by Ed Gallagher
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.John 11:25
Why did Jesus come? People will give different answers, and even the Gospels themselves present different answers to this question. The answer that is perhaps most familiar to readers of these lessons is this one:
The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.Luke 19:10
But that is not the only answer. When we look in the Gospel of John for why Jesus has come, we again find different answers:
I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.John 9:39
I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.John 12:47
I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth.John 18:37
These varying statements present varying aspects of Jesus’ ministry, and they all correctly answer the question, “why has Jesus come?” But the answer that we will focus on here is the one Jesus supplies at John 10:10.
I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.John 10:10
Gospel of Life
The Gospel of John is a Gospel of life. The word itself—life (zoē)—appears 36 times (only 16 times in the other three Gospels combined), and the verbal form—live (zaō)—appears 17 times (20 times in the other three Gospels). John’s Gospel reveals the one who created all things (1:3) and in whom is life (1:4). He came into the world to offer the opportunity for new birth, so that people could have new life, becoming children of God (1:12–13; 3:3–8). This Gospel was written so that readers “may have life in his name” (20:31). Eternal life comes to those who believe in Jesus (3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 20:31). He will impart “a well of water springing up for eternal life” (4:14). Not only will believers not see death (8:51; cf. 6:50, 58; 10:28), but they will enjoy a more abundant life (10:10). On the other hand, “if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (8:24).
Life in the Book of Signs
The first half of John’s Gospel contains many statements on “life,” as the previous paragraph will attest, but there are also several actions that Jesus performs that point toward the more abundant life that he came to offer. Consider the signs that provide the basis for the modern label (Book of Signs) for this portion of the Gospel. The miracle that is called the “second sign” (4:54) is the healing of the royal official’s son (4:46–54), who “was about to die” (v. 47). To the anxious father, Jesus assured, “your son will live” (v. 50). Jesus has the power over life and death. Of course, the same thing comes through clearly in the account of the healing of the paralytic by the pool (5:1–15), or the healing of the blind man (9:1–7). Even the first “sign,” turning water into wine (2:1–11), and the later sign, feeding the five thousand (6:5–14), both display Jesus’ ability to provide the basic necessities of life: food and drink. We could say the same thing about the catch of fish at the end of the book (21:4–11), that scene in which Jesus actually cooks breakfast for his disciples (21:12).
And then there is the most obvious of the “signs” that Jesus has the power of life, the resurrection of Lazarus, the account of which shows Jesus identifying himself as “the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25). Raising the dead had been performed in the Old Testament on occasion (e.g. 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:32–35; 13:20–21), and other Gospels narrate other episodes of Jesus raising the dead (Mark 5:35–43; Luke 7:11–15). But Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, and so Jesus was more emotionally involved (John 11:35). Jesus makes no physical contact with Lazarus at all, unlike in the other stories of raising the dead. Jesus does not pray for Lazarus’ life to be restored, as do Elijah and Elisha; he commands it. His call, “Lazarus, come forth!” demonstrated his power like nothing previously had and justified the Gospel’s assertion that “in him was life” (1:4). Ironically, this distribution of life to Lazarus led immediately to the plot to do away with the purveyor of life (11:53), as the religious leaders feared their own demise (v. 48).
Life in the Book of Glory
The second half of John’s Gospel focuses entirely on the final events of Jesus’ life, signaled by the coming of Passover (12:1) and the preparation for Jesus’ burial (12:7). Just as Jesus did not speak clearly in this Gospel about his own death, so also he speaks only cryptically about his resurrection.
This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again.John 10:17–18
But what would those who originally heard this statement have made of it? Only after the Resurrection did the Beloved Disciple “believe” (20:8), though even then he did not “understand” (20:9).
But Jesus knows that death could not be the end, for “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). Or, earlier: “just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself” (5:26). The Resurrection of Jesus confirms what the Gospel has already told us, that Jesus is the source of life. To borrow Peter’s words, “it was not possible for him to be held by death” (Acts 2:24).
Life for Believers
All of this means that Jesus can and will distribute life to his followers. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, so also he will “give life to whom he wants” (5:21). “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (5:25; cf. 6:39; 11:24). Jesus promises a “food that lasts for eternal life” (6:27), which is the bread of God that “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33), later called the “bread of life” (6:35), which grants eternal life (6:47–51). Jesus is that food (6:53–58). His words are life (6:63), as Peter recognized (6:68). Again, there is life in Jesus (5:26, 50), as the Scriptures testify (5:39).
The life that is in Jesus he distributes to believers (14:19). Of course, this doesn’t mean believers do not die (cf. 16:2), but it does mean that death is not the end. So, actually, in a way, believers do not die (6:50). Jesus is the vine, and believers are the branches (15:1–5)—an image of Jesus giving life to his followers. Eternal life revolves around knowing God and Jesus Christ (17:3). But to fail to know them, to fail to receive Jesus, would result in the opposite of life: perishing (3:16), the wrath of God (3:36), death (5:24), condemnation (5:29).
Jesus has life in himself, and he came to bring life. His Resurrection from the dead gives us hope that he will also raise us up on the last day. We who have eaten the bread that came down out of heaven enjoy the more abundant life that Jesus offers.
Questions for Discussion
Why did the raising of Lazarus cause such diverse reactions among those who witnessed it and heard about it? See 11:45–53; 12:9–11.
When Peter and the Beloved Disciple enter the empty tomb, they saw that Jesus was not there, which caused the Beloved Disciple to believe, though “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead” (20:8–9). What did the Beloved Disciple believe at this point? What did he and Peter still fail to understand?
If the flesh of Jesus is the bread of life, and we need to eat that bread in order to live (6:32–59), how should we eat that bread?
Is “life” something that Jesus provides to believers now or in the future? See 5:19–47.
Jesus says that “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (8:51). What does he mean by this statement? See also 6:50, 58; 10:28.