Throughout his life on earth Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom he promised had not yet come . The question is then, when would this kingdom come? St John gives us the answer, as an aside when Jesus was celebrating the feast of the Tabernacles. It was the final day called ‘The Day of Hosannas’.
A priest carried a large bowl of water from the pool of Siloam into the temple followed by a long procession. Once there, the water from the bowl was poured out in front of the altar to ‘commemorate’ the rock that Moses had struck in the desert to save his people from dying from thirst.
Whilst he was doing this a prophetic text was read out from Isaiah. It looked forward to the living waters that would be poured out when the Messiah would inaugurate the new world order promised by God through the Prophets. This was the moment that Jesus chose to speak out in a loud voice so that all could hear him, claiming to be the new and living rock prefigured by the rock struck by Moses in the desert. His words speak for themselves:-
“If any man is thirsty let him come to me! Let the man come and drink, who believes in me. As the scripture says: From his breast shall flow fountains of living water.”
Then, after describing the event and quoting what Jesus had said, John added, so that there would be no misunderstanding:-
“He was speaking of the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified”.( Jn. 7:37-39)
The moment when the kingdom came for Jesus was at that indivisible moment in time when, after he said on the cross “Father into your hands I commend my spirit”, he died. In less than a trillionth of a second in which scientists believe the universe came into being, Jesus, in the words of St John, was glorified. By that he means he was filled to overflowing with the fullness of God’s love. This was the love without measure that was restricted before, because the human nature of Jesus was still limited by the space and time world into which he had been born. In other words the moment he died was in fact the moment when he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, was united with his Father, and sent the Holy Spirit. In short, the moment when the promised Kingdom had at last come.
In order that there could be no misunderstanding, St John draws the reader’s attention to this, the key moment in his passion narrative, and then drives home his point by insisting that he himself was there to witness it. In order to remove the bodies from the crosses before the feast of the Passover began at night fall, soldiers broke the legs of the criminals, who were crucified with him. However when they came to Jesus they could see that he was already dead, so they did no more than confirm it by opening a wound in his side with a spear. The water that flowed from his side was the clear sign for John that the outpouring of the Spirit that would signal the arrival of the Kingdom of Love, promised on the feast of the Tabernacles, had come at last, but let St John take up the story in his words:-
“When they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs, one of the soldier pierced his side with a spear. Then immediately blood and water came out. This is the evidence of one who saw it- it is trustworthy evidence and he knows that he speaks the truth, and he gives it so that you may believe as well.’(Jn. 19:32-36)
For St John then, the meaning of what he insists that he saw for himself, moments after Jesus had died, could not be misunderstood. The promise that he had heard with his own ears on the feast of the Tabernacles, had now come to pass. The outpouring meant that the Kingdom long since promised had finally come.
The whole point of the incarnation was firstly, to enable other human beings to see and experience the love of God, alive and acting within another human being, in their world of space and time. So although St John shows us what happened next, at an indivisible moment on Calvary, what happened then was shown by the other Gospel writers as happening in the world of space and time in which they lived – ‘so that seeing they may learn to believe’. In their Gospels therefore, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give a step by step description of what happened at the resurrection and at the subsequent appearances of Jesus. Then they describe his ascension into heaven before the sending of the Holy Spirit, who came down upon them in the upper room. It was then that the kingdom, as promised, first came into them, in the world of space and time in which they lived. In other words, what they would see later, with St John, as having happened the very moment Jesus died, they first saw at the time, as happening gradually in the world in which they actually lived. This enabled them to see its meaning and significance clearly, in a way that made sense to them, from the very beginning.
Shortly after dawn, on the first Pentecost day when the Jews celebrated the time when God had confirmed his first covenant with his people with ten written commandments, he sent the new law. It was God’s own law of love sent down onto and into the ambassadors of his new kingdom. The power by which this kingdom would be ruled would be nothing other than the Loving Kindness of God. Love cast out fear and it so cast out fear that morning that the new ambassadors appeared openly in the streets of Jerusalem, full of joy and afraid of nobody.
Many thousands were attracted by the sight of men behaving as if they were on their way home after a prolonged happy hour in one of the towns alehouses. St Peter had to reassure them with the true reason why they were acting in such an unusually joyful way and at such an early hour – it was only nine o’clock in the morning. The essence of his speech was simple if staggering for those who had known what had happened to Jesus at the Passover, and who hadn’t? Jesus had risen from the dead, he was alive now and the kingdom that he had promised had come, and all who chose would be welcomed into it. When asked what they were to do in order to be admitted, they were told to return to God, to repent and receive baptism and to have their sins forgiven. This would enable the same Holy Spirit, who they could see was inspiring them from within, to inspire them also to obey in its entirety the New Commandment that Jesus had given them.
More than a thousand years before, and on this very day, the Jews had been given the Ten Commandments. Now they were all subsumed in the New Commandment that Jesus had given to his disciples. In studying in detail the way in which Jesus loved his Father and his fellow human beings, the meaning of this New Commandment gradually begins to stand out in bold relief. Study how he behaved to others, particularly to those in need, read the moving Sermon on the Mount and his other words of practical wisdom, and there you have it – The New Commandment in action, as lived and practised by Jesus himself and as he wants others to live it.
This is the Law that must henceforth prevail in the Kingdom that was inaugurated on the first Pentecost day. Those who try to keep it, are not just incorporated ever more fully into the Kingdom, but into the King himself, who was crowned by God at what St John called his glorification. At that indivisible moment in time all that Jesus had done for his Father at every moment of his life on earth, was gathered together in an act of complete and unalloyed sacrificial loving. This loving was returned in kind, in such a way, that henceforth Jesus would be caught up in a vortex of supernatural loving that would endlessly revolve between the Father and the Son to eternity, and so too are those who choose to join him.
David Torkington’s podcasts can be found on his website