The church calendar marks fifty days for the celebration of Easter, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. In this Easter season, we remember the 40 days our risen Lord spent with his disciples, teaching them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), and the additional 10 days after his ascension, when his disciples waited for the pouring out of the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). During this Easter season, I want to write a series of notes on the account of the resurrection in John’s Gospel. In this first note, I highlight John’s use of new creation imagery.
John begins his Gospel with an obvious allusion to Genesis 1 and 2: “in the beginning” is followed by references to darkness and light and the new birth of children of God. Creation imagery is woven throughout John’s Gospel. John makes a number of allusions to Genesis in his account of the resurrection:
1. The account of creation in Genesis begins with darkness and emptiness, but then God says, “let there be light,” and there is evening and morning, the first day (Gen 1:2-5). In John’s account of the resurrection, the empty tomb is discovered in early morning darkness of the first day (John 20:1).
2. Mary sees two angels, one at the head and one at the foot of the place where Jesus’s body had lain (John 20:12). The image reminds us of the two cherubim on the ark of the covenant, but it also reminds us of the cherubim who guarded the way to the tree of life. When Mary steps out of the empty tomb, she finds herself in the garden with God. She has passed through the cherubim and re-entered the garden. The tree of life is accessible, once again.
3. Mary is greeted by the gardener, the last Adam, the risen Christ, who reminds her that he is ascending to his Father. He is both Son of God and Last Adam. He has redeemed our humanity and will take us to the Father: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6).
4. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, Jesus came and stood among his disciples and “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22), just as the Lord God had breathed the breath of life into the man of dust from the ground (Gen 2:7). The breath of the Spirit is the breath of new life, the breath of eternal life, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
By alluding to Genesis, John is telling us that in the resurrection of Jesus, the new creation has begun and the age to come has been inaugurated. The darkness of present age is passing away (1 Cor 7:31). Jesus is the “bright morning star” (Rev 22:6), in whom the new creation has already dawned, in the midst of the present evil age (Gal 1:4). And we, who are in Christ, “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil 2:14-15)