March 25: John 12:27-30

John 12:27-30

Verse 27

“Now my soul has been disturbed, and what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But, (it was) through this [i.e. for this reason] that I came into this hour.”

Like many of the sayings in this discourse, verse 27 appears to reflect a separate and distinct tradition—one which, in the Synoptics, is located in the Gethsemane (Garden) scene of the Passion narrative. It corresponds to Mark 14:34-36 par (note the points of similarity in italics):

“…’My soul is sad (all) around (me), unto the (point of) death’…and going forward a little, he fell upon the ground and spoke out toward (God) [i.e. prayed], (saying) that, if it is able (to happen), the hour might go along (away) from him, and he said: ‘Abba, Father, all (thing)s are able (to be done) by you—(so) may you carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me!…'”

There is nothing like this in the Garden scene of the Johannine Passion Narrative (19:1-11)—no sense of anguish or a troubled soul, no prayer to God—instead, Jesus appears calm and authoritative throughout, even to the point that those who come to arrest him at first shrink back in fear and awe. A comparable saying in 19:11, while resembling Mk 14:36 par, has a very different emphasis. Quite possibly, the tradition has been relocated, transferred to a different point in the narrative. The same thing seems to have happened with regard to the Eucharistic tradition of the bread and cup; in the Gospel of John, it is completely absent from the Last Supper scene in chapter 13, occurring instead, in a different form, as part of the Bread of Life discourse (6:51-58).

The Johannine location of this saying may be the result of thematic “catchword”-bonding, due the common use of the term “hour” (w%ra) with verse 23, and the contextual emphasis on Jesus’ impending death. Even here, the idea of Jesus’ suffering, so prominent in the Synoptic Passion scene (cf. especially the additional details [textually uncertain] in Lk 22:43-44), is either negated or downplayed considerably in the verse 27 saying. Instead of requesting to be saved (i.e. rescued) from the hour (of suffering and death), Jesus asks rhetorically (the syntax being best understood as a question), whether he should make such a request of the Father. To this, he effectively answers in the negative, using the adversative particle a)lla/ (“but rather…”), with the declaration that his sacrificial death was the very reason and purpose (dia\ tou=to, “through this”) for his coming into the world (cf. 3:16; 18:37, etc). His earthly life and mission reaches its completion (19:30) with “this hour” —i.e., the moment of his death.

Verse 28-31

“Father, may you bring honor (to) your name!” (v. 28a)

It may well be that verses 26, 27, and 28ff, are separate, independent traditions, which have been combined here, based on thematic and catch-word bonding. All three (26b, 27, 28) involve reference to “the Father”, and are to be understood, thematically, in the context of Jesus’ death. The declaration in v. 28a, of course, brings immediately to mind the opening of the Lord’s Prayer in the Synoptic (Matthew-Luke/Q) tradition:

    • Pa/ter do/caso/n sou to\ o&noma (Jn 12:28)
      “Father, may you bring honor (to) your name”
    • Pa/tera(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou (Matt 6:9 par)
      “Father…may your name be treated (as) holy”

For a discussion of the wording in the Lord’s Prayer, cf. my earlier note. The Johannine statement uses the same verb (doca/zw) as in v. 23, with the fundamental meaning “treat/regard with esteem/honor [do/ca]”. As in the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the idea is that God will bring honor to His name in the sense that He will cause it to be honored by His people—i.e. people (believers) will treat it with the honor that is its due. In the context of the Johannine theology (and Christology), this understanding of God’s name (o&noma) is tied to the manifestation of the God the Father in the person of Jesus the Son. On the ancient religious background of names and naming, cf. my earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. The main Johannine passages in this regard are: the discourse in chapter 5 (esp. verses 43-47), the climax of the Good Shepherd discourse (10:25-30), and, especially, throughout the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 (cf. verses 6, 11-12, 26).

Verses 28-29 continue with the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer, manifest as an audible voice out of heaven:

“Then there came a voice out of the heaven: ‘Indeed I brought (it) honor [e)do/casa], and will again honor [doca/sw] (it)!’ Then the throng (of people), the (one)s having stood (by) and (hav)ing heard (it), (begin to) say, ‘There has come to be thunder!’, (while) others say, ‘A Messenger has spoken to him!'”

The heavenly voice emphatically declares, in both the past (aorist) and future tense, a fulfillment of Jesus’ request that God’s name be given honor. In light of the Johannine theological/Christological context, this is best understood as:

    • Past (e)do/casa, “I honored [it]”)—the time of the Son’s mission on earth, being completed with this “hour” of his suffering and death; from a literary standpoint, this covers the first half of the Gospel (the “Book of Signs”, chaps. 2-12), and the various signs (miracles, etc) which revealed Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.
    • Future (doca/sw, “I will honor [it]”)—the death and resurrection of Jesus (the Son), and all that follows it—especially his return to the Father and presence of the Spirit in and among believers (expounded in the Last Discourse and Prayer-discourse [chaps. 14-17]).

Here again, there is a parallel with the Synoptic Tradition—especially the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8 par), which has a comparable position in relation to Mk 8:31-9:1 as Jn 12:28-30 has to vv. 23-27 (discussed in the prior notes). Both lines of tradition deal with Jesus’ impending death, as well as the idea of the appearance of the Son of Man in glory/honor (do/ca), and are climaxed with a declaration by a voice from heaven (Mk 9:7 par). Moreover, both the Transfiguration scene and Jn 12:28-30 clearly allude to the tradition of the Sinai theophany. The details in the Lukan version (9:28-36) of the Transfiguration especially bring out this association, while, in the Johannine discourse, there are two primarily details:

    • The voice of God (YHWH) which sounds like thunder (Exod 19:19), and
    • The inability of the people to hear/receive this voice (Exod 20:18ff)

These two motifs have been rendered within the Johannine discourse-format—i.e., the feature of the misunderstanding of Jesus’ words by his audience; here, the people misunderstand the heavenly voice, much as the disciples fail to understand the significance of the Transfiguration scene. The association of God’s voice with thunder goes back to the ancient Near Eastern storm-theophany traditions—that is, of the deity (here, YHWH) manifest in the storm. The common Hebrew word for thunder, loq, literally means “voice”, i.e. thunder as the voice of God.

Jesus’ response to the misunderstanding of the crowd is interesting:

“Yeshua gave forth (an answer) and said: ‘(It is) not through me [i.e. for my sake] (that) this voice has come to be, but through you [i.e. for your sake]’.” (v. 30)

This is similar to his words in the prior Lazarus episode (11:42), when he states that his prayer to God was for the sake of the crowd standing around him, rather than because of his own need. Yet, if the crowd here could not understand the heavenly voice (and/or its significance), then how could it have been for their sake? It is possible that this relates to a distinction of believers from the rest of the world—it is only believers (those belonging to God) who are able to hear and recognize His voice (the rest of the ‘crowd’ mistakes it for thunder or the voice of an Angel). Moreover, from a literary standpoint, Jesus’ words ultimately are directed, not at the crowd of people in the historical narrative, but to the readers/hearers of the Gospel.

The same sort of dynamic occurs in the next portion of the discourse—the saying/exchange in vv. 31-34—which will be discussed in the next daily note.


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