Jesus is “one” with the God he calls “Father” (Jn 10:30). According to John’s testimony, Jesus’ relation to his Father—his eternal divine origin from the Father (Jn 1:14, 18) and his eternal divine orientation toward the Father (Jn 1:1-2)—provides the most comprehensive framework for understanding Jesus’ person and work (Jn 16:28).
1. Right from the start of his public ministry, Jesus provokes questions regarding his origin and destiny. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). “Rabbi …, where are you staying?” (Jn 1:38). And questions—including scandalous intimations (e.g., Jn 8:41; 12:48)—regarding Jesus’ origin and destiny proliferate as the Gospel unfolds (Jn 6:41-42; 7:27, 41-42, 52; 9:21-22, 29-30; 12:34; 19:9). According to John, questions about who Jesus is and what he came to do can only be answered by addressing questions about where he comes from and where he is going. The same is true when it comes to the various messianic titles and roles that Jesus bears and fulfills in John’s Gospel. The Gospel presents Jesus’ disciples confessing the truth regarding his identity by means of several conventional messianic titles. He is confessed to be “the Son of God,” “the King of Israel,” and “the one who comes” (Jn 1:15, 27, 34, 49; 6:14; 11:27; 12:13, 15; cf. 19:14-15). John also portrays Jesus as the one who fulfills the roles of various figures closely associated with messianic expectations, most importantly for John, Daniel’s “Son of Man” who is to be “lifted up” as Isaiah’s “Servant” (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 8:28; 12:23-24, 41). Though these titles and figures rightly identify Jesus, in these instances too, their full significance can only be grasped in light of Jesus’ divine origin and divine orientation. According to the Fourth Evangelist, Jesus’ sonship, kingship, and “coming” are not “of this world” (Jn 3:31; 8:23; 13:1, 3; 16:28; 18:36). Though he comes into the world after John the Baptist, Jesus ranks higher than John the Baptist because he existed before John the Baptist (Jn 1:15; 27; cf. 1:1-2; 8:35, 58). In similar fashion, the Son is “above all things” (cf. Jn 10:29) because he comes into the world “from above,” “from heaven” (Jn 3:31; 6:32; 8:23). Herein lies the true source of confusion regarding Jesus’ identity and mission. Because the “whence” and “whither” of Jesus’ person and work transcend the world of time and space, he repeatedly confounds those who seek to understand him according to a worldly standard of measurement (John 1:5, 11; 3:1-12, 19, 31-32; 8:15).
2. The transcendent character of Jesus’ origin is expressed by several filial titles. (1) Jesus is God’s monogenēs. Though scholars continue to debate the precise meaning of this term, it signals from the prologue Jesus’ divine filial status. He is “the monogenēs God” (Jn 1:18). The second person of the Trinity alone holds this title in John’s Gospel (the rest are God’s “children” [Jn 1:12; 11:52]), identifying him as the supreme object of the Father’s love and, consequently, the supreme measure of the Father’s love in saving the world (Jn 3:16-17, with 3:35; 17:24; cf. Heb 11:17). (2) Jesus is “the Son.” Used in close conjunction with monogenēs (see John 3:16-18, 35-36), the Son title in its absolute form also signals Jesus’ transcendent filial status. As the special object of the Father’s love, the Son is the unique recipient of the Father’s “grants” (on which, see below). According to John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” In addition to the grant of universal sovereignty, the Father grants the Son his own name, self-existence, all judgment, honor, and glory (Jn 5:22, 23, 26; 17:11-12, 24). YHWH’s “granting” of authority to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 may provide a model for the aforementioned grants. But, in the Gospel of John, the Son of Man’s “grant” is more limited in nature than that of the Son, applying specifically to the sphere of eschatological judgment (Jn 5:27). The Son’s grant, however, is all-encompassing: all that the Father is, all that the Father does, he grants to the Son as well (Jn 5:19-27, where “the Son” is used 8x, “the Son of God” 1x, and “the Son of Man” 1x). (3) Jesus is “the Son of God.” As noted above, “son of God” is a conventional messianic title, referring to the heir of the Davidic throne. However, in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ status as “the Son of God” is not reducible to his Davidic lineage. Jesus is “the Son of God” set apart by the Father and sent into the world (Jn 10:36). “In Johannine use,” Jörg Frey rightly observes, “the traditional title ‘Son of God’ clearly implies more than mere messiahship: It distinguishes Jesus from all other humans and assigns him to the side of God.” Corresponding to titles that signify his unique filial relation to God, (4) Jesus, in turn, calls God his “Father” (Jn 5:17; 8:19, 38, 49, 54; 10:18, 29, 37; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25; etc.). In John 5, Jesus’ opponents take this ascription as a claim that God is Jesus’ “own” natural relative, amounting to a claim that Jesus is “equal with God” (Jn 5:18). Though the charge is only half-true (Jesus is not “making himself” equal with God), it well-expresses a central feature of Johannine theology: the natural kinship of the Father and the Son is the basis of all they hold in common, of all they do in common. All that the Son is, all that the Son does is traceable to his transcendent origin from above, rather than from below, from heaven, rather than from earth, from “the Father” (John 3:31; 8:23, 27).
3. As terms that signify natural kinship, the titles “Father” and “Son” identify two relatives whose relation is established by a single act that might be variously described as “fathering” or “begetting” on the one hand and “being fathered” or “being begotten” on the other. The Fourth Gospel does not narrate the act that establishes the relation between these two relatives for the simple reason that it is not susceptible to narration. As we have already seen, the Father-Son relation transcends time and space. Therefore, it transcends narratability. The Father-Son relation is wholly complete, wholly realized, wholly perfect. It “was” in the beginning (Jn 1:1). That said, the Fourth Gospel uses a wide array of verbs to describe the character of this relation. For though this relation is wholly realized, it is also wholly alive. The Father is variously described as one who “loves” the Son (Jn 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 17:24) and as one who has “given” to the Son his name, self-existence, and authority (Jn 3:35; 5:26; 13:3; 17:6, 11-12, 24). Likewise, the Son is variously described as one who has “seen” the unseen God (Jn 1:18; 3:11, 32; 6:46; 8:38) and as one who has “heard” the unheard God (Jn 3:32; 5:37; 8:26; 8:40; 15:15). As the various contexts indicate, these verbs describe eternal acts, eternal modes of relating within the wholly realized, wholly alive Father-Son relation. This eternal Father-Son relation, along with the eternal acts that characterize it, furthermore, are internal to God’s being. These acts characterize the eternal, internal relation between God and his “inward Logos,” who in the beginning was toward God, facing God, reposing at God’s side (Jn 1:1, 18). This is why we must describe the Son’s relation to the Father as one of both origin and orientation: he is the eternal Son of the Father, eternally turned toward the Father in attentive adoration. This relation, finally, is what qualifies Jesus to fulfill the work he came to fulfill. Note well: because the Father-Son relation is truly eternal, we are not talking about the past tense of the Son’s existence, something that happened “way back when.” We are talking about an abiding stance, the abiding relation of “he who comes” into the world, which qualifies him to perform the work he came to perform. It is the Son’s eternal reception of and attention to the Father’s name, the Father’s life, the Fathers words, and the Father’s face that qualify the Son in time to proclaim the Father’s name and to grant eternal life, which consists ultimately in knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent (Jn 1:1, 18; 3:11, 32; 5:26-27; 6:46; 8:38; 17:2-3, 11-12, 26).