“Only in virtue of his filial intimacy with the divine Father can Jesus suffer total abandonment by the Father and taste that suffering to the last drop.”
The very word “gospel,” “eu-angelion,” shows that Christianity is “glad tidings” and that its whole tenor must be indisputably that of joy. It is “good news of a great joy” and “peace on earth” (Lk 2:10, 14), and peace and joy are often interchangeable terms for the ultimate blessing of salvation (Jn 14:27, 16:33; Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22). Thus it is a heightening of the Old Testament joy of the believer in God in his revealed word,1 a heightening of the religious cultic joy of Israel2—and we know with what joy Jews celebrate their feasts to this day!— because the “Word” becomes “flesh” and, through his Crucifixion, God’s love for us acquires a perfect, unsurpassable expression (Rom 8:32ff). So New Testament joy is not to be queried, restricted, or relativized by any other attitude. It is not only a response to the attitude in heaven, where every tear will be wiped away (Rv 7:17, 21:4), but a response to the ultimate attitude of God himself, whose “greater joy” is manifest in pardoning sin and in finding what was lost and gone astray (Lk 15:7, 103; cf. vv. 24, 32). This passage speaks of the joy of God as Father, and consequently this joy must be manifest in the Son who reveals him; indeed, he “rejoices” at the way the Father reveals himself (Lk 10:21; cf. Rv 2:26, 28). And just as Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit,” the joy of believers, if it is to be a proper response to God’s joy, can only come about in the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who brings about joy (an eschatological joy, the harbinger of heaven), even as early as the infancy narrative (Lk 1:14, 44–47) and then fully blown after the Lord’s Resurrection (Acts 13:52; cf. 5:41). Insofar as this Christian joy has an eternally transcendent object, that is, the revelation of the love of God that does not cling to itself, it also manifests a subjectively transcendent quality, which is why John will describe it five times as “full” or “complete” joy (15:11, 16:24, 17:13; 1 Jn 1:4; 2 Jn 12). This sense of being totally filled means that we have been brought to eschatological perfection.4
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1. J. Nielen, “Die Freude am Wort und an der Weisung Gottes im Licht der Psalmen,” in Leben aus dem Wort (Patmos, 1962), 36–51.
2. Bo Reicke, Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos (Uppsala, 1951). P. Humbert, “‘Laetari et exultare’ dans le vocabulaire religieux de l’Ancien Testament,” RHPhR 22 (1942): 185–214; id., Opuscules d’un Hébraisant (Neuchâtel, 1958), 119–145.
3. In these passages the expressions “heaven” and “angel of God” are reverent circumlocutions for God himself.
4. Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Oxford, 1971).