Last night I started reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together again. In the first chapter, when he is discussing God’s work in bringing his people together, Bonhoeffer mentions John 11:52. Since I’m planning to take a seminar on the Gospel of John next semester, I stopped reading in order to look up that verse. Here is the verse in its context:
So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:47-53 ESV)
I’ve highlighted John 11:52. According to John, at this meeting Caiaphas, the high priest for that year, prophesied concerning Jesus’ death. In that prophecy, there is a two-fold purpose in Jesus’ death: 1) Jesus would die on behalf of the nation (of Israel), and 2) Jesus would die in order to gather together God’s children from all around the world. Literally, that second purpose reads, “But also in order that he might gather the scattered children of God into one.”
Thus, gathering his people together and their unity was one of God’s purposes that he is working through the death of Jesus. I think of many things when I think of the death of Jesus: grace, forgiveness, justice, etc. But I rarely think that because of the death of Jesus I am gathered with brothers and sisters and I can live in unity with them. These are not add-ons to God’s plan, nor are they side-benefits to Jesus’ death. Gathering together and unity are part of God’s purpose in Jesus’ death.
I’ve heard sermons titled, “Jesus died for our sins”. I’ve read books about Jesus’ death and justification. But, I have rarely – if ever – heard anyone teach about how the death of Jesus brings about our unity. Perhaps its time to recognize that we do not choose unity or sound doctrine. Instead, doctrine without unity is not sound doctrine at all. The teachings concerning Jesus and his death – the gospel – must include the unity of his people.