April 12 (3): John 5:19-29

For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday), in the evening, I will be looking at three passages in the Gospel of John (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-58; 11:17-27ff) where Jesus is associated (and identified) with the power of resurrection. Of the Gospels, it is only John which specifically treats this as a theological motif, though, interestingly, not within the Resurrection narrative itself; the passages discussed here all come from the first half of the book—the so-called “Book of Signs” (chapters 2-12).

First a note on vocabulary.—There are two main verbs related to resurrection:

    • e)gei/rw (egeírœ), “rise/raise”, often in the sense of rising/awakening from sleep. In the New Testament, it is the word regularly use to refer to rising/raising from the dead (as in Jn 2:19-20, 22; 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:14), but it also occurs in the simple concrete sense of “get up” (Jn 5:8; 11:29; 13:4; 14:31), or abstractly (“appear”, “become prominent,” etc, Jn 7:52).
    • a)ni/sthmi (aníst¢mi), “stand up”. In the Gospels and Acts, this verb is mainly used in the general sense (“stand/get up”); however, occasionally, it refers to resurrection (“stand up [out of the dead / in the last  day]”), as in Mark 8:31; Luke 16:31; 24:7, 46. In John, too, it is primarily used in the sense of resurrection (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:23-24; 20:9). The related noun a)na/stasi$ (anástasis, “standing-up”) came to be the technical Greek term in Judaism (and Christianity) for bodily resurrection, in John (5:29; 11:24-25) and throughout the New Testament.

One should also mention the verb zwopoie/w (zœopoiéœ), “make alive” (i.e., give/bring life), which is used in Jn 5:21; 6:63, and in several New Testament epistles (Rom 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45, etc). In addition, there are two other verbs in John which carry a special meaning related to the idea of Jesus’ ascension/exaltation, and where an association with the Resurrection is probably to be included: a)nabai/nw (“step up”), u(yo/w (“lift high”).

John 5:19-29

This passage is part of the extensive discourse (Jn 5:19-46) which follows the miracle of Jesus’ healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda/Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-8). In the narrative context, the miracle occurs on the Sabbath, and results in one of the Gospel “Sabbath Controversies”—this controversy is the main stimulus for the discourse, especially Jesus’ saying in v. 17 (“My Father works until now, and I also work”). Jesus’ identity, and his relationship to God the Father, is the dominant theme of the discourse. Verses 19-29 can be broken into three sections, each beginning with the expression “Amen, amen, I say/relate to you…”, and containing a principal saying followed by exposition; the middle section being much more succinct, limited to a single saying.

Verses 19-23: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the Son does not have power [i.e. is not able] to do anything if not [i.e. except] what he sees the Father doing; for whatever That (One) does, these (things) the Son also does likewise” (v. 19)

This is a familiar theme in the Gospel of John: the Son only does and says what he sees (and hears) the Father doing (and saying). It stems from the basic image of family business and training, where the child (son) learns to follow the trade or occupation of his father, gaining skill, knowledge and expertise. In the verses which follow (20-23), this relationship is described in more detail:

    • The works which the Father shows the Son are due to the Father’s affection (file/w) for him, and, as a result, the Son’s work will be great and marvellous (v. 20)
      • The Father gives the Son the power to raise (e)gei/rw) the dead and make them alive (zwopoie/w) (v. 21)
      • The Father gives the Son the power of (the final) Judgment—i.e. to judge all people/things (v. 22)
    • The Son therefore deserves the same honor as the Father who sent him (v. 23)

Note here especially the eschatological thrust of vv. 21-22 which emphasizes the resurrection of the end-time—the power of which belongs to Jesus (the Son).

Verse 24: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the (one who) hears my word, and trusts the (one who) sent me, has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped (from) out of death into life”

Here a number of Johannine words and motifs are present:

    • The specific association of “hearing” and “trusting/believing”—in particular, to hear (a)kou/w) has a special theological emphasis in John (Jn 3:29, 32; 5:24-25, 28, 30, 37; 6:45; 8:26, 38-47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:47; 14:24; 15:15; 16:13; 18:37).
    • One hears the Word[s] and Voice of Jesus, and thus the Word/Voice of God. Here of course “word” is lo/go$, as in Jn 1:1ff.
    • The important teaching that Judgment depends on trust/belief (or lack thereof)—namely, trusting in Jesus, that he has come from the Father (thereby trusting in the Father who sent him); cf. especially Jn 3:16-21.
    • The theological use of compound verbs derived from bai/nw (“step, walk”): in particular, a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”) are frequently used to refer to the Son ascending/descending to/from the Father in Heaven. Here, metabai/nw has the sense of stepping from one place to another. There is frequent theological import to these prepositions e)k/ei)$ (“out of”/”into”) as well—”out of” death and “into” life.
    • The dualistic juxtaposition of life and death, as well as the specification of “eternal life” (“life of the Age[s]”)

Again, an association with resurrection is implied by the eschatological coupling of “Life of the Age” and “Judgment”. To see the association more clearly, it may be useful to compare Jn 3:16-21 with Jn 11:25-26.

Verses 25-29: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”

“…the hour comes—and now is—when the dead (ones) will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)

Once again hearing (a)kou/w) is emphasized, joining with the saying in v. 24. There is also a clear thematic parallel with vv. 20-22 in the first section—the relation between Father and Son is demonstrated twofold:

    • The power to give life (i.e. resurrection/eternal-life), v. 26 [par. in v. 21]
    • The power (authority) for (the) Judgment, v. 27 [par. in v. 22]

The reciprocal phrasing of verse 26, so common in the Johannine discourses, is especially worth noting here:

“For just as the Father has life in himself, thus also he gave life to the Son to have in himself”

The relationship between Father and Son is intimately connected to the power of Life. The extension of the relationship (to include believers), stated clearly in other passages, has to be implied here. It could be rendered something like:

…so too the Son has the power to give life to those whom he wishes

The phrasing at the start of verse 25 is significant in framing this entire section:

    • The hour comes (e&rxetai w&ra)—eschatological imminence is here implied (i.e., “the day is coming [about to come]…”)
    • And now is (kai\ nu=n e)stin)—the present moment, with the presence/appearance of Jesus

Present and future are joined together in a way that is unique to the discourses of Jesus in John. Jesus will give life in the resurrection at the last day, but also gives life now to those who hear, believe and come to him. The power of resurrection will be demonstrated concretely in the present at the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11), and in Jesus’ own resurrection, but there is deeper spiritual significance as well, which I will touch on more in the next two posts. For now, it may be worth concluding with Jesus’ dramatic words in verses 28-29:

Do not wonder (at) this: that (the) hour comes in which all the (one)s in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out…

April 12 (2): John 20:11-18

For the three days of Easter (in the afternoon), I will be discussing three Resurrection Appearances of Jesus: (1) to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), (2) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and (3) to Thomas. Interestingly, these persons are hardly even mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. As for Mary Magdalene, her presence at the tomb, with Jesus’ early appearance to her, is a fixture in Gospel tradition—indeed, it is one of the indisputable facts in the Resurrection Narratives. And, while the basic outline may be the same in all four Gospels, how different are the precise details! John’s account is perhaps the best known, but is complicated by the presence of Peter and the Beloved Disciple (20:2-10)—the narrative makes more sense (and is more consistent with the Synoptics) if one reads 20:1 followed by vv. 11-18.

Looking at the episode in vv. 11-18, I highlight three principal motifs: First, an initial lack of recognition of the risen Jesus (vv. 14-15)—a motif which occurs in other Appearance stories (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14). However, in John we also find repeatedly the motif of the audience misunderstanding what they see or hear Jesus saying or doing; in this instance, it is Jesus himself that Mary misunderstands (“…supposing that he is the gardener”). The verb here is doke/w, which has a fairly wide range of meaning: “think, consider, seem, appear, recognize”; a derived word is do/ca (usually translated “glory”), but which has the general sense of “thought, consideration, what seems (to be), what appears (to be)” (only secondarily does one speak of do/ca as “reputation, esteem, honor, glory, etc”). In the context of the Person of Christ, one naturally also relates the word to “docetic/docetism”—that Christ only appeared or seemed to be fully human. So, the word may have a deeper meaning here than it appears at first glance. It is only when Mary hears Jesus say her name, that she recognizes him.

This leads to the second Johannine motif of seeing and hearing. These appear frequently in both the narratives (miracle stories) and the discourses, and are often a source of misunderstanding (cf. 9:39-41, etc) for the audience. Jesus stresses repeatedly that he only says (and does) what he sees and hears the Father saying/doing (5:19-20, 30; 12:49-50, etc); similarly, believers will see and hear what Jesus says and does (5:24; 8:47; 12:47-49; 14:10, 24; 17:24, etc), which leads to the experience of (eternal) life in Christ (5:25, 28; 6:63, 68; 8:51; 12:50; and cf. the raising of Lazarus, 11:1-44). So, when Mary hears Jesus say her name, and recognizes his voice, it is not merely a dramatic narrative detail: one may say she is herself coming out of the tomb at the sound of his voice (5:25, 28); for she truly hears his voice (10:3-5, 16, 27; 18:37 [“all who are of the truth hear my voice”]). She also sees, that is, she recognizes Christ; just as only those who belong to the truth can hear God’s voice, so only those who are “born from above” can see the kingdom of God (3:3).

However, Mary’s understanding is not complete. This brings me to the third motif of ascension. Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) part of this narrative is in verse 17. Upon recognizing Jesus, Mary turns to him and calls to him (“Rabbi/Teacher”); Jesus’ response is: mh\ mou a%ptou ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for not yet have I gone up toward the Father”. The verb a%ptw generally means “connect, fasten, bind”, or, more figuratively, “touch”; in this regard, one may “touch” either lightly or strongly (“handle, cling to”, etc). The exact context and meaning of Jesus’ words here remain in dispute, with any number of suggested interpretations (many exotic or implausible); however, since the precise action is not specified, I believe they should be taken in a more symbolic fashion. Mary responds to Jesus in a natural, human way (addressing him as “Teacher”); whether or not she might actually try to embrace or “cling to” him physically, that would seem to be the underlying reality—she seeks to “touch” Jesus at the physical, rather than spiritual, level. So we have Jesus’ answer: “I have not yet gone up [i.e. ascended] to the Father”. This image of going up, taking up, lifting up, etc. occurs in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, related to both his death and resurrection, and to his return to the Father. Particularly, in the last Discourses, does he refer to this “going away” (13:33-36; 14:2-4, 16-19, 26-31; 16:5-16, 19-24, 28; 17:11-13), back to the Father, which, in many instances at least, Jesus connects directly with the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete. It is by the Spirit that we are able to “touch” and “cling to” Christ, and only by the Spirit (being born from the Spirit, “from above”) that we can see and enter into the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is also reflected in the powerful language of union/unity expressed by Jesus throughout the Gospel (see especially chapter 17), and, I think, stated clearly again in Jesus’ closing words to Mary: “but go toward my brothers and say to them, ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.

April 12 (1): Luke 24:6-7

Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—instead of referring ahead to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

    • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
    • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
    • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

    • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
    • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

    1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
    2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. the article “He opened to us the Scriptures“.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.