Monday, October 15, 2012

"See How He Loved Him!": Lazarus, the Love of God, and the Resurrection of the Dead (Part III)

Below is Part III of my final theology paper for my Resurrection in the New Testament Class, in which I conclude my remarks on the raising of Lazarus and discuss the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus as another act of divine love. Part IV will conclude my paper with a discussion of the eschatological resurrection of the dead. See also Part I and Part II.

In depicting a Christ who weeps out of love at the death of a friend, yet who also publicly declares, “I am the Resurrection,” the author of the Fourth Gospel establishes an inseparable nexus between the raising of the dead to new life and the sacred bond of divine love—a bond of love so strong that it will ultimately lead to the cross. The return of Lazarus from the grave is a proleptic microcosm that foreshadows the resurrection of Christ and, as we shall see below, the future resurrection of the dead. In other words, “The raising of Lazarus is the Gospel in miniature.”[1] When Jesus later claims that “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13), the author of the Fourth Gospel completes the relationship between the love that brought Lazarus out of the tomb and the love which motivated Christ to enter it.
The Resurrection of Jesus
There has long been an understanding that the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of divine love—that is, it is commonly accepted that love was the motivator for Christ’s submission to the cross. “Through his death,” claims Jo-Ann Brant, “our relationship with him is not severed but strengthened, because his dying reveals his love for us.”[2] Furthermore, “[The Fourth Gospel] understands Jesus’s death as the consummate expression of divine love, but recognizes that this is only apparent in retrospect, from the vantage point of the resurrection.”[3] It makes little sense, then, to assume that the resurrection and vindication of God’s Messiah would not also be a continuance and intensification of that same love. However, following the death of Jesus, love is seldom mentioned in conjunction with his resurrection. The purpose of this section is to discuss the possibility that in order to fully grasp the theological implications of the empty tomb, one must explore the resurrection of Jesus as another act of love in connection with his death on a cross.
The concept of love in the Fourth Gospel fundamentally involves the act of giving and sacrifice,[4] and this is illustrated quite well in Johannine theology—“For God so loved the kovsmon, he gave his only son…” This giving is further implied in Peter’s “reinstatement” in ch. 21. As Christ submitted himself to death in the cross out of love, so God rewarded Christ with a vindicated, transformed body. Therefore, when Jesus questions Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, he is also dictating to Peter the mark of true discipleship, that is, love submits itself to and receives its reward from the Source of Love. The cost of the eschatological promise is mutual submission and “feeding lambs” and “tending sheep” here in the present reality.
If we build upon our earlier assumption that the Fourth Gospel has fashioned Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple, it is not difficult to imagine the source of his “seeing and believing” at the empty tomb of Christ; Lazarus would have recognized the signs of one who has been raised from the dead through the power of love—the very love that called Lazarus forth from his own grave in ch. 11.[5] Yet unlike Lazarus, the Jesus that was laid in the tomb is not quite the Jesus that emerges on Easter morning. “In the resurrection God’s love for Jesus transforms him, attaining for Jesus his ultimate good and becoming, by anticipation, the embodiment of God’s new creation.”[6] It is the defining love of God that raises Jesus and transforms him into the living icon of New Creation. As the raising of Lazarus constituted a microcosmic illustration of what divine love envisioned in Christ looks like, so the resurrection of Christ has macrocosmic significance. The divine love illustrated in the body of the risen Lord as he calls Mary the Magdalene by name and as he hails the frustrated disciples from the shore of the lake is the result of the fulfillment of God’s ultimate cosmological plan for the salvation of the universe and the redemption of all things.
We now see that love is the impetus for both the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ. Yet, unlike Lazarus, Jesus becomes the opportunity through which the resurrection of all believers is made possible—he is, as Paul says, the first-fruits of the dead. “The risen Jesus is the living embodiment, the historical anticipation, of that realization and perfection towards which transformative love moves."[7] The confession of Christ coming in the flesh in 1 John 4:2 refers not only to the initial incarnation of the Logos in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, but also to the resurrected Christ physically returning from the grave, clothed anew in that which is incorruptible: the transformative love of God.

[1] Sandra Schneiders, 52
[2] Jo-Ann A. Brant, “A Sure Thing: Death and Eternal Life in the Gospel of John,” Vision 5, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 62.
[3] Craig R. Koester, 123
[4] Paul S. Naumann, “The Presence of Love in John's Gospel,” Worship 39, no. 6 (June-July 1965): 369.
[5] Floyd V. Filson, 86
[6] Lyle K. Weiss, 200
[7] Ibid, 202

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