That assessment of John’s gospel is ancient and still very popular, but it’s highly misleading and based on a partial reading of the gospel. Far from being the work of an eagle who hovers mystically over the earth, John’s is the most contentious of the gospels. John records more arguments, and more intense arguments, and longer arguments, between Jesus and the Jews, than the other evangelists. He uses more legal terminology than in the other gospels – “witness” and “judgment” and “testimony” and “convict.” Even the word “Paraklete,” translated as “Comforter,” is a legal term.
The irony turns tragic when Pilate asks them if he should crucify the Jewish king. Their answer is, “We have no king but Caesar.” This is apostasy. Israel exists as the kingdom of Yahweh, and for no other reason. And it’s foolish apostasy. The Jewish leaders have learned nothing from Israel’s long history of political idolatry. Throughout her history, Israel has longed for kings like the kings of the nations. Samuel warned them at the beginning that this desire was a death-wish, and that rejecting Yahweh as king would leave Israel to the tyrants. Every time they wanted to be like the nations, and worship the gods of the nations, Yahweh allowed it, delivering them to Midian and Moab, to the Philistines and the Assyrians, to Israelite oppressors and to Gentile oppressors. They never learned: When they choose Caesar as king, they get Caesar, and he rules with a club and a cross.
Good Friday is a key moment in the political history of humanity. Jesus pulls up a rock, exposing all the corrupt priests and Pilates in their naked opportunism. In the light of Jesus’ cross, we can see the world’s backroom deals, their patriotic rhetoric and pleas for justice, their threats of war and promises of peace, for what they are – cruelty and a lust for domination.