I come to the twentieth chapter of John’s gospel once more, in awe as always of its simple but fathomless power. Recent writers have explored the way in which John’s gospel is focussed on the Temple in Jerusalem, and though the Temple is not mentioned in this chapter, John is the kind of writer who hopes that his readers will have picked up where things are going by now, and will make the connections for themselves. So what has he said so far, and how does it play out in this chapter?
Already in the Prologue, which balances chapter 20 in so many ways as the framework for the gospel, John has declared that the Word became flesh and tabernacled in our midst; he pitched his tent, came to dwell among us as in the Temple; and, in case there were any doubt, John says ”˜and we beheld his glory’. The return of God’s glory to dwell in the midst of his people was the great, unrealized hope of the last four hundred years before the time of Jesus; the Jewish people had come back from exile, but God’s glory, the Shekinah, had not returned. The later prophets insisted that God would come back, but nobody ever claimed it had happened. And this was the more to be regretted, because the Old Testament, in a wide variety of ways, had indicated that the Temple, and the presence of the living God within it, was to be the sign and the means of God’s filling not just a building but the whole earth with his glory.
But it is a main theme of the New Testament, often unnoticed, that the return of the Glory to dwell with God’s people was precisely what was going on in the ministry, and supremely in the death and resurrection, of Jesus.