Waiting. It’s easy to think negatively about this word. We don’t like waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for dinner to be done, or waiting for news from the doctor. Waiting often feels like some sort of punishment.
Yet waiting can also signify an expectant hope. We are entering Advent, the season signifying an expectant waiting for the coming of Jesus, God incarnate. The gospels give an account of the coming of Jesus, and we are going to be looking at selections from the gospel of John as a church. Since we tend to read ourselves into the story of the Bible prematurely, let’s take a moment to look at the original audience for whom the book was first written: the Gentiles and Jews.
What Were the Gentiles Waiting For?
As John was writing his gospel near the end of the first century A.D., the Greco-Roman world consisted of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles (Gentile simply means “not a Jew”). Let’s look first at the Gentiles and what they were waiting for.
To the people living in the Greco-Roman world, logic and reason were esteemed above all else – to the point where the material world was seen as flawed and something evil that they needed to get away from. Their hope was in their ability to put off earthly desires and to pursue knowledge. At the achievement of this pursuit, their souls at death could be freed from their weak, earthly bodies and live in heaven as immortal, spiritual souls.
The first line of the John 1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word.” To the Greeks, “logos” (the Greek for ‘word’) was a divine principle of reason and knowledge that gave order to the universe. Their view was quickly challenged by John, however, as he wrote in verse fourteen that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Think back to what they had put their hope in – getting away from their physical bodies. How could it be that God would take on human flesh and enter into the flawed material world? His coming to creation would affirm some goodness in and significance of the creation as well as a personal aspect of the divine (not just some impersonal reason), which would have puzzled and gotten the attention of the Greeks.
What Were the Jews Waiting For?
Let’s look at the Jews next. Unlike the Gentiles, the Jews believed that God was the personal creator of the universe. However, the Jews were waiting expectantly for God to come down in judgment and free them from oppression in their present reality. They knew of God’s power from the Exodus account in the Old Testament, when He saved His people from oppression. They were waiting for a powerful, immediate second exodus.
As with the Gentiles, John pushes back on the Jewish expectations. Let’s look again at the first line of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…” This would have reminded the Jews of the first line of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” John is immediately focusing the Jewish readers on Yhwh, the God of Israel. Yet, he continues in John 1:1 with “…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Looking again at John 1:14, he writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The language he uses here could be translated to “pitched his tent,” which would remind Jews of how God manifested his presence with the Israelites in the Old Testament through a tabernacle.
Throughout his gospel, John explains how the person of Jesus, the Word, took on human form – fully God and fully man. He especially emphasizes Jesus’ divinity. The same God who created the universe, redeemed the Israelites from Egypt, and promised to fully renew all of creation, has come to Earth as Jesus of Nazareth. This news was very confusing for the Jews, as God was not returning to free them in a quick, dramatic show of power over nations, but as a human who was strengthened by the Spirit, lived as a teacher of his disciples, served the weak and outcasts, and died on a cross to bear the sins of his people.
What About You?
The Jews and Gentiles were putting their hope in man-made ideas and human ability. We tend to fall into a similar trap of the devil. We often put our hope in our own strength and resources to secure our own futures.
As you think about the coming Christmas season and New Year, what are you eagerly awaiting? Is it the thought of a new job, a raise, a relationship, a bigger house, or a clear medical report? Are you looking for an escape from your present reality?
In studying the gospel of John this advent season, we invite you to re-focus and put your hope in the Second Advent: the full renewal of all of God’s creation. God is not going to come and snatch us out of a broken material world – as we see in the Bible, he is going to restore His broken world (which he willing entered into) and fully reunite His creation to Himself.
Put your hope in God’s power. Celebrate His coming to Earth in the person of Jesus. Draw near to Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit. Wait eagerly and expectantly for God’s renewal of all things.
*this blog post was put together by the Gateway Theology & Research Team. If you would like information about being on the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org