The environment in which the apostle John and his contemporaries lived was complicated and multiethnic. This community opposed the reality of a hostile municipal government and prevalent beliefs. John was an ecclesiastical leader, attempting to shape his community’s worldview by presenting the Gospel narrative in contrast to their own experience since leadership is the central aim of his writing. Leadership entails making an emotional case for ideals, self-sacrifice, and leadership at times of significant change to inspire people. John’s writing is filled with essential insights about Jesus, his life, and general observations about communities, nations, and early Christians. Thesis: the theological claim is that only truth manifests in divine justice emanating from the kingdom of heaven, but earthly justice is flawed with political, social, and cultural interests.
Justice and Social Environment
Firstly, the passage teaches Christians a moral lesson on what constitutes true justice, which is enabled solely through truth, even in the face of oppression, danger, and conspiracy. The life of Jesus is an example that no ruler, however powerful, can be just without upholding the truth and Word of God. Justice requires fair judgment, which can be obstructed by the social environment. There is an issue with relationships between the Roman government and smaller communities featured in the excerpt. All these aspects are crucial for an understanding of the missional perspective. At the time of Christ, the environment and society were not as globalized as today, but it was challenging enough to find good ways to communicate the truth to people. John’s writing allows readers to learn about the specific environment in which Jesus lived.1 A deeper understanding of that time’s political and social process benefits the knowledge of the missiological perspective. Hence, the essay focuses on how the Jewish community is presented in John 18:28-40.
The agents of power in the Judaic environment are brought together in the passage describing Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate and his communication with the Jewish religious authorities. Aspects of social and cultural textures, particularly representations of honor-shame and patron-client interactions, will be considered in addition to ideological consistency. Current ecclesial leaders should consider how these three influences interact when addressing their communities’ challenges of alienation from modern cultures and civil governments. The trial motif runs through the entire Gospel; it begins with God’s Word being spoken into existence as light in the world and the testimony of the first witness, John, and moves into the future with the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, inspiring Jesus’ followers as they also testify. This is the pivotal moment in this motif.
Justice and Culture
Secondly, the verses provide insight into how cultural differences sip into the system of justice, which does not adhere to the truth. The cultural elements are represented by the Jewish culture and their perception of believers and gentiles. Christians in the modern world can connect to the challenging conditions to which John speaks to a community. Christians were a tiny group and a branch of Judaism, which was seen as officially sanctioned atheism at the time.2 Modern people can better comprehend John’s intention as a leader if they have a basic knowledge of the purpose, time, and place of narration and understand the line in John’s religious community. The Gospel’s authorship is indisputable, supported by numerous scholars and the fact that the apostle narrated the social context of his time in detail.
The discussed passage has the date, place, and purpose, which allows the faithful to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that by believing, one may have life in his name, the apostle states in John 20:31. This Gospel was written specifically for this reason. John utilizes the ambiguous word pisteu (belief, trust, or commit), which might have a didactic or evangelistic connotation to emphasize this idea. 3 Both Jewish and Gentile Christians receiving John’s letter came from cultures that may have pressured churchgoers to revert to their own Jewish or pagan practices. Instead of evangelizing the world, John’s goal as a writer and, more widely, as a leader was to build the church and persuade Christians to reject erroneous teaching. Gnosticism, Docetism, John the Baptist’s followers, unbelieving Jewish attendance, and Hellenized Christians were just a few of the potential problems that the first apostles in general, and John in particular, had to face.4 The context determines how modern believers and theologians perceive this passage from the Holy Scriptures.
Additional Context: Romans
The above point on cultural elements can be illustrated through the additional context of Romans. It was impossible to avoid aggression, violence from the side of the authorities, persecution, and public despises when people decided to follow Jesus during his life and missionary work. Religious leaders wanted to murder him to blame Pilate and claim it was the Passover. So they could not participate. According to Luke, Herod accused the religious authorities and transferred responsibility to Pilate.5 When all the components for Jesus’ death were in place—the Romans, the tools, and a sweltering furious audience that was blood-hungry for entertainment on this important holiday—it looked to be everyone else’s fault.6 John was the fourth Gospel written; it was reported last and did not include the same amount of information as the other three.7
Justice and Politics
The impact of political interests on earthly justice is the biggest lesson in the verses, which demonstrates that divine justice can manifest itself even in this world if the truth is upheld. The end result is that the conspirators against Jesus are subjected to shame and dishonor, while the one who stands by truth makes even the earthly court act in accordance with the verdict of the divine Jesus wisely distinguished between the kingdom of heaven and Roman kingdom explicitly, which provides insight into how divine justice promised by God is clearly different from justice carried by his adversaries. John wishes to convey the idea that the Jews were humiliated in front of the atheistic Romans, not merely in the historical trial setting but in the present-day, late-first-century environment. He achieves this by showing how the Jews failed to prevail in their debate with Pilate’s challenge-riposte competition. John emphasizes that Pontius Pilate, the patron of the Jewish leadership, did not want to accuse Jesus. The relationships between Romans and Jews were shameful on a social and cultural level.
The first example of honor-shame dynamics is given in the text. There are hints that Pilate and the Jews had already discussed their preparations for Jesus Christ. Probably, Roman troops were there in John 18:3, and Pilate was aware of the Jewish plans in 18:33 due to his apparent awareness of the accusations against Jesus.8 In contrast, Pilate does not mention this history in his exchange with the Jewish leaders in verse 18:31. He acts as though he is unaware of any prior discussions of the topic, which is the exact reverse of how he pretends. He inquires about the accusations made against Jesus by the Jews while feigning ignorance about them.
Pilate’s declaration that Jesus was innocent ought to have put an end to the situation. However, the Jews had made it evident in John 18:31 that Pilate already understood what they wanted and acted according to the crowd’s will and the Jewish religious authorities. The Jewish elite wished to safeguard their position; the average Jewish person was yearning for a political, revolutionary answer. Rome was only attempting to maintain quiet in a volatile region via pragmatism, yet, all three strategies would be ineffective.9 No political messiah, political appeasement, or political manipulation could be a replacement for proper redemption, as the passage from the Bible shows.
The Gospel of John demonstrates that only truth manifests in divine justice emanating from the kingdom of heaven, but earthly justice is flawed with political, social, and cultural interests. Many decisions had a tremendous effect on Jesus, whose life was influenced by numerous factors, including the specific events and processes relevant to that time. The comprehension of the Bible is improved when the context of the past is understood. Therefore, upon interpreting John’s writing, several conclusions could be made. Pilate’s decision was heavily influenced by the relationship between the Roman government he represented and the Jewish community pursuing its interests. The risks of unrest determined the trial’s outcome as Pilate wanted to avoid an uprising and punish those who were causing troubles previously. That is why John’s writing aims at amplifying the shaming of the Jews as a community. Hence, believers should never forget God and the divine mission.
- 1 Joel B. Green, and Lee Martin McDonald, The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), n.p. Kindle ed.
- 2 Joel B. Green, and Lee Martin McDonald, The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), n.p. Kindle ed.
- 3 Joel B. Green, and Lee Martin McDonald, The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), n.p. Kindle ed.
- 4 Joel B. Green, and Lee Martin McDonald, The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), n.p. Kindle ed.
- 5 King James Version, 1969/2017, Luke 23:5-12.
- 6 King James Version, 1969/2017, Luke 23:5-12.
- 7 Green and McDonald, n.p.
- 8 King James Version, 1969/2017, John 18:33.
- 9 Green and McDonald, n.p.