I recently re-watched Apollo 13, a movie about a mission to the moon that went horribly wrong. The events, and thus the movie, were set in 1970 when I was just a baby. I have no recollection of the actual event, the only access I have to it are historical reports and the re-creation of that event by Hollywood.
As I watched the movie, I looked online to discover that you can read transcripts of the actual give-and-take between the astronauts and ground control. I found this far more interesting, but also far less entertaining than the movie. The words on the page failed to capture the emotional intensity of men who are trapped in a hostile environment where a single mistake could kill them instantly… or slowly and horribly.
As we’ve been “setting the table” for an extended study of the Gospel of John, we’ve been examining the history that sits behind what John wrote. One major historical event is the destruction of the Jewish Temple in a.d. 70. This was a shocking blow to the Jewish community as the Roman Empire looted, burned, and razed the single location where the Jewish Law allowed for the practice of their religion. There are no direct transcripts of the event, though there are historical reports after the fact. These reports, like the ones from the Apollo mission, don’t capture the emotional depth of the loss. This central feature of the ancient Jewish religion provided a location for the forgiveness of sin, the celebration of God, and the unity of His people. It was a point of national pride and international acclaim. The Temple complex was the focal point of God’s interaction with all of humanity… and it was wiped out. The Romans minted coins that celebrated their victory over the Jews that trumpeted “Judaea Capta,” Judea is captured. The coin depicts a victorious Roman beside an enslaved Israelite.
Sunday’s sermon considered the life of a priest who lived through these events. Can you imagine? Someone who had been born into the office of a priest, worked his entire life to serve as a priest and then, in one event, had it all stripped away? The Gospel of John speaks into this world, recording the life of Jesus from a theological viewpoint and a distinct purpose: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn. 20:30-31 NIV)
John wrote so that people in the late first century, after the destruction of the Temple, might understand and believe in Jesus. That purpose hasn’t changed. The Gospel of John was written that you might also believe…