April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

o%ti h)ga/phsa$ me pro\ katabolh=$ ko/smou
“(in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. foundation] of the world”

This is the last of the three i%na/o%ti-clauses in verse 24. Following the first two (i%na) clauses (discussed in the two previous notes), this o%ti clause builds upon the prior clause—especially the phrase “my honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me”. Both conjunctive particles (i%na and o%ti) can be translated generally as “that”, but o%ti often indicates specifically the reason that something is— “(in) that…”, i.e. “for, because”. In particular, this clause states the reason for God the Father having given do/ca (honor/splendor) to Jesus the Son. The verb de/dwka$ (“you have given”) is a perfect form, while h)ga/phsa$ (“you loved”) is an aorist. In context, this difference is perhaps best understood as indicating the priority of the act of love—i.e., the love (past action) precedes the gift (action/condition continuing into the present). In 3:35, a similar point is made, using the present tense of a)gapa/w (indicating the love as it is generally, and regularly, demonstrated):

“The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

This “all” certainly includes the do/ca of the Father. As discussed in the previous note, the word do/ca, which properly means something like “esteem, honor”, as applied to God, refers essentially to the nature and character of His person that makes him worthy of our honor/esteem. As the Son, Jesus receives this same do/ca from the Father, possessing it as his own (1:14; 17:5), just as a child carries within him/her, in various ways, the nature and character of the parent. The Son then reveals this do/ca to his disciples (believers) in the world (2:11; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40). This is his mission on earth,  the duty (e)ntolh/) given to him by the Father, and the reason why he was sent into the world; it was completed with his sacrificial death (and resurrection), which “gives honor” (related vb doca/zw) to Father and Son both (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, etc).

The phrase “before the casting-down [katabolh/] of the world” refers to the creation of the universe (the current world-order, ko/smo$), utilizing the image of a craftsman or builder laying down a foundation. The same expression occurs 10 other times elsewhere in the New Testament, including twice (as here) with the preposition pro/ (“before”)—Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20. These latter passages evince a belief in what we would call the “pre-existence” of Jesus—that is to say, he existed as the divine/eternal Son of God prior to his life on earth, indeed, prior to the very creation of the world. The Gospel of John clearly presents such a Christological view as well (1:1-2, etc), though, in the Discourses of Jesus, it is nowhere stated so clearly as here in the Prayer-Discourse (also in v. 5). It merely confirms the idea, expressed throughout the Gospel, that, as the Son of God, Jesus shares the same (divine/eternal) nature and character of the Father.

However, the main point here is that believers are able to see this do/ca, and to share in it as well (as the offspring/children of God). By being with (meta/) Jesus, in union with him, we can see his do/ca—that is, to see the Father—and will be able to look upon it (vb qeore/w) even more closely when we are with him in heaven. As I noted, this same idea is expressed in 1 John 3:2-3, and Paul promises something similar in his famous declaration in 2 Cor 3:18:

“And we all, with a face having been uncovered, (look)ing against (the glass) at the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord [i.e. as looking at it in a mirror], we are (chang)ed over in (the) shape (of) th(at same) image, from splendor into splendor, even as from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit.”

The phrase “from do/ca into do/ca” is probably best understood as a transformation from what we are now as believers (in the Spirit), into what we are destined to be in the end. This latter splendor also comes from the Spirit—which is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Christ (they share the same Spirit, 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45, etc). This basic idea would certainly be worded differently in a Johannine context, but as a fundamental promise for believers, and as a theological statement, it is much the same.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study, by turning to the next verse (25), the second to last of the Prayer-Discourse, as Jesus circles around to another theme of the Discourses, building on the common key-word and theme of the “world” (ko/smo$).

April 20: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

i%na qewrw=sin th\n do/can th\n e)mh\n h^n de/dwka/$ moi
“that they would look upon my honor/splendor that you have given to me”

This is the second of the three i%na/o%ti clauses that make up verse 24. The first (i%na) clause, discussed in the previous note, states the primary wish or request that Jesus makes to the Father (“I wish that [i%na]…”). It is parallel to the i%na-clause in the first line of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 (discussed in prior notes), in which he requests that [i%na] all believers would be one. This unity is based on the union we have with Jesus (the Son)—and this union is reflected in the initial wish-clause of v. 24:

“that [i%na] wherever I am, they also would be with me”

This raises the question of how we should understand the force of the second i%na-clause here. Is it epexegetical, further explaining and building upon the first clause? or, does it reflect the goal/purpose and result of that clause? According to the latter view, believers are to be with Jesus so that they/we can see his do/ca. I tend toward the first view, in which case the second i%na-clause builds upon (and explains) the first—i.e., that believers would be with Jesus and that they/we would behold his do/ca. The implication is that wherever Jesus is, believers will see the honor/splendor given to him by the Father, since this is based on his identity as the Son.

There can be no doubt, however, that a heavenly setting is in mind. The context (cp. 14:1-7) is Jesus’ departure (return) to the Father, to be alongside of Him just as he (the Son) was in the beginning (1:1-2ff). While believers can see him now, in the present, through the Spirit, a different sort of vision will be possible in heaven, being present with Jesus alongside the Father. An eschatological/afterlife context is certainly implied, marked, in terms of the traditional early Christian eschatology, by the end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus on earth. It is at this moment that all believers will be gathered to him, and taken up with him into heaven (Mk 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc), even as Jesus indicates in 14:3.

There is a powerful reference to this in 1 John 2:28-3:3, as the author presents his instruction with an eschatological framework (a common feature of ethical-religious instruction in the New Testament). The nearness (i.e. imminence) of his coming (v. 28, cf. verse 18) makes it all the more important that believers remain faithful, continuing in union with Christ (and each other). As believers, we are already the offspring of God—His children, even as Jesus is the Son—but, in the end, with the appearance of Jesus, the full nature of this identity will be revealed (cp. Rom 8:18-25). This revelation comes by way of a direct vision of God (“we will see Him just as He is”), and the vision transforms believers so that they/we will also be just as God is. Some commentators understand 1 Jn 3:2-3 as referring to the vision of Jesus, rather than of God the Father; this does not seem to be correct, though it could just as easily apply, and it certainly is what is being referenced in Jn 17:24.

The verb used here in v. 24 is qewre/w, which is sometimes translated blandly as “see”, but more properly signifies an intense or careful observation of something—i.e., “look (closely) at, look upon, behold” —sometimes with the sense of “perceive”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John (28 out of the 58 NT occurrences), including 7 times in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19 [twice]; 16:10, 16, 17, 19). In those references, the emphasis is on the world (including the disciples) not being able to look upon Jesus—because he is going away to the Father. However, at a deeper level, this also refers to an inability to see the truth about Jesus. At the moment, in the narrative context of the Discourse, the disciples have only a limited awareness of this as well; but, following the resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, they will truly know and understand who Jesus is, as the Son sent by the Father. This visionary knowledge finds its completion, and fulfillment, when they are united with the Father and Son in heaven.

The key term in this regard is do/ca, typically translated “glory”, but more properly rendered as “esteem, honor”. It corresponds (loosely) to the Hebrew dobK* (“weight, worth, value”), which, when applied to God, may connote that which makes him worthy of our honor and esteem. For lack of a better term in English, this quality may be referred to as “splendor”, a shorthand honorific for the nature and character of God Himself. It is sometimes conceived of visually, through various light- and color-imagery, and so forth; however, according to the traditional Israelite theology, no human being can truly see God (visually) in this life.

A central theme of the Johannine theology (and Christology) is that Jesus, as the Son sent by God the Father, makes this do/cathe nature and character of the Father—known to his disciples (believers). This is because Jesus (as the Son) shares the same do/ca, given to him by the Father. The point is made specifically by Jesus here in v. 24, as also earlier in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 5). What is most important about this do/ca, is that it was given to the Son (Jesus) by the Father. This follows the guiding theological principle of the Johannine Gospel, that the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:35). This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

    • “just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you” (v. 21b)
      kaqw\$ su/ pa/ter e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n soi/
    • “just as we are one, I in them and you in me” (v. 22c-23a)
      kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n e)moi/

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

April 2 (1): John 6:51-58; 1 John 5:6-8

John 6:51-58; 1 John 5:6-8

One of the most peculiar features of the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of John is the lack of any mention of the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper, the bread and cup) in the Last Supper scene (chap. 13). Many critical commentators believe that this detail has been transferred to an earlier location in the Gospel (the Bread of Life Discourse, 6:51-58), the precise reason for which remains uncertain. This interpretation is easier to maintain for critical scholars who tend to view the Discourses, etc, as primarily the product of early Christians, rather than representing the authentic words/sayings of Jesus himself. At the historical level indicated by the narrative setting of the Bread of Life discourse, for example, allusions to the Eucharist, while obvious to early Christian readers, would have been completely unintelligible for Jesus’ Galilean contemporaries (the people with whom he is said to be speaking in the Discourse). The same is true of the supposed references to (Christian) baptism in 3:5ff, and so forth.

There is certainly a similarity between 6:51ff and the words of institution in the Synoptic Lord’s Supper tradition; the saying in v. 51 forms the core statement of Jesus in the sub-discourse of vv. 51-58:

“I am the living bread, the (bread hav)ing stepped down out of heaven; if any (one) should eat out of this bread, he shall live into the Age, and the bread, indeed, which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world.”

The reaction (misunderstanding) of the crowd follows immediately in verse 52, and the exposition by Jesus comes in vv. 53-57, along with a restatement of the initial saying in the closing v. 58, bringing it line with the context of the discourse as a whole:

This is the bread (hav)ing stepped [i.e. come] down out of heaven, not as the fathers ate and (then) died off—the (one) munching this bread will live into the Age.”

By combining the italicized portion of v. 51 above with the basic idiom of the exposition in vv. 53ff (i.e. eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood) we can approximate the Eucharistic tradition of Mark 14:22-24 par:

“And (with) their eating, (hav)ing taken bread…he gave (it) to them and said ‘Take, [eat,] this is my body’. And, (hav)ing taken the drinking-cup…he gave (it) to them and they all drank out of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many’.”

The force of the instruction in Jn 6:53-57 involves a contrast between those who eat/drink Jesus’ flesh/blood and those who do not:

“Then Yeshua said to them: ‘Amen, amen, I relate to you (that), if you should not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold life in yourself’.” (v. 53)

“The (one) munching [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]…” (v. 54)
“The (one) munching [i.e. eating] my flesh and drinking my blood remains [me/nei] in me, and I in him.” (v. 56)

Clearly, “holding life” is here synonymous with “remaining” in Jesus, both idioms being essential to the Johannine theological vocabulary and found repeatedly in the Gospel (and Letters). The verb me/nw (“remain”) is of special significance in the way that it defines the identity of the believer in Christ.

Some commentators would view the Vine instruction/illustration in 15:1-8 as a similar Eucharistic reference, with the vine (i.e. wine/cup) as a complement to the bread in the chap. 6 discourse. In point of fact, however, the main parallel between 6:51-58 and 15:1-8 lies in the use of the verb me/nw, and the idea of “remaining” in Jesus. Consider the words of Jesus in 15:4:

“You must remain [mei/nate] in me, and I in you. Even as the br(anch) broken (off) is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain [me/nh|] in the vine, so also you (can)not if you should not remain [me/nhte] in me.”

The same language is repeated in vv. 5-7, and again, by way of exposition, in vv. 9-10. According to a sacramental (eucharistic) interpretation of these passages, the believer initially comes to Jesus through faith/trust in him, but remains in relationship with Jesus (his life-giving power, etc) by partaking in the ritual meal (sacrament of the bread and wine). While this would make perfect sense, I am sure, to many early Christians, there is precious little support for it in the Johannine Gospel (or Letters). The basis for “remaining” in Jesus, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology (and Christology), is two-fold:

    • Trust in Jesus—that he is the Son who manifests God the Father, and
    • Union with him—being united with both Son and Father—through the Spirit

This is further reflected in the two essential characteristics marking the true believer in Christ:

    • Obedience to the dual-command: of trust and love
    • The abiding and guiding presence of the Spirit

The former is clearly expressed in 15:9-10, where the “remaining in Jesus” of the vine-illustration, is explained precisely in terms of the ‘command’ (e)ntolh/) of trust/love (for an explicit definition of this dual-command, cf. 1 John 3:23-24). As for the presence of the Spirit, while this is central to the entire Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16), it applies more directly to the eucharistic language in 6:51-58. Indeed, in the explanation of Jesus that follows in vv. 61ff, we read:

“Does this trip you (up)? Then if you could look at the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was (at) first, (would that help)? The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. bringing] life; the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing)—(and) the utterances that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life. But there are some out of you that do not trust.”

Does the flesh/blood of Jesus in 6:51-58 refer primarily to the Eucharist or to trust in Jesus? The explanation in verses 61ff, within the overall setting of the Johannine theology, clearly indicates the latter. It is our trust in the revelatory message about Jesus—who he is (Son of God the Father) and what he does (his sacrificial death)—which allows us to “hold” life within ourselves and to “remain” in him. Moreover, this message is identified with the Spirit, which is the source of the life we hold, and the presence of the Spirit is what unites us with Jesus the Son (and God the Father).

However, the message of Jesus does center upon his sacrificial death, which brings us around to the Passion setting of the eucharistic language. The “bread”, further described as the “body and blood” of Jesus, which he gives, is given “over the life of the world” (6:51; Mk 14:24 par “…over many”). This alludes to the covenant context of the ritual in Exodus 24:5-8—particularly the action involving the blood in verse 8 (parallel to v. 6). Blood is thrown on (i.e. over) the people as part of the ratification of the covenant (note the declaration of faith/obedience to the covenant in v. 7). Obedience to the covenant leads to life and blessing for Israel.

This idea is taken much further in early Christian thought. As a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death (and resurrection) those who believe in him are freed from the power of sin and evil, and rescued from the coming Judgment of God on the wickedness/evil in the world. We are never told exactly how this is accomplished, though the symbolism and imagery involved offer some clues. Paul, in his letters, provides rather more theological exposition in this regard, but ultimately it remains one of the great mysteries of Christian faith. Jesus’ death brings (eternal) life to all who believe (“…the life of the world”, cp. Jn 3:16 etc).

1 John 5:6-8

Within the Johannine congregations, there was apparently some controversy over the place of Jesus’ death in the Gospel message. The author of 1 John refers to ‘false’ believers (whom he calls a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”, i.e. antichrist), who, by their (erroneous) view of Jesus, effectively deny him as the Messiah and Son of God. The details of their Christology are difficult to determine (I discuss the matter at length in several recent Saturday Series studies), but it can be pieced together, to some extent, by a careful examination of the main passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:1-12; 2 Jn 7-11). I would maintain that the key is found in 5:6-8. A true/proper belief in Jesus (as the Anointed and Son of God) entails an affirmation that

“This is the (one hav)ing come through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not through the water only, but through the water and the blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that the Spirit is the truth. (For it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood—and the three are into the one.”

This is a most challenging passage, which commentators have sought to interpret in various ways. I discuss it in several earlier notes and articles (most recently in a Saturday Series study). In my view, “the water” refers primarily to Jesus’ birth and life as a human being, while “the blood” refers to his death (as a human being). The importance the author gives to affirming that Jesus came both “in the water” and “in the blood” strongly suggests that the ‘false’ believers, in some sense, denied the second portion—the reality of Jesus’ death, and/or the significance of it. Certainly, the Johannine Gospel tends to downplay the human suffering of Jesus (compare the Passion narrative and crucifixion scene with that in the Synoptics), and some in the Community may have distorted or exaggerated this aspect of the Gospel portrait of Jesus.

Be that as it may, the central theological point in 1 Jn 5:6-8 is that the Spirit conveys the meaning (and reality) of both Jesus’ human life (“water”) and death (“blood”) for believers—uniting both aspects together into a single, life-giving power. This very symbolism is expressed in the Gospel, following the death of Jesus, when “blood and water” came out of him (19:34), parallel with the earlier notice that, at the moment of his death, he “gave along the Spirit” (v. 30). This will be discussed further in the next daily note, the second for Good Friday.

 

 

March 27: John 12:35-36

John 12:35-36

“Then Yeshua said to them: ‘Yet a little time the light is among you. You must walk about as you hold the light, (so) that darkness should not take you down; and the (one) walking about in darkness has not seen [i.e. known] where he leads (himself) under. As you hold the light, you must trust in the light, (so) that you would come to be sons of (the) light.’ Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and (then), going away from (there), he hid (himself) from them.”

From the literary standpoint of the discourse, Jesus’ words in vv. 35-36 represent his response to the misunderstanding (and question) of the crowd in v. 34 (cf. the previous note). Yet it is not at all clear how this response answer’s the crowd’s question, or relates to their misunderstanding. Possibly, vv. 35-36 was originally an independent tradition, uttered by Jesus on a separate occasion; however, even if this were so, we still have to deal with these verses in their current literary context. In terms of the discourse format, Jesus’ statement in vv. 35-36 is part of the exposition—the explanation of the true and deeper meaning of his initial saying (in v. 23); each exchange with his audience serves to build and develop this exposition.

The initial words in verse 23 refer to the hour in which the Son of Man will be given honor; much the same is said in verse 32, only Jesus there uses the pronoun “I” instead of the title “Son of Man” (cp. 3:14; 8:28). Clearly the crowd around him, including his followers and other interested hearers, has difficulty understanding this self-use of the expression “Son of Man”, and they ultimately ask the question in v. 34: “Who is this Son of Man?” How does Jesus’ response address this question? Fundamentally it is a Christological question, regarding the identity of Jesus, and his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

If we consider the three prior references to the expression “Son of Man” in the Gospel, two essentially restate the Son of Man saying cited by the crowd in verse 34—8:28 and 12:23. The third occurs at the climax of the healing episode in chapter 9, when Jesus asks the former blind man “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (v. 35). Some manuscripts read “…Son of God” but this likely is a correction to the more conventional title among early Christians, being more appropriate to a confession of faith (cf. 20:31, etc). Almost certainly, “Son of Man” is the correct original reading. The theme of the episode is that of seeing, with the establishment of sight tied to the idea of Jesus as light (fw=$)—the true light of God—even as he declares in 9:5, “I am the light of the world” (repeated from 8:12), an identification that is found again in 11:9f:

“…if any (one) should walk about in the day, he does not strike (his foot) against (anything) [i.e. does not trip/stumble], (in) that [i.e. because] he looks (by) the light of this world…”

An ordinary illustration is infused with theological meaning, and this infused imagery is recaptured here in 12:35-36—Jesus, the Son of God, is the light that shines in this world, so that people (believers) may see it and walk by it. The expression “this world” is the current world-order, the current Age of darkness and evil—darkness in which the light of God shines. This light/darkness motif is part of the theological vocabulary of the Johannine Gospel, going back to the Prologue (1:4-9), in which the Son (Jesus) is described as the “true light” (v. 9), the eternal life of God that gives light to people in the world (vv. 4, 9); the wording in verse 5 of the Prologue is especially significant here:

“…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take it down [kate/laben]”

The same verb katalamba/nw is used here in 12:35, and, literally, it means “take down”, but can be understood in a positive, neutral, or negative sense; the latter is primarily intended in both passages, but certainly so in the saying here—emphasizing the danger of the person being “taken down” (or “overtaken”) by the darkness of the world. The dualistic light/darkness imagery also occurs in the chapter 3 discourse (vv. 19-20).

Thus, even if Jesus’ response might be obscure, from the standpoint of the audience (the crowd) in the discourse, it would be understandable for readers of the Gospel, who would recognize the earlier motifs. Who is this Messianic “Son of Man”? It is the Son of God, the true/eternal Light that shines in the darkness of this world. Here, the Gospel may well be redirecting traditional Messianic expectations of the time toward the unique Johannine Christology—revealing the true, deeper meaning of these titles and expressions as applied to Jesus. Like the healed blind man of chapter 9, believers see Jesus and come to him, responding with a declaration of trust. This refers specifically to the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (in the world), a brief period of time (xro/no$) that is now coming to an end. The Light is “among” the people, and, as such, they “hold” it—but only believers will truly see and walk (“walk about”) by it (cp. 1 John 1:7).

The imperatives in verse 35 are a call for believers to come to him, and those who belong to God will respond in trust: “you must walk about as you hold the light…as you hold the light you must trust in the light”. Here the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) captures the discipleship-theme from earlier in the discourse—the believer comes toward Jesus and follows him, i.e. walks about with him; this, in turn, leads to trust (pi/sti$) and the believer remains with Jesus. This remaining involves union with Jesus (the Son) and with God the Father, and means that the believer has the same divine/eternal character as Father and Son. Thus, believers in Christ can properly be called “sons [i.e. children] of Light”, a title more or less synonymous with being called “children [lit. offspring] of God” (cf. 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2). The expression “sons of light” is traditional, being used, for example, by the Community of the Qumran texts, and comparable usage is found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 16:8; 1 Thess 5:5; Eph 5:8); however, it has a deeper significance in the Johannine context, corresponding with the Christological light-imagery of the Gospel (cf. above).

The message of vv. 35-36 provides a suitable conclusion to the discourse, and to Jesus’ teaching in the first half of the Gospel; it completes the idea foreshadowed in the opening of the discourse—the Greeks (i.e. believers from the nations) who wish to come and see Jesus. In its own way, this is entirely a Messianic theme, prefigured, for example, in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., 42:6; 49:5-6; 52:10; 60:3). Early Christians would apply such (Messianic) imagery to the first-century mission to the Gentiles. The Johannine outlook in this regard is somewhat broader—the universal ideal of all believers in Christ, united together through the Spirit (see esp. Jn 17:20-26).

Verse 36 brings the narrative of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12) to a close, with the notice that Jesus went away and “hid himself” from the people. The same is stated in 8:59, at the end of the great chap. 7-8 Discourse (cf. also 10:40); apart from historical concerns, it is essentially a literary device, closing the curtain on a particular narrative (episode), and preparing readers for the next (the Last Supper scene and the Passion Narrative). Even so, chapter 12 only reaches it final close with two additional summary sections, in vv. 37-43 and 44-50. The last of these provides a kind of summary of all Jesus’ teaching from the great Discourses in chaps. 2-12, emphasizing, in particular, his relationship (as the Son) to God the Father. The light theme (of vv. 35-36, etc) is reprised here as well, in verse 46:

“I have come (as) light into the world, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain in the darkness.”

This is the last occurrence of the noun fw=$ (“light”) in the Gospel, after serving as a key-word in the first half (23 times in chaps. 1-12). Implicit in this shift may be the idea of a time of darkness surrounding the Passion of Christ (cp. Lk 22:53 and Mk 15:33 par, and note Jn 13:30, “And it was night”), along with the promise that the light, even in the midst of the darkness, cannot be overcome (1:5).

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Gospel of John

The Johannine Writings, Part 1:
The Gospel of John

The final (two-part) article in this series will examine the Johannine Writings—that is, the Gospel and Letters of John. They are called “Johannine” because of their traditional ascription to John the Apostle; technically speaking, however, they are anonymous, and we cannot be entirely certain about their authorship. Scholars today do retain the label “Johannine”, but more properly in reference to the Community (i.e. the regional congregations, etc) within which these writings were produced and first distributed. The Gospel and Letters share a common religious and theological outlook, with many similarities in language, style, mode of expression, points of emphasis, etc. If they were not written by the same person, they almost certainly were the product of the same Community. The Book of Revelation is often considered to be another “Johannine” writing, but whether it stems from the same Community as the Gospel and Letters remains a point of debate among scholars. In any case, I have discussed the Book of Revelation at length in an extensive series of daily notes, and so will not be devoting a separate article to it here. Only the Gospel and Letters of John will be examined.

When considering the Gospel of John, in terms of its eschatology, one notices immediately that there is nothing in it remotely like the great “Eschatological Discourse” in the Synoptics, nor the many eschatological parables and sayings (“Son of Man” sayings, etc) preserved in those Gospels. Indeed, the eschatology in the Gospel of John is somewhat limited, based primarily on two areas:

    1. References to the Resurrection in chapters 5 and 11, and
    2. References to Jesus’ (future) coming/return in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33)

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Johannine eschatology is what is commonly referred to as “realized” eschatology. As this term will be used throughout this article, it may be worth defining and explaining what is meant by it beforehand. I would summarize it as follows:

The idea that things and events thought to occur in the future, at the end (and in the afterlife), are experienced (or “realized”) by believers in Christ now, in the present.

Commentators tend to make too much of the distinction between “realized” and future eschatology in the New Testament. In point of fact, early Christian eschatology was characterized by both aspects throughout. It was a fundamental belief that the person and work of Jesus, as the Messiah, marked the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. However, as Jesus did not fulfill this Messianic expectation entirely in his lifetime, nor did he usher in the great end-time Judgment, etc, these final eschatological events would have to wait until his future return—which early Christians believed was imminent, to occur very soon. This dichotomy, together with the experience of the presence and work of the Spirit, created a unique eschatological situation among Christians. The time prior to Jesus’ return—that is, the present period—is understood to be a short interim, during which the realization of the New Age is experienced by believers through the Spirit. And, because the Gospel of John places such emphasis on the role and presence of the Spirit (whether implicitly or directly), it tends to give more emphasis to the present, “realized” aspect of eschatology.

1. The Resurrection

There are two main passages in the Gospel of John dealing with the resurrection—that is, of the resurrection of the dead understood to take place at the end-time. In Jewish eschatology of the period, this resurrection was more or less limited to the righteous; however, by the end of the 1st-century A.D., there is more evidence for belief in a general resurrection—i.e. of all humankind, the righteous and wicked alike. The righteous would pass through the Judgment, into eternal life, while the wicked would face (eternal) punishment. This is the traditional eschatological expectation, and both Gospel passages deal with it, interpreting and applying it in a distinctive way.

John 5:19-29

This section is part of the great Discourse of Jesus in chapter 5, based upon the Gospel tradition (healing miracle & Sabbath controversy episode) narrated in verses 1-9ff. Verses 9b-16 are transitional, introducing and developing the Sabbath theme, and establishing the framework for the Discourse proper, which follows the basic form-pattern of the Johannine Discourses:

    • Statement/saying by Jesus (v. 17)
    • Reaction by his audience, expressing misunderstanding (v. 18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of the saying (vv. 19-47)

The lengthy exposition is complex, and may be divided into two parts:

    • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs are repeated:

    • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
    • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus very much correspond to the “realized” and future aspects of early Christian eschatology. The “realized” aspect is emphasized in vv. 19-24, in which the traditional understanding of the resurrection (and the Judgment) is given a new interpretation:

“For, just as the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes alive th(ose) whom he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but all judgment he has given to the Son, (so) that all should give honor to the Son, even as they give honor to the Father. The (one) not honoring the Son does not honor the Father, the (One hav)ing sent him.” (vv. 21-23)

The power of judgment and resurrection both are concentrated in the person of Jesus, God’s Son; as a result, the entirety of the end-time (eschatological) framework of resurrection and the Judgment is defined in terms of whether one recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as God’s Son. Judgment is moved from the future, into the present, so that it occurs already (i.e. it is “realized”) based on a person’s trust (or lack of belief) in Jesus:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that the (one) hearing my word/account and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across, out of death (and) into Life.” (v. 24)

The parallel declaration in verse 25 couples this “realized” eschatology with the more traditional future view:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that (the) hour comes—and is now (here)—when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and the (one)s hearing shall live.”

In vv. 19-24, the idea of resurrection was spiritual, understood in terms of the life that comes from trust in Jesus; now, in vv. 25-29, it is a physical resurrection that is in view, such as will take place at the end (together with the Judgment, vv. 28-29). However, there are two main differences here with the traditional understanding of the resurrection: (1) as in vv. 19-24, it is Jesus the Son of God who holds the power of the resurrection (and the Judgment), and (2) people are already experiencing this (physical) resurrection from the dead now. The latter point is, primarily, an allusion to the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, which we shall now consider.

John 11—The Raising of Lazarus (esp. verses 23-27)

The narrative episode of the raising of Lazarus (chapter 11) illustrates the very teaching in the Discourse, discussed above (on 5:19-29). The Lazarus-narrative itself, while relatively straightforward, contains within it two small sections with Discourse-elements:

    • Verses 7-16—especially the dialogue of vv. 11-16, in which the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ words in verse 11.
    • Verses 17-27—the dialogue between Jesus and Martha

It is in the latter dialogue (which I have discussed in considerable detail in an earlier series of notes), that we find the subject of the end-time resurrection again being addressed; it very much follows the basic Johannine Discourse-pattern:

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 23)
    • Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)
    • Exposition by Jesus on the true meaning of his words (vv. 25-27)

Let us briefly consider each of these.

Statement by Jesus (v. 23)

“Yeshua says to her, ‘Your brother will stand up [i.e. out of the dead]'”

This is a declaration that Lazarus will be raised from the dead, using the Greek verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me—
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)
Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)

“Martha says to him, ‘I have seen [i.e. known] that he will stand up [a)nasth/setai] in the standing-up [a)nasta/sei] in the last day’.”

Martha clearly understands Jesus as referring to the traditional idea of the end-time resurrection (“in the last day”). This is entirely reasonable; indeed, in the Bread of Life discourse (cf. above), Jesus uses the verb in precisely the same context— “and I will make him stand up in the last day” (6:39, 40). In 5:19-29, it was declared that Jesus (as God’s Son) holds the power over the end-time resurrection (and the Judgment). However, there was a deeper meaning to his words in that passage (cf. above), which expressed a special kind of “realized” eschatology—and a similar line of exposition follows here in vv. 25ff.

Exposition by Jesus (vv. 25-27)

“Yeshua said to her, ‘I am the standing-up and the life—the (one) trusting in me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (surely) not die away into the Age.'” (vv. 25-26)

As in 5:19-29, the power of resurrection and life is concentrated in the person of Jesus (the Son); as a result, this pulls the future aspect of the resurrection into the present, where Jesus is among his disciples. Here the exposition has been compressed into a single, almost elliptical declaration. It is not possible here to analyze this remarkable statement in detail (for an extensive exegetical study, cf. the earlier notes on vv. 25-26). What is most important to note, from an eschatological standpoint, is the way that the three different aspects of resurrection—also found in 5:19-29—are combined together:

    • Raised into eternal life at the end-time—Martha’s understanding
    • Raised into new life in the present—the miracle of raising Lazarus
    • Raised into eternal life (now) through trust in Jesus—the reality for believers

The first aspect represents the traditional framework of Jesus’ teaching (and Martha’s misunderstanding); the second is illustrated by the Gospel tradition (the miracle) at the heart of the narrative; and the third reflects the ultimate message of the Gospel, summarized by Martha’s climactic confession:

“Yeshua said to her…’Do you trust this?’ (And) she says to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world‘.” (vv. 26-27)

2. The Return/Coming of Jesus (The Last Discourse)

The great Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33), set within the narrative during the Last Supper on the eve of his Passion, is perhaps better viewed as a sequence of separate Discourses, encompassing a range of (Johannine) Gospel tradition. Many important themes, from earlier in the Gospel, are brought together and developed/expressed in a new way. Within this matrix, two key themes especially dominate the Discourse:

    • Jesus’ impending departure, back to the Father (i.e. the Son’s return to the Father), and
    • The sending/coming of the Spirit (also called para/klhto$, “one called alongside”)

These are twin themes that go hand-in-hand: Jesus’ departure leads to the coming of the Spirit, and, indeed, is the reason for it. Complicating the situation, within the fabric of the Discourse, are several references to Jesus’ coming back to his disciples. The richness of the Discourse is such that it is possible to understand these references on three different levels:

    • Jesus’ immediate return, following his death and resurrection (cf. 20:17-29)
    • His presence in the Spirit, tied to his departure to the Father, and
    • His future return at the end-time

It is not always easy to know for certain which aspect is primarily in view, especially in light of the emphasis on the Spirit and the “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. above). I offer an overview of the eschatology of the Discourse in a separate note. Here, I wish to focus on two specific passages in the Discourse, which, as it happens, tend to reflect the future and present (“realized”) aspects, respectively.

Future—John 14:1-4

“Your heart must not be disturbed; you trust in God, (now) also trust in me. In the house of my Father (there) are many (place)s to stay [monai/]—and, if not, I (would have) told you, (for it is) that I travel to make ready a place for you. And if I would travel and make ready a place for you, (then know that) I come again and will take you along toward myself, (so) that (at) what(ever) place I am, you also may be (there). And (the) place where I lead myself under [i.e. go away, go back], you have seen the way (there).”

Most commentators are agreed that this statement by Jesus refers to his end-time return (from heaven). At the historical level, this may seem rather out of place. After all, his disciples had difficulty understanding (and accepting) the idea of his death and resurrection, much less that of a future return (which assumes the resurrection and ascension, etc). From a literary standpoint, however, it would have made perfect sense to early Christians and readers of the Gospel. Moreover, it follows the general pattern of the Johannine Discourses, whereby a statement by Jesus is not fully or properly understood by his audience (including his disciples). Accepting the authenticity of the saying, the disciples surely would not have understood its true significance until sometime later (cp. the asides in 2:21-22 and 7:39).

Even if we grant the reference to Jesus’ future return, when he will gather all believers to himself (cf. Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:13-18), this basic tradition takes on new meaning within the Johannine context. This can be illustrated from two important details: (1) the vocabulary of the passage, especially the idea of “remaining” (vb me/nw), and (2) the individual discourse that follows (vv. 5-11ff), based on the specific statement in verse 4 (on knowing/seeing the “way” [o%do$]).

1. The ‘dwellings’ of God’s “house” are referenced with the plural noun monai/, i.e., places to remain or stay; it is related to the verb me/nw (“remain”), which has special theological significance in the Johannine writings. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel (compared with just 12 in the three Synoptics combined), including 14 occurrences in the Last Discourse. Its significance is two-fold: (a) it refers to the believer’s trust (and continued trust) in Jesus, and (b) it denotes the believer’s union with God the Father (and Jesus the Son), through the presence of the Spirit. Thus, believers can be said to have dwelling-places (monai/) with God now, in the Spirit, just as well as when they/we are in heaven, in the future.

2. The exposition on verse 4, about believers seeing the way to God, has a similar Christological emphasis—i.e., the way is seen/known through the person of Jesus (the Son), and our union with him. The latter point is only hinted at (in verse 6 and 12-14), until the theme of the coming/sending of Spirit is introduced in vv. 15-17. These verses are transitional to the focus on the present (“realized”) eschatology that dominates in vv. 18-24ff.

Present (“Realized”)—John 14:18-24

Once again, in verse 18, Jesus announces his departure and return:

“I will not leave you bereaved (of a father)—I come toward you. A little (while) yet, and the world no longer (will) look upon me, but you do look upon me, (in) that I live, (so) you also will live.” (vv. 18-19)

The motifs of Jesus’ own resurrection, and the future resurrection of the righteous (believers), are blended together here in a unique way (cf. above). Because Jesus (the Son) is going away, his disciples will no longer have access to God the Father; so, in a real sense, they would be orphans, bereaved (o)rfano/$) of their father. This could refer to Jesus’ impending death, his ultimate departure to the Father, or both. For more on this dual-aspect, cf. the supplemental article on the thematic structure of the Discourse. However, Jesus promises that he will not leave them without a father (God the Father), and announces again that “I come”. The immediate context (vv. 15-17, 25ff) clearly indicates that, in this instance, his coming refers, not to his traditional end-time return, but to his presence with believers through the Spirit. According to the Gospel narrative (cf. 20:19-23), this coming/sending of the Spirit took place, for Jesus’ immediate disciples, very soon after his resurrection (cp. the comparable, but very different, tradition in Luke-Acts). It will effectively be repeated for every person who comes to trust in Christ through the message of the Gospel (17:20-21ff; 20:29, 31, etc).

Other Eschatological References

There are several other eschatological references that could be cited from the Gospel of John. In closing, I would offer this brief survey of four references (and categories of references), that are worth noting.

1. References to the Judgment

There are a number of passages in the Johannine Discourses where Jesus refers to the Judgment (kri/si$), which is certainly eschatological, whether viewed specifically in an end-time or afterlife setting. As in 5:19-29 (cf. above), two points of emphasis are typically made: (a) the power of Judgment belongs to the Son (Jesus), and (b) the Judgment is defined almost entirely in terms of trust in Jesus. While this does not eliminate the traditional future aspect of the Judgment (cf. 5:29; 12:48), it places the emphasis squarely on the present—i.e., those who refuse to accept Jesus have already been judged (and condemned), while those who trust (believers) have already passed through the Judgment into eternal life. This was stated clearly enough in 5:24, and similarly in 3:19-21: “And this is the Judgment: that the light has come into the world, and the men [i.e. people] loved the darkness more than the light…. But the (one) doing the truth comes toward the light…”.

Similar declarations are found in 9:39 and 12:31:

“Unto Judgment I came into the world, (so) that the (one)s not seeing would see, and the (one)s seeing would come to be blind” (9:39)
Now is (the) Judgment of this world, (and) now the chief of this world shall be thrown out” (12:31)

The Spirit testifies regarding this same Judgment (16:8-11), again defined specifically in terms of trust in Jesus, with the sin of humankind understood as a lack of trust.

2. The Destruction of the Temple

The Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par) is built upon a prediction, by Jesus, of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:2 par). The Temple’s destruction (fulfilled in 70 A.D.) is to be taken as a definite indicator that the end is near (vv. 4, 14, 24, 28-30 par), and with it the return of Jesus and beginning of the great Judgment. However problematic this chronology might be for Christians today, there can be little doubt that the destruction of the Temple was a key eschatological event for believers at the time. I discuss the matter at length in the articles on the Eschatological Discourse, and on the Temple in Jewish and early Christian Eschatology.

The Gospel of John contains nothing like the Eschatological Discourse, nor the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction that features so prominently in it; however, there is a statement regarding the destruction of the Temple (the Temple-saying), in John 2:19, part of the Johannine version of the Temple-action episode (the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple, vv. 13-22):

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up).”

This is quite similar to the statement reported at the Sanhedrin interrogation (‘trial’) of Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 14:57-58 / Matt 26:60-61). There the Synoptic tradition indicates that it was reported by false witnesses; yet, if we accept the authenticity of the Johannine saying (in substance), then it would seem that Jesus did, in fact, make a statement of that sort, however it may have been misrepresented by unreliable or hostile witnesses. Jesus himself does not explain the saying—it is the Gospel writer who gives the explanation, as an aside (vv. 21-22). Many critical commentators assume that Jesus’ statement, in its original context, was eschatological, very much along the lines of the prediction in Mark 13:2 par—i.e., the destruction of the Temple marks the end of the current Age, and God, through his Anointed Jesus, would introduce a new Temple in the New Age. To the extent that such a view is correct, the eschatological aspect, in the Johannine version, has been transformed into a Christological statement, the Temple being identified with the person of Jesus. Thus, any eschatological significance for the saying follows the present, “realized” emphasis that dominates throughout the Gospel of John—the death and resurrection of Jesus marks the end of the current Age, and a New Age for believers, realized through the Spirit.

3. The “Son of Man” saying in John 1:51

There are relatively few “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John, compared with the Synoptics, and those which do occur, tend to emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus (cp. Mk 9:12, 31; 10:33 par), rather than his end-time appearance—cf. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31. Only in 5:27 do we find the clear eschatological context of the Son of Man overseeing the end-time Judgment.

The “Son of Man” saying in 1:51 is perhaps the most enigmatic verse in the entire Gospel. It has been interpreted many ways, including as an eschatological reference—that is, to the end-time appearance of the Son of Man (Jesus) in glory. There are certainly elements of this saying that resemble several eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down [i.e. ascending and descending] upon the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51)

Matthew’s version (16:27-28) of a core Son of Man saying in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this Synoptic passage:

    • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
    • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
    • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

I discuss these and other aspects of the saying in Jn 1:51 at length in prior notes and articles.

4. The Tradition in John 21:20-23

Our final passage comes from that last chapter (chap. 21,the so-called appendix) of the Gospel of John, and derives from an entirely different (Johannine) line of tradition than the Synoptic material. It relates to the person in the Gospel known as “the disciple whom (Jesus) loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20ff). The disciple is unnamed (though almost certainly known to the original audience), and identified, according to Christian tradition, as John the apostle, son of Zebedee. Embedded in the brief (traditional) narrative, is a saying by Jesus regarding this disciple, which, we can assume, was a relatively well-known part of the Johannine tradition. The context is clearly eschatological, related to the end-time return of Jesus. The very point being addressed in the tradition more or less proves the imminent eschatology—i.e. that Jesus’ return would occur within the lifetime of the apostles (and first generation of believers)—that was widespread in early Christianity during the first-century. I discuss this passage as part of the earlier study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Hebrews

Hebrews

Nearly everything surrounding the so-called Letter to the Hebrews—its authorship, date, audience, provenance, and genre—has been the subject of longstanding debate among New Testament scholars. Dating of the book ranges widely, between 60 and 100 A.D. Some commentators would use the references to the Temple, and lack of any specific allusion to its destruction, as an indication of a pre-70 A.D. date, but this is hardly decisive. The Christology of Hebrews shows a relatively high degree of development—perhaps more than in the Pauline letters, but less than the Johannine writings. I would tend to narrow the time-frame for composition to c. 70-90, probably leaning toward the earlier part of this period (c. 75-80?). This would be consonant with the eschatology of the book, for which two points may be noted: (1) the sense of imminence has faded somewhat, replaced by a more expanded form of traditional exhortation (warning of the Judgment, etc); and (2) a “realized” eschatology goes more firmly in hand with future expectation, though the former aspect is not nearly so prominent as it is in the Johannine Gospel and Letters (to be discussed in the next article).

Christology dominates Hebrews, and, to some extent, the Christological development of Messianic thought means that the early Christian eschatology has undergone development as well; cf. the earlier article dealing with the relationship between eschatology and Messianism. There are few passages in Hebrews which are fundamentally eschatological in emphasis; however, the traditions are present throughout, run through by a new and deeper line of theological exposition. It will perhaps be best to approach the eschatology of Hebrews by adopting a survey format, looking at particular aspects or elements of each passage, rather than attempting a detailed exegesis.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The prologue to Hebrews (1:1-4) offers a good example of the dynamic referenced above. The eschatological aspect of the passage is almost incidental, marked by the phrase e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn (“upon [i.e. in] the last of these days”), v. 2. On the surface, this detail seems thoroughly eschatological, emphasizing that believers are living in the end-times, looking toward the imminent return of Jesus, etc (cp. Acts 2:17; James 5:3; 2 Pet 3:3; 2 Tim 3:1; cf. also 1 Pet 1:5, 20; Jude 18). However, in the context of Hebrews, the traditional phrasing serves rather a different purpose, establishing a contrast that represents (and foreshadows) the end of the old Covenant and the beginning new—a central theme that is developed throughout the letter:

    • God speaks in the old (pa/lai) times and ways–through the Prophets, but
    • He speaks in new way now in the last days—through his Son Jesus

Also eschatological in significance are the references to inheritance (receiving the lot or portion, klh=ro$) and to the Ages (ai)w/n, pl.) in v. 2, but, here again, the emphasis is Christological—God set Jesus to be the heir of all things (cf. also verse 4), even as He made all of Creation (all the Ages) through him. The earlier concept of Jesus’ divine status and position as the result of his exaltation is here combined with a clear belief in his eternal pre-existence. This developed Christology effects the way that the traditional eschatological motifs are expressed and understood in Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:14

The introductory section that establishes the theme of Jesus’ superiority (vv. 5-14) builds on the prologue, and concludes with a statement of the idea that believers will inherit salvation, even as Jesus inherits all things in glory alongside the father. This is yet another example of the early Christian understanding of salvation as eschatological—to be experienced at the end-time; believers are “…the (one)s being about [me/llonta$] to receive the lot/portion of salvation”.

Hebrews 2:2-3ff

This is the first of several exhortative passages in Hebrews, which draw upon the traditional theme of the coming Judgment, used as part of ethical and religious instruction. In earlier writings, the warnings are very much driven by the sense of urgency that comes from an imminent eschatology. In some measure, this is retained here in Hebrews:

“For, if the account (hav)ing been spoken through Messengers came to be firm, and every stepping alongside [i.e. over the line] and hearing alongside [i.e. being careless/disobedient] received its wage given forth in justice, how will we flee out (of danger) [i.e. escape], being [i.e. if we are] without concern (for) so vast a salvation, which, being received at the beginning, to be spoken through the Lord, it was made firm unto us under [i.e. by] the (one)s (hav)ing [i.e. who] heard (him)…”

In other words, the Judgment is coming, and we will not be able to flee from it, or escape it, if we are careless and do not remain faithful to Christ and the truth of the Gospel. This warning follows the same contrast, between the Messengers (as part of the old Covenant) and Jesus the Son (the new Covenant), that was introduced in chapter 1. Only now the focus is more properly on believers in Christ, rather than Jesus himself. Even so, the identity of believers as the people of God and children (“sons”, ui(oi/) of God, is based on our relationship with Jesus the Son (ui(o/$) of God. This the point made in vv. 10-18:

“For it was proper to him, through whom and through [i.e. for] whose (sake) all (thing)s (were made), leading many sons into honor, to make the chief leader of our salvation complete through sufferings.” (v. 10)

The eschatological dimension of believers as the sons/children of God—i.e., a religious identity that will only be realized fully at the end time—is dealt with most memorably by Paul in Romans 8:18-25ff (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Hebrews 3:1, 12-14ff

“There(fore), holy brothers, (one)s holding (a share) of the heavenly calling…” (v. 1)

This is a good example of how the Christological exposition in Hebrews is set within an exhortational framework, urging believers to live and act in the light of the truth regarding Jesus Christ. The opening phrase of this section establishes the essential identity of believers; this is a rhetorical device—by stating the identity of believers up front, the author puts in place the ideal, or standard, by which Christians should live. The expression that is particularly worth noting here is klh/sew$ e)pourani/ou me/toxoi, which refers to believers as “ones holding (a share) with (others)” (me/toxoi), i.e. with other believers, but also with Jesus himself. The share they hold is “of (the) heavenly calling”; this may be understood three ways:

    • The source and origin of the calling is from above the heavens (e)poura/nio$), i.e. where God Himself dwells; the Gospel revelation, and the manifestation of the Son (Jesus), is from God, as the Prologue (1:1-4) makes clear (cf. above).
    • It refers to what believers experience in the present, through the Spirit, in union with Christ.
    • It speaks of what waits for believers in the future—i.e. we are called to the heavenly abode, where we will dwell together with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This last aspect, of course, is eschatological. Cf. below on 11:10ff; 13:14, etc.

Following the Christological exposition (vv. 2-6), and the Scriptural citation (vv. 7-11 [Psalm 95:7-11]), this message is applied to the context of believers’ identity as stated in v. 1. The emphasis of the exhortation (and warning) is decidedly eschatological:

“You must look (to it), brothers, (so that) there will not ever be, in any of you, an evil heart without trust [a)pisti/a], in the standing away from (the) living God; but (rather), you must call each other alongside, according to each day, until the (time in) which it is (no longer) called ‘today’, (so) that no one of you should be(come) hard in (the) deceit of the sin. For we have come to be (one)s holding (a share) with [me/toxoi] (the) Anointed, if (indeed) we hold down firm(ly) the beginning of (our) standing under (in him), up to (its) completion [te/lo$]” (vv. 12-14)

Again the noun me/toxoi is used of believers, only now it clearly relates to our union with Christ, weaving the Christological message of vv. 2-6 into the earlier statement. Also woven in is the Scriptural example from Psalm 95—using the example of Israel’s disobedience (in the wilderness) as a warning to believers to remain faithful. The references to “the standing away [a)posth=nai] from God” and “(the) deceit of the sin” almost certainly have eschatological significance—i.e. allusions to the increasing wickedness at the end of the Age (the period of distress, etc)—as also does the temporal aspect of the (relatively) short time that remains until the end (i.e., while it is yet called “today”). The term “completion” (te/lo$) clearly has a strong eschatological connotation, as it does in many other passages we have studied.

Hebrews 4:1-13

The Scripture passage cited in chapter 3 (Psalm 95:7-11) is expounded further in chapter 4, developing the important theme of the pleasant rest that awaits the people of God. The Greek word is kata/pausi$, literally meaning something like “settling down”, “easing down”, with the idea of stopping or pausing (i.e. from one’s labor). The historical context of Israel entering the Promised Land is applied to believers; the implication being that “Israel” (the people of the old Covenant) was unable to enter this peaceful “settling down” in the Land, due to their disobedience. Nor was this fulfilled by the children of that wicked generation, who entered the Land under Joshua’s leadership (v. 8); thus, the author states clearly in verse 9:

“S0 then, there is left (behind) from (this) [i.e. there remains] a Shabbat [i.e. Sabbath]-like (settling down) for the people of God.”

The “settling down” for the true people of God (i.e. believers in Christ) has more in common with God’s “easing down” from the work of Creation, as symbolized by the Sabbath regulations in the Torah, etc. It is thus represents something far beyond the historical settlement of Israel in the Promised Land:

“For the (one) coming into His settling-down [kata/pausi$] (has) also settled-down [kate/pausen] from his works, just as God (did) from His own (work)s.” (v. 10)

This “settling down” is something that will only take place in the future, at the end. The promise is thus eschatological, as is indicated by the reference to the final Judgment in verse 13.

Hebrews 6:1-8

Hebrews seems to share much the same worldview as the book of Revelation, and may well have been written at about the same time. In both works there is a strong warning to believers against losing faith and ‘falling away’, all the more during the time of severe testing that precedes the end. Especially in Hebrews one senses the very real possibility that some might be led astray and could actually fall from faith in Christ. The first portion of chapter 6 in Hebrews contains one of the strongest such warnings along this line. The nearness of the end perhaps helps to explain the specific eschatological emphasis in vv. 4-5:

“For it is without power [i.e. impossible] (that) the (one)s (hav)ing once been enlightened, and (hav)ing tasted the heavenly gift, and (hav)ing come to be (one)s holding (a share) of the holy Spirit, and (hav)ing tasted the beautiful utterance of God and (the) powers of the coming Age—and (then hav)ing fallen alongside—(for them) to be made new once again…”

The harvest imagery in vv. 7-8 also seems to allude to the great end-time Judgment, as we have seen in numerous other passages, going back to the early Gospel tradition (Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 40-43, etc).

Hebrews 7 (v. 19)

The “Melchizedek” exposition in chapter 7 is perhaps the most famous example of the kind of Christological (re)interpretation of eschatological and Messianic traditions, etc, that we see throughout Hebrews. The parallels with certain texts from Qumran (e.g. 11QMelchizedek) show that, by the first century A.D., the ancient traditions regarding Melchizedek were being applied to Messianic heavenly-redeemer and Anointed-priest figure-types, and that this explains how the author of Hebrews could similarly identify Jesus the Messiah with Melchizedek. However, the discussion in chapter 7 is fundamentally Christological, not eschatological, Melchizedek being utilized to establish how Jesus Christ (who was not a descendant of Aaron) could function as a High Priest—and with a Priesthood far greater than that of the Aaronid and Levitical priests of the old Covenant. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, together with the supplemental article on Hebrews.

Even so, the eschatological aspect of the new Covenant remains not far below the surface in the discussion, coming through at several points, most notably in verse 19:

“…but (on the other hand), (the) bringing in upon (us) of a stronger hope, through which we come near to God.”

The noun e)lpi/$ (“hope”) in the New Testament frequently has a definite eschatological connotation (i.e. the future hope, of the resurrection, etc), as we saw, for example, in the earlier studies on Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Peter 1:3ff. The idea of “coming near” to God also alludes to our standing before him at the Judgment, and of passing through into eternal life. The specific imagery used to express this, in context, is that of the High Priest entering into God’s presence within the sanctuary of the Tabernacle/Temple.

Hebrews 8:8-13

An often overlooked aspect of the early Christian understanding of the “new Covenant” is that it marks the beginning of a new Age—and is thus eschatological. This interpretation of the Covenant-theme goes beyond the basic idea that believers are living in the “last days” (Acts 2:17); rather, it means that believers are already experiencing the Age-to-come now, in the present, through the manifestation and work of the Spirit. Only believers in Christ have this experience of the New Age, prior to its full realization following the return of Jesus and the great Judgment. Thus, there is a definite eschatological aspect to the various “New Covenant” references in the New Testament, such as here in Heb 8:8-13, drawing upon the famous passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 [LXX 38:31-34]. The words in v. 31 of the oracle, initially referring to a time in Israel’s (immediate) future, when applied to believers in their time (late 1st century A.D.), has an eschatological—and imminent eschatological—context:

“See, the days come [i.e. are coming], says the Lord, and I will bring together completely [suntele/sw] upon the house of Yisrael and upon the house of Yehudah a new diaqh/kh…” (v. 8)

The word diaqh/kh is typically translated “covenant”, but literally refers to something (an agreement, etc) that is “set through”, or “set in order”, as in English idiom we might speak of “putting (our affairs) in order” with a will or contract. The Greek work is used to render the Hebrew tyr!B=, which properly signifies a binding agreement. The verb suntele/sw (“bring together to completion [or completely]”) is related to the term te/lo$ (“completion, end”) which is often used in an eschatological sense (cf. above). In early Christian thought, the end of the old Covenant (v. 13) corresponds generally with the end of the current Age, a correspondence Paul brings out, for example, in passages such as 2 Cor 3:7-18.

Hebrews 9:23-28

Together with this “new Covenant” theology, and the idea of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Hebrews utilizes the sacred space of the Tabernacle/Temple—particularly its sanctuary—as an image of the New Age that believers experience in Christ. This eschatological aspect is brought out at the end of the Christological exposition in 9:23-28, with its theme of a heavenly sanctuary—the true and real sanctuary which currently exists in heaven (with God and Christ):

“For the Anointed (One) did not come into holy (place)s (that were) made with hands [xeiropoi/hto$], (thing)s patterned after the true, but (instead he came) into heaven it(self), now to shine forth in the sight God, over us [i.e. on our behalf]…” (v. 24)

This corresponds to the motif of the heavenly city, i.e. a heavenly “Jerusalem”, a motif that is found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. on 11:10f; 13:14 below). The entirety of Jesus’ work (as Priest)—including his earthly ministry, death and resurrection, and future return—is all understood as being set in the end-time, the “last days”, and is thus eschatological:

“…but now, once, at the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of the Ages, unto the setting aside of sin through the (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice] of him(self), he has been made to shine forth.” (v. 26b)

This is typical of early Christian thought, and his hardly unique to Hebrews; it is the Christological emphasis, and development of the underlying tradition, that is special to this letter. The eschatological aspect is stated even more clearly in verse 28, in which the future (impending) appearance of Jesus is related to his first coming—both being end-time events, from the standpoint of early Christian eschatology:

“So, also the Anointed (One), (hav)ing once been carried toward (God) [i.e. as an offering], unto the taking up on (himself) the sin(s) of many, will be seen out of a second (shining forth), (quite) apart from sin, to the (one)s looking out to receive (him) from (heaven), unto (their) salvation.”

The early Christian understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological, as I have noted on numerous occasions; in this sense it refers to being saved from the great end-time Judgment, as indicated here in verse 27. Jesus first appearance involved the removal of sin, while his second appearance fully (and finally) brings salvation to those freed from sin (i.e., his second appearance is “apart from [xwri/$] sin”).

Hebrews 10:11-13, 19-25ff

The theme of the Priesthood of Jesus, as part of the “new Covenant”, spans the entirety of 4:14-10:18, being expounded and developed a number of ways. Here in 10:11ff, this exposition comes to a close, re-emphasizing the Christological dimension of the new Covenant. Throughout the letter, various Messianic themes and motifs were introduced and given a deeper Christological interpretation. This is certainly true of traditional Messianic passages such as Psalm 110:1, cited frequently by early Christians (e.g., Mark 12:26 par; Acts 2:34-35), as also by the author of Hebrews (1:13). It was the prime reference for the idea of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven at God’s right hand (cf. the discussion in my earlier article). Psalm 110 was also a key passage for the royal theology that would establish (and support) the priestly prerogative for the Davidic line (including the Davidic Messiah). It is thus altogether fitting that the author of Hebrews would again allude to it here.

The eschatological anticipation is emphasized in verse 13, where it speaks of waiting “until his enemies are set (down as) a foot(stool) under (his) feet”. This same aspect is brought out again in the recapitulation of the “new Covenant” theme (citing Jer 31:33) in verse 16, speaking of the covenant that will be made (i.e. fully realized) “after those days”.

The lengthy exposition of chapters 4-10 is capped by a final exhortation, in the form of an eschatological warning, in vv. 19-25. The various themes of the exposition are brought together concisely, woven through the exhortation, but the basic emphasis is clear enough, with its eschatological implications:

“we should hold down (firmly) the common account of the hope [e)lpi/$] (we share), without bending (from it)—for the (One) giving the message [i.e. promise] about (this is) trust(worthy)—and we should set (this) down in mind (for each) other, unto the sharpening of love and beautiful works…” (vv. 23-24)

The urgency of this exhortation to faithfulness (and action) is made especially clear in the closing words:

“…and (to do this) so much more as you see the day coming near”

This “day” is the “day of the Lord”, the day of Jesus’ return, which will usher in the great day of Judgment.

Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22-23; 13:14

“For he looked out for the city holding the (foundation)s set down, whose producer [i.e. builder] and public-worker [i.e. construction worker] (is) God.” (11:10)

This statement is part of the Abraham section (vv. 8-12) of the famous Faith-chapter (chap. 11). Abraham’s trust (pi/sti$) in God was demonstrated by his willingness to leave his homeland, in expectation of finding a new inheritance from God (cf. Gen 12:1ff). The author’s line of interpretation is very much like that used in 4:1-13 (cf. above), where the “settling down” of God’s people refers, not to the settlement of Israel in the promised Land, but to the eternal rest that awaits for believers in heaven, in the Age to Come. Similarly, Abraham is seen as going in search of an eternal, heavenly city—designed and built by God Himself—and not to any earthly land. The same is stated more clearly in the following section (vv. 15-16):

“And if they were remembering that (place) from which they stepped out, they (certainly) held a moment to turn back [i.e. when they could have turned back], but (instead) now they reach out for a stronger—that (is), a heavenly—city. Therefore God does not feel shame about them, (and is willing) to be called their God, for (so) he (has) made ready for them a city.”

The nature of this heavenly “city” is further described in 12:22-23:

“But you have come toward ‚iyyôn {Zion}, mountain and city of (the) living God, Yerushalaim above the heaven(s) [e)poura/nio$], and (the) multitude of Messengers all (together) in (its) market-square [i.e. a)gora/], and (the) e)kklhsi/a of (the one)s first-produced [i.e. first born] having been written (down) from (the registry) in (the) heavens, and (also) God (the) Judge of all, and the spirits of (the) just having been [i.e. who have been] made complete”

The locale and space of the city, patterned after that of Jerusalem on earth, blends over into those persons (or beings) who dwell in the city. Thus, as in the great vision of the “new Jerusalem” in Rev 21-22, we are dealing not so much with an actual city as we are its people. This is an important point of emphasis. The list of four kinds of dwellers seems a bit confusing at first glace—it is not immediately clear how the “e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn” relates to “the spirits of the just”. Both seem to refer to believers, and perhaps it is best to view the list as a parallelism:

    • “the multitude of Messengers”, i.e. divine beings, the Messengers (Angels) of God
      • “the e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn”, i.e. believers, modified by a perfect passive participle:
        • having been written down in the heavens”, i.e. their names have been written down (from the registry) as citizens belonging to the ‘heavenly city’
    • “God the Judge of all”, God who rules over all the multitudes
      • “the spirits of the just”, i.e. believers, modified by another perfect passive participle:
        • “having been made complete”, i.e. perfected and sanctified by God

The noun e)kklhsi/a, of course, though a bit difficult to render literally in English, refers to a gathering or congregation of believers—lit. those “called out” to gather/assemble together. For more on the significance of ‚iyyôn (/oYx!, Zion, Siw/n), here designated as both mountain and city, cf. the recent note on Revelation 14:1.

The final reference to this heavenly “city” is in 13:14, in the form of an eschatological promise:

“For we do not hold here [i.e. on earth] (any) city remaining (for us), but (instead) we seek for the (one) being about [me/llousan] (to come).”

The eschatological significance of the verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is discussed in the earlier study on imminent eschatology. As for the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem, in clear contrast to the earthly city, consult the recent notes on the vision in Revelation 21-22, beginning with the note on 21:2-4. Believers follow the example of Abraham, et al, in searching and longing for this “city”; it is, to be sure, not an actual city at all, but a theological symbol for which I would give a three-fold interpretation—as a symbol of: (1) eternal life, (2) our union with God (and Christ) in heaven, and (3) our (collective) identity as the people of God.

Hebrews 12:5-11, 25-29

The final two eschatological passages to consider come from the dual exhortation in chapter 12, which may be divided into two main sections, each with its own primary emphasis:

    1. 12:1-17, with a concluding warning in vv. 14-17
      Theme: The need to endure a short period of suffering and testing
    2. 12:18-29, again with a concluding warning in vv. 25-29
      Theme: The need to remain faithful in light of the great “shaking” (i.e. the Judgment) that is about to come upon the earth

The period of testing, summarized most clearly in vv. 5-11, refers essentially to the end-time period of distress, which, according to the eschatology of early Christians, believers were either: (a) already living in, or (b) were about to enter. This is expressed in terms of the discipline that a parent shows to a child, out of love, in order to perfect their personal character and growth. Such an interpretation helps to explain why believers would have to endure this (end-time) suffering, but also to provide encouragement in the face of it. From an eschatological standpoint, the thrust of the message is two-fold: (i) it is not yet as bad as it could be (and will be), v. 4, and (ii) such suffering is only temporary and will last but a short time (vv. 10-11).

The Judgment-theme of the second section (vv. 18-29) begins with an allusion to the manifestation of God (theophany) on mount Sinai (Exod 19:16; Deut 4:11-12, etc). In a similar way, the end-time Judgment will be a time when God manifests himself to humankind on earth, with an equally awesome and terrifying appearance, accompanied by supernatural phenomena and disturbances in the natural world. This aspect is emphasized in the warning of vv. 25-29, drawing upon past examples when humankind (even God’s own people, Israel) were disobedient and refused to heed the word of God:

“For if they, (being) upon (the) earth, did not [i.e. were not able to] flee out (away from God), (hav)ing asked alongside [i.e. in the sense of refusing] the (One) dealing (with them), how much more (shall it be so for) us, the (one)s turning away [i.e. if we turn away] from the (One who is) from heaven, whose voice shook the earth then, but now has given a message about (it), saying, ‘Yet once (more) shall I shake, not only the earth, but also the heaven(s)’?” (vv. 25-26)

The author’s handling of this traditional motif is complex, and a bit difficult, as is observable from the syntax (which I have attempted to preserve, as far as possible, in the translation above). This difficulty continues in the eschatological exposition, of the word “yet once (more)” (a%pac), in verse 27; the statement effectively combines the promise of eternal life with a most clear sense of the end of the current Age (i.e. the end of the world):

“And th(is) ‘yet once (more)’ makes clear the placing beyond [i.e. removing] of the (thing)s being shaken, (so) that only the (thing)s not being shaken should remain.”

In the New Age, following the end of the current Age, only the eternal—those things of God that are unable to be shaken—will remain. Believers are said to receive this “unshakable kingdom” (v. 28), which expresses precisely the same thing as the heavenly “city” of 11:10, 16, etc (cf. above), using different (but related) imagery. However, believers will only receive this kingdom if they/we remain faithful to the end, an eschatological message that is reinforced by the closing reference in v. 29, which combines the theophany and judgment themes in this section: “…for our God (is) a fire taking away [i.e. burning up] (all things complete)ly!”

February 17: Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

This is the second component from the two parallel sets that make up verses 6-17 (cf. the previous note on vv. 6, 10-11). It is a declaration, by Jesus, of his imminent end-time appearance:

“And, see! I come quickly [taxu/]!” (v. 7a)
“See! I come quickly [taxu/]…” (v. 12)

This repeats the message of the exalted Jesus in 2:16; 3:11; the corresponding expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] haste”) occurs in 1:1 and 22:6 (cf. the previous note). This is a clear indication, again, that, from the standpoint of the author and readers of the book, the end-time return of Jesus was imminent. On the specific use of taxu[$] / taxo$ with this eschatological meaning among early Christians, cf. my study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The message in vv. 6ff and 10ff is spoken by the heavenly Messenger (Angel); that it shifts here to the first person voice of Jesus is simply a reflection of the book’s understanding that the exalted Jesus is the true source of the message (cf. the discussion on 1:1 in the opening note, and the one previous).

Verses 12-13

The declaration by Jesus in vv. 12-13 is expanded beyond the simple announcement of his imminent return:

“See! I come quickly [taxu/]! and my wage is with me to give forth to each (person), as his work is (deserving). I (am) the Alpha and the O(mega), the first and the last, the beginning and the completion [te/lo$].”

In many ways, this statement provides a concise summary of early Christian eschatology, as may be illustrated by an exegesis of each phrase.

 )Idou\ e&rxomai taxu/ (“See! I come quickly”)—This reflects the early Christian belief that Jesus’ return is imminent (cf. above); it was something that believers at the time would have expected themselves to see.

kai\ o( misqo/$ mou met’ e)mou= (“and my wage is with me”)—This alludes to the coming end-time Judgment, which will be ushered in at Jesus’ return; as God’s appointed (and Anointed) representative, he will also oversee the Judgment—thus the payment (misqo/$) is “with him”, and is his to give (“my wage”).

a)podou=nai e(ka/stw| w($ to\ e&rgon e)sti/n au)tou= (“to give forth to each [person] as his work is [deserving]”)—The noun misqo/$ is often translated “reward”, but “wage” is the proper rendering, referring to service done for payment or hire. Thus, here it specifically denotes payment that is due to a person, appropriate to the work (e&rgon) they have performed. Again, as God’s divine representative, Jesus as the authority to give out (vb a)podi/dwmi, “give from, give forth”) the payment at the time of Judgment. Jesus’ parables involving workers/laborers generally carry this eschatological aspect.

e)gw\ to\ a&lfa kai\ to\ w@ (“I [am] the Alpha and the O[mega]”)—The exalted Jesus identifies himself by this conjunction of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which, elsewhere in the book of Revelation, functions as a Divine title applied to God (1:8; 21:6, cf. the earlier note). Since the exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, he shares the same divine position and authority; beyond this, we should be cautious about reading into the wording and symbolism of the book of Revelation a more precisely-developed Christology (regarding divine pre-existence, etc).

o( prw=to$ kai\ o( e&sxato$, h( a)rxh\ kai\ to\ te/lo$ (“the first and the last, the beginning and the completion”)—These two expressions both relate to the motif of “alpha and omega”, expounding it in similar ways. The expression “the first and the last” was used specifically of the exalted Jesus in earlier scenes (1:17; 2:8), while “the beginning and the completion” was applied to God in 21:6. The expressions are eschatological, but also cosmological, in that they refer to the beginning and end of the current Age (and, indeed, of all Ages, all Creation). Jesus is the a)rxh/ (“beginning”) in the sense, certainly, that he serves as the “chief ruler” over Creation (3:14), alongside God the Father; whether this also indicates his role in the original act of Creation itself is harder to say, but I think it likely, given the contours of early Christology as it developed in the latter half of the first century (cp. 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-4, cf. Koester, p. 841). The term te/lo$ (“completion”) is unquestionably eschatological, and the exalted Jesus plays a central role in the completion of the current Age, and the formation (beginning, a)rxh/) of the New.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

Saturday Series: 2 & 3 John

This is the final study in this Series focusing on the Letters of John. In exploring these writings, I have approached the studies variously from the standpoint of the different areas of Biblical Criticism. One particularly important aspect is that of historical criticism, since a proper understanding of the Johannine Letters requires that, as far as possible, the historical setting and background is analyzed carefully. The theological (and Christological) arguments in 1 and 2 John, as we have seen, are closely tied to the views of a specific group of Christians (whom the author regards as false believers), who have, in some sense, separated from the Johannine Community, espousing a view of Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), which, according to the author, contradicts the truth of the Johannine Gospel and the witness of the Spirit. It is possible to reconstruct this historical scenario, at least to some extent. This was part of the previous study, on 2 John, where the Christological dispute in vv. 7-11 was compared with similar statements made in 1 John. Clearly we are dealing with the same situation in both letters.

2 and 3 John: Historical Criticism

Is it possible to bring the matter into more precise detail? Let us here consider the nature of 2 and 3 John, letters written to different parts of the Johannine Community. When speaking of this “Community”, it is best to understand it in terms of a group of congregations (house-churches) located throughout a relatively wide region. Tradition has identified this as the region of Asia Minor, centered around the site of Ephesus; it is as good a surmise as any, though there is no direct evidence for a specific geographic location in the letters themselves. Scholars recognize at least a general relationship between the book of Revelation and the Johannine Letters (and Gospel); and, if these writings stem from the same “Community”, then it certainly would be located in Asia Minor, as 1:4 and the letters to the Churches in chapters 2-3 demonstrate.

The Setting of 2 John

The Address: Verse 1 (also vv. 4-5, 13)

“The Elder, to the (noble) Lady gathered out [eklektós, i.e. chosen] (by God), and to her offspring [i.e. children], whom I love in (the) truth—and not only I, but also all the (one)s having known [i.e. who have known] (the) truth…”

1. The Author of 2 (and 3) John: “the Elder”

New Testament scholars are virtually unanimous in the opinion that 2 and 3 John were written by the same person. The author does not identify himself by name, but instead refers to himself as “the Elder” (ho presbýteros, v. 1). Opinion is divided as to whether this same person wrote 1 John as well. This would seem to be the best (and simplest) explanation; certainly, all three letters stem from the same Community, Tradition, and religious-theological outlook, and utilize a common style and vocabulary. According to tradition, the author of all three Letters (and the Gospel) was John the Apostle; however, there is no evidence for this in the Letters, nor there any real indication that the author was an apostle (let alone one of the Twelve).

The title presbýteros (“elder”), based on comparable evidence elsewhere in the New Testament (in the period c. 60 A.D. and later), signifies a minister with a leading role and authoritative position in a congregation (or group of congregations)—Acts 20:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1, 5; 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 17-19; Titus 1:5. Certain “elders” (presbýteroi), especially those with close ties to the founding missionaries (apostles) in a region, could be expected to oversee multiple congregations (see the role of Timothy and Titus in the Pauline Pastoral Letters). The information in 2 and 3 John suggests that the author functions as a regional overseer. Certainly, 1 John (if written by the same author) appears to have been intended for believers (i.e. groups of congregations) over a relatively wide area.

2. The Addressee of 2 John: “the chosen Lady”

2 John is addressed “to the gathered out [i.e. chosen] Lady” (eklekt¢¡ kyría). Commentators have debated how this title should be understood, with two main options for interpreting it:

    • It refers to an individual, well-known to the author, but otherwise unnamed (presumably), given the honorific title (“[noble] Lady”). She clearly would have been a prominent person in the Community—a minister and/or host of a house-church, such as Prisc(ill)a, Phoebe, and Chloe in Paul’s circle (Rom 6:1-3; 1 Cor 1:11; 16:19).
    • It is figurative, referring to a particular group of believers (congregation), to a house-church or group of churches (community).

Arguments can be made in favor of each, but it would seem that the second option is to be preferred. The context suggests that the author is writing to a congregation. He refers to adult believers as her “offspring/children” (tékna, vv. 1, 4, 13). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the adjective eklektós (“gathered out, chosen”) typically occurs in the plural, being used of believers generally (Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; 1 Pet 1:1; Rev 17:14, etc), though occasionally a specific individual is in view (Rom 16:13). The noun used for a congregation, ekkl¢sía (a group “called out” to assemble together), is feminine, and so it is natural to personify it as a woman; in English, the feminine personification here might be translated loosely as “sister-Church”. I am inclined to view the “Lady” of 2 John as a separate presbyterial community (i.e. group of congregations), distinct from the author’s own, but part of the same wider Johannine Community. The author may still exert some influence over it, but it is not the congregation/community with which he most directly belongs. Note how in verse 4 he speaks of “your children”, while in 3 John 4, in a comparable statement, he says “my children”.

Verses 9-11

In this conclusion to the body of the letter, the author gives specific advice regarding the Christological error held by the ‘false’ believers (vv. 7ff, and throughout 1 John [see above]). The seriousness of this “antichrist” belief is emphasized again in verse 9:

“Every one leading (the way) forward [proágœn], and not remaining [ménœn] in the teaching of (the) Anointed, does not hold God; (while) the (one) remaining in the teaching, this (one) holds both the Father and the Son.”

To “lead (the way) forward” (verb proágœ) may sound like a good thing, but here the sense of the verb is decidedly negative—it means that these ‘false’ believers have left behind the true teaching of the Johannine Gospel (which ultimately derives from Jesus’ own words about himself, i.e. the Discourses). This is not simply a matter of affirming a particular doctrine—to “remain” (the key Johannine verb ménœ) fundamentally refers to the believer’s union with Jesus (the Son) and God (the Father) through the Spirit. In other words, those who espouse a false teaching about Jesus (as understood by the author and his Community) cannot be true believers, nor can they speak and teach from the Spirit.

What are the practical implications of this division within the Community? In verses 10-11 the author gives instruction for all who are true believers, who would remain rooted in the truth:

“If any (one would himself) come toward you and not bear this teaching, you must not take [i.e. receive] him into (the) house and you must not say to him ‘(May there) be joy (to you)’, for the (one) saying to him ‘(May there) be joy (to you)’ has a common (share) in his evil works.”

Much was said in 1 and 2 John regarding these false “antichrist” believers, but only here do we find any instruction as to what other Christians should do about them. The implication is that they should be avoided completely, along the lines of “excommunication” or “shunning” in later traditions (see Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:9ff). Most Christians who read this today understand the instruction in general terms, of providing hospitality in one’s own home; however, given the house-church setting of these early congregations, it is possible to understand “(the) house” (oikía) here as referring to house where the congregation met for worship. If the “Lady” of the letter is an individual, who hosted a house church (see above), then this is all the more likely in context. In other words, it is a special warning not to allow such persons to have a place within the congregational meeting.

Even so, the author undoubtedly would have extended this instruction to the private home as well (see below on the setting of 3 John), given his prohibition against even greeting one of these false “antichrist” believers. I have translated the verbal infinitive chaírein rather literally, as “(May there) be joy (to you)”; however, this essentially served as an ordinary greeting, without necessarily connoting anything deeper. Thus, even the simple conventions of polite society are to be avoided; the “antichrists” truly are to be shunned. The dangers and pitfalls in attempting to apply this instruction today are discussed below, at the end of this study.

The Setting of 3 John

In contrast with 2 John, the Third Letter is written to a person that, it would seem, is part of the author’s own presbyterial community (compare the wording of v. 4 with 2 John 4, as noted above). This would entail a number of individual congregations (house-churches), each with its own ministers and/or elders; presumably, the author, as an overseeing Elder, holds a position of influence and authority. There are two main characters in the letter, the first of which is Gaius, a common Latin name; he is the person the author is addressing in verse 1:

“The Elder, to the (be)loved Gaius, whom I love in (the) truth.”

This is essentially the same form of address as in 2 John; on the question of whether “the Lady” is an individual or represents a congregation/community (“sister-church”), see above. The wording the author uses in verses 3-4 suggests that, while Gaius may not belong to the same immediate congregation as the author, he is still part of the same ‘presbyterial community’, i.e. the congregations over which the author considered himself to have presbyterial oversight and influence:

“For I had great delight (in the) coming of brothers and (their) giving witness of you in the truth, even as you walk about in (the) truth. I do not hold (any) delight greater than this, that I should hear (of) my offspring [i.e. children] walking about in the truth.”

It was necessary for the author to hear reports from other messengers in order for him to be aware of how Gaius was conducting himself; and yet, he still considers Gaius to be one of his “children” (compare 2 John 4). This reference to the “coming of brothers and (their) giving witness” is vitally important to any proper understanding of the historical background and setting of the Johannine letters. In a Community built up of small house-churches, over a relatively large territory, it could be quite difficult to maintain communication and, with it, the community organization essential to the life and function of the Church. Nearly all such work required personal visits from messengers and other traveling Christians; even communication through written letters entailed a personal visit, sometimes over fairly long distances. As a result, it was a common and frequent occurrence for a local congregation to receive traveling ministers and other Christians into the “house” (see above on 2 John 10-11).

Central to the message of 3 John is the praise and exhortation the author gives to Gaius, in regard to his showing hospitality and support to believers in their travels:

“(My be)loved, you do (the) trust(worthy thing in) whatever you would (do as) work unto the brothers, and this (even for) strangers—(and) the(se persons) gave witness of your love in the sight of the congregation [ekkl¢sía]—(for) whom you will do well, (hav)ing sent them forward (as) brought up (according to the way) of God; for (it was) over the name (that) they went out, taking not one (thing) from the nations. Therefore, we ought to take these (sorts of people) under (our care), (so) that we might come to be workers together with (them) in the truth.” (vv. 5-8)

I have translated these verses quite literally, and there are some syntactical difficulties in rendering from the Greek; however, the basic idea is clear enough. The author has heard from certain traveling Christians (publicly, in the congregation) how they had received hospitality and support from Gaius. Along with this, Gaius is encouraged to continue such support in the future. It is clear that these persons Gaius took in were traveling ministers or missionaries, as it is said that they “went out over the name“, that is, on behalf of the name of Jesus Christ.

Here we have one of the only examples in the Johannine letters of how believers demonstrate the love that is required by the great command, the one true duty of the Christian (1 John 3:23-24, etc). In practical terms, this is done by showing care, support, and hospitality to other believers, even to those who are strangers, especially when they are traveling (and thus in a vulnerable position). We may rightly say that the Johannine Community, with its network of house-churches, was bound together (or, should be) through this sort of love, reflecting the very unity we share in Christ (John 13:20, 34-35; 17:20-25, etc). These traveling ministers/missionaries depended entirely on support from other believers, since they took “not one thing from the nations” (i.e. from non-believers).

The opposite—a failure to provide hospitality to traveling ministers, etc—is demonstrated by the example of Diotrephes in verse 9:

“I wrote some(thing of this) to the congregation [ekkl¢sía], but the (one who is) fond of being first (among) them, Diotrephes, will not receive us upon (himself).”

Unfortunately, this notice is brief and enigmatic enough (from our vantage point today) as to leave us almost entirely in the dark about the exact situation. It has also produced no end of speculation. What was the position of Diotrephes? Did he belong to the same congregation/community as Gaius? as the author? A plausible reconstruction, based on a careful analysis of the wording in verses 9-10, may be offered here as follows:

Diotrephes is in a position of some prominence in a local congregation, presumably as a minister/elder, and/or as the host of a house-church. The author’s disparaging characterization of him as one who “is fond of being first” (verb philoprœteúœ) should perhaps be understood in light of the New Testament evidence that first-century congregations, in their ideal form, would have been relatively egalitarian. By this is meant that the leading/gifted ministers served more or less as equals, and that the elders of particular congregations were all on an equal footing with each other. Diotrephes may have violated such principles in seeking to exercise greater (individual) control over his congregation. A bit more is said regarding Diotrephes’ conduct in verse 10:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason], if I should come, I will keep under memory (all) his works that he does—babbling evil accounts (about) us, and, not containing himself about these (thing)s, he does not receive the brothers upon himself, and the (one)s being willing (to do so) he cuts off and throws (them) out of the congregation.”

One senses here, not merely a partisan divide, but a measure of personal animosity between the author and Diotrephes. Does this relate to the situation involving the false “antichrist” believers who had ‘separated’ from the Community? Many commentators believe so; however, the author is so vocal about the matter in 2 John (and throughout 1 John), it is hard to imagine that he would not mention it again here if the Christological issue were at the root of the division. In all likelihood, the situation has more to do with general considerations regarding how to handle traveling ministers and missionaries, especially those who may not be particularly well-known by a local congregation.

Establishing the reliability—pedigree and qualifications, etc—of traveling ministers was a serious matter in early Christianity and created many challenges for local congregations. Especially within a charismatic, egalitarian setting, which seem to have characterized both the Pauline and Johannine congregations, the giftedness of the minister was of great importance. However, it could be difficult to know for certain if such talented and influential ministers were genuinely inspired by God’s Spirit. Almost certainly, many of the ‘false’ believers—those who espoused the view of Jesus attacked so severely by the author of these letters—claimed to speak as prophets. Yet the author unequivocally calls them false prophets, who speak from an evil spirit that is opposed to Christ (“antichrist”). He offers his readers tests and instruction on how to recognize such false teaching, but it would not be easy to put them into practice to any extent.

Diotrephes appears to be doing precisely what the author himself advocates in 2 John 10-11—refusing welcome and support to traveling ministers he deems false or unreliable. The difference is that, from the author’s standpoint, his refusal is based on opposition to teaching that contradicts the Gospel message of Christ, while Diotrephes acts out of personal ambition and animosity. Almost certainly Diotrephes would describe the situation quite differently, if we had his own testimony preserved for us. Perhaps he felt threatened by the presence of traveling ministers, over whom he and his congregation did not have any direct control. His actions could even have been reasonable, in terms of the goal of protecting his congregation. Given the strong emphasis on the role of the Spirit as the primary guide and authority in the Johannine Community, with the egalitarianism suggested at many points in the letters (and the Gospel), perhaps the best explanation is that Diotrephes was violating these fundamental principles by attempting to exert more personal control over the congregation, to the point of excluding outsiders and traveling ministers/missionaries.

It would seem that Gaius and Diotrephes were in relatively close proximity, either part of the same congregation, or belonging to neighboring congregations. It is possible that Gaius is one of those who has been “thrown out” by Diotrephes, and that he continues to provide support to ministers aligned with the author. In any case, the context strongly indicates that the author is appealing to Gaius (vv. 6, 8, 11) as a local avenue for support to his ministers/missionaries since they have been excluded from Diotrephes’ congregation. Demetrius, mentioned in verse 12, is presumably one of these missionaries; the author is writing to introduce him to Gaius, in hopes that he will be received in a similar manner.

Conclusion

While it may be possible to reconstruct the historical situation and context of the 2 and 3 John, at least in part, applying the instruction in the letters to the life-setting of individual Christians and congregations today is more problematic. Certainly the exhortation associated with the two-fold command—trust in Jesus and love for our fellow believers—is just as relevant (and applicable) for us today. In particular, to demonstrate love through showing care, and offering hospitality and support, to other believers—including ministers and missionaries who need our assistance—remains central to Christianity, and can be expressed today many different ways. Also the emphasis on a careful (and correct) understanding of the Gospel Tradition regarding the person and work of Jesus continues to be of the greatest importance, and, sadly, is rather lacking in much of modern Christianity. Special care in regard to Christological statements and definitions is much needed, especially when so many of the traditional statements from the past are now so poorly understood.

How, then, should we respond when we encounter or experience differences in understanding on key theological or Christological questions? Should we adopt the advice given in 2 John—and, if so, how is this to be done? Doubtless, many believers today would continue to uphold the famous maxim: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty…”; but therein lies the difficulty—how do we determine what the “essentials” are, and how should they be treated in comparison with “non-essentials”. Are Christological differences enough to bar communication and association between believers? Certainly, this has proven to be so at times in the past, often with unfortunate and even tragic results. And yet, to act as though such differences do not matter is equally perilous, and can quickly lead to the negation of any meaningful sense of Christian identity.

I would maintain that, for believers in Christ, it is not any Christological definition or understanding as such, but the abiding presence of the Spirit, that must serve as the unifying force. Yet, to judge from the Gospel and the Letters, this was clearly a central point and fundamental emphasis for the Johannine Community as well, and it did not prevent painful and disruptive divisions, with the author’s community banning believers considered to be false, and finding themselves being banned by others in turn. Is it possible to maintain the spirit of the instruction in 2 and 3 John while finding new ways and methods for achieving the author’s goals? I leave that to the consideration of each believer and community. Bridging the divide between ancient and modern times, between the thought-world of first-century Christianity and of the Church today, remains of the most challenging and thought-provoking aspects of Biblical interpretation.

Saturday Series: 2 John

2 John

Having taken a break to post some special Christmas season notes and articles, I return to complete our Saturday Series studies focused on the Letters of John. The studies thus far have been on First John, being by far the longest and richest of the letters; but now it is time to turn our attention to the second and third letters. By general consensus, these two short works (which truly are letters) were written by the same person, who refers to himself only as ho presbýteros (“the Elder”). It is less certain that the same author wrote 1 John, though this would probably be the best (and simplest) explanation. The three letters share the same fundamental concerns, as well as the same religious and theological outlook; also phrases are repeated almost verbatim. If not all written by the same author, they certainly come from a common setting and Christian Community.

Our discussion on 2 John will shift between literary and historical criticism; the subsequent study on 3 John will be devoted almost entirely to historical criticism. From a literary standpoint, we will be considering how the central Johannine themes, which provided the structure and rhetorical framework for 1 John, also serve to organize the epistolary form of 2 John. The historical analysis will similarly build on our earlier studies of 1 John, as we examine the setting of 2 and 3 John as it relates to the ‘false believers’, those Johannine Christians who had (according to the author) separated from the Community, and who hold a false/erroneous view of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.

Literary Criticism

The structure of 2 John is relatively simple and may be outlined as follows:

    • Opening and Greeting (Epistolary Prescript), vv. 1-3
    • Body of the Letter, vv. 4-12:
      • Introduction with Thanksgiving (Exordium), v. 4
      • Primary Statement (Propositio), vv. 5-6
      • Central Argument and Exposition (Probatio), vv. 7-11
      • Closing with Exhortation (Exhortatio), v. 12
    • Final Greeting (Epistolary Postscript), v. 13

If we consider the body of the letter in terms of its thematic structure, which, in turn, serves the rhetorical purpose of the author, we may note an outer and inner structure:

    • Those whom he is addressing are aligned (with him) as true believers, v. 4
      • Love as fulfillment of the dual-command which marks the true believer, vv. 5-6
      • Trust in Jesus–warning against those who violate the command, i.e. those who mark themselves as false believers, vv. 7-11
    • The bond with those whom he is addressing (as believers) is re-affirmed, v. 12

Proper trust in Jesus and love for one’s fellow believers–these are the components of the great two-fold command (entol¢¡, 1 Jn 3:23-24), which is the command, and the only command which believers in Christ are bound to observe. The word entol¢¡ is perhaps better translated as “duty”, especially in the Johannine context, literally referring to something God the Father has placed on us to complete. All ethical and religious behavior stems naturally from this one entol¢¡.

In the prior studies, we saw how 1 John—the second half of the letter, in particular (3:11-5:21)—is structured on these two themes of trust and love, alternating between the two (love, 3:11-24 / 4:7-5:4, and trust, 4:1-6 / 5:5-21). They serve as identifying marks of the true believer, while the false believer, on the other hand, exhibits neither true trust in Jesus nor proper love for others. The same dual-structure is found in 2 John, but with differing points of emphasis:

    • Love: Sign of the true believer (vv. 5-6)
    • Trust: Warning against the false believers (vv. 7-11)

To see how this thematic framework functions, within the context of the letter, let us briefly examine the theme of love in verses 5-6:

“And now I (would) request of you, (my) Lady—not as writing to you a new (duty put) on (you) to complete, but (only) that which we held from the beginning—that we would love each other. And this is love—that we would walk about according to (all the thing)s (put) on (us) by Him to complete; (and) this is the (thing put) on (us) to complete—(that) even as you heard (it) from the beginning, (so it is) that you should walk about in it.”

Verse 6 is wonderfully elliptical. The main difficulty for interpretation is the final pronoun aut¢¡ (“in it“)—what exactly does “it” refer to? The gender of the pronoun is feminine, which would correspond to two different nouns in vv. 5-6:
(1) entol¢¡, which I have translated with extreme literalness above, as something “put on a person to complete”, i.e. a duty; it is typically translated “command(ment)”, but this can be quite misleading, especially in the Johannine context. There is just one such duty (or command) for believers, as noted above—it is the two-fold duty of trust and love (1 Jn 3:23-24).
(2) agáp¢ (“love”), one component of the two-fold duty/command (entol¢¡)
The two nouns are thus interchangeable, as the syntax of verse 6 itself would indicate. Probably the pronoun is meant to emphasize believers walking in the entol¢¡—that is, walking in our duty, which is also a duty to love one another.

Historical Criticism

When we turn to verses 7-11, it is historical criticism that becomes our focus–that is, to establish the historical background and setting of the passage, and of the letter as a whole. As noted above, the theme in these verses is trust in Jesus, corresponding to the theme of love in vv. 5-6—trust and love being the two sides of the great command, the duty believers are required to fulfill. The issue is stated rather clearly in verse 7:

“(For it is) that many (who are) leading (people) astray (have) gone out into the world, the (one)s not give account as one (with us) of Yeshua (the) Anointed coming in (the) flesh—this is the (one) leading (people) astray and the (one who is) against the Anointed.”

The similarities in language and wording with 1 John 2:18-19, 22-23; 4:1, 3, show that we are dealing with the same situation addressed in the First Letter. By analyzing those sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12) on the theme of trust in Jesus, in our previous studies on 1 John, it was possible to reconstruct, at least partially, the historical situation. This reconstruction, which is confirmed here by vv. 7-11, may be outlined as follows:

    • Members of the Johannine congregations have, in some fashion, separated from the main Community; this may entail a physical separation, or simply a fundamental difference in outlook and belief
    • They are said to have gone “out into the world”, which, in the Johannine context, has a dual meaning: (1) departure from the Community, and (2) demonstrating that they belong to the “world” (kósmos) of evil and darkness. Possibly this could also imply missionary activity beyond the bounds of the Johannine congregations
    • They actively promoted a view of Jesus Christ which contradicted the Johannine Gospel, and which may be seen as a misinterpretation of it; the chief error involved an unwillingness to recognize the importance and significance of Jesus’ earthly life (as a human being), especially his death (“blood”)—essentially denying that it was a real human death, and that it was Jesus’ death that effected salvation for those who believe
    • This view of Christ was presented as prophetic truth, a “high” Christology at odds with the established Gospel message; it is likely that there were prominent ministers and teachers (prophets) who promulgated this Christology, along with an active group of missionaries who sought to convince others of its truth

The author(s) of 1 and 2 John regard such persons—those holding this view of Christ—as false believers (and “false prophets”) who represent a real and present danger to the Community. They are also considered to be inspired by evil and deceiving (i.e. Satanic/demonic) spirits and are called antíchristos (“against the Anointed”). Their presence and work in the world is a clear sign that it is the “last hour” (1 Jn 2:18), and that the end is near (along with the return of Christ, 2:28-3:3). 2 John echoes the same kind of warning, again with a strong sense of eschatological urgency, in verse 8:

“You must look to yourselves, (so) that you do not suffer loss (away) from the (thing)s we (have) worked for, but (instead that) you would receive (the) full wage from (God).”

In some manuscripts the pronoun/subject agrees throughout (“you”); however, almost certainly, the alternation “you-we-you” here is correct. The “we” represent the Community of true believers, while the author specifically addresses his readers (“you”), urging them to remain united with the Community and not go astray by following the message of the “antichrist” false believers. The use of the word misthós (“wage”) preserves the eschatological context of this exhortation, an aspect that is brought out more clearly by the translation “reward” (though “wage[s]” is the more appropriate rendering; see Matt 5:12, 46; 6:1ff; John 4:36; 1 Cor 3:8, 14; Rev 11:18; 22:12, etc).

Verse 9 again echoes 1 John 2:18-27 (esp. verses 20-25), making two vital points. First, these “antichrists” go beyond the accepted teaching of the Community. This is indicated by the verb proágœ, “lead (the way) forward”, in a negative sense, since it is paired with the negative concept of “not remaining in the teaching of the Anointed”. As we have seen, ménœ (“remain”) is a key Johannine verb, used repeatedly throughout the Gospel and Letters, and always with special theological (and Christological) significance. A true believer is one who “remains” in Christ, even as Christ (and the Spirit) “remains” in the believer. Secondly, this confirms that those who promote the ‘false’ view of Christ are, in fact, false believers—they violate the central command/duty of trust in Jesus, and so cannot possibly hold in them either the Son (Jesus) or God the Father (i.e. Christ and the Spirit do not “remain” in them). The true believer can be understood in relation to the false, and the positive aspect is emphasized in v. 9b:

“the (one) remaining in the teaching, this (one) holds both the Father and the Son”

It is not entirely clear whether the expression “the teaching of the Anointed” involves a subjective genitive (i.e. it is Christ’s teaching) or an objective genitive (i.e. it is teaching regarding Christ). Both would certainly be valid in context; however, probably the expression is mean to underscore the idea of the believer “remaining in Christ”, which means following a Gospel message that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, and is the natural continuation of it (1 John 1:1-3, etc). It remains among us internally, through the Spirit, but also externally, through the witness and tradition that has been passed down from the first disciples.

Verses 10-11 are important, especially from the standpoint of historical criticism, since the author, for the first time in the Letters, gives practical instruction on how those whom he addresses should respond to the “antichrists” promoting the false view of Jesus. It is also a point of some controversy, in terms of whether, or to what extent, we should attempt to apply the instruction today. This will be the subject of next week’s study, as we combine these verses together with the message of 3 John.