Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 11:2)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In these studies on the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we have been exploring the place of this Kingdom-theme within the Synoptic Tradition. In particular, our recent studies (during Holy Week) examined this theme in light of the Triumphal Entry scene (Mark 11:1-10 par)—which marks the beginning of the Jerusalem period of Jesus’ ministry, in the Synoptic narrative—and the identification of Jesus as the Davidic/royal Messiah. In these chapters (Mk 11-13 par) covering the Jerusalem period, culminating with the Passion narrative (chaps. 14-15 par), the Kingdom-theme is developed in a number of important ways, as we saw. The results of that analysis will be utilized in the studies that follow, helping to guide and inform our approach, and to aid the resultant exegesis.

Now, however, we will be taking a new course, as we examine the Kingdom-petition in the context of each Gospel’s version of the Lord’s Prayer—both the Matthean (6:9-13) and the Lukan (11:2-4). In each Gospel, the Prayer occurs at a different location and context within narrative. Some traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to take the view that Jesus gave roughly the same Prayer (and prayer-instruction) on different occasions; however, most commentators would hold that the two versions of the Prayer represent alternate versions of the same tradition. This means, certainly, the same historical tradition; yet, it can also indicate the same literary source—that is, the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke, and which is customarily thought of as comprising a single written document.

Whatever its source, the Lukan version of Prayer, being noticeably simpler and shorter, is often regarded as being closer to the original—that is, both the original “Q” tradition, and to the Prayer as it was originally spoken and taught (presumably in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. For this reason, among others, we begin with the Lukan version of the Prayer, and its Kingdom-petition (11:2).

Before looking at the immediate context of the Prayer, it is worth considering the structure and scope of the Lukan narrative, in relation to the core Synoptic narrative, and how this affects Luke’s treatment of the Kingdom-theme.

As I have discussed, the Synoptic narrative is rather clearly divided into two parts: (1) the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and (2) his time in Jerusalem. In Mark, this two-part division is reflected in the Gospel’s basic structure: (1) the Galilean period (chapters 1-9), and (2) the Jerusalem period (chapters 10-16). Peter’s confession (of Jesus as the Messiah, 8:29-30) and the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8) mark the climax of the Galilean period. In this first period, Jesus is presented primarily as a Messianic Prophet, according to the pattern of Elijah and Moses (cf. the Transfiguration scene), and also the Isaian herald (of 42:1ff and 61:1ff, etc). By contrast, in the second part of the Gospel (the Jerusalem period), the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic King (from the line of David). This is introduced at 10:47-48, upon Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, and then comes fully into view with the Triumphal Entry scene, after which it dominates the remainder of the narrative.

The Gospel of Luke follows this Synoptic/Markan framework; however, the Lukan narrative has greatly altered its structure. In Mark, the period from the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, covers less than two chapters (9:9-10:52), with the journey to Jerusalem itself essentially comprising chapter 10. This narrative is framed and governed by the three Passion-predictions of Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), which rather evenly divide the material.

In Luke, by contrast, the journey to Jerusalem covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), being expanded by the inclusion of a considerable amount of material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus. Some of this material is unique to Luke’s Gospel, while other portions derive from the Synoptic/Markan tradition or from the “Q” material shared with Matthew. A number of traditions occur at earlier points in the narrative (i.e., set in the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. The Lukan author has set all of this material during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—thus portraying the journey as time of intensive teaching, when Jesus gave instruction and training to his followers.

The Lord’s Prayer, in chapter 11, occurs at a relatively early point in the Journey narrative, apparently not long after the journey to Jerusalem commenced (9:51ff). There are several important Kingdom-references in this material, prior to the Prayer petition in 11:2. It will be worth examining these briefly.

Luke 9:27

To begin with, the Galilean period concludes with a key Kingdom-declaration, in 9:27, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“there are some of you, standing at this very (place), who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God!”

In this, Luke is following the Synoptic/Markan tradition (Mk 9:1; par Matt 16:28), though the author seems to be downplaying the eschatological aspect of the tradition in his version of the saying; compare the Markan version:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (9:1)

Matthew’s version makes the reference more clearly refer to the resurrection (and/or future return) of Jesus:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom!” (16:28)

The Lukan version, in context, seems to relate this promise of seeing the kingdom of God (on this idiom, cp. John 3:3), with the disciples who witness the Transfiguration scene (which immediately follows in the narrative, vv. 28-36). The parallel with the wording in v. 32 is particularly telling:

    • “…until they should see the kingdom of God” (v. 27)
    • “…and they saw his glory” (v. 32)

The appearance of the kingdom of God is thus implicitly connected with the appearance of Jesus in his Messianic glory. As noted above, in the Galilean period of the narrative (which climaxes with the Transfiguration) the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic Prophet (cf. verse 35, and the figures of Moses/Elijah). Jesus’ role as Prophet is essentially fulfilled with this scene and the attendant glory that is revealed about him. As for Jesus’ role as Messianic King, his glory will not be revealed until after his death and resurrection.

This point is instructive for what I regard as the dual-nature of the Kingdom in the Lukan Gospel (incl. the book of Acts). On the one hand, the Kingdom is manifested in the person of Jesus, during the time of his ministry on earth; yet, on the other hand, the Kingdom is to be realized fully only after the resurrection—and when the exalted Christ returns to earth at the time of the Judgment. This will be discussed further as we proceed in our study.

As we turn to the Journey period in the Lukan narrative (beginning at 9:51ff), there are several episodes, or blocks of material, which introduce (again) and develop the Kingdom-theme.

Luke 9:60, 62

Following the initial episode (9:52-56) of the Journey narrative, the Gospel writer includes a cluster of three sayings by Jesus, all dealing with the theme of discipleship, and of the costs involved with following Jesus. The first two sayings (vv. 57-60) are part of the “Q” tradition, being found also in Matthew (8:19-22), but at a very different (earlier) point in the narrative. The third saying (vv. 61-62) occurs only in Luke. In each instance, the saying by Jesus comes in response to a would-be disciple; the person’s interest in following Jesus is tested by the idea of the hardship and sacrifice that discipleship requires.

The prospective disciple in the second saying requests that, before following Jesus, he first be allowed to bury his deceased father (v. 59). Jesus’ response to him is famous for its apparent harshness:

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead! But you, going forth, must give throughout the message (of) the kingdom of God.” (v. 60)

Similarly, the would-be disciple in the third saying wishes first to bid farewell to his home and family, before leaving to follow Jesus (v. 61). This seemingly reasonable request also meets with a sharp response from Jesus:

“No one casting (his) hand upon the plough, and (still) looking to the (thing)s behind, is (very) well-set for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

The point in both sayings is that social and family obligations must take second place to the priority of following Jesus. In the first of these two sayings, following Jesus involves proclaiming the Kingdom; in the second, it implies belonging to the Kingdom. The two ideas are certainly related, in the sense that being “well-suited” for the Kingdom (so as to belong to it) means one is also equipped to serve the Kingdom—viz., by proclaiming its coming to people everywhere.

Luke 10:9-11

This theme is developed in the next episode of the Journey narrative (10:1-12ff)—the Mission of the seventy(-two) disciples. This episode, which occurs only in Luke, is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 6:7-13 par, which is part of the Galilean Period narrative, and so occurs, toward the end of that narrative, in Luke’s Gospel (9:1-6). In that earlier episode, it is the Twelve—Jesus’ inner circle of close disciples—who are sent out, as an extension of his own mission (Mark 3:13ff par). And, indeed, like Jesus himself, the missionary disciples are instructed to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, both through their preaching and through the performance of healing/exorcism miracles (Mk 3:14b, 15). On the performance of such miracles as a sign that the Kingdom has come, see the recent study on Lk 11:20 par.

The Lukan version of the Mission episode emphasizes the proclamation of the Kingdom (9:1), corresponding to Jesus’ own proclamation (4:43; 8:1). The inclusion of the second Mission episode, involving a larger group of disciples, is important to the Lukan narrative for a number of reasons. First, it further establishes and develops the Kingdom-theme in the Journey narrative; second, it emphasizes Jesus’ activity in teaching his disciples; third, it draws greater attention to the idea of the disciples’ mission as an extension (and continuation) of Jesus’ own; and, finally, it foreshadows the role of the early believers in the book of Acts, in their activity of proclaiming the Gospel and performing (healing) miracles.

As to the third point, the wording in 10:9 and 11 is significant. In verse 9, Jesus instructs the disciples that, as they perform healing miracles, they should announce that “the kingdom of God has come near [h&ggiken] upon you”. This use of the verb e)ggi/zw matches that of the declaration by Jesus at the beginning of his mission, according to the Synoptic tradition (cf. the earlier note on Mark 1:15). Luke only alludes, indirectly, to that tradition (in 4:43 and 8:1), without using the verb e)ggi/zw, which he introduces here. As the declaration characterizes Jesus’ own mission, so it also does for the disciples’ apostolic mission—as indicated by the repetition in verse 11: “…know that the kingdom of God has come near!”

The Lukan narrative increasingly understands the coming of the Kingdom of God in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel. This becomes a dominant theme in the book of Acts, but it begins to take shape already here, with the two Mission episodes, at the end of the Galilean period and the beginning of the Journey period. In Jesus’ own ministry, the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”) is used to characterize his announcement of the coming of God’s Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par); however, increasingly for early Christians, the word (and the related verb eu)aggeli/zw) referred to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ—viz., the message of who he was and what he did (and what God did through him). Note how Luke frames the first Mission episode, bringing out this interpretive emphasis:

    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim [vb khru/ssw] the kingdom of God” (9:2)
    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim the good message [vb eu)aggeli/zw]” (v. 6)

There is thus a clear parallel between the Kingdom of God and the Gospel, even though Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zw rather than khru/ssw + eu)agge/lion. For some reason, not yet completely explained, the Lukan author seems to avoid the noun eu)agge/lion, preferring instead the verb eu)aggeli/zw.

With this background in view, we shall turn next week to the Lukan Lord’s Prayer itself, examining the context of the Prayer, and the place of the Kingdom-petition within it.

Saturday Series: John 20:23

John 20:23

The final sin-reference in the Gospel of John comes near the end of the Gospel, in the commission-scene of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples, 20:19-23. As is typical, the Gospel writer has taken an established historical tradition and has developed it in the light of the distinctive Johannine theology. In this instance, however, the brevity and terseness of the material creates particular challenges for interpretation, especially with regard to the sin-reference in verse 23.

The core Gospel tradition is centered in verses 19-21. Here, the Johannine tradition is comparable to that in Luke 24:36-40; this is one of several points in the Resurrection-narrative material where the Lukan Gospel (at least in the ‘non-Western’ witnesses) and Johannine Gospel closely resemble each other, indicating that they share a common source of tradition. Both Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:19-23 blend the resurrection-appearance of Jesus with a commissioning of his disciples (implying the impending departure of Jesus, to the Father in heaven). At the historical level, this may involve the compression and telescoping of several events into a single narrative episode. The same sort of thing occurs in the Matthean Gospel (28:16-20) and in the ‘long ending’ of Mark’s Gospel (16:14-18).

John’s account is the briefest of the four, particularly in comparison with the Lukan episode, with which it otherwise has certain features in common (see above). This means that Johannine stylistic and theological development of the material is, here, relatively slight. Given the dramatic preparation for the moment in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), the brevity of the narrative is rather surprising.

Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples is presented in just three verses; there are three components to the commission, one in each verse:

    • The saying in verse 21, announcing the disciples’ role in continuing the mission of Jesus
    • The giving of the Spirit in verse 22, which enables the disciples to continue Jesus’ mission
    • The saying regarding sin in verse 23, which must, by its context, refer to the nature and content of the disciples’ mission.

Each of these components, in its own way, reflects the Johannine theology and mode of expression; they also, in their narrative context, relate back to Jesus’ teaching in the Last Discourse. In particular, the giving of the Spirit represents the fulfillment of the promises in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15); it is thus here the central component of the three:

    • The announcement of the disciples’ mission (v. 21)
      • The giving of the Spirit (v. 22)
    • The nature/content of the disciples’ mission (v. 23)

In terms of linguistic style and syntax, the declaration in verse 21 is the most Johannine:

“Just as the Father has sent me forth, (so) also do I send you.”

Similar language and sentiment can be found throughout the Last Discourse, and in the chap. 17 Discourse-Prayer—see especially verse 18, where the symmetry is more precise:

“Just as the Father (has) sent me forth into the world, (so) also I (have) sent them forth into the world.”

The disciples of Jesus thus are obligated to fulfill the duty and mission given to them by the Son (Jesus), just as the Son fulfilled the duty/mission given to him by the Father. The missions are similar and related; indeed, one should view them as stages in a single continual (and ongoing) mission. The Spirit will enable the believers to perform this continuing mission, while Jesus himself will continue to be present, teaching and guiding the disciples (believers) through the Spirit.

Given the importance of this missional emphasis throughout chapters 13-17, it is surprising that the description of the mission itself, at the moment of the commissioning, is so brief, and is limited (in the narrative) to the sin-reference of verse 23 (compare Lk 24:47-49; Matt 28:19; [Mk 16:15-18]). Here is the verse in question:

“For whomever you would release the(ir) sins, they have been released, (and) for whomever you would hold (them) firm, they are held firm.”

In considering this seemingly ambiguous statement, a number of questions arise, which must be addressed if we are to understand and interpret the verse correctly.

First, we have the use of the noun hamartía (“sin”). Here it occurs in the plural (tas hamartías, accusative), literally “the sins”. The only other instance of the plural in the Gospel is at 8:24 (twice). In our studies on the subject of the Johannine view of sin, I have discussed repeatedly how the Gospel writer evinces two very distinct, but related, understandings of sin: (1) sin in the conventional sense of ethical-religious misdeeds or wrongdoings, and (2) sin in the specific theological/Christological sense of refusing (or failing) to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. The latter has priority, representing the great sin; as long as a person commits the great sin of unbelief, it is impossible for all other sins to be removed.

We have seen how, in using the singular of hamartía (“[the] sin”) the author can play on both levels or aspects of meaning—sin in the general sense, as well as the great sin of unbelief. However, the noun in the plural seems to limit the focus to sin in the general sense—that is, of ethical-religious wrongs committed by a person (of various sorts). As I discussed in earlier study on 1:29, this was also the focus of the singular of the noun in the Lamb of God declaration. Thus, the first and last sin-references in the Gospel deal with sin in the general/conventional sense of the term.

In the declaration of 1:29, it is stated that the Lamb of God “takes (away)” sin. In the context of the Johannine theology (and the Gospel narrative), this can only refer to trust in Jesus, and in the life-giving (and cleansing) power that comes through participation in his sacrificial death. Here, now, at the end of the Gospel, the idea of the removal of sin reappears, but in connection with the mission and ministry of believers. Before addressing the particular interpretive difficulties relating to this connection, let us examine the verbs used (and their tenses) here in verse 23.

Syntactically, the sentence in v. 23 can be divided into two parallel statements, employing a contrast between the verbs aphí¢mi (a)fi/hmi) and kratéœ (krate/w). The verb aphí¢mi literally means “send away”, sometimes with the specific nuance of “release”. It is often used in the context of forgiving sin, and thus of removing sin and its effects (guilt, punishment, etc). The verb occurs frequently in this context elsewhere in the New Testament (and in the Synoptic Gospels), but nowhere else in the Gospel of John. Though the verb is used 13 other times in the Gospel, this is the only instance where it is directly connected with the idea of sin. The only other such Johannine usage is in 1 Jn 1:9 and 2:12.

The verb kratéœ means “take/grab firm hold”. Its use here in the context of sin is a bit puzzling, since, though the verb occurs 47 times in the New Testament, this is the only instance where it is used in reference to sin. It is also the only occurrence of the verb in the Gospel and Letters of John; thus it is by no means a Johannine term, and was likely included here as part of an inherited Gospel tradition (saying of Jesus). Given the meaning “hold firm”, the contrastive parallel with aphí¢mi strongly suggests that the nuance “release” for that particular verb is being emphasized, and so it should be translated.

Here, then, are the two statements, in parallel:

    • “for whomever you would release the(ir) sins,
      they have been released”
    • “for whomever you would hold (their sins) firm,
      they are held firm”

The disciples are given the ability to perform these two actions (“releasing” and “holding firm”) regarding sin. Before considering how this treatment of sin relates to the disciples’ mission, some comments on the tense (and mood) of these verbs is required.

In each statement, the first occurrence of each verb is in a subjunctive form, but with a difference in tense: aphí¢mi in the aorist (aph¢¡te), and kratéœ in the present (krat¢¡te). It is hard to know to what extent the author (or Jesus as the speaker [translated into Greek]) intends a distinction between the tenses. If a distinction is intended, it is relatively subtle (and difficult to translate in English). The aorist could be taken to mean that the effect of the action (i.e., “releasing” the sin/guilt from a person) occurred at single point or moment in the past, while the present tense of the action (i.e., “holding firm” the person’s sin/guilt) is something that continues in the present (elsewhere in the Gospel, in Johannine terminology, this is often expressed by the verb ménœ [“remain”, see 9:41]).

The use of the subjunctive indicates the occasional nature of the action (i.e., “whenever you would do {such}…”). The preceding conditional particle (án), along with the indefinite pronoun, confirms this emphasis: “for whomever you would do {such} regarding their sins…”.

The use of the perfect tense in the second phrase indicates that, for an action which takes place at a moment (in the past), the effects of it continue into the present (and future). Each of the forms is a passive perfect, which is best explained as an example of the so-called Divine passive (passivum divinum)—that is, where God is the implied or assumed actor. The action has the same force in each instance: “has been released” (aphéœntai), “has been held firm” (kekrát¢ntai). For the first verb, there is some textual confusion, with a good number of manuscripts reading either a present or future tense form (aphíentai, apheth¢¡setai); however, the perfect tense is almost certainly correct, and is in better keeping with the Johannine theological orientation and emphasis.

How do these actions relate to the disciples’ mission? Here, the evidence seems to cut different ways. On the one hand, the missional focus, in the context of the Gospel narrative (and specifically the Last Discourse), suggests that the actions would be centered on the proclamation of the Gospel. Based on a person’s response to the message regarding who Jesus is, one is either “released” from sin or “held firm” in it. When one trusts in Jesus, this results in the removal of sin (1:29); whereas, if one refuses to trust, the person’s sin remains (9:41). In this setting, the verse 23 declaration would mean that the disciple, in continuing the mission of Jesus, has been given the authority to ‘pronounce’ whether a person’s sin has been released/removed or whether it remains firmly in place.

The pronouncing action by the disciple/believer is tied to the effecting action performed by God (indicated by the passive perfect verb forms). This has been compared with the declarations in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18; many commentators see some relation between these Matthean formulations and Jn 20:23, perhaps even that both ultimately derive from a common historical tradition.

While the missional setting in the Gospel narrative (especially the context of the Last Discourse) suggests that verse 23 relates primarily to the proclamation of the Gospel (and of a person’s response to it), other factors have led commentators to the view that verse 23 has discipline within the Christian Community in view. It must be admitted that the Gospel context of v. 23 argues against this particular approach; however, given the apparent parallels with Matt 16:19 and 18:18 (especially the latter saying), it needs to be considered a bit further.

The strongest support for verse 23 referring to action within a Community setting comes, not from the Gospel, but from 1 John—particularly the section 1:5-2:6 dealing the believer’s relationship to sin. As noted above, this passage (and the verses following) contains the only other Johannine use of the verb aphí¢mi in reference to sin—that is, to the forgiveness and removal of sin and its effects. These occur in 1:9 and 2:12, respectively. The first reference is at the heart of the 1:5-2:6 passage, and is worth quoting:

“If we confess/acknowledge our sins, He is trust(worthy) and right(eous), (so) that He would release [aph¢¡] our sins and cleanse us from all lack of right(eous)ness.”

The idea that this cleansing comes through the blood of God’s Son Yeshua (v. 7) ties this Johannine reference to the Gospel declaration in 1:29 (see the discussion above). The use of the verb homologéœ (lit. “give account as one”) indicates a communal (public) setting for the believer’s confession. In such a setting, it is probable that designated ministers and/or the congregation as a whole would respond in some way to the member’s confession, perhaps affirming the release/removal and cleansing of sin, as stated in verse 9.

Certainly, being free of sin is an important characteristic of the true believer, according to the author of 1 John. Indeed, one who belongs to the Community of true believers is one whose sin has been “released” (again the use of aphí¢mi, in 2:12). Given this importance of the matter, it would be surprising indeed if other believers were not to play some key role in the handling and treatment of sin within the Community. An indication of this is seen in 5:16-17, where the author briefly touches upon the practice of believers praying to God on behalf of a fellow believer who has sinned (or is sinning). The context of 1 John clearly indicates that such prayer is part of the love that true believers show to one another, following the example of Jesus himself. In this way, believers are likewise continuing Jesus’ mission.

This evidence from 1 John at least raises the possibility that Jn 20:23 could refer to activity of disciples/believers within a Community setting, as well as in the primary missional setting indicated by the Gospel narrative.

Next week, in these series of studies, we will turn to the sin-references in the Letters of John, of which we have already had a glimpse above.

 

November 17: John 15:16 (4)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and (that you) should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain”
kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte kai\ o( karpo\$ u(mw=n me/nh|

Picking up on our discussion from the previous note, the idiom of bearing fruit (vb fe/rw + obj karpo/$), as it applies to the disciple of Jesus, refers principally to the fulfilling of the mission given to the disciple. As I discussed, in the Gospel context, this means the continuation (and extension) of Jesus’ own mission—the mission of the Son, for which the Father sent him from heaven (to earth). Within the framework of the Johannine theology, this mission is rooted in the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that Jesus has given to disciples/believers, which itself follows the duty that the Father gave to the Son. The two-fold duty is: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”, 8:31; 15:7), and (2) to show love to one another, following the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”, 15:9-10).

In the qualifying phrase that follows, here in v. 16, Jesus adds the purpose that the fruit the disciple ‘bears’ should remain (vb me/nw). This important Johannine keyword has been discussed repeatedly in prior notes; it is especially prominent in the Vine-passage (15:1-17), where it occurs 11 times (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). It defines the believer’s fundamental identity, as belonging to the Son (Jesus), and of being/staying in union with him. The verb, with its basic meaning “remain, abide, stay”, carries both the sense of residing and of enduring.

The Johannine use of the verb entails both sides of the believer’s relationship with the Son: the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer. This aspect of reciprocity is very much emphasized in the Vine illustration—see esp. the formulations in vv. 4 and 7:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you” (v. 4)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v. 7)

But what does it mean for the believer’s fruit to remain? There are two references elsewhere in the Gospel that may shed some light on this question. The first is the statement by Jesus in 4:36:

“The (one) harvesting receives a wage, and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life], (so) that the (one) sowing and the (one) harvesting might rejoice as one.”

This verse was examined in an earlier note, where I pointed out the eschatological background and orientation of these harvest illustrations in the New Testament. The time of harvesting, indeed, serves as a natural image for the end of the current Age. The expression “into/unto the Age” refers to this eschatological perspective (viz., the ushering in of the coming New Age), while the related expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/) refers to the Divine/blessed life that the righteous will experience in the Age to Come.

The Gospel of John retains this eschatological point of reference, but gives to it a deeper theological and spiritual meaning. Now, the “life of the Age”, or simply the shorthand term “life” (zwh/), refers to the life (and life-giving power) that God Himself possesses, and which is communicated to believers through the Son (Jesus). The Son possesses the same life that belongs to God the Father, it being given to him by the Father (cf. 3:34f; 5:26; 6:57); the Son, in turn, is able to give the life to believers. This happens even in the present, prior to the end-time Judgment—the one who trusts in Jesus has already passed through the Judgment, and now holds eternal life (see esp. 5:24).

The passage 4:31-38 shares with 15:16 (and with the Last Discourse as a whole) the theme of the disciples (believers) sharing in the mission of Jesus, and continuing it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel message, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, believers serve as a witness to who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent by God the Father, who makes the Father known. The Gospel is rooted in Jesus’ own words (in the Discourses, etc) regarding his identity, and by the witness of the earliest disciples (and subsequently, by other believers) that confirms his word. Believers who are faithful to this witness thus “remain in his word”. It is a message—the word of Jesus—that leads to eternal life for those who trust in it.

The second reference of note is the opening declaration of the Bread of Life Discourse (chap. 6):

“You must not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining [me/nousan] unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man shall give to you” (v. 27)

The motif of ‘food that remains’ is clearly parallel to that of ‘fruit that remains’. Thus, there is good reason to conclude that this abiding fruit, like the abiding food, refers to the eternal life that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers. This life is possessed (“held”) by believers even in the present, but only if one remains in the Son will this life remain.

It is possible, I think, to isolate three distinct strands of meaning that inform the motif of bearing “fruit that remains” in v. 16:

    • It is an extension of the broader concept of the believer remaining in Jesus, and Jesus in the believer. Through this abiding union with the Son, believers are also united with the Father, realizing their/our identity as His offspring (1:12-13, etc).
    • In particular, it refers to the eternal life from the Father that is granted to believers through the Son, being communicated by the Spirit.
    • It also relates to the discipleship-theme of believers’ role in continuing the ministry of Jesus—witnessing to the message (the words and example) of Jesus that leads to eternal life for all who trust in him.

November 16: John 15:16 (3)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“…(so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit”
i%na u(mei=$ u(pa/ghte kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte

In the previous note, we examined the idea that Jesus set (vb ti/qhmi) the disciples, whom he chose, in a special position (in relationship to him). Now, in the next clause, he expresses the purpose of this placement—the purpose being indicated by the governing particle i%na (“[so] that…”). The particle governs two phrases, represented by two verbs. Let us consider each of them.

1. u(pa/gw. This verb means “lead (oneself) under”, that is, hide oneself, go out of sight, disappear; often it is used in the more general sense of “go away”. It is a common verb, used primarily in narrative. While it occurs in all four Gospels, it is most frequent in the Gospel of John (32 times, out of 79 NT occurrences). It is another distinctive Johannine term; even though it can be used in the ordinary sense (of a person going away), e.g., 4:16; 6:21, etc., it tends to have special theological (and Christological) significance as well.

In particular, it is used in the specific context of the exaltation of Jesus—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the God the Father (in heaven). Specifically, the death of the Son (Jesus), and his return to the Father, represent dual-aspects of a departure-theme that runs through the Gospel, becoming most prominent in the Last Discourse, as the death of Jesus draws near. The verb u(pa/gw is used to express this idea of the Son’s departure. It features in the Sukkot Discourse-complex (7:33; 8:14, 21-22; and note the ironic foreshadowing in 7:3), before being reprised in the Last Supper scene (13:3). Its introduction at the beginning of the Last Supper narrative sets the stage for the theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), where it occurs repeatedly—13:33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16, and here in 15:16.

There are several other references where the verb carries an important, but somewhat different, nuance:

    • 3:8—where it is used of the invisible coming and going of the Spirit, and of the one who is born of the Spirit (i.e., the believer)
    • 6:67—it is used (indirectly) of disciples who had been following Jesus, but who now ceased (i.e., went away), thus demonstrating that they were not true disciples
    • 12:11—here it is used in the opposite sense, of people who “go away” to follow Jesus, trusting in him
    • 12:35—its proverbial use in connection with the light-darkness motif, has to do with whether a person can see (i.e. know) where he/she is going; the person who has the light, and who can see, is a true believer and disciple of Jesus

Based on this evidence, the theological usage of u(pa/gw in the Gospel can be summarized as two-fold:

    • It refers to the departure of Jesus (the Son), back to the Father, with the completion of his mission
    • It is used (in various ways) to characterize the activity and identity of the true disciple/believer

These two aspects help us to understand the significance of the verb here in v. 16, in the context of the Last Discourse. This significance is rooted in the principal idea of the disciple/believer as an appointed representative of Jesus, one who is sent forth (i.e., the fundamental meaning of the term a)po/stolo$ [apostle]) to continue his mission. The two aspects of u(pa/gw are thus thematically related here:

    • Jesus goes away, back to the Father, having completed his (part of the) mission
    • The disciples (believers) go forth, in Jesus’ name, to continue the mission

2. fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring”)—This verb is used here with the object karpo/$ (“fruit”), as it is throughout the Vine-passage (vv. 2, 4-5, 8); the same expression, “bear fruit”, is used in 12:24 (discussed in an earlier note). In prior notes, I have mentioned that this idiom is to be understood principally in terms of the mission of believers, insofar as they/we are following in the example of Jesus (and his mission). This line of interpretation is more clearly established here, with the strong (if allusive) connection of v. 16 to the historical tradition of the calling of the (Twelve) disciples. The Twelve were specifically chosen to represent Jesus, continuing (and extending) his mission over a wider geographic territory. The same idea applies to the addressees of the Last Discourse—which includes the Twelve (sans Judas), but also encompasses all those who are true disciples/believers.

And what is the mission for believers? From the Johannine standpoint, it is essentially equivalent to fulfilling the two great duties (e)ntolai/) Jesus has given to us: (1) keeping/guarding his word(s), and (2) showing love to one another, according to his example (of sacrificial love); these two duties are defined by the phrases “remain in my word” (8:31, cf. 15:7) and “remain in my love” (15:9-10)—which are aspects and components of the general command “remain in me” (15:4ff). The first duty, guarding the word(s) of Jesus entails the proclamation of the Gospel, since the “word” of Jesus is largely synonymous with the Gospel message. This is particularly so in the Johannine context, where the “word(s)” of Jesus (esp. the great Discourses) are centered on his identity as the Son of God, the heavenly/eternal Son sent to earth by God the Father, and all that this theological affirmation implies.

November 4: John 15:10 (continued)

John 15:10, continued

In order to understand what it means for a disciple/believer to “keep watch over” (vb thre/w) the e)ntolai/ of Jesus, it is necessary to examine how the Gospel of John understands Jesus’ fulfilling of the duties (e)ntolai/) given to him by God the Father. The pattern in verse 10 (continuing from v. 9), as discussed in the previous note, establishes this as the basis for our study: the believer is to fulfill the duties given by the Son (Jesus), just as the Son has fulfilled the duties given to him by the Father.

The noun used to express this concept is e)ntolh/, which is typically translated as “command(ment)”, but this can be quite misleading, especially if one has in mind a set of written commands or regulations such as we find in the Torah. The term properly refers to a charge or duty that is placed upon a person, and which one is obligated to complete (vb e)nte/llomai). The verb does carry the sense of commanding (i.e., ordering) a person to do something.

The noun e)ntolh/ occurs 10 times in the Gospel of John, including three times here in the exposition of the Vine illustration (vv. 10, 12), while the verb e)nte/llomai occurs 4 times (and twice in the Vine exposition, vv. 14, 17); the noun also occurs 18 times in the Letters, including 14 in 1 John. Let us briefly examine the relevant occurrences in the Gospel prior to chapter 15.

10:17-18

“Through this, my Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul, (so) that I might take it (up) again. No one takes it from me, but I set it (down) from myself. I hold (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to set it (down), and I hold authority to take it (up) again—this (is) the e)ntolh/ I received (from) alongside my Father.”

12:49-50

“I did not speak out of myself, but the (One hav)ing sent me, (the) Father, He has given me an e)ntolh/ (regarding) what I should say and what I should speak. And I have seen that His e)ntolh/ is (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]. Therefore, (with regard to) the (thing)s that I speak, just as the Father has said (it) to me, so I speak.”

In these two references, Jesus talks of receiving an e)ntolh/ from the Father. In the first instance (10:17-18), he has been given something to do—namely, to lay down his life, i.e., in a sacrificial death, so that he might “take it up” again (i.e., his resurrection). This is the mission (and duty) which the Father has given him to complete, and he has been given the authority/ability (by the Father) to complete it. At the moment of Jesus’ death, on the cross, he declares that the mission has been completed: “It has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30).

In the second instance (12:49-50), the mission or duty (e)ntolh/) regards things that he must say. The Father gives him the words to speak, much as He gives Jesus (the Son) the authority/ability (e)cousi/a) to lay down his life (and take it up again). This is an important Johannine theme, emphasizing that Jesus’ teaching, and the word that he speaks, comes from God. It is an evident witness of his identity as the Son of God that his words come from God, and not from himself. Like a dutiful Son, Jesus follows the example of his Father, doing what he sees his Father doing and saying what he hears his father saying.

It is significant that we have here two different e)ntolai/, and thus can use the plural of the noun. The duties placed on Jesus by the Father are: (1) to lay down his life and take it up again (death / resurrection), and (2) to speak the words of God that were given to him by the Father.

It is in this light that we must understand the use of the noun e)ntolh/ (and verb e)nte/llomai) in 14:15-21 and here in the Vine illustration. Both passages have the following emphases in common:

    • Fulfilling the duties (e)ntolh/) is closely connected with love (a)ga/ph, vb a)gapa/w)
    • The believer’s fulfilling of the duties follows the example/pattern of Jesus’ fulfilling of his duties; in so doing, there is a real sense that the believer shares in the love experienced (and possessed) by Jesus.
    • The pattern: the Son (Jesus) fulfills the duties given to him by the Father, and the believer fulfills the duties given by the Son.

If the duties of the believer are patterned after the Son’s duties, then we must look to the two examples, the two e)ntolai/, discussed above:

    • Action—laying down his life, indicating a willingness to endure death, for the sake of others
    • Speech—speaking the word(s) of God, given to him by the Father

How do these relate to the believer? The first e)ntolh/, that of a willingness to lay down one’s life, is best understood in terms of the ‘love command’ that Jesus gives to his disciples in the opening section of the Last Discourse:

“A new e)ntolh/ I give to you: that you shall love one another; just as I (have) loved you, so you shall love one another. In this, all (people) will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you hold love among one another.” (13:34-35)

The duty for believers to love one another is based on the example provided by Jesus, of the love that he has shown. The narrative setting of chapter 13 clearly establishes this point (cf. the opening words in v. 1), associating Jesus’ love in the context of his impending death. The foot-washing (vv. 4-11, 12-17) is meant to symbolize and illustrate this sacrificial love, even to the point of death. If there were any doubt regarding the centrality of this thematic association, it is reinforced by the exchange between Jesus and Peter in vv. 36-38, and then is made explicit in 15:13 (to be discussed), at the heart of the Last Discourse, as Jesus instructs his disciples (and us as believers):

“Greater love than this no one holds: that one would set (down) his soul over [i.e. for the sake of] his dear (one)s.”

The language used to describe this willingness to lay down one’s life essentially matches what Jesus says of himself in 10:17-18 (cf. above).

Thus, one of the duties (e)ntolai/) of disciples/believers is to show sacrificial love to one another, following the example of Jesus himself, being willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others.

What of the second duty? It should match the second duty for Jesus, as described in 12:49-50 (cf. above)—namely, to speak the word(s) given to him by God. The context of 14:15-21ff, prior to the Vine illustration, explains how the pattern applies to believers: the Son (Jesus) gives believers the word(s) (of God) to speak. The theme of fulfilling the duties (e)ntolai/), in this passage, is connected with the promise of the coming of the Spirit-Paraclete. There are two Paraclete-sayings by Jesus in this context:

    • Vv. 16-17—The Spirit (of truth) will be given to believers from the Father, and will be with/alongside them, and will remain (vb me/nw) in/among them.
    • Vv. 25-26—The Spirit will teach believers; this entails reminding them of the things Jesus said during his earthly ministry, but also that Jesus would continue to speak to them through the Spirit (cf. 15:26-27; 16:12-15).

The twin emphases of love (a)ga/ph) and the word (lo/go$/r(h=ma) serve as two distinct, but interrelated, strands that run through the passage, informing the meaning of the duty/mission (e)ntolh/) that believers must fulfill. The aspect of love is dominant in vv. 15-21, while the word is more prominent in vv. 23-24ff:

“If any (one) would love me, he will keep watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and my Father will love him, and we will come toward him, and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him. The (one) not loving me will not keep watch (over) my words [lo/goi]; and (indeed) the word [lo/go$] that you hear is not mine, but (is the) Father’s, the (One hav)ing sent me.”

Jesus has instructed his disciples both to remain (vb me/nw) in his word (8:31, cf. 15:7) and in his love (15:9-10). This reflects both of the e)ntolai/ that believers are obligated to fulfill—or, we may say, both aspects of the two-fold e)ntolh/ (the singular and plural of this noun being interchangeable in John) that is required of all true disciples/believers. Remaining in Jesus’ word/love also represent twin aspects of what it means to remain in him—i.e., in the Son himself. In the previous note, I illustrated this by the following diagram:

In closing, it is also important to emphasize again that the fulfilling of these duties follows the pattern of Jesus (the Son) himself, in the way that he completed the duties given to him by the Father:

“…(so) that world may know that I love the Father, even as the Father laid (the duty/mission) on me to complete [e)netei/lato], so I do (it).” (14:31)

Love is demonstrated by the completing of the duty/mission (e)ntolh/) that is given; and, of course, love itself is part of that duty. When we, as believers, fulfill that duty, we share in the love that is shared between Father and Son. We will examine this theme a bit further in the next daily note, when we turn to verse 11.