Messianic Expectations, Fulfillment, and Redefinition in the Gospel according to John

A general assumption exists in New Testament scholarship that “Christ” quickly became used as a name rather than as a title within the first few decades after the resurrection. This assumption perhaps is most common in Pauline scholarship outside of a small group of New Perspective scholars. Many passages in the New Testament demonstrate this usage. However, the Gospel according to John is an exception because “Christ” always, or almost always, is a title rather a name in this Gospel.

Presenting Jesus as the Messiah is central to John’s purpose (20:31). How did John present Jesus as Messiah? The proposed presentation will focus on one aspect of this question, the author’s presentation of and interaction with messianic expectations. The presentation will demonstrate that the author of the Gospel answered a wide variety of messianic expectations in a variety of ways.

The first part of the presentation will describe messianic expectations as they existed in the first century. Broadly speaking, there were expectations for a Prophet like Moses, for a king like David, and for a priestly Messiah. In practice, these expectations often were combined in various ways, for example into an expected warrior-king.

The second part of the presentation will describe explicit and implicit depictions of those expectations in the Gospel. The focus in this section will be on how the author depicted and portrayed messianic expectations in the narrative, rather than on a survey of messianic titles or some other approach. Some of these expectations are depicted as vague and others as straightforward. Some clearly are based on Scripture and others are more popular in nature. In some cases expectations of one group conflict with those of another group.

The third part of the presentation will demonstrate how the author interacted with then-current messianic expectations in the Gospel. These interactions fit into three general categories: the expectations were affirmed, redirected, or redefined.

The presentation will conclude that John presented Jesus as fulfilling scriptural messianic expectations but also as redefining and redirecting other, popular, messianic expectations. The author’s interaction with a broad range of expectations demonstrates that the Gospel was intended to address broader questions outside of a narrow sectarian community. Presenting Jesus as Messiah, and the nature of his Messiahship, was still a significant subject several decades after the resurrection when the Gospel according to John was written.