«Behold the Human Being» — «It is Finished»

Протоиерей Джон Бэр

Albert Pinkham Ryder «Resurrection» (1885)
Albert Pinkham Ryder «Resurrection» (1885)
Источник: The Phillips Collection

Продолжение. Предыдущая публикация: Destroying Death by Death

The Gospel of John commences where Matthew, Mark, and Luke conclude.

In their accounts, it is only at the end—with the opening of the scriptures by the slain Lamb—that the disciples finally know who Christ.

But this is the very point at which the Gospel of John begins.

After the opening verses (known as the «Prologue»), the narrative begins with the Baptist crying out when he sees Jesus: «Behold the Lamb of God” (John1:29).

Then, when Philip told Nathaniel,

«we have found the one of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote,»

Christ subsequently tells him, «you will see greater things than these» (John 1:44–51)!

The movement from the other Gospels to John parallels the phrase in the liturgy of St John Chrysostom:

«in the night in which he was given up, no, rather, gave himself up…»

The movement from one to the other, from a human, historical perspective, to a divine, eternal perspective, is vital for all true theology.

In the other Gospels, the disciples see Christ being put to death and flee in fear. Again, to drive the point home: it was not seeing the empty tomb or even meeting the risen Christ unknowingly that persuaded them. It was, rather, the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of the bread. Only in this way did they now know that this is the one spoken of in scripture—that he is, for instance, the suffering servant of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, the one who, although no guile was found on his lips, nevertheless willingly bore our sins upon himself, silently as a lamb, going to the slaughter, to offer propitiation to God (Isa 53).

Only now do the disciples know that he went not only voluntarily to his death,

but gave himself in a total and absolute self-offering,

for, unlike the rest of us, death had no hold on him.

By the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread,

we move from «he was given up» to «he gave himself up.»

This is what we see in the transition from the other Gospels to that of John.

In his Gospel, John depicts Christ as the exalted Lord from the beginning.

Christ repeatedly tells his disciples that he is from above

—from the heavens, born of the Father

while they are from below

—from the earth, born of Adam. 

As such, if Christ goes to the Cross, he does so voluntarily,

and therefore his elevation on the cross is his exaltation in glory. 

Identified as the Lamb of God from the beginning of the Gospel,

Christ is crucified, naturally, at the time of the slaying of the lamb in the temple,

rather than on the following day as in the other gospels. 

And his crucifixion is now depicted differently.

He is not abandoned, for his mother and beloved disciple are there,

And his words are not the cry of abandonment

as in the other gospels, where there is no answer,

so that our attention is relentlessly focused on the Crucified One as the Word of God.

Rather, after addressing his mother and beloved disciple, with words we will consider later, Christ says with stately majesty:

«It is finished,» and he «hands over the Spirit» (John19:30).

What is finished?

Is it the work of God that is finished?

But what is this?

An account of healing told only in John might give us a clue to this.

The blind man healed by Christ was born blind not because of his fault or that of his parents

but, as Christ says,

«in order that the works of God might be made manifest» (John 9:3).

St Irenaeus points out that the way Christ then heals the blind man,

by mixing spit and earth,

parallels our initial fashioning,

by mixing the power of God and the dust of the earth.

So, St Irenaeus concludes,

«The work of God is the fashioning of the human being.» 

We are back to the human being.

But what is this «human being»—the handiwork that God devotes himself to?

«What is the human being that you are mindful of him?»

(Psalm 8:4)

For an answer to this, we must, of course, turn back to Genesis.

When we do so, we will find a striking difference in the way that God’s activity is described in the first chapter of Genesis.

Scripture begins with God issuing commands:

Let there be light—and there was light.

Let there be a firmament …

Let the waters under the heavens be gathered …

Let the earth put forth vegetation …

Let there be light in the firmament …

Let water bring forth swarms of living creatures …

Let the earth bring forth living creatures …

This divine «fiat»—«Let it Be»—is sufficient

to bring all these creatures into existence:

«and it was so … and it was good.»

Having declared all these things into existence by a word alone,

God then announces his own project—not with an injunction

​​but in the subjunctive:

«Let us make the human being (anthrōpos) in our image, ​​​​​​after our likeness.” (Gen 1:26)

​This is the work of God.

​This is what he has set his mind to.

​This is what he specifically deliberates about.

​This is the divine purpose and resolve.

And this is the only thing that is not followed by the words «and it was so.»

This project of God, God’s own work, is not completed by his word alone.

In fact, God does not even simply and solely make a human being (anthrōpos)

at that point;

​​instead he makes males and females…

Only with the culmination of all theology in the Gospel of John do we hear that the work of God is complete. Shortly before Christ declares that it is «finished,» we hear confirmation of the completion of God’s project in the words uttered unwittingly by Pilate: «Behold the man»

(literally: «human being,» anthrōpos)

(John 19:5).

Christ, over whom death had no claim, so that he genuinely went voluntarily to his death, conquering death by his death, is the first true human being in history. «He is the image of the invisible God,» as Paul asserts (Col 1:15).

The work of God is complete, and the Lord of creation now rests from his work in the tomb on the blessed Sabbath.

«Moses the great mystically prefigured this present day, saying: ‘And God blessed the seventh day.’ For this is the blessed Sabbath, this is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all his works, through the economy of death he kept the Sabbath in the flesh, and returning again through the resurrection he has granted us eternal life, for he alone is good and loves humankind (literally loves anthrōpos)»

(Doxastikon, Holy Saturday Vespers)

This hymn does not compare Christ’s «rest» after his Passion

with the «rest» of God back in time immemorial.

Instead, it makes an absolute identification.

It does not say: as he rested back then, so he is now resting again.

It says, instead: This is the blessed Sabbath.

This is a very concrete example of how there is no historical distance at all in the liturgical celebration of the Church.

And more, the work of God is completed in the present, as will be discussed below.

The project, the work of God announced at the beginning is completed at the end by one who is God.

As Maximus put it:

Christ, as human, completes what he himself, as God,

has predetermined to take place.

If this is the case, then we have yet to become human—and,

as St Ignatius

testifies so resoundingly, we only and finally do so by following Christ

through our own martyria,

our own witness and confession of him.