"Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you." - John's Gospel 14:19-20
In the much-abused religion of Christianity, preeminent among the more soulful of us are the writings of John. Lawgivers, hellfire merchants and eternal damnation enthusiasts have always preferred Matthew's Gospel or just skipped Christ altogether and gone to the more absolutist sections of the Old Testament or fast-forwarded to the mouthwatering revenge fantasies of Revelations. But for the Mystic, John's work has always been the Crown Chakra of the New Testament. From Augustine to Eckhardt to the Cathars to the Beguines, the essence of Christianity in its most cosmic form is found here. Of the four beasts of Ezekiel, John has always been associated with the Eagle. Here is where the Christianity Mysteries soar. Of course, being Mysteries, they inform but are not necessarily found much in the practise of Christainity as we have known it over the last two thousand years. Mysteries, as we have seen from the post on Demeter, are Inner Teachings, focussed often on Immortality and our Eternal Nature and thus, by their very nature, not always for everyone. This is as much because they aren't easy to understand as anything else. And yet the Christ Mysteries are what Christianity is all about, or at least should be, even though for several centuries their real implications have been deemed heretical by the Catholic and Protestant Churches at least. Before we finally kick Christianity into the earth, it might therefore be worth looking at what it might have had to offer before we risk losing it forever. Not easy considering so many peoples' antipathy to the story, largely thanks to the way it has been handled by the Churches for so long. But in the hope of not throwing the Mystical Baby out with the Material Bathwater, here goes with a discussion of John's Gospel. And those with a knee-jerk hatred of Christianity should either stop reading now, or at least read on with an open mind, because none of this is going to be familiar to anyone who associates Christianity with the Vatican or the Anglican Church...
John's Gospel is regarded as non-synoptic. In other words, it doesn't fit quite so easily with the other three, all of which seem to share a common narrative, set of characters and perspective on Christ. John's moves into completely different territory. It was the last Gospel to be included in the canon. Some commentators have argued that this was because of its popularity in spite of the authorities' resistance to it as being 'too Gnostic'. They simply couldn't ignore it without alienating whole armies of believers. Indeed, John's Gospel was always the battleground between the Gnostic sects and what was to become Christianity as we know it. Both movements claimed it as their own, something neo-Gnostics tend to forget. We have seen how the Cathars, for instance, revered it above all the others. The idea that the Gnostics utterly rejected any part of the New Testament as we have it now is completely incorrect. The many Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi were not written in opposition to the canonical Christian writings but supplementary to them. For them all these writings formed an indivisible whole. Until the second century AD there was no schism between Gnostic and non-Gnostic Christians ('Gnostic' was itself a term used by the enemies of people like the Valentinians, whose founder, Valentinus, was for a long time a respected member of the mainstream Christian Church). That came later. Besides which, elements of Gnosticism remained in Greek Christianity and even informed the Western Churches, although in a less radical way than we might hope. After all, all 'Gnosis' means is 'Knowledge' as in 'Knowledge of the Divine' and if Christ's message was not about giving us a new 'Knowledge' of God and his relationship to Man then what was it? In the end, any Mystic is a 'Gnostic' in this sense, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan or whatever. Western Mystics like Eckhardt, Origen and John of Ruysbroek all had Gnostic elements in them. Christ, like Krishna, Buddha, Moses and Mohammed, was pointing towards a greater understanding of our relationship with the One and, in doing so, by implication with each other...
The centre point of the Johannine writings is the Last Supper. Most people are aware of the Sermon of the Mount as being pivotal to Christianity but the Last Supper is the source of its most Mystical element. If the Sermon on the Mount is the highest expression of exoteric Christianity (ie offering teachings on how to live communally), the Last Supper of John is the highest expression of esoteric Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered from a Mountain Top to the crowd, the Last Supper's conversation (and it IS a conversation and not a Sermon) is for the inner circle, the Initiates. The impression given is that we are hearing the words of Christ as they were delivered in private. They are to be read intimately, not as oratory. That John thought they were important is suggested by the fact that, of the 21 chapters of the Gospel that bears his name, the Last Supper takes up 5. That's more than a quarter of the whole book and far more than in Matthew, Mark or Luke's accounts. Clearly something important is going on here and it might be worth looking more deeply into what...
In essence, John's account of the Last Supper is an account of the Inner Mysteries of Christianity. If there is a Gnosis in Christianity, this is where it is to be found. As we saw in Eleusis, the Greater Mysteries took place in secret, in the Inner Sanctum. Here, they same is true. The events unfold in an upper room where the Apostles are gathered to celebrate the feast of the Passover, or Pesach, one of the most holy festivals of the Jewish year when the children of Israel celebrate deliverance from the Angel of Death and the beginning of freedom from the tyranny of Egypt. The doors are locked. The atmosphere is highly charged. John describes the events in extraordinarily dense and elusive poetry. Its not easy to understand everything that Christ is saying. Some of his words are as obscure as Zen Koans. Even the Apostles are baffled. But this is the whole point. Mystical truth can only be expressed through poetry and paradox. This has nearly always been the case. It is not linear in nature. It needs to be puzzled out. And in the puzzling out the Mystery is revealed.
The key to the narrative is the 'Glorification' of Christ. Fascinatingly, this can only happen once Judas has been sent out to betray him. I say 'sent out'. This is literally what happens. Christ knows exactly who is to betray him and gives him the signal:
"Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly." - John 13:26-27
Whole tomes could be written about Christ's relationship with Judas (even their names are echoes of each other Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot). This is just a Blog. Esoterically speaking, a profound ritual is taking place here. For Jesus and Judas are shadows of each other, being two sides of the same entity. John's Gospel is always associated with the Eagle, one of the four animals of Ezekiel. The Eagle corresponds to the Star Sign Scorpio, the Eagle being the higher side of Scorpio, the Scorpion being the lower. Scorpio is the sign most associated with the Mysteries of Death and Rebirth and it is surely no coincidence that this is the very nature of John's Gospel. At this moment the Christ-Consciousness is splitting in two, letting go of the darker side. In Alchemical terms, this is the beginning of what is known as the Nigredo, the dark moment when the 'dying' process begins prior to the Resurrection into the White Rose. Thus Judas' actions have to happen, for without them the whole drama of the Resurrection cannot be fulfilled. Esoterically, the earthly elements of man must die away for the divine element to rise up. Judas will betray Christ, but he has to. It is part of the process. Interestingly, John does not include in his version of the story the ritual of the Bread and the Wine. In the others this act of Communion is key and one which Judas is part of, suggesting that he too partakes of the Divine Nature. In Matthew, for instance, Jesus makes a point of having Judas eat the bread and drink the wine even after he has identified him as his betrayer. John leaves this out, but includes Judas in Christ's cleaning of the Apostles' feet which precedes the Supper, suggesting that, even though he is 'not clean', he is still part of the new dispensation about to be revealed .
If John leaves out the ritual of Bread and Wine, he creates another element which does not feature elsewhere - the Beloved Apostle, who appears in the story here for the first time. For some reason these three figures - Christ, Judas and the Beloved Disciple - are in an alignment just at the instant of the betrayal. Saviour, Betrayer and Witness are all united in this single moment. The Mystery of the interdependence between this Christ-Self and Iscariot-Self is one of the most complex in the history of Christianity and perhaps conceals the secret of its greatest failure. The refusal to face up to the Shadow-side represented by Judas, as well as the projection of it onto the Jewish people, has poisoned the whole venture and trapped it in a condition of Dualism and paranoia which has lead to the betrayal of its own spiritual source. Origen suggested that the ultimate end of Redemption might be the salvation of the Devil, for which he was accused of being a heretic. Until Judas can be saved in the same way, until his role is properly acknowledged, Christianity will not be whole. Of course, the authors of the Gospels were subtler than their followers. Its worth remembering, after all, that Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss. In Matthew Christ goes so far as to call Judas 'Friend' before he does so...
Whatever the truth or otherwise of these speculations, the moment when Judas leaves the table and goes 'immediately out' is the key moment for John. It is the turning point of the whole Gospel. The text adds that 'it was night', another suggestion of the Nigredo moment. It is then that Christ experiences some kind of transformation or epiphany:
"Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightaway glorify him."
What is Christ going on about here? What is all this about 'Glorification', something we don't hear much about in churches and pulpits? Why is it important? In his book Meditation And The Bible, Kabbalist Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan outlines the many different shades of meaning of 'Glory' in the Old Testament. It is associated with Atziluth, the World closest to God and the Sephira Tiphareth ('Beauty'), often referred to as the Prince or Lesser Countenance, which bridges the Gulf between the King and our world in order to be united with the 'Daughter' or Malkuth, the Kingdom. Most significantly for us, however, is its association with the word 'Soul' outlined by Rabbi Maya Luzatto. Given the Jewish origins of Christianity, its debt to the Mysticism of the Israel, this suggests that, at the moment at which Judas leaves, Christ is fully realising his 'ensouled' Cosmic nature, hence the the two-way Glorification process between him and the Father, a process which would can only happen thanks to Judas. Even if one were not to understand it in terms of Kabbalah, John himself explains what Glorification means and why it is so important earlier in the Gospel in Chapter 7:
"But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." - John 7:39
In other words, until Christ is 'Glorified', the Holy Spirit cannot pour through him into the world. Thus this moment when Judas leaves the Last Supper is the key turning point in John's version of the Christ story. It is now that the connection between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit properly begins and the possibility of human transformation, what the Greek Orthodox called Theosis, can happen. So without the splitting apart of the Jesus/Judas character, the Christ Mystery cannot happen, the Prophecy cannot be fulfilled.
From here on in, everything Christ says to the Apostles is suffused by the wisdom of this new relationship between God and Man. The bridge between Heaven and Earth has been established and the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, is the main subject of the words that follow. The Inner Mysteries of the New Testament are to be unfolded and not only to the chosen few but, through the agency of John, to everyone. This was the real revolution of Christianity, the Metanoia or Transformation of Consciousness that has effected everyone in the West since and which the Churches themselves have found very tricky to handle, particularly the Roman, which resorted to violence to stop it getting out: a universal connection, contained within every individual, unmediated, with the Divine..