Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 3

In the first two parts (Pt 1 & 2)of this article, I discussed the main passages dealing with the Ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11). Here I will briefly explore several additional New Testament passages, followed by a treatment of some key critical questions related to the Ascension.

Mark 16:19

This is the most straightforward account of the Ascension, presented in traditional, credal terms:

o( me\n ou@n ku/rio$  )Ihsou=$ meta\ to\ lalh=sai au)toi=$ a)nelh/mfqh ei)$ to\n ou)rano\n kai\ e)ka/qisen e)k deciw=n tou= qeou=
“therefore the Lord Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into the heaven and sat out of the ‘right-hand’ of God”

decio/$ is literally the hand/side “that takes” (or gives), the favored or auspicious side. The “right hand” (/ym!y`) of God occurs frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 16:11; 17:7, etc; Isaiah 41:10; 48:13; 62:8; and others), usually as a symbol of God’s faithfulness and power. It is also the most common image of Jesus’ exaltation in the New Testament (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22)—all of these passages seem to have been influenced by Psalm 110:1 (many are direct citations). Even though this account in Mark is probably not original to the Gospel (part of the so-called “long ending”, 16:9-20), it no doubt here preserves an ancient tradition.

There is another reference to the ascension/exaltation of Jesus, in an unusual variant, earlier in the chapter. In verse 4, the Old Latin MS k begins: “but suddenly at the third hour of the day there was darkness over the whole circle of the earth, and angels descended from the heavens, and as he [the Lord] was rising [surgente eo] in the glory of the living God, at the same time they ascended with him; and immediately it was light. Then the women went to the tomb…” (translation from Meztger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, pp. 101-102). This represents a description of the actual resurrection of Jesus, similar to that found in the Gospel of Peter §35-40. However, it also reflects the principal manner in which the “Ascension” was understood in the early Church—that is, as an extension of the resurrection (on this, see below).

John 20:17

The only specific reference in John to anything like the traditional “Ascension” in Luke-Acts, occurs during the first resurrection appearance (to Mary Magdalene). Here Jesus says to her: mh/ mou a%ptou, ou&pw ga\r a)nabe/bhka pro\$ to\n pate/ra, “do not touch me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”; and, following the instruction to go to the other disciples (“my brothers”), tells her to say to them, a)nabai/nw pro\$ to\n pate/ra mou kai\ pate/ra u(mw=n kai\ qeo/n mou kai\ qeo\n u(mw=n (“I step up toward my Father and your [pl.] Father, and [toward] my God and your [pl.] God”). The chronology of this statement is difficult, for it does not seem to fit with the wider record of resurrection appearances in the Gospel tradition, nor with the ‘older’ view of an ascension as an immediate climax of the resurrection/exaltation. It is complicated even further by John’s highly symbolic use (primarily as presented in the Discourses of Jesus) of going/lifting up. For other similar uses of a)nabai/nw: John 3:13; 6:62; 1:51 (also the references of “going up” to the feast may involve an intentional wordplay); for u(yo/w (“lift high”) see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. Throughout the last discourses (John 13-17), Jesus also makes numerous references to going/returning to the Father (John 13:3, 33; 14:2, 4, 13, 28; 16:5, 7, 10, 17, 28). Since these are generally made in context of the coming/sending of the paraclete (lit. “one called alongside”, identified with the Holy Spirit [14:26]), it is almost certainly Jesus’ ‘final’ departure that is in view; however, other references to his return (14:18-20; 16:16-23) seem to fit better an immediate post-resurrection appearance.

I have discussed some of the symbolic and theological nuances of the appearance to Mary in a previous post. With regard to the authentic tradition that underlies this narrative, it is perhaps best to distinguish clearly between: (a) Jesus’ exaltation to the right-hand of the Father (as part of the resurrection), and (b) his final (earthly) departure from the disciples. Since “ascension” language can be used to describe both of these, one must be careful not to confuse them (on this, see in more detail below).

Ephesians 4:8-10

Here Paul (or the author of the epistle) cites Psalm 68:18a [MT 19a], which, early on in Christian tradition, seems to have been understood as referring to the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It quickly became embedded as part of the liturgy celebrating the ascension. However, as is often the case with scriptural citations in the New Testament, both the original text and context have been altered:

Hebrew (MT)

<d*a*B* tonT*m^ T*j=q^l* yb!V# t*yb!v* <orM*l^ t*yl!u*

“You have gone up to the heights, you have led captive captivity, you have taken gifts by man”

LXX (67:19a)

a)ne/bh$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/teusa$ ai)xmalwsi/an e&labe$ do/mata e)n a)nqrw/pw|

“You have stepped up into (the) height, you have led captive captivity, you have taken/received gifts among man”

Ephesians 4:8

a)naba\$ ei)$ u%yo$ h)|xmalw/eusen ai)xmalwsi/an e&dwken do/mata toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$

“Stepping up into (the) height, he led captive captivity, he gave gifts to men”

The LXX is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew. However, the citation in Ephesians differs markedly:

    • The first verb (a)naba\$) is a participle, which is not all that significant; this also occurs as a variant (MS B) in the LXX
    • The verbs have all been changed from 2nd person to 3rd person, which is a natural adaptation to the context in Ephesians (from a hymn addressing God, to a description of the work of Christ).
    • The collective “man” (<dah) has been changed to the plural “men”
    • The last verb has been changed from “take/receive” (jql, lamba/nw) to “give” (di/dwmi)

This last is most notable, for it entirely alters the sense of the passage. In the original Psalm, the justice and power of God are celebrated. Yahweh has gone out before His people, leading them in power and glory (vv. 7-18, also 21-23)—kings and armies flee before His might (v. 12, 14). He is depicted as going up into His mountain, leading captives from battle, and taking/receiving gifts (even from the rebellious [the ones who have “turned aside”], v. 18b). Verses 24-31 present the liturgical picture of peoples offering gifts to God. While all of this, of course, could fit the image of Christ being exalted to the right-hand of God, Ephesians has turned the image inside out: now God/Christ is the one offering gifts to believers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It now remains to address several key questions related to the Ascension:

    1. Where did it occur?
    2. When did it occur?
    3. What is its exact nature?

1. Where Did the Ascension Occur?

This is part of a larger question related to the provenance of the resurrection appearances. If one takes all the Gospel narratives as they currently stand, it is actually quite difficult to harmonize them in detail, though of course many have attempted to do so. There are two fundamental differences in the accounts:

(a) In one line of tradition, the Messenger tells the women at the tomb to relate to the disciples (and Peter) that “he leads (the way) before you into Galilee; there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mark 16:7, par. Matthew 28:7). The implication is that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, and it is there that the disciples (including Peter) will (first) see him. This is confirmed even more clearly by Jesus in Matthew 28:10, declaring that the disciples “should go from (here) into Galilee”. There is no suggestion that they should remain in Jerusalem; in fact, that could be said to contradict Jesus’ command. In Matthew, the subsequent appearance in Galilee (vv. 16-17), however brief, gives every indication that this is the first appearance to the disciples (note their “wavering” in v. 17, indications of doubt common to the other appearances in Luke and John).

By all accounts, the original ending of Mark has been lost (this is not certain, but I think it remains the best explanation); the so-called “long ending” (16:9-20), though added relatively early (it is known by the mid-2nd century), seems very much to be a secondary (scribal?) addition. While doubtless containing ancient/authentic traditions, I think it possible that an attempt has also been made to harmonize with the account in Luke. In any event, the resurrection appearance (and ascension, v. 19) seems to take place in Jerusalem (though this is not specified), which would be ‘contrary’ to the message in v. 7.

(b) The second line of tradition (preserved in Luke 24 and John 20) clearly has the resurrection appearances occurring in and around Jerusalem. In the Lukan account, Jesus actually commands the disciples to remain (kaqi/sate, “sit” or “dwell”) in the city (presumably Jerusalem) “until the (moment) in which you should be set in power out of (the) height” (24:49). The implication is that they should stay in Jerusalem for the approx. fifty days until Pentecost (when the Spirit comes upon them). There is no mention of going to Galilee; in fact, similar to the (opposite) situation in Matthew-Mark, that would contradict Jesus’ explicit command. It is interesting that, if Luke has made use of Mark (as scholars commonly believe), then he has quite altered the angelic announcement: in Luke 24:6 the two messengers still mention Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7), but in a very different context.

In John, too they are apparently in Jerusalem when Jesus appears and they receive the Spirit from him (20:19-23); similarly the appearance to Thomas eight days later (vv. 26-29) would presumably still be in Jerusalem. John 21 complicates the picture: for there (in verses 1-14 at least) we have a resurrection appearance in Galilee. However, since this chapter follows what seems to be the conclusion to the Gospel (20:30-31), many scholars would view it as a kind of “appendix”, possibly composed/included by a different author (though this is much disputed). Its exact origins and relation to the events recorded in chapter 20 are also uncertain, with a wide range of opinions on all sides.

Of course, according to Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:50-53 (assuming the longer reading), the Ascension of Jesus—that is, his final departure from the disciples—clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, about 2000 cubits (or just over 1000 yards) east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). If the reference in Luke 24:50 is meant to be specific, then the Ascension might have occurred on the eastern slope somewhere near Bethany.

2. When Did the Ascension Occur?

This question, in relation to the seemingly divergent chronologies in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11, has been dealt with to some extent in the first two parts of this article. The basic question is, did it take place on Easter day as is (apparently) indicated in Luke 24 and the Markan “long ending”, or did it take place between 40 and  50 days later as narrated in Acts? My view is that the “separate” accounts in Luke-Acts probably describe the same event, but that in the Gospel the narrative has been greatly compressed, so that events which may have occurred days apart seem to take place on the same day. The same could perhaps be said of the Markan “long ending”, especially since everything seems to wrap up quickly in the last two verses.

However, a proper answer to the question also must address exactly what one means by the “Ascension”.

3. What Is the Nature of the Ascension?

As indicated above, there seem to be two separate traditions at work:

a) The first describes the “Ascension” in terms of Jesus’ resurrection—his being raised and glorified to the “right hand” of the Father.

b) The second relates it in terms of Jesus’ final (earthly) departure from his disciples.

One must be careful, I think, not to confuse or conflate the two traditions—for, both doctrinally, and even historically, they can be said to have quite different meanings. However, if one wishes to systematize or harmonize the scriptural details, it could possibly be done as follows:

    • Jesus’ being raised from the dead (evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement[s])
    • His ascension to the Father is part of the resurrection/exaltation, which climaxes with his presence at the right hand of God (where also he receives the Spirit to give to his disciples)
    • From a temporal point of view, Jesus’ appearance to the women (cf. Matthew 28:9-10; [Mark 16:9]; John 20:11-18) could perhaps be seen as taking place prior to this ascent to the Father (John 20:17-18)—but that is not entirely clear.
    • Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ, during which he instructed and commissioned the disciples (in John [20:22] he gives them the Spirit as well)
    • His final departure, recorded only in Luke-Acts, described as a visible Ascension
    • Mark 16:19 may represent a conflation of the two traditions (in a credal formula?), indicated above

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 1

This post is an extended “Note of the Day” following the celebration of the Ascension of Jesus, traditionally commemorated 40 days after Easter (cf. Acts 1:3ff). There are surprisingly few direct references to the “Ascension”, either in the New Testament or in early Christian literature. More commonly, reference is made to Christ’s exaltation (usually involving either the verb u(yo/w, “to raise high” or adjective u(yhlo/$, “high”; cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3; 7:26, etc), or to his being in heaven at the “right (hand)” (decio/$, that is, the giving/receiving hand) of God (cf. Mark 14:62 par.; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).

Only in Luke-Acts is an ascension described as a distinct event, perceivable in space and time. However, since there are numerous difficult text-critical (and interpretative) issues related to these passages, these will need to be discussed in some detail.

Luke 24:50-53

Luke’s Gospel concludes with a scene (apparently still on Easter day) which, in the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë75 a B C* L 1 33 579 etc), reads as follows:

50  )Ech/gagen de\ au)tou\$ [e&cw] e%w$ pro\$ Bhqani/an kai\ e)pa/ra$ ta\$ xei=ra$ au)tou= eu)lo/ghsen au)tou/$. 51 kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n kai\ a)nefe/reto ei)$ to\n ou)rano/n.
“And he brought/led them out[side] until toward Bethany, and lifting over (them) his hands he spoke well to them [i.e. blessed them]; and it came to be, in his speaking well to them [i.e. blessing them], he stood (apart) from them and was carried up into the heaven.”
52 Kai\ au)toi\ proskunh/sante$ au)to\n u(pe/streyan ei)$  )Ierousalh\m meta/ xara=$ mega/lh$ 53 kai\ h@san dia/ panto\$ e)n tw=| i(erw=| eu)logou=nte$ to\n qeo/n.
“And they, kissing toward him [i.e. worshiping him], turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy, and they were through all [i.e. continually] in the sacred place [i.e. temple] speaking well to [i.e. blessing] God.”

(The Majority text differs slightly, primarily in reading ei)$ Bhqani/an instead of pro\$ Bhqani/an in v. 50, and adding kai\ ai)nou=nte$ or ai)nou=nte$ kai\ [“blessing and praising God”] in v. 53.)

There are, however, two major variants (omissions) in the key Western MSS (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac):

    1. Verse 51 reads: kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n “and it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood (apart) from them” (without kai\ a)nefe/reto ei)$ to\n ou)rano/n “and he was carried up into the heaven”). In other words, it relates that Jesus simply “parted” from them, without any reference to an ascension into heaven.
    2. Verse 52 continues: kai\ au)toi\ u(pe/streyan ei)$  )Ierousalh\m meta/ xara=$ mega/lh$ “and they turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy…” (without proskunh/sante$ au)ton “worshiping him”).
      See how this shorter version of vv. 50-53 reads, in context, in conventional translation:
      “And he led them out toward Bethany, and raising his hands over (them) he blessed them; and it came to be, in his blessing them, (that) he parted from them; and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, blessing God.”

These are both so-called Western “Non-Interpolations”, i.e. instances where the shorter reading of the (usually longer and more expansive) Western text has been thought (by some scholars) to preserve the original reading in the face of superior manuscript evidence (I have discussed the other seven key “Non-Interpolations” in a previous post). The first of these two (in v. 51) is far more significant, especially since, in addition to the Western MSS, the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*).

How is one to explain this variant? As indicated above, the vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words kai a)nefe/reto ei)$ ton ou)rano/n. The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? There are a number of possibilities:

Reasons for Omission (in support of the longer text):

  1. To avoid contradiction with the chronology in Acts. It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. This is probably the most popular explanation.
  2. A scribal mistake. A scribe may have skipped from a)p’ au)twn kai in v. 51 to ou)ranon kai au)toi at the end of v.51 & start of v. 52 (homoioarcton: each has the segment nkai). However, this would require that (the precursors of) a and D both made the same mistake, which is rather unlikely.
  3. Theological reasons. Some scholars have thought that the so-called “Non-Interpolations” (involving the Resurrection appearances and “Ascension”) exhibit a purposeful tendency in the Western text (in Luke-Acts) to eliminate concrete references to the resurrection body of Jesus, and physical nature of the Ascension, etc. With regard to the Ascension in particular, see especially Eldon J. Epp’s article “The Ascension in the Textual Tradition of Luke-Acts”, in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, pp. 131-145.
  4. The support of Acts. Acts 1:2 would seem to indicate that the Gospel referenced the Ascension (a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$a)nelh/mfqh, “until which day…he was taken up”). Assuming this is the case, it could be (rightly) argued that the author would not say he described an event which he in fact did not record. It should be noted that several Western witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius) also omit reference to the ascension (a)nelh/mfqh) in this verse.

Reasons for Addition (in support of the shorter text):

  1. Literary or Theological reasons. Although Luke-Acts may have been published together as a ‘two-volume’ work, by the mid-second century (at the latest), the Gospel of Luke was being copied and distributed bound together (in codex form) with the other Gospels; meaning that, as in nearly all printed New Testament editions today, it was separated from the book of Acts. The shorter reading, if original, would close the Gospel with the suggestion that Jesus simply “parted” from the disciples—a rather unexciting and possibly misleading conclusion. The scribal tendency was always to add Christological details, rather than remove them; it would have been natural to add the few extra words (both in v. 51 and 52), in order to exalt the portrait of Christ.
  2. The shorter text removes the chronological difficulty with Acts. This argument cuts both ways (see above), for the longer text could be said to be the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior potior). However, since Luke explicitly records the Ascension taking place at least 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3ff), would he (the same author of Luke-Acts, by general consensus) have created the confusion by recording the Ascension (apparently) taking place on the day of the Resurrection (Luke 24:50-53)?
  3. Additional support from Acts. It is possible that the phrase a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$a)nelh/mfqh (“until which day…he was taken up”) in Acts 1:2 should not be taken to imply that the Ascension was narrated in the Gospel, but only events which took place prior to that day. In this regard, to note the reference (v. 22) in Peter’s subsequent address (Acts 1:15-22), where nearly similar language is used. Could the author of Acts simply be reproducing the phrasing from v. 22, as part of his “prologue”, without specific reference to details in the Gospel?
  4. Evidence from the Church Fathers. The Ascension is referred to numerous times in writings of the 1st-3rd centuries, for example: Epistle of Barnabas 15; JUSTIN: 1 Apology 26, Dialogue with Trypho 82, 87, On the Resurrection ch. 9; IRENAEUS: Against Heresies I.10, III.17, IV.33.13, 34.3, V.31, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 41, 84; CLEMENT: Stromateis VI. ch. 15; ORIGEN: On First Principles Pref §1, II.6.1, 7.2, On Prayer §23, Against Celsus VII.8; TERTULLIAN: Against Marcion V.8, Against Praxeas 25, 30, Prescription Against Heretics 13, On the Resurrection 51; The Muratorian Canon; Epistle of the Apostles 18; Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer §8, etc. (by no means an exhaustive list). Most of these references are to the narrative in Acts 1:9ff; Ephesians 4:9-10, or to the belief generally; however, I have not been able to find a single clear reference to the long text of Luke 24:51-52 cited in any writing up through the third century (outside of the Diatessaron [§55], a work with a singularly difficult textual history). Moreover, in Tertullian’s fourth book Against Marcion, in which he goes over many details of Luke’s Gospel, up through the Resurrection appearances (chapter 43), he does not cite the long text of v. 51 or 52, and makes no reference to the Ascension (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 257-8).
  5. The Western Non-Interpolations. Despite protests from scholars on both sides of the argument, it is hard to avoid the notion that the 9 key “non-interpolations”, eight of which are all found together in the same set of MSS (D a b d e ff2 l), stand or fall together—most likely, they are all original, or they are not. If one accepts the shorter text in the previous 7 Lukan instances, then one really ought to do so here as well.

Clearly, intrinsic/transcriptional arguments can be made for sides. Ultimately, it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming textual evidence. If the longer reading is, in fact, original, I suspect that the apparent discrepancy (with Acts) may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. On the other hand, the clear scribal tendency was to add significant Christological details to the Gospel narrative, rather than omit them (even when there are apparent discrepancies involved); it seems to have been much more acceptable to modify (instead of deleting) difficult words in the text. The presence of the longer reading(s) in the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë75, c. 200) have turned the tide decisively; however, I am by no means so certain the shorter reading(s) can be dismissed as easily as many commentators do today.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5 (continued)

John 17:1-5, continued

Last week, I began a discussion on the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, looking at verse 1 in some detail. Today I wish to continue on with an examination of the remainder of verses 1-5.

Of particular importance is the use of the verb doca/zw, both in verse 1 and again in vv. 4-5 (and v. 10); the related noun do/ca also occurs several times in the chapter (at the beginning and end, vv. 5, 22, 24). Both words are an important part of the vocabulary of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, especially the verb which is used 23 times (out of 61 total in the New Testament)—7:39; 8:54 (2); 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28 (3); 13:31 (2), 32 (3); 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1 (2), 4, 5, 10; 21:19. There are also 19 occurrences of the noun do/ca1:14 (2); 2:11; 5:41, 44 (2); 7:18 (2); 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43 (2); 17:5, 22, 24. Unfortunately, it is not easy to give a (consistent) literal translation in English for either verb or noun, as they can differ in meaning and nuance depending on the context, and, in particular, whether the subject/object involves human beings or God (or Christ). While do/ca is typically translated “glory”, in many instances a much better rendering is “esteem”, which more closely captures the fundamental meaning of the word. When used in a religious context, the predominant idea tends to be that human beings are to give to God the esteem and honor which He is due. However, when applied as a divine attribute or characteristic it is better understood in terms of the “splendor” which God possesses, and which surrounds him. In order to capture both aspects, in the special way that the words are used in the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the verb doca/zw as “give honor (to)”.

There are several key Johannine passages (in the Discourses of Jesus) where the verb is used, sometimes together with the noun, and these need to be considered in order to gain a proper understanding of their usage in chapter 17.

1. Jn 8:50ff. The words are part of the conceptual vocabulary that frames the great Discourse of chapters 7-8 set during the Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) festival in Jerusalem. Thematically, there is a clear symmetric (and chiastic) structure to the discourse-sequence, with the concluding discourse (8:31-59) serving as a parallel to the opening episode (7:14-24). In particular, we may note how the exchange in 8:48-51ff refers back to Jesus’ declaration in 7:18:

“The (one) speaking from himself seeks his own honor/esteem [do/ca]; but the (one) seeking the honor/esteem [do/ca] of the (One) having sent him, this (one) is true and there is not (any) injustice in him.”

The long and increasingly hostile exchange in 8:31-59, sharpens and comes to a climax as Jesus makes the following statement in verse 49, in response to the attack from his opponents that he “has [lit. holds] a daimon“:

“I do not hold a(ny) daimon, but (rather) I honor [timw=] my Father and you treat me without honor [a)tima/zete/ me]!”

This use of the verbs tima/w & a)tima/zw demonstrate how close in meaning the noun timh/ (“value, worth”, often in the sense of “honor”) is to do/ca (“esteem/honor”), especially in this context. Jesus follows in verse 50 with the language of 7:18, using the noun do/ca:

“And I do not seek my own esteem/honor [do/ca]—(but) there is there is the (One) seeking (it)…”

Here we find the same reciprocity (between Father and Son) as we have in 17:1ff—Jesus (the Son) seeks the honor of God the Father, and the Father seeks the Son’s honor. This raises an interesting point regarding the syntax of verses 1-5 and the use of the particle i%na (discussed below).

2. Jn 11:4, 40. In the Lazarus scene, the entire episode—the death of Lazarus and his subsequent resurrection—is for the declared purpose of giving honor/esteem (do/ca) to Jesus; and this, not simply due to the fact that he works a great miracle, but for what it indicates (as a sign) regarding Jesus’ true identity. The purpose is stated by Jesus, to his disciples (and to the readers as well) in the opening portion of the narrative (verse 4):

“This lack of strength [i.e. weakness/illness] is not toward death, but (instead it is) under the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, so (that) the Son of God might be given honor [docasqh=|] through it.”

In other words, the illness (and death) of Lazarus is under the control of the do/ca of God and serves that divine purpose. The association of do/ca/doca/zw with resurrection here emphasizes again the difference between Jesus’ prayer in 17:1ff and the similar prayer-language used during the Synoptic garden scene (discussed in last week’s study). The “hour” in 17:1 is not that of Jesus’ Passion (his suffering and death) alone, but instead points more directly toward his subsequent resurrection and return to the Father, just as Lazarus’ moment of suffering does not point toward physical death alone, but to the resurrection power possessed by Jesus as God’s Son. The moment of Lazarus’ own resurrection confirms the point (11:40): “Yeshua says to her [i.e. Martha], ‘Did I not say to you that, if you would trust, you will see the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God?'”.

3. Jn 12:23, 28, 41, 43. The portion of the Gospel of John spanning chapters 2-12 forms a clear division in the narrative (sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”), covering the period of Jesus’ public ministry, and comprised of a combination of miracles by Jesus (and other “signs”) and related discourses in which the signs (together with their true meaning) are explained. The words do/ca/doca/zw feature prominently in the concluding scenes of the “Book of Signs” in chapter 12. We already looked at verses 23 and 28 in last week’s study, as they fit so closely with the language used by Jesus in 17:1ff. To these may be added the important, but often neglected, words of the Gospel writer in verses 41-43. As in the Synoptics, Isaiah 6:10 is cited to explain why many of Jesus’ contemporaries were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. The Gospel writer further states that Isaiah “saw his honor/splendor [do/ca]”, by which the original context (the do/ca of YHWH) is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ divine status as God’s Son. There is a clear echo of 8:56-58 in these words (cf. above on the use of do/ca in 8:50, 54). The failure of people to recognize Jesus’ divine do/ca, is further explained, through a bit of ironic wordplay, by the author in verse 43:

“For they loved the honor/esteem [do/ca] of men more than the honor/esteem [do/ca] of God.”

We must keep this Johannine usage of do/ca & doca/zw in mind as we return to examine 17:1-5. The reciprocal language used by Jesus, indicating the intimate relationship between Father and Son, creates certain ambiguities and tensions in the fabric of the text. This is part of the immense beauty and power of the Johannine discourses of Jesus, but it also creates points of difficulty for the commentator. One example is the use of the conjunctive particle i%na to join together the phrases and clauses of vv. 1-2 into a structure and chain of relation. There are actually three connective particles; let us consider them and how the phrases fit together:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousi/a over all flesh
          • (so) that [i%na] (for) all which you have given to him, he might give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

There are two i%na-clauses, both of which are best understood as indicating a purpose or result (i.e. “so that…”). However, the precise relationship between them is not entirely certain. It is possible to view them in more parallel terms, as representing two related results of the Father giving honor to the Son; one might even view this as a chiastic structure:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousia over all flesh
      • (so) that [i%na] for all that you have given to him
    • he might give to them—(the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The sense of reciprocity is perhaps better illustrated in the second (chiastic) structure, and is to be developed by Jesus throughout the Prayer-Discourse. A powerful inter-relationship is established: Father—Son—Believers. As indicated above, the particle i%na in verse 1 is best understood as indicating purpose or result—the Son giving honor to the Father is the result (and end purpose or goal) of the Father giving honor to the Son. However, it is interesting to note that, in the parallel verses 4-5, we find the opposite—that the Father honors the Son as the result of the Son’s work which give honor to the Father. This would allow for the reading of the i%na clause in verse 1 in a causal sense (“in that…”, i.e., “because”). I would maintain that it is, indeed, better to keep to the more natural grammatical sense of i%na indicating purpose/result in verse 1, and to see verses 4-5 as reflecting a reciprocal parallelism with vv. 1-2. This fits with the overall chiastic structure of vv. 1-5, as I noted already last week:

    • The Father gives honor to the Son
      • (so that) the Son may give honor to the Father (v. 1)
        • through the (work) given him by the Father (to complete) (v. 2)
        • the Son has completed the work by him by the Father (v. 4)
      • (and so) the Son has given honor to the Father
    • (thus) the Father will give honor to the Son (v. 5)

It is in vv. 4-5 that we have a clearer indication of the coming death of Jesus, with the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”). Earlier in the Gospel (4:34; 5:36) the verb seems to refer more generally to Jesus’ ministry work (teaching, healing miracles, etc); but here, in the Johannine context, there can be no doubt that the verb, when used by Jesus in the Discourses, must be understood in a comprehensive sense—Jesus’ work on earth (as the Son), culminating in his sacrificial death. This is confirmed by Jesus’ dying words on the cross (19:28), actually a single word in the Greek: tete/lestai (“it is completed”). The verb takes on a somewhat deeper significance later in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 23), when Jesus uses it to refer to the unity that his work achieves for believers, uniting them/us together with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed later in these notes on John 17.

Looking at verses 1-5 as a whole, again, it  must be stated that the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view, despite the general Passion setting and the use of the verb teleio/w in verse 4 (see above). His sacrificial death certainly represents the climax and completion of his work on earth; however, it is this work, taken as a whole, and as a reflection of the relationship between Father and Son, which is the main emphasis in chapter 17 (and, one may say, in the Last Discourse itself). If there were any doubt on this point, we would simply turn to the declaration in verse 3, which stands at the heart of verses 1-5. Many commentators regard this statement, not as the words of Jesus, but as an explanatory aside (comment) by the Gospel writer. This seems likely given the particular formulation, which sounds very much like an early Christian creedal formula, and, indeed, is similar in many ways to the concluding declaration in 20:31. While the objective statement in verse 3 may be, theologically speaking, a bit too precise to fit the historical context of the narrative, it is vital for what it reveals about the identity of Jesus. I discuss this verse in considerable detail in a separate series on the use of the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John (soon to be posted on this site), and will not reproduce that here. The expression “life of the Age” (here h( ai)w/nio$ zwh/), typically translated as “eternal life”, is a key Johannine term, appearing many times in the Discourses of Jesus, but also elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters. Here it is given a precise definition:

“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

If verse 3 is indeed an explanatory statement by the author, it was triggered by the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ at the end of verse 2. The parallel with verse 4 makes clear that the “work” which the Son (Jesus) completes may be understood as the giving of (eternal) Life to all those (believers) whom God the Father has given to him. This point will be discussed in more detail in next week’s study (on verses 6-10).

Finally, it is worth noting the temporal-keyed statement that concludes verse 5; it should be understood as parallel to the initial declaration of v. 1: “the hour has come”. Again, we must make clear that here, in contrast to the Passion-context of the similar Synoptic saying (cf. last week’s study), this “hour” goes beyond the moment of Jesus’ impending suffering and death, to the completion of the Son’s work on earth, which includes his resurrection and return to the Father. This is confirmed by the statement in v. 5b which further describes the honor/splendor (do/ca) the Son is to receive from the Father: “…the honor [do/ca] which I held alongside you before the (coming) to be of the world”. Note again the parallelism:

    • The hour has come
      • May you give honor the Son (v. 1)
      • Now may you give honor to me, Father… (v. 5a)
    • (in the time) before the world (came) to be (v. 5b)

This coming “hour” marks a return to the beginning (1:1ff)—the Son’s return to the Father in Heaven. As Christians, we are so accustomed to thinking, in orthodox terms, of Jesus’ divine pre-existence, that it is easy to forget (or ignore) how rare this idea actually is in the New Testament. It is not to be found at all in the Synoptic Gospels, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts; it is also quite rare in the Pauline letters (though Paul himself accepted some basic version of the idea), and in the other New Testament letters as well (with the exception of Hebrews). The first generation of Christians appears to have come to a realization of this belief only gradually. While the idea that Jesus, after the resurrection, was exalted to a divine position and status at the right hand of God in Heaven, was widespread, there does not seem to be clear evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent Deity prior to about 60 A.D. The ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11 has a descent/ascent conceptual formulation which is generally similar to what we find throughout the Gospel of John. The traditions underlying the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18), and reflected all through the Gospel, probably date from around the same time as the ‘Christ hymn’. One may surmise that it was during the period c. 50-60 A.D. that a distinct belief in Jesus’ pre-existence began to take shape. If it were more widespread by or before this time we would expect to see greater evidence for it throughout the New Testament. In any event, there is no doubt of this belief in the Gospel of John; the pre-existent deity of Jesus is expressed in unmistakable terms, including by Jesus himself in the Discourses. However, the idea is, perhaps, not stated so precisely by Jesus as we find it here in the Prayer-Discourse. The wording in v. 5b seems to hearken back to the opening words of the Gospel (1:1ff). What is unique about the setting in the Prayer-Discourse is the added dimension, developed by Jesus during the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), involving the promise that believers will share in this same glory (do/ca) that the Son has alongside the Father. This will be discussed further in the coming weeks’ studies.

April 15 (2): Acts 7:55-56

This is the last in the series of daily notes for Easter Season, during which we have explored the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and John. Today’s note is on Acts 7:55-56—the last Son of Man verse in Luke-Acts, and one of only four occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” outside of the Gospels (the others being Heb 2:6 [quoting Ps 8:4ff] and Rev 1:13; 14:14 [referring to Dan 7:13]).

Acts 7:55-56

Most of the Son of Man sayings in Luke relate either to: (1) Jesus’ suffering and death, or (2) his exaltation to Glory (and future return in Judgment). As I have previously discussed, the use of “son of man” in the first instance would seem to identify Jesus specifically with humankind in its mortality (weakness, suffering and death); in the second, he identifies himself as the Divine/Heavenly figure (of Daniel 7:13ff) who will appear at the end-time Judgment by God. These two aspects of the expression “Son of Man” are present during the night of Jesus’ arrest and “trial” before the Sanhedrin (Lk 22:22, 48 and Lk 22:69), and also in the Angelic announcement of Lk 24:7 where the predictions of Jesus’ Passion (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-33) are connected with the Resurrection.

When we turn to the book of Acts, the theme of Jesus’ suffering (and death) continues—both with regard to the message that is proclaimed by the disciples (Acts 1:16; 2:23ff; 3:13-15, 17-18; 4:10, 27-28; 5:30 etc), and as a pattern for their own experience of suffering and persecution (cf. throughout chapters 3-7), predicted by Jesus himself (Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-19). So also the theme of Jesus’ exaltation (cf. below). Acts 7:55-56 represents the climactic moment of the Stephen narrative, which spans chapters 6-7:

  • 6:1-7: Introduction, setting the stage for the conflict
  • 6:8-15: The conflict with Stephen, including his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin
  • 7:1-60: The Sermon-Speech and Execution of Stephen
    • 7:1: The question of the High Priest to Stephen, which serves as the immediate narrative introduction to the Speech
    • 7:2-53: The Sermon-Speech of Stephen
    • 7:54-60: The response to the Speech and Execution of Stephen
  • 8:1a: Transitional verse, mentioning Saul/Paul’s role in the execution
  • 8:1b-4: Narrative summary describing the onset of Persecution (led by Saul)

Of the three major scenes in Acts which show the early believers in conflict with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42), it is the Stephen narrative which most clearly follows the pattern of Jesus’ Passion. The parallels (some more precise than others) may be outlined as follows:

  • Stephen was “full of faith/trust and the Holy Spirit” and “full of the favor (of God) and power” (Acts 6:5, 8)
    —Jesus likewise, at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 4:1), was said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”; cf. also Lk 4:14 and Lk 1:15, 17; 2:40.
  • Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)
    —Cf. especially the notice of Jesus’ miracles in Acts 2:22
  • It is stated that Stephen’s opponents “did not have strength to stand against the wisdom and the Spirit in which he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
    —Cf. Luke 20:26, etc; 21:15
  • The accusation of blasphemy (i.e. insult/slander against God) (Acts 6:11)
    —The declaration of the High Priest (Mark 14:64 par), implied in Lk 22:71
  • Stephen’s opponents “stirred together” the crowds etc. against him (Acts 6:12)
    —The Jewish authorities “shook up” the crowds against Jesus (Mark 15:11, not in Luke)
  • “They seized him and led him into the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12b)
    —Cf. Luke 22:52, 54, 66; 23:1, also the specific mention of “Elders and Scribes” (Lk 22:66)
  • False witnesses give testimony, involving the Temple (Acts 6:13)
    —False witnesses against Jesus rel. to the “Temple-saying” (Mark 14:57-59 par, not in Luke)
  • The claim that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14)
  • Stephen stands in the middle of the Council (cf. Luke 22:66)
  • The question by the High Priest regarding the truth of the accusations (Acts 7:1)
    —The specific question in Mark 14:60 par (not in Luke); cf. also Mk 14:61 par; Lk 22:67, 70
  • Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man (Acts 7:55-56)
    —Jesus’ answer to the Council regarding the Son of Man (Lk 22:69 par; in Matt/Mark, seeing the Son of Man)
  • The reaction of the Council (including tearing their garments) (Acts 7:52; Mark 14:63-64 par, cf. Lk 22:71)
  • Stephen is taken outside of the city to be put to death (Acts 7:58, cf. Lk 23:26, 33)
  • Stephen’s dying words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
    —Jesus’ dying words: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
  • Stephen asks God to forgive those putting him to death: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
    —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34 [not in some MSS])
  • After Stephen’s death “there came to be… a great persecution upon the Church” (Acts 8:1)
    —After Jesus’ death “there came to be darkness upon the whole land” (Luke 23:44)

From a narrative standpoint, these parallels illustrate vividly the disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death (Lk 5:11, 27-28; 9:23, 57-62; 18:22, 28; 21:12-19; 22:39, 54; 23:27, 49 pars; cf. also Mk 10:38-40, etc). Let us compare specifically the Son of Man parallel:

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

“From now on, the Son of Man will be sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the power of God”

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

“[From now] you will see the Son of Man sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the Power, and coming with/upon the clouds of Heaven

The declaration by Stephen (in Acts 7:56) is:

“I behold the heavens opening through and the Son of Man standing out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of God

The preceding narrative in verse 55 adds the following details: (1) he saw the glory of God, and (2) Jesus is specifically identified as the Son of Man (“Jesus standing at the right hand of God”).

The use of the verb dianoi/gw (“open through[out], open thoroughly”) is interesting, as it appears to be a favorite of Luke’s—7 of the 8 occurrences in the New Testament are in Luke-Acts, and five of these refer to the knowledge and awareness of Jesus, and of coming to faith, etc. Note:

    • Luke 24:31—”and their eyes were opened through [dihnoi/xqhsan] and they knew upon [i.e. recognized] him…”
    • Luke 24:32—”Were our hearts not burning [i.e. being set on fire] [in us] as he spoke with us in the way, as he opened through [dih/noigen] to us the Writings [i.e. Scriptures]?”
    • Luke 24:45—”Then he [i.e. Jesus] opened through [dih/noicen] their mind for th(eir) bringing together the Writings [i.e. understanding the Scriptures]”
    • Acts 16:14—”a certain woman {Lydia}… of whom the Lord opened through [dih/noicen] (her) heart”
    • Acts 17:3—Paul gathered through [i.e. discussed, argued] with them from the Scriptures, “opening through [dianoi/gwn]…that it was necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer and stand up (again) out of the dead, and that this Yeshua is the Anointed (One)…” (cf. Luke 9:22; 24:7, 26, 46)

The early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) are still connected in many ways with the Gospel narrative, so it is fitting perhaps that they close with this vision by Stephen of the Son of Man, a fulfillment of the sayings by Jesus such as that in Luke 22:69. His vision confirms the reality of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and of his identity as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. Christ’s presence in heaven at God’s right hand was a common motif in early Christian tradition (Acts 2:25, 33ff; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, etc), largely influenced by Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). The remainder of the book (chapters 8-28), on the other hand, narrates the spread of Christianity outside of Judea, out into the wider Greco-Roman world, and thus focuses more precisely on the message (the Gospel) of Jesus, and how people respond to it. If Stephen saw a vision of heaven “opened”, that is, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, so also do believers have their hearts and minds “opened” to the truth, and, in turn, proclaim the message of Christ to others, “opening” and explaining the Scriptures.

April 14 (1): John 1:51

In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

    1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
    3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

    • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
    • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
      • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
    • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
      • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
      • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
    • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
      • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
      • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

    1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
    2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

    • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
    • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

    • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the previous note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
    • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
    • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
    • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
      Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
      Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
      It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
      “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
      —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
      —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
      “My God” (Deity)
      Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
    • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
      • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
        you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
      • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
        Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

April 13 (1): John 1:51

Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

    • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
    • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
    • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

    • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
    • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in 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 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.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

    • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
    • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
    • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

    • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
    • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
    • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

April 11 (1): John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, etc

Today for Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Easter, I am moving away from the Gospel of Luke to explore the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In examining the expression “Son of Man” in Luke (and the Synoptic tradition), we have seen it used by Jesus four different ways—(1) as a self-reference, a substitute for “I”; (2) to identify himself as a human being or with the human condition, especially in terms of weakness, suffering and death; (3) in reference to his Passion; and (4) as a heavenly being who will come (again) to judge the world at the end-time. In some ways, all four uses are interrelated or connected in the Synoptics, and so also in the Gospel of John; however the sayings in John tend to have a more specific Christological emphasis, and may be grouped into three main categories:

1. The Son of Man “lifted high”—Here the verb used is u(yo/w (“make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”):

    • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
    • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
    • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. below). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
    • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

2. The Son of Man “descending and ascending”—The verbs involved are katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (literally “step down” and “step up”), and are commonly used in the Gospel narrative (“go up” etc), especially a)nabai/nw for “going up” to Jerusalem. However, they take on an important theological/Christological connotation in John; apart from these Son of Man sayings, cf. Jn 1:32-33; 20:17, and the play on words in Jn 2:12-13; 6:16; 7:8, 10, 14; 10:1; 11:55; 12:20.

    • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. below.
    • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
    • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
      John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”
      John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
      These sayings are part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood—which connects these sayings specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death.

3. The Son of Man “glorified”—These sayings (using the verb doca/zw, “esteem, honor”, i.e. “give glory, glorify”) combine elements of categories 1 and 2 above, and also unite more precisely the two aspects of the Son of man being lifted up—(a) his death (on the cross), and (b) his exaltation (resurrection/ascension) and return to the Father:

    • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified [docasqh=]”—as indicated above, the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death.
    • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father. Similarly, Jesus’ coming again (and the disciples’ seeing him again) should be understood on these two levels—i.e., (1) of his appearance after the resurrection, and (2) his future (and permanent) appearance, either in terms of the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete or Jesus’ own end-time/future return (or both).

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10.

There are only two other Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John:

    • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
    • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

Both of these are set in the context of healing miracles, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The first saying draws on the on the figure of Son of Man as Divine/Heavenly Judge, familiar from a number of the Synoptic sayings (in Luke) we have been examining during this series. The second saying also has a reference to Jesus’ role in judgment (vv. 39-41), but overall the emphasis is on his healing/saving power.

Finally, we must mention John 1:51, which is almost certainly the most difficult of all these sayings:

“You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”

There have been many and varied attempts at interpreting this apparently ambiguous utterance by Jesus. Because of its important position as the first Son of Man saying in John, and because, in my view, it is meant (by the Gospel writer) as a specific image that frames/binds the start of Jesus’ ministry (chapter 2) with the end of it (his Passion/Resurrection/Exaltation), I will be commenting on it in detail in an upcoming note (during the three days of Easter).

April 9 (1): Luke 22:69

The previous note dealt with two Son of Man sayings by Jesus recorded in Luke’s account of the night of Jesus’ arrest (Lk 22:22, 48). Today, on Holy Thursday, I will explore a third saying (Lk 22:69), which takes place during the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. These three sayings represent the two main aspects of the “Son of Man” in the passages we have been examining—(1) his suffering and death, and (2) his coming in glory as end-time Judge.

Luke 22:69

Luke’s account of the “trial” scene before the Council (Sanhedrin) differs somewhat from that of the other Synoptics (Mk 14:53-65 / Matt 26:57-68), e.g. in the omission of (false) witnesses and the charge that Jesus claimed he would destroy and rebuild the Temple. These motifs appear in the episode with Stephen in Acts 6-7, but not in the Passion narrative. As a result, the interrogation scene in Luke (22:66-71) is briefer and more generic, with some of the dramatic detail having shifted to the scene involving Herod (23:6-12). Instead of a direct question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60 par), the Council collectively addresses Jesus. This builds out of the narrative introduction: “…the Elders of the people, Chief Priests and Scribes were brought together (sunh/xqh) and led him [i.e. Jesus] into their Sanhedrin [sitting together, i.e. council, assembly], saying…” The use of the verb suna/gw is probably an intentional echo of Psalm 2:1 (cf. Acts 4:25-27). The question of the High Priest in Mark/Matthew is very close:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (Mk 14:61)
“…tell us if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God” (Matt 26:63)

The formulation in Matthew is identical with the confession by Peter in Matt 16:16: you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God. Interestingly, in Luke this is separated into two questions:

“If you are the Anointed (One), say (this) to us [i.e. tell us]” (Lk 22:67a)
“Are you then the Son of God?” (Lk 22:70a)

This separation draws a distinction between the expressions “the Anointed” (probably in terms of Davidic Ruler) and “the Son of God” (cf. Luke 1:32, 35). Set in between these two questions, as part of Jesus’ first response, is the Son of Man saying in verse 69. This is important in light of Jesus’ discussion in Lk 20:41-44 par involving the relation between “the Anointed” and the “Son of David” (cf. my earlier article and note); consider the parallel:

Lk 20:41-44
(Jesus questions the religious authorities)

    • The Anointed as the Son of David
      —Citation of Psalm 110:1
    • He is David’s Lord—Deity

Lk 22:66-71
(Religious authorities question Jesus)

    • Are you the Anointed (i.e. the Davidic Ruler)?
      —Son of Man saying
    • Are you the Son of God?

The Son of Man saying plays a central role similar to the citation of Psalm 110:1 in the earlier episode. Let us consider the Son of Man saying:

“But from now (on) the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving (hand) [i.e. on the right hand] of the Power of God”

In comparison with Mark/Matthew, Luke’s version does not have the visual/experiential emphasis—not “you will see“, but “(he) will be [e&stai]”, stating the objective reality of the Son of Man’s position. Like Matthew, the saying in Luke has a temporal indicator—”from now on…”, i.e. after his death and resurrection. Most notably, Luke includes only one of the two elements associated with the Son of Man, which are:

    • Sitting at the right hand of the Power (of God)
    • Coming on/with the clouds of Heaven
      (cf. Lk 21:27, also 9:26)

This two-fold description blends the imagery of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13. Luke, however, emphasizes only the Son of Man’s position at the right hand of God—that is, the exaltation of Jesus after the Resurrection (Acts 2:33ff; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, etc). The specific identification of God as “Power” (du/nami$) is a common theological epithet, serving as a theophanous embodiment or personification of God’s attributes (cf. Exod 9:16; 15:6; Ps 21:13; 62:11; 63:2, etc). The expanded “power of God” serves to clarify the expression, as well as to specify more directly the association of the Son with God the Father.

It is interesting to compare Jesus’ ultimate response to the Sanhedrin’s question—in Mark it is an unmistakable affirmative (“I am”); in Matthew, the response is more ambiguous (“You have said [it]”), which has been interpreted in a number of ways. Luke has Jesus responding to the first question (“if you are the Anointed One”) in a challenging manner: “If I tell you, you will not trust/believe (it); and if I ask (you in return), you will not answer” (vv. 67-68). His response to the second question (“Are you then the Son of God?”) is very nearly a combination of Mark/Matthew:

“I am” (Mk)
You have said (it)” (Matt)
You say that I am” (Lk)

The emphatic position of the pronoun “you” can be understood at least two ways:

    • You say it, I do not—i.e. those are your words, not mine
    • You yourself say it, i.e. speak the truth

From the standpoint of the Gospel writers (Matthew/Luke), it was likely understood in the latter sense—the hostile Sanhedrin unwittingly makes the confession. Recall that Matthew’s version of the High Priest’s question is identical with Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16, cf. above); similarly, the written charge against Jesus appended to the cross itself actually declares the truth (“This is the King…”). It is interesting that Luke omits the charge of blasphemy against Jesus: “you have heard the insult (to God)…” “…and they all judged against him to be held in (guilt) for death” (Mk 14:64). Luke does not have this, omitting also the judgment by the Sanhedrin in the last Passion prediction (Lk 18:31-33, cp. Mk 10:33-34); the judgment, however, is certainly implied in verse 71: “We (our)selves have heard (it) from his mouth!” In Mark/Matthew, it is the Son of Man declaration that leads directly to the reaction (by the High Priest) and the charge of blasphemy—that is, of an insult against God. There are several ways this can be understood:

    • Jesus is seen as identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13 (the Son of Man)
    • He is giving to himself a divine position virtually equal with that of God (YHWH), cf. Psalm 110:1
    • Jesus is saying that a human being (“son of man”) can have a position next to God

The last option is possible, but it is hard to imagine that the Scripturally astute and learned members of the Sanhedrin would not have immediately recognized the allusions to Dan 7:13 and Psalm 110:1. Luke certainly would have had this in mind, given the way the execution of Stephen is narrated in Acts 7:54-60:

“See! I behold the heavens opening through and the Son of Man standing out of [i.e. at/on] the right hand of God!” (v. 56)

Immediately, the crowd cries out “with a great voice” and rushes upon Stephen with a single will/impulse [o(moqumado/n], throwing him out of the city to be stoned to death (vv. 57-58).

April 8 (2): John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32

At the close of the previous day’s note, I presented the three passages in the Gospel of John which are, in some respects, parallel to the three Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Today I will examine them in more detail.

The passages are: John 3:13; 8:28; 12:32. They all involve the “Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as do the Synoptic predictions (see the prior note for more on the expression “Son of Man”). They also each use the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “lift/raise high”). In the Gospels, this verb primarily appears in two contexts: (1) as a contrast with “making low[ly]”, i.e., humbling oneself, the ideal of humility expressed by Jesus in the Synoptics (Lk 14:11; 18:14; Matt 23:12; cf. also Matt 11:23 par. and Lk 1:52); and (2) in the context of these three passages in John. In the fourth Gospel, the references to “the Son of Man” usually have to do with the heavenly nature or exaltation/glorification of Jesus, often involving ascent/descent (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Only in Jn 5:27 and (probably) 9:35 is the expression used in the way it commonly is in the Synoptics. The three verses to be discussed below are each embedded in one of the famous discourses of Jesus which make up the bulk of the Gospel. Generally, these discourses follow a pattern: (a) Jesus makes a provocative statement, (b) those who hear him respond with a question which reflects misunderstanding and a failure to grasp the deeper sense of Jesus’ words, (c) Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of profound theological/christological significance. Often two or more sets of question-response are involved. Critical scholars continue to debate the origin, nature, and composition of these great discourses, which are not quite like anything we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and contain language and expressions often similar to that of, for example, the Johannine Epistles.

John 3:14

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And according as [i.e. just as] Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

This is part of the discourse with Nicodemus which comprises John 3:1-21. I would outline it as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (Jn 3:1-2)
    • Statement by Jesus: “If one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able [lit. powered] to see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)
    • First question by Nicodemus: “How is a man able to come to be (born when) he is aged? he is not able to go into his mother’s belly and be (born) a second (time, is he)?” (Jn 3:4)
      • Jesus’ Response—regarding coming to be born out of [i.e. from] the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8)
    • Second question by Nicodemus: “How are these (things) able to come to be [i.e. how are these things possible]?” (Jn 3:9)
      • Jesus’ Response—regarding the witness of the Son of Man (Jn 3:10-15)
    • Further teaching by Jesus—regarding the Son of God sent into the world (Jn 3:16-21)

The saying under consideration here is part of the response by Jesus to Nicodemus’ second question, which may be divided in this way, according to a kind of step-parallelism:

  • The witness of what we have seen and known (which people do not accept)—v. 11
    • Contrast between witness of earthly and heavenly things—v. 12
      • Only the Son of Man ascends/descends to/from heaven (to give witness concerning heavenly things)—v. 13
        • The Son of Man will be lifted high (so people can see his witness)—v. 14
          • Those who see him and trust/believe have Life of-the-Ages [i.e. eternal life]—v. 15

We see embedded in this sequence examples of the well-known dualistic imagery in the Gospel of John: earthly/heavenly, above/below, etc. The verbs used in verse 13 for ascent/descent are a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw, literally “step up” and “step down”; they are common narrative verbs (Jesus and others “step up”, that is, “go up” to Jerusalem for the feasts, etc.), but have a deeper significance in the Gospel—they relate to Jesus’ heavenly/Divine nature, and the nature of his mission: to his being sent from, and returning to, the Father. As such, they are closely tied to the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”) in verse 14, which leads to a second sort of dualism, or two-fold aspect to Jesus as the Son of Man—namely, to his suffering and glorification (or, to put it in classical theological terms, his humiliation and exaltation). Being “lifted up” foreshadows Jesus’ death on the stake [i.e. his crucifixion], but it also suggests his ascension and exaltation: his return (“stepping up”) to the Father in Heaven.

The parallel to the symbolism of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert is noteworthy, for it relates to a range of Exodus/Passover motifs in the Gospel. The episode referred to in Numbers 21:4-9 is a curious one: when the Israelites had complained of the lack of food and water, in response God sent poisonous snakes among them and many died; Moses interceded and prayed to God for the people, and was instructed to fashion a snake-image and set it upon a pole, so that all who looked upon it would be healed and live. Underlying the symbolic action is an ancient pattern of thought which might be described as therapeutic and sympathetic magic: the image represents the ailment and serves to draw it away in hope of healing. That God in the Old Testament frequently works through many apparently (from our viewpoint today) superstitious elements of the ancient world is an important principle of Biblical theology. However, already by the time of the New Testament, this passage was being interpreted at a deeper theological level. The book of Wisdom (16:6-7) makes the point that the saving symbol (the serpent-image) served to direct people’s attention to the person of the Savior (God). The Jewish Targums, too, interpret the looking on the serpent-image as turning (one’s heart) to the living and dynamic (hypostatic) Word/Name (Memra) of God. Cf. Brown, John (Anchor Bible 29), p. 133.

John 8:28

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

This saying is part of the long, multi-faceted discourse (or series of discourses) set during Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles, Sukkoth), covering chapters 7 and 8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). The specific discourse here involves Jn 8:21-30, which I outline this way, according to the pattern indicated above:

    • {There is no narrative introduction; just a connecting phrase “therefore he said again to them…”}
    • Statement by Jesus: “I go under [i.e. away] and you will seek me, and (yet) you will die away in your sins; (the place) where I go under, you are not able to come” (Jn 8:21)
    • First question of the Jews: “He will not some(how) kill himself(, will he)?” failing to understand “where I go…you are not able to come” (Jn 8:22)
      • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing the nature of their unbelief; dualistic contrast (“above/below”, “not of this world / of this world”) highlights Jesus own identity (Jn 8:23-24)
    • Second question of the Jews: “Who are you?” (Jn 8:25a)
      • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing his identity and witness in two main aspects: (1) judgment, and (2) representing the one who sent him (the Father). (Jn 8:25b-26) There is also here an interesting wordplay in the difficult phrase in v. 25b which begins the response, and which I render literally “(from) the beginning that which even I have spoken to you”—cf. Jn 1:1-2; 8:43.
    • Further teaching by Jesus—clarification of Jesus’ relationship (and identity) with the Father (Jn 8:28-29)

The saying under consideration comes from this final pair of verses, which I arrange (and translate) together:

    • “When you should lift high the Son of Man then you will know that ‘I Am’
      • and from myself I do nothing, but according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”
    • “And the (one) sending me is with me [cf. Jn 1:1-2], he did not leave me alone
      • (in) that I always do the (things) pleasing to Him”

The first portion of each verse emphasizes the ontological/existential relationship; the second portion reflects the familiar Johannine theme of the Son (Jesus) doing and saying just those things he sees and hears the Father doing.

In Jn 3:14, lifting up the Son of Man was a sign and symbol of the salvation God would bring about through the Son; now in Jn 8:28, lifting up the Son of Man reveals God the Father himself. This, too, is a common refrain by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (cf. especially Jn 14:8-14). For the identification of Jesus with God the Father (YHWH) as “I Am”, see the culmination of the last discourse in this series, Jn 8:52-59.

John 12:32

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”

This third and final passage comes from a discourse (Jn 12:20-36) that is set following Jesus Entry into Jerusalem. It does not follow the same pattern as the previous two discourses examined above. Here is an outline:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 12:20-22)
  • Statement by Jesus (Jn 12:23-28a)—there are several portions to it:
    • “The hour has come so that the Son of Man should be glorified” (v. 23)
    • Parable of the kernel of wheat, illustrating the generative power of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24)
    • A saying on discipleship, similar to Mark 8:35 and pars. (v. 25)
    • A saying reflecting the familiar theme in the Gospel of the relationship Disciple-Jesus-Father (v. 26)
    • “Now my soul is troubled…” (v. 27)—another statement on the coming of the “hour” which serves as a parallel and inclusio with verse 23.
    • “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28a)—the climax and conclusion to his words.
  • Voice from Heaven: “I have glorified (it) and again I will glorify” (Jn 12:28b)
    • Reaction by the Crowd: they heard the voice as thunder, and did not understand it (v. 29); note the apparent allusion to the Sinai Theophany (cf. Exodus 20:18-21)
    • Jesus’ Response (Jn 12:30-32)—he expounds and explains the voice with two sayings:
      (1) “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief of this world will be cast out outside” (v. 31)
      (2) “And I, if I should be lifted high, will drag all (people/things) toward myself” (v. 32)
    • Additional narrative explanation (Jn 12:33)
  • Question from the crowd: “Who is this Son of Man?”—expressing confusion between the Anointed One (Messiah) and the “Son of Man”, apparently understanding “being lifted up” as related to death or going away.
    • Jesus’ Response—teaching using dualistic imagery of light/darkness: trust/believe in the light while it is here (Jn 12:35-36)

This is probably the most complex and difficult of the three discourses presented here, with wide-ranging and dramatic shifts in emphasis, as the Gospel narrative as a whole builds toward the Passion. The discourse begins with a powerful declaration regarding the Son of Man (v. 23), emphasizing his glorification. Underlying this statement is the teaching on the purpose and effect of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24), and the way in which it connects with the one who follows and believes in him (v. 25-26). The saying in verse 32 does not specifically mention “Son of Man”, but it is clearly implied in Jesus’ use of the pronoun “I” (e)gw). Indeed, the question by the crowd (v. 34) could be understood to relate to all three of the sayings being discussed here (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). Even for believers today, the challenge remains to grapple with these two aspects of the incarnate Christ’s identity, his revelatory message and saving work, as expressed in the Gospel: suffering and glorification, brought together in one extraordinary symbol of the Son of Man being “lifted high”. The power of this symbol is so great that it will draw [literally, “drag”] all people (or all things) to him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally associated with Mary Magdalene and the Anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Three different figures came to be united in Christian tradition: (1) the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany some days before his death (Mark 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13; John 12:1-8), identified in John as Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus; (2) the ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:36-50; and (3) Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus exorcised seven demons (according to Lk 8:2). In popular tradition, Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute who repented upon encountering Jesus, her repentance being demonstrated in the anointing scene. It is doubtless her presence in the Resurrection narratives which served to strengthen her association with the anointing scene in Holy Week.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 12: Messiah and Son of God (continued)

In continuing this Part of the series, we may summarize the instances in the Gospels where the titles “Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$) and “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) are combined or set in context with each other:

    • Mark 1:1, as the heading of the Gospel—”…of Yeshua (the) Anointed, the Son of God”
    • The association of Jesus’ Baptism with his being anointed (as well as being God’s Son)—Acts 10:37-38; Luke 3:22 v.l. (quoting Psalm 2:7).
    • Luke 4:41 (par Mk 1:34; Matt 8:16)—the author explicitly connects the exclamation by the unclean spirits (that Jesus is the Son of God) with his identity as the Anointed One (cf. Mk 3:11; Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28).
    • Matthew’s version of Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16)—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (cf. the prior discussion).
    • John 11:27, a similar confession by Martha during the Lazarus scene—”You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world”.
    • Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus’ argument (based on Psalm 110:1) could be taken to mean that the Anointed One is something more than the “Son of David”, i.e. the Son of God (so early Christians would have understood it). The question Jesus initially asks in Matthew’s version of the scene—”What/how does it seem to you about the Anointed (One)? Whose son is (he)?” (Matt 22:42)—may even foreshadow such an interpretation.
    • Mark 14:61; Matt 26:62; Luke 22:67, 70, the question/adjuration put to Jesus by the Sanhedrin (cf. the earlier discussion on this).
    • In the scene before Pilate, the title “Anointed (One)” appears specifically in Matt 27:17, 22; Luke 23:2, associated with the accusation that Jesus considered himself to be a King; John’s Gospel adds, parallel to this, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (Jn 19:7).
    • Matt 27:40, 43, where the taunts of the crowd use “Son of God”, in place of “Anointed (One)”, cf. Mark 14:32; Lk 23:35ff, 39.
    • John 20:31, at the close of the Gospel, similar to Mark 1:1—”…so that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

We should also include here the important references in the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke:

    • References to Jesus as the Anointed One, and a “son”, in the context of his miraculous (virginal) conception by the Holy Spirit—Matt 1:1, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25; 2:4ff; 15; Luke 1:26-38; 2:7, 10-11, 26.
    • The genealogies (Matt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38) clearly show Jesus to be a descendant of David (legally, by way of Joseph, cf. also Matt 1:20; Lk 1:27; 2:4), i.e. the Anointed One as a “son of David” (cf. Lk 1:32; 2:11). The Lukan genealogy, which traces backward, ends with the phrase “the son of God”—referring directly to Adam, but on the theological level, to Jesus his descendant.
    • The Angelic Annunciation to Mary, more clearly than any other passage in the Gospels, associates the titles “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” with the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic King (Luke 1:32-35)—for the remarkable parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246, see parts 78 and my earlier note.

The Gospel of John

The idea of Jesus as both the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God can be found in several places in the Gospel of John:

    • John 1:34—the Baptism of Jesus, narrated indirectly (by John the Baptist), is connected with John’s own identity in relation to Jesus (vv. 6-9, 15, 19-27, 30ff). Note especially in verses 20-25, where John denies being the Anointed One or “the one coming” (vv. 27, 30). In verse 34, at the climax of the Baptism narration, John declares “I have seen and have witnessed that this (one) is the Son of God!”.
    • John 1:49—the confession by Nathanael: “…you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” Here “king of Israel” certainly refers to the expectation of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David; moreover, there is definitely a Messianic context to this scene (v. 45).
    • John 11:27—the confession by Martha (cf. above): “you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world.”
    • John 19:7, in the context of Jesus’ trial (cf. above).
    • John 20:31—the conclusion of the Gospel proper (cf. above).

Also noteworthy are the passages which connect the titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man”:

    • John 1:51—Jesus’ famous Son of Man saying, which follows Nathanael’s confession in verse 49.
    • John 3:13-14, 18—twin sayings of the Son of Man descending/ascending and being “lifted up” (vv. 13-14), followed by a reference to belief in Jesus as the Son of God (v. 18).
    • John 5:25, 27—parallel between the Son of God and Son of Man in the context of the end-time Judgment and Resurrection.
    • John 9:35—”Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (some MSS read “…in the Son of God”, cf. 3:18).
    • John 12:23; 13:31 refer to the Son of Man being glorified (through his death and resurrection/exaltation); John 11:4 refers to the Son of God being glorified (through the death and raising of Lazarus).

One should also mention John 12:34, where the titles “the Anointed (One)” and “the Son of Man” are related. Throughout the Gospel tradition, Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, referring to himself, in an eschatological and/or Messianic context. Cf. my earlier note for more on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John.

In addition to the passages above, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son”, specifically in relation to (God) the Father—John 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; [6:40]; 8:36; 10:36; 14:13; 17:1, etc. Almost all of these are found in the great Discourses of Jesus, and there the Christological language and imagery has gone far beyond traditional Messianic interpretation (of Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:11-14, etc)—we find, in the words of Jesus, a clear expression of his pre-existent Deity. However, it is interesting that the title “Son” is only used of the incarnate Christ, in the sense that he makes God the Father known to humankind (cf. Jn 1:14, 18 [v.l.]); in John 1:1-14a it is rather Lo/go$ (“Word”) that is used. Also connected with the Sonship of Jesus and the purpose of the incarnation is the idea that all who trust/believe in him should come to be sons/children of God (cf. Jn 1:12; 12:36; 1 Jn 3:1ff).

Christological Development

In examining the idea of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in early Christian thought and expression, we begin with the Gospel preaching by the apostles and disciples in the book of Acts. The title “Son of God” occurs only once, in Acts 9:20, where the converted Paul’s first preaching in Damascus included the declaration regarding Jesus—”this one [ou!to$] is the Son of God!” The statement is parallel with his demonstration to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah—”this one [ou!to$] is the Anointed (One)” (cf. Acts 3:18, 20; 5:42; 17:3; 18:5, 28). The only other reference to Jesus as God’s Son involves the use of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born]”) in Acts 13:33. This is part of Paul’s speech at Antioch, which is parallel in many respects with Peter’s great Pentecost speech in Acts 2. Paul cites Psalm 2:7, while Peter cites Psalm 110:1, applying them both to the resurrection of Jesus. These Scriptures are not interpreted in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., of his birth/generation as Son by God in eternity—rather, they are related specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. It is after his death that Jesus is “born” as God’s Son, being raised and exalted to heaven. Interestingly, Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus three different ways in early Christian tradition:

    1. In reference to his resurrection and exaltation—Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:5
    2. In the context of his Baptism—Luke 3:22 v.l. (D a b c d ff2 l r1, and attested by a number of Church Fathers)
    3. In terms of his pre-existent deity and relationship to God the Father—Hebrews 1:5; 5:5

Turning to Paul’s letters, the most notable passage is Romans 1:3-4, which, as I have previously discussed, may reflect an earlier creed or Gospel formula:

“…about His Son, the (one) coming to be (born) out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed/designated] as Son of God in power according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead, Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

The reference to the “seed of David” is derived from Messianic tradition, reflecting the figure-type of the expected/end-time Davidic Ruler. We can see how these terms and titles are brought together and connected in one statement: Son—son of David—Son of God—Anointed. Generally, however, Paul does not make much use of traditional Messianic thought and imagery, and almost never uses “Anointed (One)” as a specific title—in his letters (50s and early 60s A.D.) “Anointed” [Xristo/$] has already been thoroughly assimilated, becoming part of Jesus’ name (“Yeshua [the] Anointed”). Nor is the title “Son of God” especially common, occurring just three times in the Pauline corpus (in addition to Rom 1:4), each of which has the title set in tandem with “Anointed” or “Yeshua [the] Anointed”:

    • 2 Corinthians 2:19—”the Son of God, Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one) proclaimed among you through us…”
    • Galatians 2:20—”…(the) Anointed lives in me… I live in trust of the Son of God…”
    • Ephesians 4:13—”…the (full) knowledge of the Son of God… the measure of stature of the fullness of the Anointed.”

More frequently, Paul refers to Jesus simply as “(the) Son”, by which God’s Son is meant, as in the Gospel of John (cf. above). Often these occur specifically in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e., of God sending his own Son, etc (Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 4:6)—as well as generally in terms of the Gospel message (Rom 1:3, 9; Gal 1:6). The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus is particularly in view in Rom 8:29; 1 Thess 1:10. There is, no doubt, an association with Messianic tradition in those few passages which refer to the kingdom of the Son, and to the promise of salvation (from the end-time Judgment, etc)—1 Cor 15:28; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13. Paul also shares with the Johannine tradition the idea of believers in Christ becoming sons/children of God, through his death/resurrection and the work of the Spirit—Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 4:6.

Apart from the letter to the Hebrews and the Johannine writings, references to Jesus as Son (of God) are quite rare (2 Peter 1:17, referring to the Transfiguration). Hebrews, like the Gospel of John, understands Jesus’ Sonship in terms of pre-existent Deity (Heb 1:2, 5, 8, etc), but also in the (earlier) context of his sacrificial death and resurrection (Heb 4:14; 5:5; 7:28, etc). The title “Son of God” occurs in Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29. Overall, we find here a more developed matrix of belief regarding the Person of Christ. This is even more so in the case of the Letters of John, so closely matching the language and thought of the Gospel (esp. the Discourses of Jesus). “Son” occurs 24 times (including twice in 2 John), with the specific title “Son of God” used in 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-13, 20. Interestingly, “(the) Anointed” is used as a distinct title twice in 1 John as well (1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), but it is no longer a traditional Messianic title; rather, it now identifies Jesus in terms of a very definite set of Christian (and Christological) beliefs, corresponding to the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel, which includes:

    • That Jesus is the Son (of God) and has been sent by the Father (2:22-23, etc)
    • That he has come to earth and appeared in human flesh (4:2, etc)
    • That he gave himself sacrificially for the salvation and life of the world (“…the one coming through water and blood“, 5:6 etc)

For perhaps the first time in the New Testament writings we find such beliefs about Jesus turned into a direct test for correct belief—i.e. orthodoxy (or, perhaps better, proto-orthodoxy). Note the repeated use of the pa=$ o( formula in 1 John (“every one who…”):

    • 1 Jn 2:23—”Every one denying the Son does not have the Father; the (one) giving account of [i.e. acknowledging] the Son also has the Father”
    • 1 Jn 2:29—”Every one doing justice/righteousness has come to be (born) out of Him”
    • 1 Jn 3:9—”Every one who has come to be (born) out of God does not do sin…” (also 5:18)
    • 1 Jn 4:7—”Every one loving (each other) has come to be born out of God and knows God”
    • 1 Jn 5:1—”Every one trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be born out of God…”

Cf. also 3:3-4, 6, 10, 15; 5:4, as well as the similar formulation in 1 Jn 4:3: “Every spirit which does not give account of [i.e. acknowledge/confess] Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God”. It is important to notice the way that the correct confession (or acknowledgement) of Christ is related (a) to moral and upright behavior, and (b) to the idea of believers also being born as Sons (Children) of God—cf. John 1:12 (also 11:52; 12:36); 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2.

Jesus as the Son (of God) is rare in the book of Revelation, occurring only once (Rev 2:18), though otherwise Messianic imagery, in connection with an exalted view of Christ (in Heaven), abounds throughout the book. The reference to Jesus as the “firstborn” out of the dead (cf. Rom 8:28; Col 1:18) may indicate that Jesus’ Sonship here, as in the earliest Christian preaching, is connected specifically with his resurrection.

The Apostolic Fathers

Finally, if we briefly examine the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.), the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, we find essentially a summary and (re-)formulation of what is otherwise expressed in the New Testament; among the more noteworthy passages are:

  • 1 Clement 36:4—citation of Psalm 2:7-8 (cf. above), possibly also an allusion to Hebrews 1:5.
  • Ignatius to the Smyrneans 1:1—part of a creedal summary, either quoting Romans 1:3-4 or drawing upon the underlying tradition; likewise in Ephesians 20:2, where Ignatius offers an early formulation of the dual-nature of Christ, “Son of Man [i.e. human] and Son of God [i.e. Divine]”.
  • Ignatius, Magnesians 8:2, seemingly drawing upon Johannine language regarding the Person of Christ, and suggesting his pre-existent Deity.
  • Epistle of Polycarp 12:2, where the title Son of God is connected with Jesus as “eternal High Priest”, perhaps indicating familiarity with Hebrews.
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:3—”we worship this one [i.e. Jesus] as (being the) Son of God”, cf. Acts 9:20.
  • The Epistle of Barnabas 5:9, 11; 7:2, 9; 12:8; 15:5, where there is a strong emphasis on the Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who fulfills (and replaces) the Old Testament types and forms, similar in certain ways to Hebrews and the Gospel of John.

Cf. also Didache 16:4, the Epistle to Diognetus 7:4; 9:2, 4; 10:2, and numerous passages in Hermas (Vision 2.2:8; Similitude 5.2:6, 8, 11; 8.3:2, 11:1; 9.1:1; 12:1, et al). In all of these early Christian works, traditional Messianic thought and interpretation has generally disappeared, having been replaced by a distinctly Christian point of reference, based on early Tradition and the writings of the New Testament. By the middle of the second century, Jesus as the Son of God became part of a wider Christological (and Apologetic) argument involving the Person of Christ. Proto-orthodox writers and theologians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Irenaeus felt compelled to explain and defend their understanding of Christ on several fronts:

    1. Against Jewish opponents, e.g. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho §43, 48, 100-2, 118, 126-9, etc. In the context of such works, Christians were still forced to argue or demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, though in a somewhat different manner than we see in the earlier book of Acts.
    2. Against Greco-Roman (pagan) misunderstanding and misrepresentation—cf. Justin, First Apology §§21-23, 31, 54, 60, 63, etc; Athenagoras’ Plea for the Christians §10; Origen Against Celsus 6:11, etc.
    3. Against alternate/heterodox (or “heretical”) Christian views of Christ, i.e. by so-called “Gnostics”, etc—cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16-18ff; IV.5-11, 40-1, etc.