“Allusions to Eden in the Gospel of John” by L. Michael Morales

“Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection are situated more deeply within the Gospel’s creation theology by allusions to the Garden of Eden. Before His crucifixion, we read that Jesus and His disciples “entered a garden” (John 18:1).

The particular name Gethsemane supplied by Mark and Matthew is left out in John’s Gospel, which offers garden as something of a type-scene echoing Eden. The garden locale is mentioned throughout this section of John’s Gospel, as a contextual backdrop to the narrative (see John 18:1, 26; 19:41; 20:15), a usage all the more notable when we realize that the word “garden” (kēpos) is not used whatsoever in any of the other three Gospels, with one exception (in a parable in Luke 13:19).

Later we discover that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb wherein no one had ever been laid” (John 19:41). Within this setting of the garden, John’s Gospel adds the detail that Jesus was crucified “in the middle,” that is, between two others (John 19:17–18).

As Mary Coloe explains, the phrase “in the middle” (meson) “echoes the phrase in Genesis where God plants ‘the tree of life in the middle of the garden’ (Genesis 2:9). The evangelist depicts the Crucifixion with the iconography of Genesis 2: there is a garden, and in the middle of the garden is the cross, the tree of life.”

As a supporting argument, John uses similar Eden motifs in his Apocalypse, but in a more obvious manner. We read that a pure river of life flowed out from the throne of God and the Lamb, and “in the middle (mesō) … was the tree of life” (Revelation 22:1–2).

Grasping the Gospel’s layered depths, early church fathers understood the opening of Jesus’ side after his death in relation to Adam’s “sleep of death” within the Garden, when Yahweh had opened his side to create the woman for his bride (Genesis 2:21–25)—Jesus’ blood and water were poured out for the creation of the church as his bride.

Such Adam typology is evident already in the writings of the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12–21; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; Ephesians 5:25–33) and, as we have observed, informs John’s depiction of Jesus before his crucifixion when, robed in purple and wearing a crown of thorns, he is presented by Pilate with the words, “Look! The Man!” (John 19:5), alluding, as Jeannine Brown observes, “to that first man, Adam, in the first creation story.”

This creation theology also explains Jesus’ use of “woman” (rather than their names) for the various women that appear throughout the Gospel of John, including his own mother. As the last Adam, He has come to redeem His bride: Jesus calls his mother “woman” within the context of a wedding in Cana (John 2:1–12);

His encounter with the “woman” in Samaria takes place at a well, a familiar locale in Scripture for betrothal (John 4:1–26; see Genesis 24:10–28; 29:1–30; Exodus 2:15–22); and finally Jesus the “gardener” and a “woman” are found within a garden on the first day of the week (John 20:11–18).

“He who has the bride,” John the Baptizer had said, “is the bridegroom” (John 3:29)—indeed. That Jesus’ mother is called “woman” (John 2:4; 19:26) and designated “mother” (John 2:1; 19:25) may allude to the names given to the first woman: “She shall be called Woman” (Genesis 2:23); “The man called his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).

In any case, the mother of Jesus, the Samaritan woman, and Mary Magdalene, and possibly the woman caught in adultery as well (John 8:2–11), each being called “woman” by Jesus, likely serve to recall Eve as archetypes—theological portraits—of the church, the bride of Adam, the only Son of God.

Jesus even compares His disciples’ sorrow at his death to the woman (hē gynē) in birth pangs, who finally rejoices with the birth of a “man” (anthrōpos, John 16:21), an image strikingly similar to that found in John’s Apocalypse where the Eve-like “woman” who represents the church cries with labor pangs and gives birth to a child, the risen Jesus, who ascends to God and his throne (Revelation 12:1–6).

Then in glory the church is described “as a Bride prepared” for the marriage and wedding supper of the Lamb, a “Bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 19:7–9; 21:2). Jesus is the last Adam; the church is both the children of God and the last Adam’s bride, the new Eve. Since the true exodus forms a reversal of the exile from Eden and a passage from the old creation to the new, this creation imagery is especially relevant to the Gospel’s message about Jesus’ new exodus.

The Eden imagery is developed even more richly for Jesus’ resurrection and appearances to his disciples (John 20). Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, having approached the garden tomb, sees Jesus standing before her and supposes him to be “the gardener” (John 20:15), an allusion to Adam within the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8–9; 9:20)—and he calls her “woman” (John 20:15).

Then, for the first and only time, Jesus calls a woman by name, “Mary!” (John 20:16). As the Greek form of Miriam, the name of Moses’ sister who rejoiced over the original exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 15:20–21), the use of her name at just this point—the new exodus of Jesus’ resurrection—may be part of the Gospel’s exodus motif. Later in the same chapter, Jesus breathes the Spirit on his disciples (John 20:21–22) just as Yahweh had once breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the first human in the Eden narrative (Genesis 2:7).

A garden, a tree in the middle, two angelic beings, a gardener, and a woman—these aspects of the Eden narrative are equally present in John’s telling of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Perhaps most telling, even the tomb is located “within the garden,” and described as “new, wherein no one had ever been laid” (John 19:41)—the tomb, in other words, is not associated with death at all but with newness and life, ultimately with the indestructible resurrection life of the Lord Jesus in the garden.

The Garden of Eden allusions with which John’s Gospel concludes enable readers to grasp the theological reality of Jesus’ crucifixion death, burial, resurrection, and ascension as the new exodus out of the old creation and into the new creation, out of this world and into the heavenly reality of the Father’s presence—all from the angle of the Bible’s main plotline: an exodus out of the primal exile and into paradise with God.

In chapter seven we observed the same plotline in how the Day of Atonement ritual portrayed the high priest as an Adam figure who once a year reentered the cultic Garden of Eden (the holy of holies) through the cherubim-laden veil with the blood of atonement.

One may discern a similar theological portrait in the Fourth Gospel: an allusion to the atonement lid of the holy of holies within John’s presentation of the garden tomb. Mary looks within the tomb and sees two angels sitting “one at the head and one at the feet” of where Jesus had lain (John 20:12), perhaps symbolizing the two cherubim positioned at the two ends of the atonement lid, with “one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end” (Exodus 25:18–19).

Outside the tabernacle texts, the only other place where cherubim are found in the Pentateuch is at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Because the cherubim on the tabernacle’s veil and on the atonement lid of the ark are themselves allusions to Eden’s gateway, it seems probable that John’s Gospel also has both in mind: Jesus’ resurrection from the grave fulfills the Day of Atonement, for Jesus as a new Adam has reentered the garden of paradise.

It is perhaps not too much to say, then, that for John’s Gospel the taking away of the stone from the tomb forms the theological parallel to the rending of the temple veil in the other Gospels.

In sum, through allusions to Eden the Gospel of John presents the reality of Jesus’ new exodus as a reversal of humanity’s exile and an entry into the new creation. The first day of the week signifies the theological reality of the new creation and finds a man and a woman (back) inside a garden.

As with the historical exodus of Israel out of Egypt, the new exodus is the deliverance of God’s firstborn Son from death. And even as the sea crossing was narrated with creation imagery to convey that Israel had become a new people (Exodus 14), John’s Gospel uses creation imagery to convey the reality of the new creation ushered in with Jesus’ resurrection as a new humanity.”

–L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption, The Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 169–172.

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