July 20: Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

When we turn to the letter to the Hebrews, we find a number of references to the Spirit. For the most part, however, these are traditional in nature (cf. the notice in 3:7 on the Spirit-inspired character of the Scriptures), and not nearly as prominent or significant as one might expect in a theological writing of this sort. The lack of emphasis on the Spirit may simply be a reflection of the overwhelmingly Christological thrust of the letter; even so, if Paul (for example) had authored a similar work, the Spirit surely would have featured much more prominently. In particular, there is little or no mention of the idea, so frequent elsewhere in the New Testament, of believers being “in the Spirit” —that is, united with Christ (and God the Father) through the presence of the Spirit. The closest such reference in Hebrews is in 6:4, where believers are described as those

“…(hav)ing been (en)lightened, (hav)ing (both) tasted the heavenly gift and (hav)ing coming to be holders with (one another) of (the) holy Spirit”

The idiom of believers holding the Spirit together with one another certainly captures the essential idea of being united in the Spirit. The emphasis is on the initial experience of salvation (conversion), which entails acceptance of the Gospel, trust in Jesus, confirmation in the baptism ritual, and the presence of the Spirit. The author does not develop the idea any further. However, earlier in the letter (2:4), mention is made of the activity of the Spirit among believers, through miraculous and powerful “signs and wonders”, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of things (i.e. ‘gifts’) distributed (merismoi/) among individual believers and congregations (cp. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12-14).

The four remaining references to the Spirit are contained within the “New Covenant” exposition in chapters 9-10. The bulk of Hebrews (3:1-10:25) expounds the central theme that believers in Christ are living under a new covenant, and that all the forms of the old covenant are replaced (and fulfilled) in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews declares, even more forcefully than Paul does in his letters, that the old covenant has completely passed away, and is no longer in effect for believers. This is very much part of the early Christian eschatological worldview—that this “New Covenant” marks the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. For more on this aspect, cf. the article on Hebrews in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In particular, Hebrews focus on the ritual dimension of the old covenant, as embodied in the Temple cultus—that is, the sacrificial offerings, and the priesthood that administered them. Interestingly, Hebrews never refers directly to the Temple itself (referring instead to the older tent [skhnh/] shrine or ‘Tabernacle’), nor does it make use of the early Christian tendency to interpret the Temple in terms of Jesus’ own person/body. Instead, the author utilizes the simpler contrast between the physical Temple on earth and the (spiritual) dwelling of God in heaven. Christ is identified, not with the Temple, but with the priesthood (spec. the High Priest) that offers sacrifice in the Temple sanctuary. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18; cf. the earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Hebrews follows a well-established line of tradition in understanding the death of Jesus as a sacrificial offering. The author draws upon two principal types of sacrifice: (1) the offering which took place at the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8), and (2) the sin offering at the ‘day of atonement’, when the High Priest would also enter the innermost part of the shrine (Leviticus 16). According to the Last Supper account, Jesus himself alluded to these same two sacrificial traditions, associating them with his own death (his “blood”). Thus, the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that marks the beginning of a “new covenant” is rooted in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:22-25 par). The author of Hebrews does not contribute anything new in this regard; rather, he develops and expounds a set of ideas and associations that were already well-established in early Christian belief.

The references to the Spirit in chapters 9-10 are interesting in the way that they punctuate the exposition, following two parallel lines of thought; this may be summarized as follows:

    • The Spirit’s declaration of the new covenant (9:8; 10:15)
      • The role of the Spirit in establishing the new covenant (9:14; 10:29)

The first line of thought draws upon the traditional association of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. This association came to be applied, in Jewish thought, specifically to the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Torah (Pentateuch), Prophets, and Psalms (cf. the earlier note on Nehemiah 9:20, 30, etc). The New Testament authors generally assume the Spirit-inspired character of the Old Testament Scriptures, referring to it a number of times, in passing, without any real need to comment on the matter further or to develop the theological basis for the idea. There is a clear example of this in Heb 3:7 (cf. above), and another allusion here at 9:8:

“…the holy Spirit making clear by this (that) the way (into) the (holy) of holies had not yet been made to shine forth, (while) the first tent was yet holding (its) standing [i.e. while it still was standing]”

The “this” (tou=to, in italics above) refers to the Torah regulations related to the sanctuary of the earthly Tent (Tabernacle) and Temple, summarized in vv. 1-7 as part of the “first (covenant)”. This idea expressed in v. 8 is that, through the inspired account of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual in the Scriptures—including the inspired source/nature of the building plan itself (Exod 25-31)—the Spirit has revealed the limitations of the old covenant, which are to be fulfilled in the new. This is part of the wider exposition in the section, whereby Christ’s sacrifice both completes, and takes the place of, the sacrificial offerings made in the Tabernacle/Temple complex.

More than this, the wording of verse 8 implies that the Spirit also reveals, at the same time, the perfection of the new covenant. The Spirit makes known to believers the truth that Jesus’ sacrificial death opens the way (o(do/$) for us into the holiest place—the innermost shrine where God himself dwells. This is but a step removed from the idea expressed in Ephesians 2:18 (discussed in a prior note), that in the Spirit we, as believers, hold the way leading toward God the Father (cp. John 14:6).

Moving ahead to 9:14, the author refers to the role the Spirit played in the sacrifice of Christ, which both brought cleansing from sin (for believers) and established the new covenant. Acting as High Priest, Jesus made the sacrifice (in his own blood) “through (the) Spirit of (the) Age(s)” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou). The expression “Spirit of the Age(s)” was unusual enough that it prompted scribes to alter it to the more familiar “holy Spirit” (with a(gi/ou instead of ai)wni/ou); however, the reading with ai)wni/ou is almost certainly original. The adjective, difficult to translate literally in English, is often rendered as “eternal”, which tends to capture the general idea, if not especially accurate as a translation. The ai)wn– concept in the New Testament relates fundamentally to the Jewish and early Christian eschatological worldview, with the distinction between the current Age and the new Age to come. It also corresponds to the term <l*ou in Hebrew, which typically signifies either the distant past or the distant future, with the presence and power of God encompassing both (i.e. ‘eternal, eternity’). In the context of the exposition here in Hebrews, the distinction is between the earthly sanctuary, which is temporal in nature, and the heavenly sanctuary, which is eternal. The Spirit, of course, belongs to the heavenly sanctuary, where God himself has his dwelling.

The further associations of the Spirit with cleansing (vb kaqari/zw) and life for the dead, are well-established in Christian thought and tradition, as we have seen these notes.

At 10:15, the Spirit again declares the New Covenant (cf. above on 9:8), this time citing the famous prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 (vv. 16-17). The declaration effectively brings the long exposition (of chaps. 3-10) to a close, concluding with a blunt restatement of the fundamental argument—namely, that the old covenant (with its sacrificial ritual) has come to an end for believers in Christ (v. 18). The sacrifice of Christ did away with the need for any further sacrificial ritual.

The reference to the Spirit in 10:29 properly belongs to the exhortation section that follows (10:26-12:13), but one which builds upon the New Covenant exposition of chaps. 9-10. After all, if there had been serious consequences for transgressing or rejecting the old covenant, how much more so is it now in the case of the new. This is the thrust of the warning in vv. 26-31, stated clearly enough in verse 29. In the old covenant, the person who sinned willfully and deliberately was “cut off”, and could not be restored to God (as part of his holy Community) through sin offering. So it is also in the new covenant, according to the author of Hebrews. A person who continues in blatantly sinful behavior, after coming to faith in Christ, will face the same Judgment as the wicked. They are said to be “trampling the Son of God under (foot)” and “bringing (it about)” that the “blood of the covenant” is treated as something “common” (i.e. profane), and not holy.

Moreover, the person who so violates the New Covenant is said to “bring injury (up)on the Spirit of (God’s) favor”. It is a rejection, not only of Jesus Christ (the Son of God), but one which brings insult and injury (vb e)nubri/zw) to God’s own Spirit. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous (and much-debated) saying on the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-29 par); on which, cf. my most recent discussion. The expression “the Spirit of favor” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ xa/rito$) is unusual (and unique in the New Testament), but clearly the term xa/ri$ (“favor”) refers to God’s favor—that is, the favor he shows to his people (believers). This means, primarily, the favor he shows in bestowing his Spirit upon us. The gift of God’s Spirit, of course, cannot be separated from the work of Jesus Christ and our trust in him, as is apparent from the strong Christological context of these references in Hebrews. Even though the author never develops this sense of the role of the Spirit in and among believers, he clearly accepts (and assumes) it as part of the early Christian worldview.

 

 

July 5: Romans 8:1-13

Romans 8:1-11

These verses immediately precede 8:12-17 (examined in the previous note, along with Gal 4:1-7), and represent the most extensive discussion of the Spirit by Paul in any single passage of his letters. It thus deserved to be examined closely as part of this series of notes.

Chapter 8 of Romans marks the climax of the main body of the letter (1:18-8:39), the last of four main sections of the probatio:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)
    • Rom 8:1-39: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation) (article)
      The links in parentheses above are to articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (part of “The Law and the New Testament”)

Chapter 8 may be further divided as follows:

    • 8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit. Two main themes which we have examined recently in these notes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual

Let us consider the references to the Spirit, and the line of argument, in this passage.

Verses 1-2

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for his people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

Verses 3-4

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the prior note on Gal 5:16-25)

Verses 5-8

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Verse 9

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see my discussion in the previous note (and the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

Verses 10-11

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. As I have discussed previously, this theological point is based on the exaltation-Christology of the New Testament (which dominated Christian thought prior to c. 60 A.D.). Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, his person (and spirit) was transformed, being united with God’s own Spirit, so that the two are one Spirit (cf. on 1 Cor 6:17; 15:44-46). This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff (cf. the previous note), but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

In the next note, I will begin a brief survey of the most relevant remaining references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters.

 

April 3: John 16:16-33

John 16:16-33

In the previous note, we examined the concluding words of Jesus in the Last Discourse (16:33); today, I wish to look more closely at the final discourse-unit (vv. 16-33) as a whole. The unit itself follows the Johannine discourse format:

    • Initial saying of Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by his audience (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true/deeper meaning of the saying (vv. 19-29)

Here is the central saying/statement by Jesus:

“A little (while), and you (will) no longer look on me; and again a little (while), and you will (look) at me (with open) eyes.”

This repeats an important theme of the Last Discourse: the departure of Jesus from his disciples (and from the world). The theme is stated several different ways, most notably at the beginning of the Discourse (13:33, par 7:33-34), and again in the discourse-unit 14:1-4ff, where a saying by Jesus regarding his going away leads into the dialogue with his disciples. In all of these passages, the difficulty for interpretation is that Jesus’ departure can be understood on a least two different levels:

    • His death and burial, which would be the most immediate point of reference based on the narrative context (i.e. the Passion setting of the Discourse).
    • His (final) departure back to the Father, which appears to be the better sense for the Discourse as a whole.

Along with this, the disciples’ seeing Jesus, and his coming (back) to them, can be interpreted on three different levels:

    • His appearing to them after the resurrection
    • His end-time appearance from heaven, and
    • His presence in the interim, through the Spirit

All of this is further complicated by the fact that, apparently, Jesus ascends/returns to the Father shortly after the resurrection (implied in 20:17ff), while his ultimate ascension/return is not narrated in the Gospel at all.

From the standpoint of the Passion Narrative, the tendency would be to read 16:16 in terms of Jesus’ impending death and burial (a fitting subject for Holy Saturday), yet confusion remains regarding the true point of reference. Within the narrative (the discourse), the disciples were also confused by this (vv. 17-18): “What is this that he says to us?…”. The key, of course, lies in the exposition by Jesus (vv. 19ff), though often in the Johannine Discourses Jesus does not provide the sort of conventional, straightforward explanation that his audience is expecting.

Let us briefly examine the first part of this exposition, beginning with verse 20:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that you will weep and mourn, and (by contrast) the world will delight; but (yet) your sorrow will come to be delight.”

The reference to weeping (vb klai/w, loud crying/wailing) and mourning (vb qrhne/w) connotes funerary practices in the ancient world. Indeed, qrh=no$ can be a technical term for a funeral dirge or lament. As such, this would certainly be appropriate for the death and burial of Jesus. The “delight” (xara/) that the world (ko/smo$) might feel regarding his death simply reflects the fundamental idea that the “world” (i.e., the order of the things in the current Age of wickedness) is opposed to God, hostile to Him and to His Son, Jesus. This is all part of the Johannine theological vocabulary.

The message of encouragement for the disciples is that the “sorrow” (lu/ph) they experience from his death/departure will be changed into (“will come to be”, genh/setai) their own true delight. The use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”), which can connote coming to be born, along with this juxtaposition of sorrow-joy, leads into the illustration of childbirth in verse 21:

“When a woman should produce (a child), she holds sorrow, (in) that her hour (has) come; but when the child comes to be (born) [gennh/sh|], she no longer remembers the distress [qli/yi$], through the delight (she feels) that a man [i.e. child] (has) come to be (born) into the world.”

Almost imperceptibly, this illustration blends together aspects of Jesus’ suffering/death with the eschatological suffering that believers will experience following his death and departure. As previously discussed, the use of the word “hour” (w%ra) likewise encompasses (and combines) both of these aspects. Moreover, the motif of the woman in labor was commonly used as an eschatological image, though it could just as well serve as a general symbol of the suffering that is characteristic of the human condition.

In the Old Testament, childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered (such as in Jesus’ illustration here). Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; Gal 4:19. In the Genesis Creation narrative, the pains associated with childbirth are part of the “curse” —the suffering and ‘evil’ —that marks the current Age. In a similar sense, the pains of women also serve to symbolize the suffering that comes in relation to God’s JudgmentPsalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; 42:14; Jer 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6; 48:41; 49:22, 24; 50:43.

The illustration used by Jesus suggests the idea of deliverance from pain/suffering—Mic 4:10; 5:3; Isa 65:23ff; 66:7-9—which also can have an eschatological significance. Perhaps the closest Old Testament parallel is in Isa 26:17-18, though 66:7-8 expresses a similar idea. In several other New Testament passages, the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, are unquestionably used in an eschatological sense or context. Most notably, we have Jesus’ prophecy (in the Eschatological Discourse [Mk 13 par]) of the coming events/phenomena that mark the end-time period of distress; he describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Other eschatological references of note are:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

The other clear eschatological allusion in Jn 16:21 involves the use of the word qli/yi$ (“distress”), which came to be a technical term in early Christianity for the end-time ‘period of distress’ that will come upon humankind, and which will entail, specifically, the persecution and oppression of believers. Such use of the word derives primarily from the Greek version (LXX) of Daniel 12:1 (cf. also LXX Zeph 1:14-15; Hab 3:16). Jesus uses it in this sense in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:19, 24 par), and it occurs repeatedly in the book of Revelation (1:9; 2:22; 7:14 etc). Other references, by Paul, and elsewhere in the New Testament, are almost certainly eschatological as well, though less explicitly so—e.g. 1 Thess 3:3, 7; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rom 2:9, etc.

The illustration of the woman in labor is applied to the situation of the disciples in verse 22:

“And so you, (on the one hand) now you hold sorrow, but (on the other hand) again I will (look) at you with (open) eyes, and your heart will have delight, and your delight no one takes (away) from you.”

In verse 16, the vantage point was the disciples seeing Jesus; here the same relationship is established from the opposition direction—Jesus will see the disciples again; in both instances the future sense of seeing is expressed by the verb o)pta/nomai (“[look] with [open] eyes”), i.e. Jesus and the disciples will gaze at one another. Does this refer to an initial post-resurrection appearance (20:19-23) by Jesus, or does it reflect the eschatological dimension of v. 21, or both? The idea that “no one takes” away the disciples’ delight suggests something more permanent than the initial joy of seeing the resurrected Jesus again—is it an allusion to the presence of the Spirit (20:22)?

The expression “in that day” (vv. 23, 26), also occurring earlier in 14:20, might perhaps clarify the context of Jesus’ statement further; however, the same ambiguity attends its use in the Discourse. The immediate Passion setting of the narrative suggests that it refers to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but its use elsewhere in the New Testament rather indicates that it has an eschatological connotation—cf. Mark 13:11, 32 par; Matt 7:22; Luke 6:23; 17:31; 2 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 1:18; 4:8. Since here in vv. 23-27, the focus is on what God the Father will do for believers in Jesus’ name—i.e. when they pray and make request to him—the context would have to be the time after Jesus’ (final) departure/return to the Father, while he remains present with his disciples (believers) through the Spirit. Thus the eschatological sense of the expressions “that day”, and “(the) hour” (that is coming), is best understood in terms of the New Age that believers in Christ experience now, in the present, following the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Johannine Gospel—believers experience the end-time events of the resurrection, passing through the Judgment, and inheriting eternal life, in the present, through the Spirit.

According to the early Christian eschatology, the period during which believers experience the New Age, through the Spirit, would be relatively brief; Jesus’ was expected to return very soon, to deliver his people (believers) and to usher in the Judgment. The imminence of this eschatology is not nearly so prominent in the Gospel of John, and is offset by the emphasis on the present (“realized”) aspect. Even so, the early Christian outlook, involving (1) the death and resurrection of Jesus, (2) the New Age realized for believers as they live in the world during the period of distress, and (3) the return of Jesus—all understood as end-time events—was much tighter and closely-knit than it would be for believers living centuries later (or today, after 1900+ years).

Let us consider the thematic outline of Jesus’ exposition, in light of our study so far:

    • The sadness and mourning that will be experienced initially as a result of Jesus’ death and burial (v. 20)
    • Illustration of the woman in labor (v. 21)—the sadness they experience is part of the pain/suffering they will have during the end-time period of distress
    • At the same time, with the resurrection, they will have joy, and it will continue all through the time of distress (v. 22); they will see Jesus again, both immediately after the resurrection, and through the abiding presence of the Spirit
    • While Jesus is with the Father, he will remain present, united with believers through the Spirit, giving them access to the divine/eternal life and power of God; this is explained in terms of:
      • Prayer, making request/petition to the Father in Jesus’ name (vv. 23-24)
      • Instruction/understanding regarding the Father (vv. 25-27)

This exposition comes between the initial statement in v. 16 and restatement of it, in terms of Jesus’ return back to the Father, in verse 28. It bridges the gap between the moment of his death, and his  exaltation/return to the Father. Jesus returns to the moment of his death in the conclusion to the discourse (verse 32), as he establishes again the idea that his Passion begins the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$) for believers. Yet, even at the darkest point of this suffering, we can be assured that, as believers, we also share in the joy and victory that Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished.

April 2 (2): John 16:33; 19:30

John 16:33; 19:30

This second daily note (for Good Friday) looks at two declarations by Jesus in the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John. Each marks the end, or climax, of the narrative, in different ways: 16:33 is the end of the Last Discourse (the teaching/ministry of Jesus to his disciples), while 19:30 marks the very end of his earthly life and ministry, and serves as the climax to the entire Passion Narrative. There is thus a clear parallelism between these two declarations, and they also express a common theme and message. It will be worth examining each statement in this regard.

John 16:33

“…I have been victorious (over) the world!”

This triumphant declaration makes a fitting end to the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), and the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry, in terms of the teaching he gives to his disciples. The Last Discourse is actually a complex literary work, containing a number of distinct units, each of which forms a discourse in its own right—that is, it generally follows the basic Johannine discourse format: (1) statement by Jesus, (2) reaction/misunderstanding by the audience, and (3) exposition by Jesus explaining the true/deeper meaning of his words. The unit 16:16-33 is just such a discourse:

    • Initial saying/statement by Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 19-28)
    • Conclusion (vv. 29-33), which also forms the close of the Last Discourse as a whole

The saying in verse 16 will be discussed in tomorrow’s daily note (for Holy Saturday). Here I wish to focus on the conclusion in vv. 29-33. It begins with an exclamation by the disciples, in which they seem now to have a true understanding of just who Jesus is. This is important from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, and the place of the Last Discourse within it. After the departure of Judas (13:30), Jesus is able to speak directly to his close (i.e. true) disciples, and this collection of teaching comprises the Last Discourse, much as the Sermon on the Mount has a similar place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Matthew (chaps. 5-7).

This direct instruction is revelatory, in a way that his teaching in the earlier discourses was not. At the start of the Last Discourse, the disciples still have difficulty understanding what Jesus says to the them (14:5ff), but at its conclusion, their eyes are opened and they can see the truth with greater clarity:

“The learners [i.e. disciples] say to him: ‘See, now you speak in outspoken (terms) [i.e. plainly/directly], and you say not even one (thing) to us (by) a (word) along the way [i.e. illustration, figure of speech]. Now we have seen [i.e. known] that you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s, and you hold no business [i.e. have no need] that any (one) should inquire (of) you. In this we trust that you came from God!'” (vv. 29-30)

While this trust is real enough, Jesus, in response, points out how their trust will be tested:

“Yeshua gave forth (an answer) to them: ‘Now do you trust? See, an hour comes—and (indeed) has come—that you shall be scattered, each (one) unto his own (thing)s, and you shall leave me (all) alone…” (vv. 31-32a)

I discussed the use of the term “hour” (w%ra) in a previous note; it has a dual-meaning in the Gospel of John: (a) the moment of Jesus’ suffering and death, and (b) the coming period of distress before the end. Both of these aspects are combined here, fully in line with the early Christian eschatology and understanding of the nature and significance of Jesus’ death. The hour that “has come” is indeed the time of Jesus’ suffering and death, as is clear from the Passion context here. At the same time, the death/departure of Jesus marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress—a time of intense (and increasing) darkness in the world, which will result in the suffering and persecution of believers. This will be discussed further in the next note. The idea of the disciples being “scattered” (vb skorpi/zw), is stated more famously in the Synoptic saying of Jesus (Mark 14:27 par, citing Zech 13:7).

While the hour of darkness (cf. Lk 22:53) that comes with Jesus’ Passion may introduce a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for all humankind (including believers), at the same time believers in Christ are victorious over this darkness and evil in the world, in spite of all they might suffer. This is the paradox at the heart of the Passion Narrative—how suffering and death can result in victory and life. The source of this victory is expressed by Jesus in the remainder of verse 32:

“…you shall leave me (all) alone; and (yet) I am not alone, (in) that [i.e. because] the Father is with me.”

The Christological declaration again identifies Jesus’ relationship (as the Son) to God the Father, but also emphasizes the union he has with the Father. He is never alone because the Father is always with him. Believers ultimately share in this same union, through the presence of the Spirit—a teaching expounded throughout the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17). It is the presence of Jesus, through the Spirit, that is in view in the closing words of the Discourse (v. 33):

“I have spoken these (thing)s to you (so) that you would hold peace in me. In the world you hold distress [qli/yi$], but you must have courage—I have been victorious [neni/khka] (over) the world!”

The perfect tense of the verb nika/w (“have victory, be victorious”) is important, since it typically signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. Even as Jesus has been victorious—through his earthly life and death—over the darkness and evil in the world, so also believers, who are united with him, share in this victory. This is why the author of 1 John can similarly declare to his readers (as believers) that they “have been victorious” over “the evil” in the world (and/or “the Evil One”, i.e. the Satan/Devil)—2:13-14; 4:4. Indeed, believers, as ones who have “come to be born” (as offspring/children) of God, by this very fact of their identity, are able to be victorious over the world (5:4-5).

John 19:30

This victory by Jesus encompasses his entire life and existence on earth. However, the moment of victory is especially to be noted at the completion of his life and ministry—that is, at the moment of his death. The Synoptic Passion narrative emphasizes the end-time darkness, and foreshadowing of Judgment, at the moment of Jesus’ death—i.e., the darkness over the land (Mk 15:33 par), his cry of abandonment (v. 34 par), his final cry at death (v. 37 par), and the tearing of the Temple curtain (v. 38 par). The portrait of Jesus’ death is rather different in the Gospel of John—none of the aforementioned Synoptic details are present. There is even a positive contrast to the tearing of the Temple curtain (“from above unto below”, i.e. from top to bottom)—Jesus’ garment is kept intact and untorn (19:23-24; on the parallel between the Temple and Jesus’ body, cf. 2:21-22).

The only real indication of suffering on Jesus’ part in the Johannine narrative is the brief mention of his thirsting in vv. 28-29 (cp. Mark 15:36 par). And, instead of a great cry at the moment of his death, Jesus, with his final words (actually a single word in Greek), utters a declaration similar in meaning to that of 16:33 (cf. above):

“It has been completed” (tete/lestai)

This refers to the completion (te/lo$, vb. tele/w) of his earthly mission. It relates to how the word e)ntolh/ is used in the Johannine writings. Typically,  that noun is rendered “command(ment)”, but this is rather misleading, especially in the Johannine context. The word properly refers to something given to a person to complete or accomplish (te/lo$/te/llw)—that is, a duty or charge placed on (e)n) someone. Thus, with his sacrificial death, Jesus (the Son) fulfills the e)ntolh/ given to him by the God the Father (10:18; 12:49-50; 15:10). The related verb teleio/w (“complete, bring to completion”) is used in this same sense in 4:34; 5:36; 17:4 (cf. also 19:28); Jesus words (to the Father) in 17:4 are especially close in meaning, in light of the context of his Passion:

“I honored you upon the earth, (hav)ing completed [telei/wsa$] the work that you have given me, that I should do (it)”

Other traditional details of the crucifixion scene are given a new meaning in the Johannine narrative, including the very moment of Jesus’ death (also in v. 30), which reads:

“And, (hav)ing bent the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

On the surface, this would simply indicate that Jesus breathes his last breath (i.e. “gave along his spirit”), as in Mark 15:37:

“And Yeshua, (hav)ing released a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen] (his last).”

The Lukan version (23:46) is closer in sense to Jn 19:30, seeming to be a combination of the Markan/Synoptic and Johannine versions:

“And, (hav)ing given voice to a great voice [i.e. cry], Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along my spirit [parati/qemai to\ pneu=ma/ mou]. And, (hav)ing said this, he breathed out (his last).”

The strong emphasis on the Spirit throughout the Gospel of John, along with the important idea that the death/resurrection of Jesus results in the presence of the Spirit in believers, suggests that there is a bit of dual-meaning wordplay in 19:30, and that the phrase pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma could rightly (and more literally) be rendered: “…he gave along the Spirit” (cf. 20:22).

The same idea seems to be at work in the detail of the “blood and water” that come out of Jesus’ body after his death (v. 34). Many commentators have sought to explain this as an authentic historical/physiological detail. While this may be legitimate—and the Gospel writer does take care to point out that it was an actual observable event (v. 35)—it rather obscures the importance of the detail from a theological standpoint. The “blood and water” represents the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and incarnate life) that is conveyed to believers through the Spirit. The parallel with the Spirit is clear enough (both come from Jesus after his death), but receives absolute confirmation, from the Johannine theological standpoint, in 1 Jn 5:6-8 (considered in the previous note).

If we might summarize the Johannine theology surrounding Jesus’ death:

    • It represents the completion of the mission given to him by the Father
    • His death ‘releases’ the life-giving power he possesses (from the Father, as the Son), manifest in his earthly life and death (“water and blood”)
    • This life giving power is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit
    • The (eternal) life given through the Spirit, makes believers complete—and is, in a real sense, the final completion of Jesus’ mission (cf. Jn 17:23).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 5:6-8

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

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

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

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

 

 

April 1: John 13:1; 17:1, etc

John 13:1; 17:1, etc

“Before the festival of the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], Yeshua, having seen that his hour (had) come…” (13:1)
“Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and, (hav)ing lifted up his eyes unto the heaven, said: ‘Father, the hour has come—may you bring honor to [your] Son, (so) that the Son would bring honor to you…'” (17:1)

These verses more or less reprise what Jesus had stated in 12:23 (cf. also v. 27), discussed in the recent daily notes:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor.”

Today I wish to look specifically at the use of the term w%ra (“hour”) in these sayings of Jesus. The noun w%ra is a common enough word, occurring 26 times in the Gospel of John; however, as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary, it has a special significance, and one that the Johannine writings inherited from the wider Gospel Tradition. There are two main uses of the word w%ra that should be noted:

    1. A specific reference to the Passion—the suffering and death—of Jesus, and
    2. As a distinct eschatological term.

The two are closely related and interconnected, as we shall see. Interestingly, in the eschatological references the word is anarthrous (without the definite article), while the word with the article is reserved for references to Jesus’ Passion.

1. The hour of Jesus’ Passion

The Gospel frequently refers to the coming of “the hour” (or “my/his hour”), in which the suffering and death of Jesus is clearly in view. The authenticity of this idiom is confirmed by the independent usage in the Synoptic Tradition (Mark 14:41 par; Lk 22:14, 53). In addition to the Johannine statements cited above (12:23 [also twice in v. 27]; 13:1; 17:1), there are several other passages in the first half of the Gospel (the “Book of Signs”, chaps. 2-12, during the time of Jesus’ ministry), where it is pointed out that the hour “had not yet come”:

    • 2:4: (Jesus) “…my hour (has) not yet [ou&pw] arrived [vb h%kw]”
    • 7:30: (narration) “So they sought to seize him, and (yet) no one cast the(ir) hand upon him, (in) that [i.e. because] his hour had not yet come [ou&pw e)lhlu/qei].”
    • 8:20: (narration) “…and no one seized him, (in) that [i.e. because] his hour had not yet come [ou&pw e)lhlu/qei].”

To this should be added Jesus’ words in 7:6, 8, where he uses kairo/$ (“moment”, point in time) instead of w%ra (“hour”), with virtually the same meaning—kairo/$/w%ra could easily reflect different Greek renderings of an Aramaic original.

2. An Eschatological hour

The other main use of the word w%ra, as noted above, is eschatological, and these references, while also referring to an hour that is coming, do not use the definite article. The eschatological aspect is clearest in the repeated occurrences in 4:21, 23 and 5:25, 28-29, respectively, where the context is (a) allusion to the New Age as an ideal time of righteousness and worship of God, and (b) the resurrection at the end of the current Age. Note:

    1. “…an hour comes when not on this mountain [i.e. Gerizim of the Samaritans] and not in Yerushalaim (either) will you kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father” (4:21)
      “But an hour comes, and now is, when the true kissers toward (God) [i.e. worshipers] will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father in (the) Spirit and in Truth…” (4:23)
    2. “Amen, Amen, I relate to you that an hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and the (one)s hearing shall live.” (5:25)
      “You must not wonder (at) this, that an hour comes in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice…” (5:28f)

The qualifying statements in 4:23 and 5:25 use the same phrasing— “an hour comes and now is [nu=n e)stin]” —an example of the pronounced emphasis on “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (discussed in a recent article). The end-time event of the resurrection, as well as the manifestation of the Spirit in the New Age, are already experienced (realized) by believers now, in the present.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, this coming “hour”, with its indefiniteness, emphasizes the suddenness and unexpectedness (and imminence) of the coming of the end—the return of Jesus, the great Judgment, etc. The principal sayings of Jesus and other passages in this regard are: Mark 13:32 par; Matt 24:44, 50; 25:13; Luke 12:39-40, 46; Rom 13:11; 1 John 2:18; Rev 3:3, 10; 14:7, 15 (on the hour of Judgment, cf. also Rev 9:15; 18:10, 17, 19).

3. How these two aspects fit together

While often overlooked by Christians today, the very identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) is eschatological (I discuss this in more detail in a recent article). All of the Messianic figure-types were understood as figures who would appear at the end-time, at the end of the current Age, to bring about the Judgment and the deliverance of God’s people. What is unique about the Christian view of Jesus as the Messiah is that he did not fulfill all that was expected of the Messianic figures during his time on earth. This must wait until his second appearance (return), and yet it does not change the fact that what took place during his first appearance was understood by early Christians as marking the end-time—the time right before the end of the current Age.

Indeed, it was the death of Jesus that marked the onset of the period of distress (qli/yi$) that would precede the end. As such, the Passion references to “the hour” (cf. above, Mk 14:41; Lk 22:53 etc) have genuine eschatological significance—a fact often not fully recognized by commentators today. Following Jesus’ death (and ultimate departure), his disciples (believers) would face a time of increasing persecution and oppression (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc), and this is much of what Jesus has in mind when he speaks of them entering into “(the time of) testing” (peirasmo/$, Matt 6:13; Mk 14:38), when even the faith of his close disciples will be put to the test (Mk 14:27ff par; 13:13b par).

This eschatological dimension of Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) is expressed in the Gospel of John by several more sayings using the term w%ra (“hour”); the emphasis is on the suffering that his disciples (believers) will face in the world, in a time of increasing darkness and evil (before the end):

    • “…but an hour comes that every one (hav)ing killed you off would consider (himself) to bring [i.e. do] a service toward God” (16:2)
    • “See, an hour comes, and (indeed it) has come, that you should be scattered, each (one) into his own (thing)s…” (16:32, cp. Mk 14:27 par)

The addition of the perfect tense (“and it has come”) in 16:32 reflects the Passion context of the sayings in 12:23 and 17:1 (cf. above), where the same perfect form e)lh/luqen (“[it] has come”) is used. In other words, now that the moment of Jesus’ Passion has arrived, the disciples will also experience this “hour” of suffering and distress, in their own way. The paradox is that, while believers must endure the end-time darkness and evil in the world, they/we also experience the reality of the coming New Age now, in the present, through the Spirit. This is expressed by the eschatological w%ra-sayings noted above (4:21-23; 5:25, 28f), but also by Jesus’ words throughout the Last Discourse, which include the w%ra-saying in 16:25:

“I have spoken these (thing)s to you in (word)s along the way [i.e. illustrations, figures of speech, etc], (but) an hour comes when I will no longer speak to you in (word)s along the way, but with outspokenness I will give forth (the) message about the Father”

There are two levels of meaning to this statement, in the context of the Last Discourse: (1) Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection, and (2) his abiding presence with believers through the Spirit. Both aspects are important in marking the death and resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the New Age for believers (compare the famous words of Peter’s Pentecost speech, 2:16-17ff, citing Joel 2:28-32). Following Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation to the Father), with the coming of the Spirit, the old Age comes to an end (even before the current Age actually ends), and the New Age begins. This is fundamentally eschatological, in every sense, and must be recognized as a powerful component of the Passion narrative in the Gospels.

 

 

March 26: John 12:31-34

John 12:31-34

“‘Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world shall be thrown out(side); and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.’ And he (was) say(ing) this, signifying [shmai/wn] what sort of death he (was) about to die away from.” (vv. 31-33)

In the discourse as we have it, the dual-saying of Jesus in vv. 31-33 follows directly after the sounding of the voice from heaven—the declaration of God the Father in response to Jesus’ request (cf. the previous note on vv. 27-30). Thus, Jesus’ own declaration in v. 31 must be understood here in that context: “Now is (the) judgment of this world…”. The hour of Jesus’ death—which is also the moment when he (the Son of Man) will be given honor/glory—marks the judgment (kri/si$) of the world. This is an example of the “realized” eschatology that is so prominent in the Gospel of John. The events which were believed to occur at the end of the current Age—the resurrection, the great Judgment, and eternal life for the righteous who pass through the Judgment—are already being experienced now, in the present, especially for believers in Christ. Indeed, there are several places in the Discourses where Jesus clearly states that those who trust in him have already passed through the Judgment, and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to trust have already been judged—cf. 3:19; 5:22-24 [cp. 27-30]; 9:39; 12:47-48; 16:8-11. For more on this, see the recent article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In the Johannine theology and religious outlook, the term “world” (ko/smo$, perhaps better rendered “world order“) refers to the current Age (i.e. the current order of things) that is dominated by darkness and wickedness and fundamentally opposed to God. The end-time Judgment—already being experienced in the present—involves the judgment/defeat of these forces of evil, led and embodied by the figure here called “the chief [a&rxwn] of this world”, perhaps also personified as “the Evil (One)” (o( ponhro/$, cf. 1 John 5:18-19; John 17:15, etc). In more traditional religious language, this figure would be identified as the Satan/Devil. This expression “the chief of this world” also occurs at 14:30 and 16:11:

“…the chief of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me” (14:30)
(the Spirit will demonstrate [the truth] to the world) …about (the) Judgment, (in) that the chief of this world has been judged” (16:11)

The statement in 16:11 corresponds closely with that in 12:31; in terms of the context of the narrative, 14:30 and 16:11 are ‘located’ before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which confirms the idea that his death/resurrection is the moment when the “ruler of this world” is judged. The actual verb used is e)kba/llw (“throw/cast out”), with the adverb e&cw giving added emphasis (“thrown outside“). This means that the power/control of the Evil One is broken and he no longer has dominion over the world. Revelation 12 similarly sets the Satan’s expulsion from heaven (being thrown out/down) in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 5-9ff). The saying of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (“I observed the Satan [hav]ing fallen as a flash [of lightning] out of heaven”) relates to the time of his earthly ministry, and the authority he has (over evil spirits, etc), the same power/authority he gives to his disciples (i.e. believers) over the forces of evil (cp. the statement on the purpose of Jesus’ mission in 1 Jn 3:8). His death, of course, represents the completion of his mission on earth, and is to be seen especially as the moment of the Evil One’s defeat. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

To this statement is added, in v. 32, an apparently separate saying which resembles, and repeats the message of, that in 3:14f:

“…even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].” (3:14-15)

“…and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself” (12:32)

As previous noted, the verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) in these Johannine passages (cf. also 8:28) has a dual meaning: (1) Jesus’ death, being lifted up on the stake, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father). The author’s comment in v. 33 specifies that the first of these is primarily in view, as is fitting for the Passion-context of the narrative at this point. To come toward (pro/$) Jesus means to trust in him, even as the Greeks who wish to “come toward” Jesus and see him (vv. 20-22) represent all the believers from the surrounding nations who will come to trust in him.

A sense of election/predestination (to use the traditional theological terminology) is connoted by the verb e(lku/w (“drag”), a verb that is rare in the New Testament, being used in 21:6, 11 in the context of fishing (i.e. pulling/dragging in the nets). It is also used in the judicial context of ‘hauling’ someone into court, etc, which would fit the judgment theme in verse 31 (cf. Acts 16:19; James 2:6). The most relevant parallel, however, is found in 6:44, in the Bread of Life discourse, as Jesus speaks of the dynamic of people “coming” to him (i.e. to trust in him):

“No (one) is able to come toward me, if (it is) not (that) the Father, the (One) sending me, should drag [e(lku/sh|] him (there)…”

The language almost suggests someone being pulled against his/her will, which would be a bit too strong of an interpretation; however, there is a definite emphasis in the Johannine Discourses on what we would call election or predestination—believers come to Jesus because they (already) belong to God, and have been chosen. The inclusive language in 12:32— “…I will drag all (people)” —is best understood in terms of all believers, especially in light of the presence of Greek (i.e.  non-Jewish) believers here in the narrative context; that is to say, believers from all the nations/peoples will come to him.

Verse 34

The response of the crowd in verse 34 is another example of the motif of misunderstanding that is built into the Johannine discourse format. Which is not say that these instances do not reflect authentic historical details, but only that they have been tailored to fit the literary context of the discourse. Indeed, the response of the crowd here is entirely believable. It refers primarily to the main line of the discourse—the saying in verse 23, along with the latter statement in v. 32—that is to say, the core tradition regarding the death of the “Son of Man”:

Then the throng (of people) gave forth (an answer) to him: “We heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

This is best understood as a summary of different questions Jesus’ followers (and other interested hearers) had regarding his message. It reflects two basic issues, in terms of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would die (and/or depart) before establishing the kingdom of God (on earth) in the New Age.
    • The manner in which he identified himself with the “Son of Man” figure—in two respects:
      • The Son of Man sayings which refer to his upcoming suffering and death
      • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, which refer to the appearance of a heavenly deliverer at the end-time

This will be discussed further in the upcoming note for Palm Sunday; you may also wish to consult my earlier series on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus.

 

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.

 

March 24: John 12:26

John 12:26

“If any (one) would serve me, he must follow (the same path as) me, and where I am, there also my servant will be; (and) if any (one) would serve me, the Father will value him (greatly).”

This is the third of the three sayings which follow the initial declaration in verse 23. They all relate to the theme of discipleship—of following Jesus, even to the point of imitating (or participating in) his sacrificial death. As previously noted, there are similar sayings (and parables) in the Synoptic Gospels; indeed, there is a general parallel between 12:23-26ff and the discourse-block in Mark 8:31-9:1 par, which contains a similar cluster of discipleship-sayings. The saying here in verse 26 corresponds, more or less, to that of Mk 8:34 par, with the emphasis on following Jesus, using the same verb a)kolouqe/w:

“If any (one) wishes to follow [a)kolouqei=n] in back of me, (surely) he must deny himself and take up his stake [i.e. cross-piece] and follow [a)kolouqei/tw] me.”

The fundamental meaning of this verb entails following the same road or path (ke/leuqo$) that another person takes. The Synoptic saying uses the regular prepositional expression o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”). In the Johannine saying, the emphasis is not on following behind Jesus, but on ending up in the same place that he does. Thus, we have a rather different aspect of discipleship here—one which corresponds entirely with the distinctive Johannine theology of the Gospel. The same basic point is made in Last Discourse (Jn 14:3-4):

“And if I should travel and make ready a place for you, I (will) come and will take you along toward myself, (so) that where [o(pou=] I am, (there) also you would be. And (the place) where [o(pou=] I lead (the way) under [u(pa/gw], you have seen [i.e. you know] the way (there).”

In both 12:26 and 14:3-4, the locational particle o(pou= (indicating “at whichever [place]”, i.e. “[the place] where”) is used. The lack of the preposition o)pi/sw is significant—the believer does not follow behind Jesus, but exists, united with him, in the same place. This all occurs with Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the Passion-context of these sayings would indicate. After this—that is, following his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—believers are united with him through the Spirit (in the present), and ultimately will be together with him in heaven (in the future). This does not eliminate the traditional idea of discipleship (cp. the Synoptic sayings), but, rather, gives to it a new and deeper meaning.

Significant also is the way that the Johannine saying here introduces the idea of serving (vb diakone/w). The verb is used in the Gospel of John only here in chapter 12—the Passion narrative setting of the Anointing of Jesus (v. 2), and twice here in v. 26. The related noun dia/kono$ (“servant”) is equally rare, occurring outside of this verse only in early Cana miracle-episode (2:5, 9). The terminology is more common in the Synoptics, including the idea that following Jesus (as a disciple) entails serving him (cf. Mark 15:41 par; Luke 8:3). Elsewhere, the emphasis is on Jesus acting as a servant—giving of himself to serve others—and on the need for his disciples to follow the same example (Mk 10:43-45; par Matt 20:26-28; Lk 17:7-10; 22:26-27, cf. also 12:37). While the Gospel of John does not contain any comparable sayings, the idea is expressed clearly in the Last Supper scene in chapter 13—the washing of the disciples’ feet (vv. 4-11), along with the explanation of what this signifies (vv. 12-20); there is a definite parallel with the setting of Lk 22:26-27.

Thus, in the Johannine context especially, the idea of serving is closely connected with the sacrificial death of Jesus, even as it is in a saying such as Mk 10:45 par. We may well infer here, in Jn 12:26, that for the disciple to serve Jesus means participation in his death, just as the parable in v. 24 also indicates. One is reminded of the statement by Ignatius of Antioch, in the early second century; himself following Jesus’ example, on his way to being put to death for his faith in Christ, he calls himself “the (grain of) wheat of God” (Romans 4:1). Indeed, with his death he declares “then I will be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ” (v. 2).

It is this aspect of the believer’s participation in Jesus death that explains the relationship of these sayings to the initial Son of Man statement in v. 23 (as well as the narrative introduction of vv. 20-22). I will be discussing this further in the next daily note. The reference to God the Father at the close of v. 26 is also of special importance, since it serves to unite the discipleship-sayings with what follows in vv. 27-30, to be studied in the next note.

March 23: John 12:24-25

John 12:24-25

Within the structure of 12:20-36, the main line moves from the initial saying in verse 23 to vv. 27-28ff. In between, there is a trio of sayings (vv. 24-26) which, on the surface, appear to be only marginally related to the main line of the discourse. Actually, there is an interesting parallel to this section in the Synoptics (Mark 8:31-9:1 par), in which there is a statement regarding the glory (do/ca) of the Son of Man (v. 38) in the context of his upcoming suffering and death (v. 31). Indeed, there is a reasonably close parallel for two of the Johannine sayings here in that Synoptic section (vv. 25-26, cp. Mk 8:34-35 par), sharing the basic discipleship-theme—of the willingness to give up one’s life to follow Jesus, even to the point of imitating his sacrificial death. This suggests that, quite independently, sayings-material has been combined in a similar way, in the Synoptic and Johannine Tradition respectively. In today’s note, we will be examining the first two of the sayings, in verses 24 and 25.

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you: if the kernel of wheat falling into the earth should not die away, it remains alone; but if it should die away, it bears much fruit.”

This saying is an illustration (or short parable) utilizing agricultural (farming/planting) imagery, like many others we find in the Synoptic tradition. Several of these deal specifically with a grain or kernel (of wheat, etc), that is planted in the ground—most notably, the famous parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9 par) and the parable of the mustard seed (4:26-29), the latter being closer to the Johannine illustration here.

The agricultural imagery is used to illustrate a basic premise: that new life comes as the result of death. This observation from the natural world has been noted and expressed many times by philosophers, theologians, and mystics around the world, regarding the interconnected mystery of life, death, and rebirth in the universe. Here, of course, it relates specifically to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also—and more precisely—to the new (i.e. eternal) life that his death brings to those who trust in him.

The application of such agricultural symbolism to the person of a divine being is hardly unique to Jesus (as the Son of God); there are many ancient parallels of this sort, especially within (seasonal) cosmological and religious myths. One thinks, for example, of the Sumerian tales involving Dumuzi, who personified the life-giving power within the fruit-trees, etc, as well as that which enables the animals of the herd/flock to give birth; he ‘dies’ in the heat of summer, only to come back to life again in the spring-time. Similarly, we might note the daughter of Demeter in the myths at the core of the Greek Eleusinian mysteries; indeed, the mystery religions tended to make ritual of this symbolism, in a somewhat comparable manner to the early Christian baptism rite, in which believers participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. below). There are agricultural life/death/rebirth aspects to the Canaanite Baal Haddu, the Egyptian Osiris, and many other examples could be cited.

Jesus’ illustration makes an important contrast that can be easily overlooked—if it enters the ground, but does not die, the seed “remains alone” (an alliterative expression, mo/no$ me/nei). The verb me/nw (“remain”) is particularly significant within the Johannine theological vocabulary, being used repeatedly (in the Discourses, etc) to express the union of believers with Jesus. To “remain alone” is the opposite of this union, of separation from the life-giving power of Jesus (cp. the Vine illustration in chap. 15)—a power that is realized through the Spirit, but defined primarily by his sacrificial death. Thus, the illustration transitions from the idea of Jesus’ own death, to that of the believer who is united with Jesus’ through participation in his death. The effect of this union is depicted in the second part of the contrast—if the seed does die, then it becomes part of the natural process of bringing life and growth. This relates to the life-giving power of Jesus, but also to the way that this power is experienced by the believer.

VERSE 25

“The (one) being fond of his (own) soul [i.e. life] suffers loss from it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

This saying is quite similar to that of Mark 8:35 par (cf. above); in fact, there are several versions (or variations) of this saying in the Synoptic Tradition. In such instances, the critical view tends to be that the different versions go back to a single historical tradition, with the variations being primarily due to the process of transmission and (literary) adaptation; however, here it seems much more likely that the variations go back to Jesus himself. The saying is so simple, the the contrast so fundamental, that one can easily envision Jesus using it repeatedly in his teaching, in slightly different forms.

It is a dual-saying, each part with its own contrast—a conditional phrase (protasis) followed by the result statement (apodosis). Let us consider the first part of the saying, in its three Synoptic variations:

“Who ever would wish to save [sw=sai] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Mk 8:35; cf. also Lk 9:24)
“The (one) finding [eu(rw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it” (Matt 10:39)
“Who ever would wish to make his soul (secure) about (him) [peripoih/sasqai] will suffer loss from it” (Lk 17:33)

The version here in Jn 12:25 is:

“The (one) being fond of [filw=n] his soul will suffer loss from it”

Formally, the Johannine version is closer to Matt 10:39, with its use (in Greek) of the articular particple (“the one finding” / “the one being fond of”). The pattern of Jesus’ saying allows for four different verbs, each with its own nuance; however, in each version, the result-statement uses the verb a)po/llumi, which can be translated “lose”, “ruin”, “destroy”, but which I render more literally above as experiencing “loss from” something. Taken on its own (and out of context), the significance of the saying is not immediately clear, though its basic meaning (as a proverb) is straightforward—the person who is concerned about the welfare of his/her own life will end up experiencing the loss of (or from) it.

The second part of the saying is as follows:

“…but who ever suffers loss from his soul, for my sake and (for) the good message, will save it” (Mk 8:35)
“…and the (one) suffering loss from his soul, for my sake, will find it” (Matt 10:39)
“…but who ever would suffer loss from (his soul) will cause it to be [i.e. remain] alive” (Lk 17:33)

In Jn 12:25 it is:

“…and the (one) hating his soul in this world will guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life”

The Johannine version differs primarily in that the saying does not reverse itself, pivoting on a repeated use of the verb a)po/llumi; instead, a formal contrast is made between the verb file/w (“the one being fond of…”) and mise/w (“the one hating…”). This emphasis resembles the thought and language of the Synoptic sayings in Luke 14:26 and Matt 10:37. The thrust of this is explained by an additional layer of contrast in the saying: “this world” vs. eternal life (“life of the Age [to Come]”). The use of ko/smo$ (“world order, world”), in the context of Johannine theology, indicates that Jesus is not merely speaking of a concern for ordinary daily matters, but of involvement in the darkness and wickedness that is intrinsic to the current world order.

The opposite of losing/ruining one’s soul (vb a)po/llumi) is to guard it (vb fula/ssw)—i.e. protect it and keep it from harm. The verb fula/ssw is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, with the synonymous thre/w (“keep watch [over]”) being much more common. In 12:47, fula/ssw is used to describe the believer as one who “guards” Jesus’ words; while, in the great Prayer-discourse (17:12), it refers to the work of Jesus in guarding his disciples (believers) while he is present with them (a protection that will continue through the presence of the Spirit). The specific wording is worth noting, in light of 12:25:

“When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in the name that you have given to me, and I guarded [e)fu/laca] (them), and not one out of them was lost/ruined [a)pw/leto]…”

The same juxtaposition of fula/ssw and a)pollumi occurs here as in 12:25, and we may infer here a similar meaning—it is Jesus who guards believers and keeps them from harm, when they unite with his life-giving (and preserving) power through participation in his sacrificial death. The Johannine theological context has shifted the emphasis somewhat from the straightforward discipleship motif (i.e. in Mark 8:34-38 par), to the idea of trusting in Jesus with the idiom of seeing and remaining (i.e. being united with him). However, the more traditional theme of discipleship—following Jesus—is still present in the Johannine discourse, as we will examine in the next daily note.