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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Christian Mystery
GA 97

III. The Gospel of John as an Initiation Document I

12 February 1906, Cologne

The first 12 chapters in the gospel of John

In modern theology, clear distinction is made between the first three gospels and the gospel of John. The first three are called the synoptic gospels, whilst the latter is often said to be a composition for teaching purposes and of no historical value. What matters is, however, that everything said relating to the Christ in the gospels is a profound symbol which at the same time is an important historical fact. In reality the first three gospels differ from the gospel of John because they were written by disciples who were less profoundly initiated, whereas the gospel of John was written by the most deeply initiated disciple.

The gospel of John actually makes no direct mention of John, only referring to him as the disciple whom Jesus loved. This is a key word for the one who was most deeply initiated. To indicate that some disciples were the most intimate initiates it would be said that the master loved them.

The disciple who wrote down the gospel of John first of all described something he had himself experienced. Chapters 1 to 12 are experiences in the astral world, chapter 13 and those that follow experiences at the devachanic level. This is highly significant and characteristic of the whole of it. John described experiences on the astral level because he took the view that it is only possible to understand what Christ Jesus accomplished on this earth if one considers it in the light of the spirit. The things the master did and said could only be understood if one put oneself in a higher state of consciousness. Inner development can enable human beings to gain true vision in the astral world. This is only achieved by doing specific meditations. The individual must close himself off from the outside world. He must let eternal truths arise in his soul. A new world then opens up all around him.

What Christ Jesus did on earth could only be properly judged by going into a higher world. Things experienced with Jesus in the physical world only became clear if seen in astral terms. To gain living experience of what Christ Jesus had done, one had to use suitable Christian meditation to enter into a state where the soul gained understanding of the Christ.

John said so first of all in his introduction. This is a meditative prayer from the beginning to ‘and the darknesses did not comprehend it.’ When the soul gains living experience of what lies in those words, the powers arise that enable us to grasp the content of chapters 1 to 12. ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god.’ This ancient truth was presented in visible form in all the ancient mysteries, above all those with an Egyptian bias.

Words sound in air-filled space, otherwise we would not hear them. The figures of the words we speak are in that space. If the air could be suddenly made to go rigid as I speak the waves that buzz around in the air would fall down as rigid solid bodies. A mystery teacher would tell his pupil: ‘Just as a human being speaks, wresting his inner life away and passing it into the air, so the cosmic soul also spoke, but into much more subtle matter, into Akasha matter, and this would then become solid.’ Everything around us is condensed word of god. And so, the mystery teacher said, the world all around us is frozen word of God, a frozen logos. ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.’ It was still within itself, it was itself a god. Then it filled space and froze. This logos is now present in everything. Everywhere around us we have the crystals of the logos. But as life evolved, the logos arose from its state of slumber, as it were. In man it became the light of insight. When we gain insight, God, who has originally descended into the world, comes to us out of this world. One must enter wholly into this, penetrating so deeply into the world that one realizes: The logos lives in the world.

Originally there was the creation of the physical human being. The spiritual human being entered into this physical human being. Then light shone into the darkness. But the darknesses did not at first comprehend it. When a human being develops further, there comes to him the content of astral truth vision. He then sees clearly what Christ Jesus was, and what his teaching signified: that the time was ripe in those days to bring forth a reverse Adam. Man had descended into his body, and with this came birth and death. Light then entered into the darkness.

There was need to help humanity to understand again that life is the victor in the struggle with death. John the Baptist thus came as a forerunner. The Baptist made it known that a new kingdom would take all that was old and still wholly in the sign of the original creation by divine powers. Until then it was said that the god would destroy those who went against his laws. The new kingdom was one, however, which man would find in himself through living experience of the god. The idea of the old covenant had been that humanity had to obey God's commandment. The new covenant was that human beings should follow the god in them of their own free will. This is the love of goodness. It was prophetically foretold; it had to increase. The Christ as the representative of the new covenant had to increase; John, being only his forerunner, had to decrease.

Two major elements came together at this point. John saw this in his vision where everything appeared in form of images. At the same time the actual Baptist and his historical mission appeared to his inner eye. The whole mission of Christianity now presented himself to him. He described this in the first chapter.

Let us go back to very early times, at least 2000 years before Christ. Wise individuals had advanced so far that they were initiated into the mysteries. One symbol used was the offering of the water. The mystery priest used water as a symbol. It is a law that man shuts himself off from the higher world of the spirit if he takes alcohol. Someone wishing to enter the worlds of spirit in a living way must not drink wine, not even the wine of the offering.

The marriage in Cana characterizes the Mission of Christianity. The ancient mystery priests had the most sublime teachings, given out of profound understanding in the spirit. But one thing that was lacking in pagan culture was the conquest of the physical world. Their tools were still extremely primitive, the whole of outer civilization was primitive. People had not yet gained a relationship to the things that had to happen directly down here on earth. They had to learn to control the earth and this meant they had to be limited to the physical. They had to grow strong and hallow the lower human being.

This culture was prepared for by great teachers who spoke of the significance of the physical level. Egyptian art was great in its spiritual concepts but not in the form it took at the physical level. The whole of Greek art consisted in bringing the human being down to the physical level. Roman law also brought humanity down to the physical level. The cult of Dionysus was connected with all this. The representative of wine was actually shown as a god. The story of the marriage in Cana shows the introduction of wine into human evolution in sublime fashion. The true purpose was to show that water is greater than wine. It was transformed into wine because humanity had to be taken down to the physical level.

Today we have come down to the physical level in every respect. If there is no moral development to go hand in hand with civilization at the physical level, physical achievements are destructive. Moral development will enable humanity to generate energies that will be very different from those that are now to be found at the physical level. Keely44Keely, John Worrel (182–1898), American engineer. Rudolf Steiner spoke of him on several occasions, e.g. in Ursprung und Ziel des Menschen. Grundbegriffe der Geisteswissenschaft (GA 53), Berlin, 30 March 1905; The Temple Legend (GA 93). Berlin, 2 Jan. 1906. Tr. J. Wood. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1985; Steiner R. Cosmic Being and Egohood (in GA 169), lecture given in Berlin on 20 June 1916. Typescript translation C 43 at Rudolf Steiner House Library, London; Polarities in the Evolution of Mankind (GA 197), Stuttgart, 8 Nov. 1920. Tr. not named. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1987. Considerable detail, but confusing, may be found in in Blavatsky, HP, The Secret Doctrine vol. 1. set his engine in motion with vibrations created in his own organism. Such vibrations depend on a person's moral nature. This is the first hint of a dawn for a technology of the future. We will have engines in future that are only set going by energies coming from people who have moral qualities. Immoral people will not be able to set them going. Purely mechanical mechanism must be transformed into moral mechanism.

The approach used in the science of the spirit is preparing the way for this ascent. Christianity first had to guide humanity down. Now it must guide them upwards again. Wine must be transformed into water again.

John was able to see beyond physical reality. The deed accomplished by the Lord, his mission, thus appeared to John the disciple in the image of the marriage at Cana in Galilee. This is how one should read the first 12 chapters of the gospel of John. It does not say that Mary asked him but the mother of Jesus. This is a mystic term. In mysticism, ‘mother’ always refers to something that needs to be inseminated when the human being ascends to a higher level. Jesus had to take the whole of human consciousness, such as it had been until then, to a higher level. The consciousness of all humanity needed him to take it a step forward. This is why Jesus was able to say: ‘Woman, what have I to do with you?’ He would not have said this to his mother.

On the third day, a marriage took place. This means that John lay in the sleep of initiation for three days. There the vision of the marriage in Cana in Galilee occurred. In a sleep lasting three days he went through the events that took place in the world of the spirit. On the third day he experienced the vision of the marriage in Cana. All that follows are events he saw in his astral vision.

In the third chapter we have the talk with Nicodemus. In his astral vision it would always be the Lord himself who appeared to John. In the talk with Nicodemus we hear what was to happen to John. The Lord put things very clearly. Nicodemus did not at first understand him. It is John himself who needed to understand; it was explained to him in the vision that it was a matter of killing off the lower human being, with the higher human being coming alive. He gradually understood who Jesus actually was; that the powers of the world's origin, the father of the world, were alive in him. This is why we then have the words Jesus said about the father. The occult powers Jesus possessed appeared to John as an astral reflection of the actual events. John was thus learning the most profound truths through the Lord himself.

In the fourth chapter we have the meeting with the woman of Samaria. The Lord said to her: ‘You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband’ She was to be raised to the higher self. For this, she had to go through the lower bodies. Those were the old husbands. She now had to be connected with the higher self. That was the new husband. In the story of the man who was born blind it became evident that it was his karma to be unable to see.

The first events described in John's gospel are astral experiences. Surely it is natural that John himself was not present, seeing that he perceived it all in image consciousness? John is not mentioned in the first 12 chapters. He was not yet the disciple, experiencing all these things in the astral level.

He then slept the initiation sleep. He was to rise to a higher degree. This happened as he lived through the experiences of the three days and on into the fourth day. The initiation took 3 ½ days. Then he saw his own initiation, his own resurrection. This was the raising of Lazarus.45John 11: 1-45. See also Steiner R. Christianity as Mystical Fact and The Mysteries of Antiquity (GA 8). Tr. H. Collison, rev. C. Davy, A. Bittleston. Bristol: RudoIfSteinerPress 1992. Lazarus wrote the gospel of John. Martha and Mary were the states of consciousness in his soul, one divine, the other turned to life on earth. The description of the Lazarus miracle is the description of a higher level of initiation. The 12th chapter prepares for the actual recognition of the Jesus personality. John himself then says: ‘Now I know him, who has raised me from the dead.’

John's higher development begins with the 13th chapter. Every word in the gospel of John can be understood if we take it as John's living experience. He then became conscious in his I, and this was no longer an image consciousness. He consciously became the disciple whom the Lord loved.