

John 9 – John 10.21 : Judges – 1 and 2 Samuel

R.E. Brown calls Chapter 9 a masterpiece of Johannine dramatic narrative: “with the coming of Jesus, those who claim to see have become blind and those who were blind have come to sight.”8

Samson is the last judge mentioned in the Book of Judges, and Eli is the first judge in the Book of Samuel (Samuel is one book in the Hebrew Bible). These are two of Israel’s leaders in a row who became blind. Samson’s blindness was a physical consequence of a spiritual reality: the presence of God had left them (Judg 16:20,21). 1 Samuel mentions that Israel’s leader Eli had become blind. The context suggests that Eli’s blindness was not only physical but also spiritual: When he was nearly blind (1 Sam 3:2) the verse prior reads: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” That night it took God calling Samuel three times before Eli understood that it was the Lord calling.9 After the ark—the physical sign of God’s presence in Israel—was brought into battle and captured by the Philistines, the text states that Israel’s leader and high priest was totally blind (1 Sam 4:15).

In John 9, Jesus has a fierce discussion with Israel’s spiritually blind leaders, the Pharisees, brought on by the healing of a blind man on the Sabbath. All of John 9 is about blindness, physical and spiritual, versus its opposite: being “sent” (which John points out is the meaning of “Siloam” where Jesus sends the blind man to be healed). In terms of whether the Pool of Siloam (Hebrew: Shiloah) is a reference to Shiloh—the original national home of the tabernacle until the death of Eli—Bruce Grigsby comments: “Could it be that the Jews themselves regarded the term Shiloah as a Messianic title, prior to the first Christian century?  Certainly they regarded a similar term, Shiloh as a Messianic title.10

Concerning being “sent”11, in 1 Samuel, God’s first appointment (the house of Eli) gets passed over in favor of Samuel, the newly anointed vessel of God’s will. God passing over blind, disobedient, established leadership is the theme of 1 Samuel: the principle is repeated in the passing over of disobedient Saul in favor of David– the Spirit of God comes upon David at his anointing, and the Spirit of God leaves Saul (1 Sam 16:13-14). And in John 9, Israel’s blind religious leaders are passed over in favor of “he who is sent.”

2 Samuel opens with David becoming king and ends with his final days; the book solely chronicles the royal reign of David.

In John 10, Jesus claims: “I am the Good Shepherd.” That discourse points back to David, the hub of Biblical shepherd imagery.12

Most scholars view Ezekiel 34 as the primary text for the background to John 10:1-21,13 because in Ezekiel 34 God declares that He himself is the shepherd of Israel. However, Ezek 34:23 likewise points back to David as the origin of the shepherd imagery when God says about Israel (long after David died): “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.” In her book Rereading the ‘Shepherd Discourse’, Karoline M. Lewis writes “the one who claims that he is the good shepherd in the [John 10:1-21] parable is making a claim to be the Davidic Messiah of Ezekiel 34.”14

According to 2 Sam 7:16, David’s throne would be established forever. The long-expected son of David is here.

John 10.22 – John 12.36: 1 and 2 Kings

1 Kings begins with the reign of Solomon, and his building and dedication of the first temple. John 10:22-23 has Jesus walking in Solomon’s Colonnade (the only mention of Solomon in John’s Gospel) during the Feast of Dedication.

In 1 Kings we find the first rising from the dead in the Hebrew Scriptures, by Elijah (1 Kgs 17:22), followed in 2 Kings by his successor Elisha who brings a dead boy back to life (2 Kgs 4: 32-35), followed by the anecdote of a dead man who comes back to life after coming in contact with Elisha’s bones (2 Kgs 13:21). In the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Kings is one book. The three risings in Kings are the only instances in the Hebrew Bible of dead people coming back to life. In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.15

Up to this point, the raising of Lazarus is Jesus’ most spectacular public demonstration of his authority16 (triggering the events leading to the cross). Elijah’s most spectacular public demonstration of his God-given authority took place on Mt. Carmel. Compare Elijah’s public prayer on Mount Carmel with Jesus’ public prayer at Lazarus’ tomb:17

Elijah: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that these people may know that You, the Lord, are God, and have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kgs 18:36-37 AMP)18

Jesus: “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. Yes, I know You always hear and listen to me, but I have said this on account of and for the benefit of the people standing around, so that they may believe that You did send me [that You have made Me your Messenger].” (John 11:41-42 AMP)

1 Kings tells of the plot of Israel’s leadership to kill Elijah, immediately after Elijah’s most spectacular public miracle on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 19:2). John 11 tells of the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus, right after the rising of Lazarus: “So from that day on, they plotted [emphasis mine] to take his life” (John 11:53).

In response, both Elijah and Jesus retreat to the wilderness– from where Elijah will travel to “the mountain of God” (Sinai) whereas Jesus will travel to Mount Zion (Jerusalem).19

2 Kings continues the succession of both Israel’s and Judah’s kings, ending with the fall of both kingdoms, including the fall of Jerusalem and the apparent ignominious end of the royal line.20 Despite God’s promise to David that his throne would endure forever, there seems to be no lasting Davidic king left on the throne. But in John 12, Jesus is anointed and triumphantly enters Jerusalem as the “King of Israel (13)” to drive out “the prince of this world” (31), fulfilling what the prophets spoke of.

Geert Heetebrij (MFA, UCLA) is assistant professor of film and media in the Department of Communication at Calvin College.

References   [ + ]

1. Howard M. Teeple, “Qumran and the Fourth Gospel.” The Composition of John’s Gospelcompiled by David E. Orton (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1999), 5.
2. John is the only Gospel writer who shares this information about Judas.
3. Leon Morris, “John” in the NIV Study Bible (eds. Kenneth L. Barker et al.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 1642.
4. Carson, John, 305.
5. Of the twelve judges in the Book of Judges, Gideon is mentioned first when Samuel extols only some of them (1 Sam 12:11), and likewise in Hebrews 11:32, Gideon is mentioned first of the few judges mentioned—out of chronological order. Out of all judges’ victories in the Book of Judges, Isaiah only mentions Gideon’s victory—twice (9:4; 10:26). Something that may make Gideon the greatest of the twelve judges is that he is the only judge who destroyed Baal’s altar and the Asherah poles, a specific command for Israel in Exodus 34:13 when Moses received the new stone tablets. (Later on in 1 Samuel, the destruction of these idolatrous objects is also Samuel’s first official act.) Gideon may also be considered great because he refused kingship: “The LORD will rule over you” (Judg 8:23). John J. Davis, Herbert Wolf, “Judges” in the NIV Study Bible (eds. Kenneth L. Barker et al.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 328: “In many ways Gideon is the ideal judge, evoking memory of Moses…”
6. The town Succoth is mentioned in other Hebrew Bible books. However, note a confluence of similarities here: 1) both narratives take place during the Feast of Succoth season; 2) both Gideon and Jesus initially act in secret here, but then step into the public eye; 3) both Gideon’s and Jesus’ own people do not believe them; 4) both Gideon’s and Jesus’ enemies are descendants of Abraham.
7. Most scholars view John 7:53-8:11 as a later interpolation. But rather than discounting it for that reason, it is instructive that the story landed here. Burge,John, 91: “Most likely, the story was tacked on to John’s gospel after having circulated on its own for some time. But why was it placed here? The answer is that the theme of 8:14ff turns on judgment: Jesus judges no one (8:15). Not only have the woman’s judges disappeared, but he will not join their ranks.”
8. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament(New York: Doubleday, 1997), 348.
9. J. Robert Vannoy, “1,2 Samuel” in the NIV Study Bible (eds. Kenneth L. Barker et al.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 381. “Eli’s failure to recognize at once that the Lord had called Samuel may be indicative of his own unfamiliarity with the Lord.”
10. Bruce Grigsby, “Washing in the Pool of Siloam.” The Composition of John’s Gospel,Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum compiled by David E. Orton (Leiden, The Netherlands, Koninklijke Brill NV, 1999), 257n19.
11. Grigsby, Siloam, 257, 258. “And of course, in Johannine parlance, “he who is sent” is a frequent Messianic construct applied to Christ.”
12. Köstenberger, Commentary, 462: “David, who was a shepherd before he became king, became a prototype of God’s shepherd. Jesus saw himself as embodying the characteristics and expectations attached to this salvation-historical biblical figure as the Good Shepherd par excellence.”
13. Karoline M. Lewis, Rereading the “Shepherd Discourse”, Studies in Biblical Literature, 113(New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 8. 
14. Ibid., 8.
15. Burge, John, 67. “That God alone has power over life and can raise people from death is no surprise […] That Jesus can do it too sets Jesus apart in Judaism (cf. Elijah and Elisha).”
16. Purvis, Samaritans, 183.
17. Köstenberger, Commentary,468. “Jesus’ prayer at the outset of the raising of Lazarus […] finds an OT antecedent in the prayer of Elijah, ‘Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God.’”
18. Scripture references marked AMP are taken from The Amplified Bible, Expanded Edition Copyright © 1965, 1987 by the Zondervan Corporation and the Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.
19. Note that Hebrews 12:18-22 connects these two mountains.
20. 2 Kgs 17:7-23 states that the Assyrian exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel is punishment for Israel’s sin, and chapter 24:2-4 states that the Babylonian exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah is punishment for Judah’s sin.