Dissertation Abstract

On November 8th, from 8:30 to 11:00, I will defend my PhD dissertation. The title is THE REALIZATION OF THE HEAVENLY TEMPLE IN JOHN’S GOSPEL: JESUS AND THE SPIRIT.  The following paragraphs are the abstract of my dissertation. . . .

The dissertation seeks to demonstrate that the Gospel of John’s “temple replacement” theme is more accurately described as a “heavenly temple realization” theme. When examined through the lens of Johannine pneumatology, Jesus comes into focus as the realization of the heavenly temple.

Many first-century Jews believed that the true temple was located in the heavens. The Jerusalem temple was considered an earthly focal point of that heavenly reality. The eschaton would realize the heavenly temple on earth, and from this new temple would flow a world-wide restoration. In the post-A.D. 70 shadow of the destroyed temple, the Fourth Evangelist described Jesus as the embodiment of this heavenly/eschatological reality. While the destruction of the second temple removed a man-made gateway to heaven, Jesus’ removal to heaven (or “glorification”) was a return to his original heavenly habitation. From heaven, the eschatological Spirit would flow from the exalted Jesus to the people of his name. Jesus embodied the more transcendent reality of the heavenly temple, and his return to heaven occasioned an expanded and internalized realization of God’s presence through the renewing Spirit.

In order to substantiate the above position, the dissertation adopts a biblical-theological approach to the Fourth Gospel and treats the canonical text in its final form as the primary source. Although the presence of the temple and Spirit themes will be demonstrated from the text itself, many secondary works also will be utilized as stepping stones from which these recognized themes will be given greater definition. Such a reading will not read greater definition “into” the text but rather read the themes in light of the religious/cultural context of the literary work.

The literature of the Second Temple period will serve as the primary-source window into the religious/cultural context of John’s Gospel. From the OT and Second Temple literature, this dissertation will establish: (1) the ubiquity of the concept that an earthly temple was a gateway to the true heavenly temple; and (2) the expectation for Yahweh’s renewed presence with an eschatological temple from which restorative waters would flow throughout the earth. In addition, the eschatological temple was expected to realize something of the true heavenly temple. (3) The Spirit was a common depiction of Yahweh’s presence among his people, in the temple, and in the eschaton. (4) Many expected the Spirit to accomplish an intensified and expanded eschatological renewal in God’s people that would spread to the nations. (5) The Spirit-filled Messiah would usher in this eschatological age.

By establishing the widespread occurrence of the above antecedents, John’s utilization of these concepts becomes more historically probable. In his presentation, the Fourth Evangelist combines these antecedent notions and makes implicit connections explicit. John’s ultimate goal in utilizing these concepts is to urge belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31). For John, all the eschatological promises are focused upon Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the eschatological center in heaven, from whom flows the living water of the Spirit.

In addition to the OT and Second Temple literature, John’s temple realization theme shares affinity with other NT writings. Revelation 21:22 describes the Lamb himself as the new temple in the eschaton. Other NT texts demonstrate the early and prevalent belief in the Messiah seated at the right hand of God’s heavenly throne as well as the belief that the Messiah would be the one who pours out the Spirit. The Fourth Evangelist simply pulls the eschatological promise of the new temple into the Messiah’s résumé since the eschatological temple is expected to be the source of renewing waters.

When the Fourth Gospel is read in light of these recognized concepts, John’s literary presentation argues that he incorporated and developed the above ideas into a heavenly temple realization theme.

A careful reading of John’s Gospel demonstrates the validity of the thesis. In the first half of the Gospel, the framework for a heavenly temple realization theme is set in the prologue, which prepares the reader to understand the Jesus story within a heavenly framework. Within this heavenly framework, John’s presentation progresses from Jesus as the tabernacle (1:14), to the new Bethel (1:51), to the temple (2:21), to Jerusalem being obsolete as the sole place of worship (4:21), and then to Jesus as the eschatological temple from whom flows the promised Spirit (7:37–39). The Spirit-streams do “not yet” flow until Jesus returns to his heavenly glory. At that time, the eschatological water of the Spirit would be given—the efflux of the heavenly temple would flow throughout the earth via “those who believed in him.” John 11:48–52 provides a final ironic treatment of the Jerusalem temple, reinforcing that Jesus has fulfilled the temple and its cult. Those who believe in Jesus will be gathered together as the messianic children of God with the Messiah himself as the new cultic center.

John weaves his story such that Jesus fulfills the temple in the first half of his Gospel and the corollaries of that are spelled out in the second half as Jesus prepares the community for his departure. In the second half of John’s Gospel, the temple theme recedes because it is a type that supports Jesus’ identity. The type has given way to reality, and that heavenly reality is the personal presence of the glorified Son. The reality of the personal presence of the Father and Son is mediated to the community through the Spirit. For this reason, the Spirit grows more personal and significant in the last half of John’s Gospel.

From heaven, the Son sends the Spirit-presence who is no longer a cultic manifestation as much as a realization of the familial presence of Father and Son. Temple imagery has been eclipsed by relational imagery signaling a true realization of the Father’s personal presence to his children. This language dominates the Farewell Discourse and its Paraclete passages. The glorified Jesus sends the Spirit Paraclete to realize the heavenly realities in the community. The messianic community then is tasked with testifying and spreading these heavenly truths throughout the world (20:21–22).

Throughout John’s Gospel, several interwoven themes and terms support a heavenly realization theme. For instance, the Fourth Evangelist applies “glory, presence, and name” terminology to Jesus throughout his Gospel, first in temple imagery and then in personal imagery. In the Farewell Discourse this terminology is used to describe the glorified Jesus realizing the divine presence in, and through, the disciples. The occurrence of this terminology supports a heavenly temple realization theme, especially in combination with the themes related to Jesus’ origin and return to heaven. Jesus’ return to heaven, “from above/heaven,” “ascending/descending,” and “sending” themes consistently set Jesus’ identity and origin in the heavens. Because these themes also assume that Jesus will continue a ministry that spans from heaven to earth, they offer collaborating support for Jesus realizing heavenly realities.

Johannine dualism and eschatology also cohere with a heavenly temple realization theme. Jesus bridges the dualistic divide between heaven and earth to realize presently eschatological blessings. These blessings include the renewing waters of the Spirit flowing from Jesus, the heavenly temple.

The dissertation’s reading of the temple and Spirit themes in John’s Gospel provides an original and coherent understanding of these themes firmly based in the historical/religious context of the Fourth Evangelist. The data from the Second Temple period, combined with the Fourth Evangelist’s own pneumatological presentation, argue that John’s temple replacement theme is described more accurately as a heavenly temple realization theme.

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