I’ve really enjoyed the recent weeks of devotional study in the gospel of John. As I studied the book on a macroscopic level, I noticed a triperspectival structure to the book, especially in three sequential themes. For those new to triperspectivalism, bear with me while I try to explain.
In simplest terms, triperspectivalism is three (tri) perspectives (perspectivalism) most commonly understood in terms of (1) knowledge (epistemology), viz. normative, existential, and situational; (2) the offices of Christ (Christology), viz., prophet, priest, and king; or (3) practically speaking, the common three-pronged approach to the Christian experience in head, heart, and hands.
I find triperspectivalism in the Gospel of John with three word themes: “Glory”, “Believe”, and “Follow/Keep”. John makes it clear in John 20:30-31 there is an intentional purpose to the structure of His book (built around “signs”). The signs are glimpses of the glory Christ. They are windows which unveil the true identity of Jesus as Messiah, God’s Son. The purpose of God revealing His glory in Christ is so that sinners would believe. Bringing his book to conclusion, John writes:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Signs were performed for the purpose of creating faith. Faith born in the heart of sinners brings life in the name of Jesus. When we see the first “sign” Jesus performed turning the water into wine, John’s commentary confirms this very purpose. In John 2:11, John writes:
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
The miracle of turning water into wine was not simply to turn the wedding party from shame to joy, but to reveal his glory so that his disciples would believe. That’s the deeper work. Revelation of who Jesus necessary led to what his disciples must do – believe in him. This is confirmed in various other places in John’s Gospel, but most notably it is highlighted in Lazarus’ death and resurrection. Jesus explained that his illness and eventual death was for the glory of God (John 11:4) . . . so that you may believe John 11:15). When Lazarus was raised from the dead and Jesus manifested his glory as the resurrection and the life, John wrote that “many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (John 11:45).
The eternal Word of God took on flesh so that we could see his glory, glory of the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14). That’s the point of the incarnation. We know from Scripture that everything exists by this Word and for this Word. The Word is central and normative. What we have in Christ’s earthly life is the revelation of that Word. He is the quintessential Prophet, for not only does he carry the very words of God, Jesus is the Word of God. As Jesus neared the end of his life on earth, he prayed specifically that his disciples would be with him where he is, to see his glory given by his Father (John 17:24). Indeed, the normative nature of the Word will lead to such an outcome where sin is forever removed and glory is fully revealed.
The glory of God is normative, because it is a revelation of who God is in Christ. This revelation should lead to our salvation. Glory is seen “so that we may believe.” John 2:23 says, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” Saving faith is a consequence of seeing glory. In triperspectival terms, the normative nature of God’s revelation of Himself should lead us to an embrace of that revelation (existential) through repentance and faith. Glory brings definition. Believing brings deliverance. What we understand about Jesus in our minds (revelation) should lead to an affectionate embrace of Jesus with our hearts (salvation).
But there’s a third theme in John. It is found in the words “follow” and “keep” – all which speak of how we are to live under the reign and rule of King Jesus. Most familiar in these verses is John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, a heart captured by the love of God will lead a life conformed to the will of God. Again, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). This is the natural implication for sheep. Speaking of the relationship he has with his people, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” In triperspectival terms, this is the situational aspect of the Christian life, where the Christ our King transforms our lives more and more as we become like him. In each “situation” we seek to follow Jesus by keeping his commands, and in doing so, witness his transforming power in an ongoing basis.
If I can summarize the three perspectives in a simple chart, it would look like this:
Again, glory of God is normative. When we see it, the “normalizing” effect is our embrace of who Jesus is by believing in Him. When we experience (existentially) the glory of God, that should lead to a life of ongoing obedience in every situation of our lives as we are more and more conformed to the will of our Savior King. The revelation of God’s glory is the grounds of our salvation, and the ongoing effect of salvation is ongoing transformation. The definite nature of God’s truth opens our eyes to see our need for deliverance from lies and idols and produces in us a life of dependence and trust as we hear the voice of our Shepherd and follow Him. Having our minds illumined to the reality of who Jesus is should engage our hearts where our identity is firmly secured in the finished work of Christ our Great High Priest. The more we rightly understand our identity in Christ, the greater strides of obedience leads to imitation and conformity to Christ-likeness in everyday circumstances (situations). I could massage these perspectives over and over, but I think you get the point.
So what do you think? Is there a triperspectival structure to the gospel of John? I’m led to believe there is, but I’d love to get your thoughts as well.