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12. SPIRITUALISING OF MATERIALISTIC IDEAS.

But the Fourth Gospel is most distinctly modern when it substitutes for the materialistic and literally understood ideas of the earliest Christians, the spiritual interpretations which were already implied in them without people being conscious of the fact. Usually people have no idea how many of the liberal ideas of the present may be found in this Gospel. As regards miracles, we have already decided, that they are only emphatically declared to be real events from one point of view, but that from another standpoint they are regarded purely as symbolical descriptions of profound truths (pp. 95-100, 105 f., 109); and those who are no longer disposed to use them as buttresses of the Christian faith need only appeal to the words which Jesus addressed to Thomas (xx. 29): “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” The doctrine of the Trinity, which represents that from eternity Father, Son, and Spirit have existed as three divine Persons, and yet only as one divine substance, cannot by any means be maintained in face of Jn.’s statement (vii. 39): “the Spirit did not yet exist, because Jesus was not yet (by his exaltation to heaven) glorified.” The belief that prevailed throughout the whole of the first century, that Jesus would come back from heaven to establish the blessed kingdom of 254the last days, has, in the mind of Jn., resolved itself into the idea that the Holy Spirit, though of course at a quite different time, will come into the hearts of believers. It is all the same to Jn. whether he says that Jesus will come again (xiv. 3, 18, 28; xvi. 22), or that the Holy Spirit will come because God or Jesus will send it (xiv. 16 f., 26; xv. 26; xvi. 7). The Jesus who has been exalted to heaven is for Jn., that is to say, as he was already for Paul (2 Cor. iii. 17), this Spirit; and this again is the reason why the Holy Spirit does not exist before Jesus ascension.

It was generally expected by the early Christians that Jesus second coming from heaven would be the signal for a bodily resurrection and for the judgment to be held before the throne of God upon all mankind; and that eternal life would then begin. In Jn., on the other hand, the judgment takes place during life, when a distinction is drawn between men, and the one section turns towards Jesus, the light which streams upon the world, while the other turns away from him (iii. 19-21). This very moment marks the be ginning of eternal life for such as believe in him or acknowledge God and Jesus; and it is a life which can never be interrupted by the death of the body, and so does not need to be introduced by a resurrection of the body. Compare xi. 25 f.; xvii. 3, and particularly v. 24: “He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed (already) out of death into life.” In fact, participation in the Supper, which according to vi. 51b-56 seems so essential, is made a matter which at bottom is of no importance by the concluding words in vi. 63: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life.” In fact, we can hardly conceive of the matter in a more modern way. 255And obviously it is not merely the Supper that is stripped of its importance by these words.

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