John 12:1-8; 13:1-2ff
In the Synoptic Gospels, the Passion Narrative begins with a trio of narrative episodes, firmly established in the tradition at an early point, probably well before the Gospel of Mark was composed; and, using the Markan narrative as the point of reference, the three episodes are:
The central Anointing scene is bracketed by the two short passages relating to the plans to arrest Jesus. It is interesting to consider how these components of the historical tradition were adapted within the Gospel of John, perhaps reflecting a distinctive Johannine line of tradition (for more on this, cf. my study on the Anointing scene, and also the supplemental study on Judas Iscariot, in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In fact, the Anointing scene in the Gospel of John differs little from the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) version, with the exception of two major details:
Whatever the relationship of these details to the historical traditions, they are significant to the Johannine narrative, both in literary and theological terms; and, each detail has considerable thematic importance to the narrative, which may be summarized as:
- The defining place of the Lazarus miracle, and
- The role of Judas Iscariot among the disciples
1. The Lazarus Miracle (Resurrection)
The raising of Lazarus (chap. 11) is the last and greatest miracle (or sign) of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12), and it clearly shapes the way the Passion Narrative is introduced and presented. It affects the early episodes of the Tradition, including the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. the previous note)—11:45ff; 12:1ff, 9-11, 17-18—and provides an effective transition between the first half of the Gospel (“Book of Signs”) and the second (Passion Narrative). From a thematic standpoint, the significance of the Lazarus miracle is three-fold:
- It shows Jesus to be the Son who possesses the same life-giving power as God the Father (cf. 5:19-29).
- Resurrection to new life is symbolic of the eternal life that believers experience through trust/union with Jesus (cf. especially the discourse in vv. 20-27, and my earlier notes on this passage).
- The reference to resurrection establishes the emphasis on “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. the recent article in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”).
All three of these points run through the Johannine Discourses, and are developed, especially, in the great Last Discourse (with its Last Supper/Passion setting).
The specific detail of the location of the Bethany anointing scene (the house or neighborhood of Lazarus) joins these aspects of the resurrection theme to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (i.e. the Passion Narrative). Here is how the Anointing scene is introduced:
“Then Yeshua, six days before the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], came into Beth-‘Aniyyah, where Lazar was, whom Yeshua raised out of the dead. So they made an (extensive) supper for him there, and Marta served, and Lazar was one out of (those) stretched out (at the table) with him. And then Maryam, taking a litra of myrrh-ointment…” (vv. 1-3a)
The reference to Lazarus being raised out of the burial-tomb is paralleled with the idea of Jesus being anointed in preparation for his own burial (v. 7b), a detail (saying of Jesus) that is central to the core tradition (Mk 14:8 par). Similar Passion traditions are adapted and developed in the subsequent discourse of vv. 20-36 (discussed in the recent daily notes).
2. The Role of Judas Iscariot
The Johannine portrait of Judas Iscariot, however brief, is distinctive, though very much rooted in the established Gospel Tradition (cf. again my earlier study in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The negative aspect of Judas is strongly emphasized in the Johannine Gospel (“…one out of you [i.e. one of the disciples] is a dia/bolo$ [i.e. devil]”, 6:70-71, cp. Mk 3:19 par), and the identification of Judas as the disciple who objects to the woman’s anointing of Jesus is part of this wider tendency (esp. the ugly additional detail in v. 6). Beyond this, however, the presence of Judas in the Anointing scene is significant in the way that it prepares for his role in the Passion Narrative.
In the Last Supper scene (chapter 13), we find another example of the special way that the Gospel of John adapts and develops the traditional material—namely, Judas’ presence at the meal and his departure (going out to betray Jesus). Consider how Judas’ presence is introduced in vv. 1-3:
“And (then), before the festival of the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], (with) Yeshua having seen [i.e. known] that his hour (had) come, (and) that he should step across out of this world toward the Father, (hav)ing loved his own, the (one)s in the world, he loved them unto the completion (of it) [i.e. of his hour]. And, (with the) coming to be of (the) supper, (and) the (One) casting (evil) throughout [i.e. the Devil] having cast (it) into the heart of Yehudah (son of) Shim’on ish-Keryot that he should give him along [i.e. betray him], having seen [i.e. known] that the Father gave all (thing)s to him, into his hands, and that he came out from God and leads (himself) under [i.e. back] toward God, he rises out of the supper…”
The syntax is a bit awkward, especially the clause referring to Judas in v. 2; however, the main point to note is that, as part of the “hour” (cf. the prior note on 12:23) of Jesus impending suffering and death, the Devil puts the impulse to betray Jesus into Judas’ heart. In the Synoptic tradition, it is implied that Judas does this, in part at least, out of greed, a motive fully in accord with the detail in 12:6. However, ultimately, the betrayal is the result of the action of the Evil One (the Satan/Devil). Above, I have translated the term dia/bolo$ rather literally, as one who “casts [vb ba/llw] (evil) throughout”, to capture the word play—i.e. the Devil here “having cast” [beblhko/to$] the evil impulse (to betray Jesus) into Judas’ heart. This evil/diabolic influence becomes even more pronounced as the narrative continues:
In one of the most striking moments of the entire Gospel, the Satan enters Judas as he eats the morsel of food given to him by Jesus:
“And with the morsel, then [i.e. at that very moment] the Satan went into that (one) [i.e. Judas].” (v. 27a)
The actual departure of Judas is equally dramatic:
“So (then), (hav)ing taken the morsel, that (one) went out straightaway. And it was night.” (v. 30)
The concluding statement “And it was night” is hardly an incidental detail; it is charged with symbolism, reflecting the darkness of the scene as Jesus’ hour comes. Fair or unfair from the standpoint of the historical tradition, in the Johannine Gospel Judas represents and embodies the evil and darkness of the world, and, as he leaves the group of disciples he goes outside, into the world, where it is night.
It is only after Judas (representing the evil of the world) has left, that Jesus is able to deliver his great Last Discourse to his close disciples. This body of teaching begins in 13:31, precisely after Judas’ departure. A central theme of the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse in chap. 17) is the relationship of the disciples (believers) to the world. This world (ko/smo$), the order of things in the present Age, is dominated by darkness and evil, and the Evil One (i.e. the Satan/Devil) is himself the “chief (ruler) of the world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou, 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The true believer does not belong to this world anymore than Jesus does, but is united with God the Father and (Jesus) the Son through the Holy Spirit. In the Johannine Gospel, Judas Iscariot represents the false believer (cp. 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1ff, etc) who belongs to the world, instead of to God.