“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27, cont.)

John 5:27, continued

In the first part of this study, we examined the context of the “son of man” reference in verse 27. As part of this analysis, we noted the parallelism between vv. 21-24 and 25-29 in the first expository section of the chap. 5 Discourse. We may narrow the focus to the parallel units of vv. 21-22 and 26-27, in which the thematic emphasis is on the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. Here, again, is how this is expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

And, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind.

Throughout the first division of the Discourse, vv. 19-30, the principal theme is how Jesus, as the Son (of God), does the work of God his Father. The broader thematic focus is on the relationship between the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Because of this central theme that runs through the entire Gospel, Jesus regularly refers to himself (in the Discourses) as “the Son” (o( ui(o/$), by which is meant “God’s Son” (i.e., “the Son of God”). This is typical of the Johannine Gospel, compared with the relatively rare use of the unqualified expression “the Son” in the Synoptics. And, not surprisingly, given the thematic emphasis in 5:19-30, the expression “the Son” occurs quite often (9 times) in these verses. This makes the singular use of the expression “(the) son of man” in v. 27 quite significant.

Why does Jesus (and the Gospel writer) use “(the) son of man” in verse 27 (and only there)? The precise wording of the phrase containing the expression is important: “(in) that [i.e. because] he is (the) Son of man” (o%ti ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou e)stin). This explicative use of the o%ti-clause offers the reason why God the Father has given the Son (Jesus) authority to judge humankind: it is because he is “(the) son of man”.

From a syntactical standpoint, the statement “he is (the) son of man” is an example of the sort of essential predication that occurs throughout the Gospel (and Letters) of John. These simple predicative statements contain three elements: (1) Divine subject, (2) verb of being, and (3) predicate noun or phrase. The statements give essential information about who the subject is. The formulation is basically limited to a Divine subject—usually Jesus Christ (the Son), but occasionally God the Father, while, in at least one instance (1 Jn 5:6), the Spirit is the subject. In a secondary application, the formula can also be applied to believers in Christ (viz., believers, the children/offspring of God, as the divine subject).

The “I am” (e)gw\ ei)mi) declarations by Jesus are the most famous examples of Johannine essential predication. Indeed, when Jesus, as both Divine subject and speaker, makes such statements, it is most natural that he would use a first person pronoun to express the subject. Here, however, he speaks in the third person (“he is”), as he typically does whenever he uses the expression “the son of man”, using it as a self-reference. The pronoun is not present in the Greek, but only implied (based on the form of the verb). The specific formulation is unusual (and unprecedented): Jesus uses one self-reference (“the Son”, i.e., “he”) to identify himself with another self-reference (“the son of man”). That is, “the Son is the Son of man”.

How is this essential information to be understood? There are two main lines of interpretation that commentators tend to follow. The first line of interpretation understands the expression “(the) son of man” here as a title, referring (principally) to the heavenly figure (“[one] like a son of man”) in Daniel 7:13-14. Thus, Jesus would be identifying himself (“the Son”) with this heavenly figure. The most relevant parallel, and perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this line of interpretation, is the fact that, in Dan 7:13-14, God gives to the “(one) like a son of man” a ruling authority over humankind:

“…and to him was given dominion [/f*l=v*] and glory [rq*y+] and kingship [Wkl=m^], and all the peoples, nations, and tongues shall give (diligent) service to him” (v. 14)
While Theodotion translates all three Hebrew terms, the LXX renders them under the single word e)cousi/a, as in Jn 5:27:
“…and authority [e)cousi/a] was given to him”

It is not specifically stated that the heavenly figure was given authority to judge; however, this would certainly be part of the ruling authority given to him, and the eschatological judgment (of the nations) certainly features in the passage (vv. 10ff, 22, 26-27). Moreover, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, called by the title “th(e) Son of Man”, is more directly associated with the Judgment (46:2-4ff; chap. 62; 63:11; 69:27ff), the Danielic figure having been blended together with the figure of the Davidic Messiah. For more on the Jewish eschatological/Messianic background of this “Son of Man” figure, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second line of interpretation understands the expression in a qualitative sense—that is, “son of man” (without the definite article [see below]) means a human being. In other words, Jesus (the Son) is given the authority to judge humankind because he himself is a human being. In the Johannine theological context, this would refer specifically to the incarnation of the Son (1:14ff). It is as the incarnate Son that Jesus has the authority to act as judge over humankind and to render judgment.

On the whole, this second line of interpretation is to be preferred, particularly in the overall context of the Johannine Gospel (and its theology). Before developing this further, a word should be said about the lack of definite articles for the expression here (i.e., uio\$ a)nqrw/pou instead of o( uio\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the only such anarthrous occurrence of the expression in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of the definite article, the expression can still be definite. Indeed, in the case of the word order here, on purely syntactical grounds, a predicate nominative (noun) that precedes the verb should probably be understood in a definite sense*.
* On this point, see the study by E. C. Colwell back in 1933 (Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 52, pp. 12-31; Jn 5:27 is discussed on on p. 14); cf. Moloney, pp. 82ff.
At the same time, anarthrous predicate nouns often carry a qualitative sense (cf. the article by P. B. Harner in Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 92 [1973], pp. 75-87). If both of these aspects of the predicate noun are present here in v. 27, then it would mean that the expression is particularly emphasizing that the Son is the human being with the authority to exercise judgment over humankind (cp. the expression in Mk 2:10 par, also 2:28 par). In terms of the Johannine theology, as noted above, this would refer to the incarnation of the Son—viz., the pre-existent (heavenly) Son who has come to earth as a human being. We have seen how the twin Johannine themes of the heavenly origin of the Son, and of his descent to earth, featured prominently in the prior “son of man” sayings (1:51 [study]; 3:13-14 [study]).

Of particular importance is how the thematic motif of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) is presented in the Gospel of John. Most relevant for consideration is the statement in 3:19, coming as it does in the expository section (of that earlier Discourse), vv. 16-21, immediate following the “son of man” references (vv. 13-14). The end-time Judgment is explained in terms of the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Gospel (see the discussion in the first part of this study). That is to say, the Judgment occurs now, in the present; and, specifically, those would fail or refuse to trust in Jesus are already judged:

“The (one) trusting in him is not judged; but the (one) not trusting has already [h&dh] been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only [monogenh/$] Son of God.” (v. 18)

The nature of the Judgment, in this regard, is further explained in verse 19:

“And this is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and (yet) men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds are evil.”

This corresponds to what Jesus says about the Judgment here in verse 24, and clearly relates to the idea that this judgment has been given to the Son (v. 22). Interestingly, in 3:17, Jesus seems to say the opposite—viz., that he has not come (as the incarnate Son) to render judgment:

“For God did not send forth the Son into the world (so) that he should judge the world, but (rather) that the world might be saved through him.” (cp. 8:15-16; 12:47)

The locus of the Judgment is whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the incarnate Son). In that sense, the incarnate Son (Jesus) does not fill the role of end-time Judge as it might traditionally be understood. Instead, the Judgment occurs based on how a person responds to the message of the incarnate Son—the truth of who he is and what he has done. Compare the Judgment-references in 9:39 and 12:47-48. Later on in the Gospel, this aspect of the Judgment is tied more directly to the Son’s fulfillment of his earthly mission—that is, his exaltation (“being lifted up”), beginning with his sacrificial death (see the previous study on the saying in 3:14). This thematic development is expressed by the declaration in 12:31:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast outside!”

The implication is that Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) initiates the Judgment of the world; this Judgment involves the punishment (expulsion) of the “ruler of this world” (i.e., the Satan/Devil). Much the same is stated in 16:11 (see my earlier study on the Paraclete saying[s] in 16:8-11ff). Again, this Judgment is tied to the world’s failure/refusal to trust in Jesus, defined (in Johannine terms) as the great sin (vv. 8-9).

How does all of this relate to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” in verse 27? Though there are definite allusions to Daniel 7:13-14 (see above) here in the passage, it would seem that Jesus (and the Gospel writer) has reinterpreted the traditional Judgment-association in light of the Johannine theology (and Christology). In particular, the whole theme of judgment has been radically interpreted in the Johannine writings. The Judgment is now defined primarily in terms of trust in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. The one who trusts has already passed through the Judgment (v. 24), while the one who does not trust has already been judged (3:18-19, etc). The trust in Jesus specifically relates to his death (viz., the beginning of his exaltation), the fulfillment of the mission for which the Father sent the Son (from heaven to earth).

We may expand our understanding of the Johannine “son of man” references, based on the sayings we have examined thus far, to include the following points:

    • The heavenly origin of the Son (Jesus)
    • His descent to earth—entailing his incarnation as a human being (“son of man”)
    • The promise of his ascent (back to heaven), following the completion of his mission
    • This ascent (exaltation, “lifting up”) begins with his sacrificial death (3:14)—whereby the use of the expression “the son of man” has definite parallels to the Synoptic Passion predictions (and similar sayings)
    • The end-time Judgment, traditionally associated with the “son of man” (Dan 7:13-14; Mk 13:26 par, etc), is defined primarily in terms of how one responds to this Christological message of the Son’s descent/ascent.

In the next study, we shall turn to the “son of man” references in the chapter 6 (Bread of Life) Discourse.

References above (and throughout these studies) marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27)

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is thus made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.


“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew, cont.)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew, continued

In the initial portion of this article, we examined the “son of man” references that occur throughout the narrative sequence of the Gospel of Matthew. For the most part, the Gospel writer follows the Synoptic/Markan narrative (though with some re-ordering), and also includes a number of “Q” traditions (shared with the Gospel of Luke). The author’s treatment of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) similarly follows his use of this traditional material. The most original contributions are found in the way that Jesus’ declaration(s) in Mark 8:38-9:1 are adapted (16:27-28), and by the inclusion of the saying in 19:28 within the Synoptic tradition of Mk 10:17-30 par (cf. Lk 22:28-30).

If I may summarize the main results of our analysis of the narrative references:

    • The Matthean Gospel writer unquestionably saw the expression “the son of man” by Jesus primarily as a self-reference; the interchangeability between the expression and the personal pronoun (compare 16:13, 21 with Mk 8:27, 31), in the declarations by Jesus occurring at the heart of the Gospel, makes this especially clear.
    • In Matthew, as in Luke, the “son of man” sayings bring out the Gospel’s thematic emphasis on discipleship. Just as Jesus identifies with the human condition (and its suffering), so the disciple of Jesus must take on a similar cost (of hardship and self-sacrifice) in following him.
    • The suffering and death of Jesus is particularly in focus, but balanced (more so than in Luke) with an emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus.

The “son of man” saying in 19:28, in particular, blends together these last two thematic emphases.

The Matthean Sermon-Discourses

As was discussed, the Matthean narrative is punctuated by a series of Discourses (or ‘Sermons’), built up out of smaller discourse-sections, around which other teachings by Jesus (sayings, short parables, etc) have been added. The great ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) is the first of these Discourses, in which Jesus presents a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for anyone would be his disciple. In chapter 10, Jesus subsequently instructs his disciples in preparation of their mission. Further on, in chapter 13, Jesus teaches his followers about the Kingdom of God, and (in chap. 18) on certain social aspects of being his disciple—viz., on belonging to the Kingdom, and how one is to relate to fellow members of the Kingdom. Finally, in chapters 24-25, the disciples are given further instruction on their mission (i.e., the early Christian mission), in connection with the coming end of the Age (and the Judgment).

The most significant Matthean occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (in 16:27-28 and 19:28), as noted above, have an eschatological orientation. This is also true for all of the occurrences of the expression in the Sermon-Discourses—10:23; 13:37, 41; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31.

Matthew 10:23

As part of the discourse (chap. 10) in which Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission—and, by extension, all believers for the coming early Christian mission—he instructs them in regard to the hostility and persecution that they will experience (vv. 16-25). In the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mk 13 par), this persecution (vv. 9-13) is framed in eschatological terms, as part of the end-time period of distress (vv. 19, 24). Matthew’s version of that Discourse (see below) has only a shortened form of the section related to the disciples’ mission (24:9, 13-14), having transferred the portion corresponding to Mk 13:9-12 largely to the chap. 10 discourse. This means, however, that there is a definite eschatological aspect to Jesus’ instruction here in chap. 10.

When facing persecution, the disciples are told to move (“flee”) from one city to the next (v. 23a). Jesus then adds the following declaration:

“For, amen, I say to you, that you shall (surely) not complete (going through) the cities of Yisrael, before [lit. until] the son of man should come.” (v. 23b)

This saying, like the instruction regarding persecution, is rather out of place in the narrative context—viz., the disciples’ initial mission during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It is much more appropriate in the context of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f), set in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Indeed, the eschatological reference to the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) end-time appearance makes almost no sense here, from a narrative standpoint, occurring as it does before he has even once told his disciples of his impending death and resurrection. The arrangement of the material in chapter 10, however, is topical, not chronological.

In any case, the imminence of the son of man’s end-time appearance would seem to be expressed quite clearly by Jesus here in v. 23. The implication is that not all that much time will pass before his coming—indeed, some (if not many) of the first disciples will still be alive at his parousia. The declaration by Jesus in 16:28, in the Matthean formulation of the saying (cp. Mk 9:1), carries the same implication, as does the famous statement in 24:34 par. We have already discussed the “son of man” reference in 16:28:

“Amen, I say to you, that there are some of the (one)s having stood here who (surely) shall not taste death, until they should see the son of man coming in his Kingdom!”

However problematic these statements may be for later generations of Christians (and for many of us today), the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers is well-established, and we should avoid the inclination to try and explain away their belief in this regard. For a thorough survey of the subject, see my earlier article (and specifically the portion covering the Gospels) in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Matthew 13:37, 41

In chapter 13, the Gospel writer has expanded the collection of Kingdom-parables in Mark 4:1-34, by including a number of additional parables and sayings—vv. 24-30, 32, 36-43, 44-50, 51-52—and by omitting (or otherwise not including) one of the parables found in Mark (4:26-29). The parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30) functions as a corollary to the parable of the Sower. As in that earlier parable, an explanation by Jesus is recorded for the parable of the Weeds (vv. 36-43). In this explanation, it is declared that sower of the seed is “the son of man” (v. 37)—that is, Jesus, in his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel (of the Kingdom). As is clear from chapter 10 (see above), the disciples (and other believers) will be continuing this mission of Jesus. It is noteworthy that in Matthew, these parables come after the disciples’ mission, whereas in Mark, the parables (chap. 4) come before the mission (6:7-13).

It is also explained that the harvest, involving the separation of the weeds from the grain, represents the end-time ‘harvest’, when the righteous will be separated from the wicked (vv. 39-43). The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, was a natural metaphor for the end of the Age—e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Matt 3:12 par; Rev 14:14-20. The parable of the Net (vv. 47-50) has a similar eschatological message.

In any case, in the parable of the Weeds, it is “the son of man” who will do the gathering (i.e., separating out the righteous), through the mediation of heavenly Messengers under his command (“his Messengers”), v. 41. Much the same scenario is described in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:27; par Matt 24:34). This eschatological reference to the Messengers (angels) confirms that the “son of man” declarations in 16:27-28 refer to the end-time appearance of Jesus (from heaven), i.e., his parousia (cf. 24:3, 27, 37, 39).

Matthew 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44

The Matthean Gospel writer has also expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), adding to it other eschatological sayings and parables of Jesus, including a number of “Q” traditions (vv. 43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-39, 40-41, 28) which Luke locates at different points of the narrative (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27, 34-35, 37b). The expression “the son of man” occurs several times in this “Q” material (vv. 27, 37, 39, 44 par), and the references were examined in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings.

The fundamental point in these references is that the coming of the son of man will coincide with the coming of the end-time Judgment. His appearance will be sudden and unexpected (v. 44 par), like lighting flashes that instantly light up the entire sky (v. 27 par). Matthew includes the Noah/Flood illustration, but not the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-29, 32). It is difficult to be certain whether or not the latter was originally part of the “Q” tradition inherited by the Gospel writer; it seems likely that it was, though, as a natural pairing (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff), it might have been added at any point in the tradition. In Matthew, Jesus specifically utilizes the Noah/Flood reference as the type-pattern for the end-time Judgment, pointing out that the coming of the “son of man” will be just like the coming of the Flood (vv. 37, 39 par)—the righteous (believers) will be saved, while the rest of humankind will perish under the Judgment.

Naturally enough, Matthew also retains the climactic “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26f par (v. 30f), but includes certain details which are worth discussing briefly. The declaration in Mk 13:26 is preserved in v. 30b, with only slight variation:

“…they shall gaze with (open) eyes (at) the son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Mark has “in/with [e)n] the clouds”, while Matthew more clearly draws upon the ancient storm-theophany imagery, viz., of the deity coming (or ‘riding’) upon (e)pi/) the clouds. However, the precise wording here actually stems from Daniel 7:13 LXX, “upon the clouds of heaven” (e)pi\ tw=n nefelw=n tou= ou)ranou=). The Matthean version of the tradition thus conforms more precisely to the “son of man” reference in Dan 7:13f.

The Gospel writer has also included an additional detail, in v. 30a; prior to the actual appearance of the son of man:

“Then shall shine forth the sign of the son of man in heaven, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth shall beat themselves…”

There are differences of opinion regarding what is meant by the sign (shmei=on) of the son of man. It may simply refer to a brilliant theophanous light (the verb fai/nw literally meaning “shine”) that announces the son of man’s coming. Other commentators prefer to explain it is a visual symbol of something, such as Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., cross), or even as a representation of Jesus himself (crucified). If the Gospel writer understands the reference to the peoples “beating themselves” (i.e., in mourning) as an allusion to Zech 12:10, then they may, indeed, be responding to the fact that the “son of man” (i.e., the exalted Jesus) had been crucified (cp. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 similarly brings together Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10. If the death (crucifixion) of Jesus is being specifically referenced here, then it provides us with another indication of how the Matthean author has balanced two primary Gospel contexts where the expression “the son of man” is used: (a) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (b) his exaltation and (future) return in glory.

Matthew 25:31

The Gospel writer has further expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, by including three eschatological parables in chapter 25. Two of these (vv. 1-13, 31-46) are unique to Matthew, while the other (vv. 14-30) is similar to the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12-27 (and may derive from a common [“Q”] tradition). All three of these parables refer in some way to the end-time Judgment, but only the third (vv. 31-46) specifically has a Judgment setting. Indeed, it can only marginally be described as a parable; it is more akin to some of the visions in the book of Revelation, providing a vivid portrait of the end-time Judgment.

In any case, it is clear from the opening (v. 31) that the Judgment takes place only after the coming of the son of man (see on 24:30f above):

“And, when the son of man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him, then he shall sit upon (the) throne of his splendor, and the nations shall be gathered together in front of him, and he shall mark them off from each other, just as a herder marks off the sheep from the goats.” (vv. 31-32)

The idea of the separation of the righteous from the wicked was a central component of the Judgment parables in 13:24-30 (+ 36-43) and 47-50 (see above). Clearly, in this instance, though the holy Messengers (angels) are involved, it is the son of man himself who oversees the Judgment. The peoples (“nations”) are all brought together in front of him, as he sits upon his throne. As the exalted/heavenly ruler, the son of man (Jesus) will proceed to pass judgment upon humankind. Though it is not specifically indicated here, it is fair to assume that Jesus is acting as God the Father’s representative, acting with His authority, in overseeing the Judgment.

In all respects this scenario represents a more developed form of a line of tradition preserved elsewhere in the “son of man” sayings (16:27, etc), in which we find both the motif of the end-time Judgment, and the idea of the “son of man” appearing (in glory, with the angels) at the end-time.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Luke)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke

In our study of the expression”the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the Synoptic Gospels, we have examined the core sayings in the Gospel of Mark (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4), and also those in the so-called “Q” material (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4). According to the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the “Q” material. I have followed this approach, as a functioning hypothesis, for this study. Thus in examining the use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to the particular Gospel.

We begin with the Gospel of Luke. First, we may note that Luke, in following the Synoptic/Markan outline, includes nearly all of the Markan “son of man” references, with the exception of those in Mk 9:9, 12, and the saying in 10:45 (cp. Lk 19:10). During the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, there occur the first two Synoptic/Markan sayings (5:24; 6:5 / Mk 2:10, 28), the “Q” saying in 7:34 (par Matt 11:19), and the first two Passion-predictions (9:22, 44 / Mk 8:31; 9:31), along with the intervening saying in 9:26 (Mk 8:38). The only original Lukan contribution, apparently, is the use of the expression “the son of man” in the final Beatitude (6:22; cp. Matt 5:11), though it is possible that the expression was present in the “Q” material that the Gospel writer inherited.

Between the second and third Passions-predictions (9:44; 18:31 / Mk 9:31; 10:33), there is the Journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10 par), which Luke has expanded into a major division—indeed, the central (and longest) division of the Gospel, covering more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31). The Journey serves as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus, including many traditions which occur at an earlier point (i.e., the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. With one exception, the “son of man” references in this division are derived from, or are related to, the “Q” material shared with the Gospel of Matthew.

Also, with the exception of the first saying (9:58; par Matt 8:20), all of the “son of man” references in the Journey period have an eschatological orientation or aspect. Either they relate to the end-time Judgment (11:30; 12:8, 10; par Matt 12:40; 10:32; 12:32), or refer to the end-time appearance of the “son of man” (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8). The references in 12:40 and 17:24, 26 represent “Q” sayings which Matthew has included as part of the “Eschatological Discourse” in chap. 24f (vv. 44, 27, 37). It is not entirely clear whether the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-30, 32, absent from Matthew) was part of the original “Q” material, or was added by the Lukan author (from another source). As discussed (in Part 4 on the “Q” sayings), the Lot/Sodom illustration makes for a natural pairing with the Noah/Flood illustration (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff)—both being Scriptural type-patterns for the coming end-time Judgment.

The two “son of man” sayings, set during the Journey period, which are most original to the Gospel of Luke are: the introductory eschatological saying in 17:22, and the saying in 18:8. The reference in 17:22 reflects the manner of expression in vv. 24ff, using the specific expression “the days of the son of man” (v. 26, cf. the comparable expression “the son of man in his day”, v. 24). This expression refers to the time when the son of man will appear; however, in v. 22, there seems to be a particular allusion to the coming suffering and persecution of Jesus’ disciples, during the end-time period of distress.

This reflects an important thematic emphasis by the Lukan author, with regard to the “son of man” sayings—viz., an emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and death, and, by extension, the suffering and hardship which must be endured by Jesus’ followers (believers) during their end-time mission. A key detail which the Gospel writer includes, within the eschatological teaching in 17:20-37, and amid the eschatological (“Q”) son of man sayings, is another reference to Jesus’ impending suffering and death (v. 25), echoing the earlier Passion-predictions (9:22, 44). Note the way that the declaration of the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) future coming (in glory, at the Judgment) is tied back to his present suffering:

“just as the (lightning) flashes flashing shine light, out of the (one area) under the heaven unto the (other areas) under the heaven, so will be the son of man [in his day]—but first, it is necessary (for) him to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from consideration [i.e. be rejected] (by) this genea/.” (vv. 24-25)

This has the added (practical) effect of making clear—for both Jesus’ disciples (in the narrative) and for the Gospel writer’s audience—that the “son of man” (identified as Jesus himself) cannot come to earth (in glory) at the end-time, until after his death and resurrection. As we have discussed, this incongruity represents a difficult aspect of the eschatological “son of man” sayings, when the expression is understood as an authentic self-reference by Jesus.

The saying in 18:8 is rather difficult to interpret in its immediate context, though it brings to the fore, even more clearly than in 17:22, the expectation that Jesus’ followers (believers) will experience suffering (and persecution) during the end-time period of distress. The parable (vv. 1-5) illustrating the need to persevere in prayer to God, is interpreted in this eschatological context:

“Hear (now) what the judge (acting) without justice says. And shall not God (then) make the working out of justice for His elect/chosen (one)s, the (one)s shouting to him day and night? and will His impulse (to do so) be long over them [i.e. will He wait long to help them]?” (vv. 6-7)

God is contrasted with the unjust (human) judge of the parable, one who acts “without justice” (a)diki/a). If an unjust human judge will respond to someone in need who makes a persistent request of him, how much more will the just and righteous God do so for his chosen ones (i.e., the righteous/believers)? The motif of the righteous/believers, shouting to God day and night, suggests a period of intense suffering. Within the Gospel context, the end-time period of distress, which will involve the persecution of believers, is certainly in view.

The answer, already implicit within Jesus’ question, is made explicit in verse 8: “(Yes,) I say to you that He will make a working out of justice for them with (great) speed!” But then, Jesus adds a final challenging question:

“Yet [plh/n] the son of man, (hav)ing come, will he find trust upon the earth?”

The connection of v. 8b to vv. 7-8a suggests that the deliverance which God will provide for believers, during the end-time period of distress, will be realized through the coming of the son of man (cf. Mk 13:27 par; Lk 21:28). For the Lukan author, this unquestionably refers to Jesus’ second coming (i.e. return) to earth, though some commentators have raised the possibility that, originally, Jesus would have been referring to a heavenly figure (Dan 7:13-14) separate from himself. I discussed this critical theory briefly in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings, and will address it more fully at the end of this series.

The question itself implies that there could be a considerable loss of faith, a falling away, during the end-time period of distress. In a general sense, this was part of the eschatological expectation of Jews and early Christians, as we see in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mk 13 par). The repeated warnings by Jesus (to his disciples) very much suggest the possibility that even a genuine disciple (or believer) could be led astray and lose faith (Mk 13:5, 13, 20-21, 22-23, 33ff).

In the final division of the Lukan Gospel, the Jerusalem Period, the author includes the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings from 13:26; 14:21, and 14:62 (21:27; 22:22, 69). To these have been added a reference at the close of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:36), one during the Garden-scene of the Passion narrative (22:48), and a summary reference (24:7), at the beginning of the Resurrection narrative, which echoes the earlier Passion-predictions. In addition to these, we may also mention the saying in 19:10, set at the end of Jesus’ journey, on his approach to Jerusalem; in some ways, it holds a comparable position to the Synoptic/Markan saying in 10:45.

If we consider these few Lukan additions and adaptations, they seem to bring out two key thematic points of emphasis: (1) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (2) the suffering of disciples (believers), and the need to remain faithful during the end-time period of distress. Jesus’ suffering and death is alluded to in the 19:10 saying (“For the son of man came to seek and to save the [one] having been lost”), is emphasized during the Passion narrative at the focal point of the betrayal (“Yehudah, with a mark of fondness [i.e. a kiss] you give over the son of man?” 22:48, cp. Mk 14:41 par), and is summarized (after the resurrection) in 24:7.

The second theme is expressed in the saying that concludes the Lukan version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:5-36):

“(So) then, you must remain awake, in every time expressing (your) need (to God), (so) that you might be strong against (that day), (and so) to flee [i.e. escape] out of all these (thing)s being about to come to (pass), (and) to stand in front of the son of man.” (v. 36)

The Discourse concludes with an exhortation to “keep awake” (vb a)grupne/w), Mk 13:32-37 par, but the Lukan version adds this pointed reference emphasizing believers’ salvation—that is, of their/our escaping the coming Judgment, and of standing before the son of man, i.e., having passed through the Judgment. This will only happen if believers remain faithful to the end (v. 19; Mk 13:13). The blending of this discipleship emphasis with the motif of the Last Judgment can also be seen in the earlier (“Q”) son of man sayings, particularly as they have been positioned within the Lukan narrative—cf. again, in context, 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40.

If we may summarize the most salient points regarding the distinctive Lukan treatment of the “son of man” sayings:

    • The Gospel writer understood the expression primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. This can be seen, particularly, in 6:22 and 12:8, where the Matthean version (of the “Q” saying) has a personal pronoun (“I/me”) instead of the expression. The basic understanding is also attested by the way that the author has utilized the Synoptic/Markan sayings (see above).
    • The tradition of the Passion-predictions, and the related use of the expression in this context, referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, is clearly emphasized by the Lukan author, more so than in the other Synoptic Gospels.
    • Similarly, the Gospel writer brings out the discipleship-theme in relation to such sayings, emphasizing the hardship and suffering that the true disciple must endure in following Jesus. This extends to the end-time period of distress, beginning with the suffering/death of Jesus, during which time, in connection with the early Christian mission, believers will face intense suffering and persecution.
    • Sayings related to both the end-time Judgment and the end-time appearance of the son of man (i.e., the second coming or return of Jesus) are framed to bring out the discipleship theme—viz., the need for believers to remain faithful, willing to confess faith in Christ, even in the midst of persecution.

Overall the Lukan Gospel writer’s use of the expression reflects a coherent and comprehensive Christological outlook, balancing Jesus’ earthly ministry, suffering/death, resurrection/exaltation, and future return. The expression “the son of man” is used in all of these contexts, as a reference to the person of Jesus. For the most part, the Gospel writer has relied upon inherited traditions, but there are some original contributions as well, mainly in terms of arrangement and adaptation of the material.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 4)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The remaining “son of man” references in the “Q” material (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) are eschatological, and deal with the idea of the end-time appearance of the “son of man”. In this regard, they are similar to the saying in Mark 13:26 par (discussed in Part 4 of the study on the Synoptic/Markan sayings). The use of the expression “the son of man” in these eschatological sayings is problematic, particularly if regarded as authentic usage by Jesus himself.

As we have seen, the expression seems to function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. Yet there are serious difficulties when the expression is understood in this same way in the eschatological sayings, referring to the future (end-time) appearance of Jesus (as “the son of man”). Early Christians would have had no difficulty with this idea, as it simply reflects the conceptual (Christological) framework, whereby the exalted Jesus would return to earth, following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. However, for people during Jesus’ own lifetime—including his disciples—they would not have readily understood the eschatological “son of man” references in terms of this sequence of Christological events. Indeed, for Jesus to speak of his future appearance (as the “son of man”), while he was still alive, prior to his death and resurrection, would surely have made little sense to most hearers.

Most critical commentators have approached this difficulty in one of two ways: (1) some (e.g., Hare) have denied the authenticity of the eschatological sayings, regarding them as early Christian creations (or adaptations), patterned after the other (authentic) “son of man” sayings; and, quite differently, (2) some (e.g., Tödt) have held that the eschatological sayings are authentic, but that Jesus was not identifying himself as this heavenly “son of man” figure (taken from Dan 7:13-14 and subsequent Jewish tradition, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Yet there are serious problems with both of these approaches, some of which have already been touched upon in the previous studies. At the close of this series, I will address the matter again, in a more comprehensive way.

In any case, we shall keep these longstanding (and much debated) critical issues in mind as we examine the eschatological “Q” sayings.

In the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct blocks of eschatological teaching, separate from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), where these sayings are contained: 12:35-46 and 17:20-37. Matthew includes this “Q” material (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27[ff?], 33, 34-35, 37b) within the framework of the “Eschatological Discourse” (24:43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-38, 40-41, 28, with the sole exception of 10:39).

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44

“(So) also you must come to be ready, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) in the hour which you do not think, (that) the son of man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

The Matthean version of this statement (24:44) is virtually identical. In the Matthean context of the “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24f), the reference is clearly to Jesus’ future coming (using the early Christian term parousi/a, parousia, v. 3, see also vv. 27, 37, 39). In the Lukan context, however—viz., Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in chaps. 11-12—this is by no means quite so apparent. Indeed, within the immediate context of 12:35-46, it is not at all clear that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in verse 40 is a self-reference by Jesus. Only in relation to the earlier “son of man” references (including in vv. 8-9f), can one infer that the Gospel writer understands the expression as referring to Jesus himself.

The illustration in verse 39 (par Matt 24:43) is meant to emphasize the unexpectedness of the son of man’s coming. The illustrative eschatological sayings in vv. 35-38, resembling those of Mark 13:33-36 par and Matt 24:42, 45-51 (cf. also the Wedding illustration in Matt 25:1-13), suggest that the end-time Judgment is in view. Those who remain faithful, in sober expectation of that moment, will be rewarded by God, while punishment awaits those who do not. The use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“stay/keep awake”) is regularly used in this eschatological context—Mk 13:34-37 par; 14:34ff par; Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Lk 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15; cf. also 1 Cor 16:13. In Revelation 3:3, the Gospel parable/saying by Jesus has been translated into an unmistakable reference to his (Jesus’) future return (note also the context of 1 Thess 4-5).

As in Mk 13:26 par, so also here in Lk 12:40 par, the “son of man” comes (vb e&rxomai), appearing—presumably from heaven to earth—at the end-time. If this is taken as a self-reference by Jesus, it would have to refer to a second coming, from his exalted position in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56, etc), following his death and resurrection. This makes such an eschatological use of the expression “the son of man” problematic, as noted above. By all accounts, Jesus’ disciples, during his lifetime, would have had only a vague comprehension of this Christological framework—death, resurrection, ascension, exalted position in heaven, future coming—a framework otherwise so readily comprehended by early Christians (viz., at the time the Gospels were written).

Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37

In Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke 17:20-37, the expression “the son of man” again occurs (4 times), though only in the last of these references (v. 30) is an end-time appearance of the son of man clearly indicated:

“…according to these (thing)s, (so) it shall be on the day when the son of man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]!”

The “things” Jesus speaks of are the illustrations given in vv. 22-29, as also (we may assume) those that follow in vv. 31-37. Elsewhere in this passage, the expression “the days of the son of man” is used (vv. 22, 26), with a comparable phrase (“the son of man in his day”) in v. 24. It is fair to assume that this wording refers to the time when the son of man will appear. The illustration of lightning flashes that instantly and vividly light up the entire sky (v. 24, par Matt 24:27) would seem to relate to the idea of the son of man’s appearance. In Mark 13:26 par, his appearance is preceded (and/or accompanied) by extraordinary celestial/meteorological phenomena (vv. 24-25ff) and disruptions of the natural order, drawing upon traditional eschatological imagery associated with the “day of YHWH” (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7).

The Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are traditional images of catastrophic Divine judgment, which were both used as type-patterns to illustrate the coming end-time Judgment—cf. 2 Peter 2:5-10; 1 Peter 3:20ff; Jude 7; Luke 10:12 par; Matt 11:23-24. The Lot/Sodom illustration (vv. 28-29, 32) is not included by Matthew, so one cannot be sure that it originally was paired with the Noah/Flood illustration in the “Q” material; the two illustrations certainly do make for a natural pairing (as in 2 Pet 2:5ff). The point of the illustration(s) is that people were busy going about their daily affairs when the catastrophic judgment struck them, suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the righteous—the chosen ones—represented by Noah and Lot (and their families), respectively, were saved from the judgment. So it will be at the end-time. The appearance of the “son of man” thus coincides with the end-time Judgment.

While the reference in Mark 13:26 par clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (and the heavenly figure “like a son of man”), it is not immediately apparent that the same point of reference informs the use of the expression in these “Q”/Lukan sayings. Apart from the use of the expression “son of man”, there are no other obvious allusions to Daniel, other than the broad context of the (eschatological) Judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10f, 14, 26-27). To be sure, several other key Daniel references (9:27 par; 12:1ff) clearly influence the thought and wording of the “Eschatological Discourse”, but a comparable influence is harder to find in these “Q” sayings.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the figure-types of the Davidic Messiah and the heavenly “Son of Man” from Daniel are blended together, and ultimately identified with the figure of a human being (Enoch) exalted to divine status in heaven (chap. 71). This certainly provides the closest parallel to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messiah and Son of Man. In the Similitudes, the Messianic “Son of Man” plays a central role in the end-time Judgment (46:4-6ff; 63:11; 69:26-29, etc), including the help and protection/salvation he gives to the righteous (48:4-7ff; 62:13-14, etc). For more on this subject, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The statement in Luke 17:22 (which is not part of the “Q” material) is the most peculiar of the “son of man” references in this passage:

“The days shall come when you will set your qumo/$ upon seeing one of the days of the son of man, and (yet) you shall not see [o&yesqe] (it).”

The expression “one [mi/a] of the days of the son of man” has long puzzled commentators. The basic expression “days of the son of man” is relatively straightforward, in context—it refers to the time when the son of man will appear. A possible parallel has been noted with the Rabbinic expression “the days of the Messiah” (m. Ber. 1:5, etc; cf. Strack-Billerbeck 2.237, 4.826-9; Fitzmyer, p. 1169), referring to the coming Messianic Age. A more likely explanation, perhaps, would attribute to the expression an emphatic/dramatic purpose, such as, e.g., (1) some indication that the son of man is about to come, (2) the onset of the end-time events which will immediately precede his coming, or (3) the beginning of the time of his appearing. This last (3) is probably closest to what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) has in mind.

Verse 22 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, whereas the prior vv. 20-21 (see my recent study) involve an exchange between Jesus and certain Pharisees. The verb e)piqume/w means “set one’s qumo/$ upon [e)pi/] (something)”. The noun qumo/$ roughly means “impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably use the term “heart” or “mind” as an approximation—i.e., “set one’s heart/mind on…”. However, one should not lose sight of the more intense idea of “impulse”, conveyed, e.g., by our words “longing”, “desire”, etc. The verb (and the related noun e)piqumi/a) can indicate a negative (sinful) desire, but it may also be used in a positive or neutral sense, as it is here.

What does it mean for the disciples to long (or desire) to “see” one of the “days of the son of man”. Based on parallels in the eschatological teaching of Jesus, the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Dan 12:1 LXX]), involving the disciples’ (believers) experience of persecution, is probably in view. This is certainly an emphasis in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:9-13 par), but it can also be found, for example, in the context of the eschatological teaching of Luke 12:35-46 par (see above)—verses 4-7, 8-12, 52-53; cf. Matt 10:16-23ff. In the face of persecution and the end-time distress, Jesus’ disciples will long for his return. The end-time appearance of the “son of man” (Jesus) will usher in the Judgment, bringing salvation and reward for those who remain faithful.

The warning for them, however, is that they will not be able to see this moment coming, anymore than devout Pharisees, looking for the Kingdom of God, will be able to observe it coming (with their physical senses). Jesus specifically uses the verb o)pta/nomai, which implies physical sight (with one’s eyes); a literal rendering of the verb would be something like “gaze with (open) eyes (at)”. Interestingly, the same verb is used in both Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, where it refers to the visible appearance of the Son of Man.

Even for Jesus’ disciples (and all believers), the time of the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly—that is a principal point of emphasis in nearly all of these eschatological sayings. However much they may long for it, they will not be able to see it coming. It is for this reason, that all disciples/believers need to stay “awake”, remaining faithful and alert at all times, continuing to follow Jesus and to fulfill his mission, even in the face of growing darkness and persecution.

In the next (2-part) article of this series, we will examine the distinctive use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, respectively. This involves the inclusion and adaptation of inherited traditions (Synoptic/Markan and “Q” material, etc), but also material that is original or unique to each Gospel.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 3)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The Gospel of Luke contains three “Q” sayings in close proximity, in the general context of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23) and the prior block of teaching on prayer (11:1-13). These sections are part of the broader thematic emphasis on discipleship (9:57-62)—and on the mission of the disciples (see 10:1-12ff)—which frames the long Journey narrative (9:51-18:31).

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40

The first “son of man” reference, within this context, is the statement in 11:30, part of the “Q” tradition-unit 11:29-32 (par Matt 12:38-42). As the Lukan author introduces the unit (v. 29), in his narrative setting, the crowds surrounding Jesus are increasing; the response that follows implies that they are gathering in the hopes of witnessing a miracle, or perhaps, to observe some confirming indication (‘sign’) that Jesus is the Messiah. The Matthean introduction (12:38) frames the unit as part of the continuing conflict between Jesus and the “Pharisees and scribes”, who here request from him some “sign” (shmei=on)— “we wish to see from you a sign”. The saying of Jesus follows:

“This genea/ is an evil genea/! It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah!” (v. 29)

Matthew has the same saying in a slightly expanded form (12:39). Jesus continues:

“For, just as Yonah came to be a sign to the Ninevites, so also shall the son of man be to this genea/.” (v. 30)

Within the implicit context of this tradition, the “sign” referenced by Jesus would involve some visible indication that he spoke and acted with Divine authority—specifically confirming his identity as a Messianic Prophet. Jesus condemns this lack of trust among his contemporaries, referring to them as an evil genea/ (‘generation’); the Matthean version has “…evil and adulterous genea/,” thus bringing out the idea of their faithlessness.

Jesus declares that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah (the Prophet), and compares himself to Jonah in this regard. The expression “the son of man” here would seem to be, again, primarily a self-reference by Jesus—i.e., “this son of man”, namely, Jesus himself. It is as though he said, “…so shall I be to this genea/.”

In what way is Jesus shown to be like Jonah, and what is the significance of the “sign of Jonah”? Matthew’s version makes this clear, explaining it in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

“For, just as Jonah was in the belly of the cavernous (sea-creature) three days and three nights, so the son of man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (12:40)

It is hard to be certain, but it would seem that Luke more likely preserves the original (and much simpler) “Q” saying; the Matthean version is perhaps best seen as an interpretive gloss on the saying—explaining in what way Jesus will be a sign (like Jonah) to his generation. The remainder of the tradition (vv. 31-32, Matt 12:41-42), however, suggests a rather different significance for the original saying. The emphasis, clearly, is upon the preaching of Jonah, which led to the people’s repentance (see the book of Jonah, chap. 3). The added illustration of the Queen of Sheba (“Queen of the South”), v. 31 par, confirms this aspect of the saying. Both the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba are examples of foreign people (i.e., non-Israelites), who responded positively, with a certain trust, to the word/wisdom of God as manifest in the persons of Jonah and Solomon, respectively.

By contrast, Jesus’ own people have not responded to him in the same kind of way, even though he is far greater Prophet than Jonah, and a greater manifestation of God’s Wisdom than ever was present in Solomon. For this reason, the Queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh will serve as witnesses against the Israelite/Jewish people of Jesus’ generation (genea/) at the Judgment.

This eschatological Judgment-context is also part of the second “son of man” reference.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33

“whoever should give account as one [o(mologh/sh|] with me in front of men, the son of man also shall give account as one [o(mologh/sei] with him in front of the Messengers of God; but, (for) the (one) denying me in the sight of men, he shall be denied in the sight of the Messengers of God.” (Lk 12:8-9)

The Matthean version (10:32-33) is more uniform, with the first person pronoun used consistently by Jesus, rather than the expression “the son of man”:

“every(one) who shall give account as one with me in front of men, I also shall give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens; but whoever shall deny me in front of men, I also shall deny him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”

Whether or not “the son of man” was present in the first part of the original “Q” tradition, this variation between the Lukan and Matthean versions only confirms the expression as a self-reference by Jesus—essentially as a surrogate for the first-person pronoun (“I”).

The emphasis in this saying is on confessing one’s trust in (and allegiance to) Jesus. The verb o(mologe/w means “give account as one”, i.e., be in agreement with another person; it can be used in the more general sense of “assent, consent, admit, acknowledge”, and is a regular term in the New Testament for the common (and public) acknowledgement of Jesus among early Christians. Here, one’s fate in the Judgment is made to depend upon whether or not one confesses faith in Jesus Christ, as being his true disciple. The lex talionis principle is involved, with a correspondence between earthly action and heavenly consequence. If a person acknowledges Jesus on earth (“before men”), then he/she will be acknowledged by Jesus in heaven (before God and His Messengers). Similarly, if one denies Jesus on earth, he/she will be denied (by Jesus) in heaven.

It is no small matter to confess Jesus (as the Messiah) publicly in this way, since it can result in persecution (and even death) for the disciple. This is made clear from the Lukan context of Jesus’ instruction for his disciples, i.e., the sayings in the prior vv. 4-7, and also the subsequent teaching in vv. 11-12. The theme of persecution is very much emphasized in the Matthean context as well (see 10:16-31, 34-39).

Both of these “son of man” references involve an eschatological orientation, along with a definite allusion to the end-time Judgment. This has led some commentators to posit that the expression “the son of man”, in these (and other) references, specifically connotes a heavenly figure (drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14) who will appear at the end-time and play a leading role in the final Judgment. As was discussed previously, the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings in Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, certainly do allude to the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14. We will examine this point of reference further in Part 4 of this article, as we look at the remaining (eschatological) “Q” sayings.

Luke 12:10 par

This saying was discussed extensively in Part 2, but it is worth addressing again, in relation to the Lukan context of the sayings in 11:30 and 12:8-9. Nearly all of the teaching in chapter 12 has an eschatological orientation, focusing on the coming end-time Judgment and the events which precede it. The opposition by the religious leaders (Pharisees, etc) to Jesus is framed as part of this end-time scenario (see the context of 11:37-54 and 12:1); indeed, the persecution of Jesus and his disciples, beginning with his death, marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress. By this teaching, Jesus is effectively preparing his disciples for what will come.

This, then, underscores the setting for the teaching in chapter 12 (see the introductory saying in verse 2f), as Jesus exhorts his followers, stressing the importance of remaining faithful in the midst of opposition and persecution (vv. 4-7). The three “Q” traditions in vv. 8-12 provides us a glimpse of how these blocks of sayings/teaching came to be assembled and compiled by early Christians. Traditions were often gathered and joined together based on topic, but also by means of “catchword bonding” —that is, a common word or phrase shared by two distinct traditions.

Here, the topic/subject involves discipleship and the cost of following Jesus, emphasizing the public confession of faith in Jesus, within an eschatological framework (involving persecution). The sayings are joined together as follows:

    • Saying 1 (vv. 8-9) which contains the expression “the son of man”, shared by =>
      • Saying 2 (v. 10) which contains a reference to the Holy Spirit, shared by =>

It is this thematic and catchword bonding which, apparently, led the Lukan author to include the saying regarding the insult against the Holy Spirit (v. 10) here in this context (rather than within the earlier Beelzebul episode, as in Mark-Matthew). It gives to that particular tradition a distinctive eschatological orientation and emphasis, related to the early Christian mission, which it does not otherwise have in the Synoptic narrative. The early Christian mission is, as we have seen, a particular point of emphasis and a central theme for the Lukan narrative.

By placing the saying on the insult to the Holy Spirit (v. 10) within the confessional context of vv. 8-9 and 11-12, Luke gives to the saying a distinct interpretation and nuance of meaning. Now, the insult to the Holy Spirit is to be understood in the confessional sense of denying Jesus (as the Messiah). This, of course, is the dividing line between believer and un-believer, between the true and false disciple. Denying Jesus, in this sense, means more than an ad hominem attack, speaking against his person (as a man, i.e. “son of man”); rather, it entails a denial of God’s own Spirit that is at work in Jesus, marking him as the Messiah (cf. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18ff). This is essentially the same point made in the Markan/Synoptic setting (of the Beelzebul episode, cf. the author’s comment in 3:3o), but Luke effectively ties this use of the expression “the son of man” to the eschatological (Judgment) setting of vv. 8-9ff. As we shall see (in Part 4), this is an important aspect of the expression as it occurs in the remaining “Q” sayings (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30 pars).



January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

October 27: John 15:6

John 15:6

“If any (one) should not remain in me, he is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch) (is), and it is dried up, and (when) they gather them together, is also cast into the fire and is burned.”

In this portion of the exposition of the vine illustration, Jesus explains what happens to the ‘branch’ (klh=ma) that does not “remain” in the vine: “it/he is cast out of (the place)” (e)blh/qh e&cw). The land-worker who does this work is God the Father (v. 1), and the Father must be seen as the implied actor of the passive verb here—an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum). The act of casting/throwing (vb ba/llw) away is parallel (and essentially equivalent) to the “taking away” (vb ai&rw) of the branch that does not bear fruit (v. 2). As is clear from vv. 4-5, the branch that does not remain in the vine, does not (and cannot) bear fruit.

The taking/casting away of such branches is part of the overall cutting/pruning of the vine that is indicated within the illustration. The noun klh=ma, typically translated “branch”, properly denotes something that is “broken (off)”; here in verse 6, the verbal aspect of the branch being broken off, is particularly prominent. The branches/tendrils that do bear fruit are also cut away and pruned, but this yields a fundamentally different result: the branch is not simply “taken away”; rather, it is “cleaned” (vb kaqai/rw) by the pruning process, so as to be able to produce more/better fruit.

The branch that is cut/broken off and “cast out” (the adverb e&cw indicating removal from a place) simply dries up (vb chrai/nw, “be[come] dry”), since, being separated from the vine (that is itself rooted in the ground), it no longer has access to the vine’s vital essence and life-giving nutrients. All the passive verbs in v. 6 should be read as “divine passives”, with God the Father effectively performing the action. However, at least in the case of the verb chrai/nw, the passive can also indicate the condition of the branch that is now on its own, apart from the vine (cf. the previous note on v. 5).

At this point, the grammatical number in the verse suddenly shifts from the singular to the plural (before shifting back again to the singular): “and they gather them together” (kai\ suna/gousin au)ta/). While some manuscripts read the singular here (“they gather it together”), that reading most likely represents a scribal ‘correction’ to match the singulars elsewhere in the verse. By the sudden shift to the plural, the individual ‘branch’ is recognized as part of a group—i.e., all of the branches that do not bear fruit (because they do not “remain” in the vine), and are thus removed and “thrown out”.

It is these branches that are “gathered together” and thrown into the fire, utilizing imagery that reinforces the eschatological emphasis of other comparable harvest-illustrations (see esp. Matt 3:12 par; 13:30 / 41), alluding to the end-time Judgment by God. The plural subject of the verb suna/gw, could refer to the end-time role of the angels (Matt 13:41; Mark 13:27 par), acting as God’s representatives in the onset of the Judgment. The implication thus is, that if a disciple (believer) does not remain in Jesus, he/she will perish in the Judgment (“and is burned [up]”, vb kai/w). In the upcoming notes, we will examine, in some detail, precisely what it means to “remain” (vb me/nw) in Jesus.

In the exposition/application of the vine illustration, Jesus focuses on the identification of the disciples with the cut/pruned branches. Here in verse 6, he is clearly speaking of the disciples, mentioning at the same time, again, their place in the illustration (as the ‘branches’)— “he [i.e. the disciple] is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch is)”. The shift in verbal tense, from aorist to present, is best explained in terms of Jesus’ application of the illustration: the aorist verbs refer to the fate of the individual branch at a specific point in time; while the present verbs describe the regular activity of the workers who deal, each season, with the branches that are cut off. We may outline this as follows:

    • Aorist—the branch is “cast out” and “dried up”
      and so is dealt with as regularly happens for all such branches:
    • Present—the workers “gather together” all such branches, and the individual branch, being among them, “is cast” into the fire and “is burned (up)”.

It is also possible that the present tense could refer to an eschatological orientation—whether to the imminent (future) eschatology of early Christians, or to the realized eschatology that is emphasized in the Gospel of John:

    • Imminent—the ‘branches’ are about to be gathered together and thrown into the fire (of the end-time Judgment)
    • Realized—the cut-off ‘branches’ are even now, in the present, because of their failure to “remain” in Jesus, under God’s Judgment

An interesting aspect of the vine-illustration, that is not particularly emphasized in the exposition, is that the fruit-bearing branches are also cut away (as part of the pruning process). Presumably, these branches (or the cut-off portions of them) also also burned up in the fire. Yet, in terms of the Johaninne theology, the true believer has (already) passed safely through the Judgment (see esp. 5:24), and thus will not face its “fire”. It is possible to extend the imagery to refer to the “fire” as part of the cleansing process for the believer—the sinful portions (i.e., sins) are removed from the believer and ‘burned away’ in the fire. The Spirit is sometimes associated with the image of fire in this regard—cf. Isa 4:4-5; Mal 3:2-3; Matt 3:11 [par Lk 3:16]; 1QS 4:20-21.



Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 73 (Part 2)

Psalm 73, continued

The first section of the Psalm (vv. 1-12) was discussed in the prior study.

VERSES 13-17

Verse 13

“Truly, in vain have I cleansed my heart,
and washed with clear (water) my palms.”

Like the first section of the Psalm (cf. the previous study), this second section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly…”). The initial couplet here establishes the protagonist’s struggle with the wisdom-question—viz., as to why God allows injustice to prevail in the world, and the wicked to prosper. He feels that he has devoted himself to righteousness “in vain”; if the wicked can flourish in this life, then what is the value of living in an upright and devout manner? The Psalmist’s active righteousness is described by the parallel idiom of cleansing/washing (vb hk*z` / Jj^r*) one’s heart and hands (lit. “palms”). The idiom draws upon the idea of ritual purity, but is also used in a figurative (ethical-religious) sense—cf. 18:20, 24; 24:4; 26:6; 51:2, 7; Prov 20:9; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14, etc.

There is also a bit of conceptual wordplay in these lines, as both the root qyr (noun qyr!) and hqn (noun /oyQ*n]) denote the idea of emptying. Here the noun qyr! refers to “emptiness” in the negative sense of worthlessness or vanity (“in vain”); while /oyQ*n] captures the idea of something made clear through “pouring out”, specifically here of being made clean/pure through the pouring of water. I have preserved the scope of this imagery by translating /oyQ*n] above as “clear [i.e. pure/purifying] water.”

Verse 14

“For I have been touched all the day (long),
and (then) endure rebuke in the morning.”

Here we have a clear allusion to the suffering of the righteous, which forms the flip-side to the wisdom-problem of the prosperity of the wicked. The Psalmist has been “touched” (vb ug~n`) by misfortune (from YHWH), perhaps in the form of a physical ailment or disease (a frequent motif in the Psalms). After enduring this “all the day (long),” he then has to face accusation and rebuke in the morning. This rebuke (vb jk^y`) can be understood as either coming from God, or from the Psalmist’s wicked adversaries; the latter is a regular theme in the Psalms. On the parsing of ytjkwt as a verb form, cf. Dahood, II, p. 191.

Verse 15

“If I had said ‘I will give account thus,’ see!
I would have betrayed (the) circle of your sons.”

To give voice to his doubts in public (vb rp^s*, “give account, recount”) would be an act of treachery (vb dg~B*) against the covenant bond uniting the children of Israel (as YHWH’s ‘sons’, “your sons”). The root dgb denotes acting in a deceitful or unfaithful manner, sometimes in the harsher or dramatic sense of “treachery” or “betrayal”. The noun roD is typically translated “generation”, but properly means “circle”; here, as often in the Psalms, the assembly of the righteous—whether envisioned literally (in corporate worship) or in a figurative/symbolic sense—is intended. The righteous are God’s faithful children (“sons”).

Verse 16

“And (yet when) I gave thought to know this,
it (seemed like) hard labor in my eyes,”

Rather than express his own doubts publicly, the Psalmist seeks to understand (vb ud^y`, “know”) the matter better. Yet as he began to ponder it (vb bv^j*), it seemed like hard and wearisome labor (lm*u*), suggesting the intractable difficulty of the wisdom-question he faces. Indeed, it is a question (of theodicy) that has long provoked (and perplexed) wise and learned persons throughout the centuries, providing a thematic staple of ancient Near Eastern Wisdom literature.

Verse 17

“until I came to (the) holy place of (the) Mighty (One),
(and) discerned (the thing)s following for them.”

These lines continue the thought from v. 16. It is only when he comes to the “holy place” of God—i.e., the Temple precincts in Jerusalem—that the protagonist is able to find an answer to the wisdom-question that has plagued him. The plural <yv!D*q=m! (lit. “holy places”) may refer to the Temple precincts as a whole, or may indicate a single sanctuary; cf. Dahood, II, pp. 111, 192, on the Canaanite practice of using plural forms for buildings and dwelling-places.

The “holy place” of El-YHWH ultimately refers to His cosmic/heavenly dwelling, after which the local mountain on earth (including the Temple locale on mount Zion) is patterned, serving as its symbolic and ritual representation. There is likely an allusion here to God’s abode in Heaven (cf. Dahood, II, p. 192), which introduces the afterlife Judgment idea that is featured in the final section of the Psalm (cf. below).

The suffix <t*– (“them”) of the final word refers to the wicked. The Psalmist comes to understand (vb /yB!) the things that await (lit. “follow”) for the wicked.

Verses 18-28

Verse 18

“Truly, in the (land of) ruin you set (a place) for them,
you make them fall into (the) place of destruction.”

The parallel plural nouns toql*j& and toaWVm^ are rightly understood as intensive plurals. The first word is typically rendered “smooth [i.e. slippery] place(s)”, i.e., on which the wicked slip and slide down to destruction. However, Dahood (II, p. 192; cf. also I, pp. 35, 207, 211) makes a convincing argument that toqlj here is to be derived from a separate root qlj (III), related to Ugaritic —lq—a root with a relatively wide semantic range (“perish, disappear, be[come] ruined, wear out”). I have thus translated toql*j& here as “(place of) ruin”, which makes a proper parallel with toaWVm^ (“place of destruction”) in the second line. Clearly, the dual-reference is to death (and the grave) as the ultimate fate for the wicked.

As in the first two sections of the Psalm, this final section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly”).

Verse 19

“How they are (brought) to ruin in a moment,
swept away and finished by (the) terrors!

The noun hM*v^ (“desolation, ruin”) is more or less synonymous with the two earlier nouns in v. 18 (cf. above); they all refer to the realm of death and the grave. The exclamation Eya@ (“how…!”) reflects a certain wonderment by the Psalmist, as he realizes the terrible fate that awaits the wicked. It is not merely the fact of death, something which every human being faces, but an experience accompanied by frightening “terrors” (tohL*B^); the terrors of death overwhelm them as they perish. The verb pair WMt^ Wps* “(they are) swept away (and are) finished” can also be read as a hendiadys—i.e., “they are completely swept away”. The verb [Ws can mean, generally, “come to an end”, being thus synonymous with <m^T* (“[be] finish[ed]”); however, given the meaning of the related noun hp*Ws (“storm-wind, whirlwind”, cf. Isa 5:28; Hos 8:7), it is proper to translate [Ws here as “(be) swept away”.

Verse 20

“Like a dream from (which) one awakes, O Lord,
in (the) rousing (from it) you despise their shadow.”

The couplet is somewhat awkward, and there have been different attempts re-parsing/vocalizing the second line (cf. Dahood, II, p. 193; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 223). Conceptually, however, it seems possible to retain the MT without emendation. The “shadow” (<l#x#) of the wicked is compared to a dream from which one awakes. YHWH, in being “roused” (i.e. from sleep), casts off the shadow of the wicked, now deceased, as an insubstantial and lifeless ‘dream’. The implication is that there is no real afterlife for the wicked; they exist only as shadows in the realm of the dead.

Verses 21-22

“Then (when) my heart had become sour,
and my kidneys were hit by sharp (pain),
(so) also I (was) brutish and did not know,
(like) a dumb animal was I with you.”

The wisdom and insight gained by the Psalmist in the previous verses, suddenly disappears as he is struck (again) by a physical ailment (i.e., sharp pain inside), which also has emotional and psychological effects (“my heart became sour [vb Jm@j*]”). Cf. verse 14 (above) for an earlier allusion to physical (and emotional) suffering by the protagonist. His understanding is gone and the Psalmist feels like a dumb animal now in the presence of YHWH (“with you”). Apparently, as is often the case for mortal human beings, physical distress overpowers insight and rational thought.

Verse 23

“And (yet) I (am) continually with you,
you grab hold of me by my right hand.”

The Psalmist, in his distress, may feel like a mere animal in God’s presence, but he is still in God’s presence. And the first line is a declaration of faith and trust in YHWH’s abiding presence; the righteous can say: “I am continually [dym!t*] with you”. YHWH gives help and support to the righteous, through the motif of grabbing hold of his (right) hand. The idea of Divine protection and deliverance for the righteous, a frequent theme in the Psalms, is implied.

Verse 24

“With your counsel may you guide me,
and then with honor take me to (you).”

I follow Dahood (II, p. 195) in reading the imperfect verb form in each line as having the force of an imperative. The Psalmist is requesting YHWH to guide him in the remainder of his life (even as death nears), and then to bring him into His presence, in the blessed heavenly afterlife. The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of “worth, value”; when applied to God, it regularly connotes “honor, splendor, glory,” much as I translate it here; the heavenly afterlife context makes the translation “honor” particularly fitting. YHWH will receive the righteous/faithful one with honor, taking him to Himself. This fate for the righteous clearly contrasts with that of the wicked; the righteous-wicked contrast is a common element in Wisdom-tradition, and features notably in many Psalms (famously in Psalm 1, etc).

Verse 25

“Who (else is there) for me in the heavens?
Even with you I desire no(thing else) on earth.

The syntax of this couplet is somewhat cryptic, but the basic idea seems to be that YHWH Himself is the Psalmist’s ultimate delight and desire, in heaven, just as it has been on earth. The blessedness of the afterlife, for the righteous, rests in being continually in the presence of God; this builds upon the earlier thought in vv. 22-23 (cf. above), with the repeated use of the expression ;M=u! (“with you”).

Verse 26

“My flesh and my heart may cease, O Rock,
(but) my heart and my portion, Mightiest, (is) forever.”

This difficult verse makes most sense when divided as a 4-beat (4+4) couplet. By this division, rWx (“rock”) is to be taken as the familiar Divine epithet (“[my] Rock”), parallel here with <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, ‘God’); cf. Dahood, II, p. 195f). The syntactic structure of the couplet is clear, but complex:

    • “shall cease/end
      • my flesh and my heart
        • O Rock
      • (but) my heart and my portion
        • O Mightiest
    • (shall be) for ever”

The expression <l*oul=, which I here translate (for poetic concision) as “forever”, properly means “for/into (the) distant (future),” i.e., lasting into the distant future. The dual-positioning of the word bb*l@ (“heart”) indicates that here the heart represents the point of contact between the earthly and the heavenly, the mortal (human) and the Divine. The heart paired with “flesh” signifies human life and existence on earth, while heart paired with ql#j@ (“portion”) signifies that which is allotted to the righteous as their heavenly inheritance (in the blessed afterlife).

Verse 27

“For, see! (those who are) far from you shall perish;
you destroy every (one) having intercourse (away) from you!”

The fate of the wicked is reiterated here, in simpler and less colorful terms. They are fundamentally “far away” (qj@r*) from YHWH, in contrast to the righteous who are “with” (<u!) Him (vv. 22-23, 25). The verb hn`z` basically denotes illicit sexual intercourse, for which there is no good English equivalent. Here the verb signifies in what sense the wicked ones have ‘gone away’ from God—viz., off in pursuit of wicked (i.e., immoral) and idolatrous ways (hnz frequently connotes idolatry and/or worship of any deity other than YHWH).

Verse 28

“But I, (the) nearness of (the) Mightiest (is) good for me;
I have set my Lord YHWH (as) my place of refuge,
(so as) to give account of all your works.”

The Psalm concludes with a four-beat (4+4) couplet, in which the Psalmist again expresses his trust and devotion to YHWH. As in verse 25 (cf. above), he declares that being in the presence of God is his greatest (and only real) delight. Here he defines what he considers as the greatest good (bof) for him: “the nearness [hb*r*q=] of God”. The righteous trust in YHWH as their protection and “place of refuge” (hs#j&m^); this is a frequent theme in the Psalms, with the verb hs*j* (and the related noun hs#j&m^) used frequently to express it; the locative noun occurs 12 times in the Psalms, more than half of all OT occurrences (20).

The short final line, with its sudden shift back to second person address, could be viewed as a secondary addition. It is typical of many Psalms that they close with a reference to giving praise to YHWH, declaring the greatness of His deeds, etc, in a public/corporate worship setting. For other examples of a similar shift from third person to second person (direct) address in the same verse, cf. 22:26; 102:16[15] (Dahood, II, p. 197).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

May 15: John 16:11

John 16:11

In verse 11, we have the third (and final) item of the triad in the Paraclete-saying of v. 8:

“that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about judgment [kri/si$]”

In the previous notes on v. 9 and 10, two key points were established: (1) the Spirit will show the world to be wrong in its understanding (of sin and righteousness), and that (2) the true nature of sin and righteousness is to be understood in Christological terms—that is, in relation to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father. The same two points apply to the final statement regarding judgment (kri/si$).

The noun kri/si$ fundamentally refers to a separation, often in the sense of discerning or making a decision about something. It is typically translated “judgment”, either in this general sense, or within the specific legal-judicial context of a decision rendered in a court of law (by a judge). For the most part, in the Gospel of John, as throughout the New Testament, kri/si$ specifically refers to the coming end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world, punishing humankind for its wickedness.

The noun occurs 11 times in the Gospel (out of 47 NT occurrences), and once in 1 John (4:17); the related verb (kri/nw) occurs 19 times in the Gospel, but not in the Letters. Occasionally, the more general sense of judgment is intended (cf. 7:24), or kri/si$/kri/nw is used in an ordinary legal-judicial context (7:51; 18:31); however, as noted above, primarily the reference is to the coming end-time Judgment (see esp. 5:29-30; 12:31, 48; 1 Jn 4:17).

Even though the eschatological context is primary, this is presented in a very distinctive way in the Gospel Discourses. At several points, we find signs of what is called “realized” eschatology—that is, the idea that end-time events, such as the resurrection and the Last Judgment, are understood as having, in a sense, already occurred, being realized in the present. This does not mean that the Gospel writer (or Jesus as the speaker) denies a future fulfillment, but only affirms that it is also fulfilled in the present. This is seen most clearly in the chapter 5 Discourse, where the resurrection is defined, not simply as a future event, but as realized in the present, through the presence of the Son of God (Jesus)—vv. 25ff; cp. 11:25-26. In terms of salvation from the coming Judgment, this is realized for believers (in the present), through their/our trust in Jesus:

“the (one) hearing my word, and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over, out of death, (and) into life.” (5:24)

If believers are saved from judgment in the present, through trust, then unbelievers correspondingly come under God’s judgment, having the judgment (already) passed against them (in the present), through their lack of trust. The key passage alluding to this is 3:19-21; cf. also 9:41; 15:22-24. In the wider Gospel tradition, the end-time period of distress, seen as the beginnings of the Judgment, commences with the suffering and death of Jesus (see, e.g., Mark 14:38-41 par, and the context of the “Eschatological Discourse” [chap. 13 par]). The Johannine tradition evinces the same basic eschatological view, and this is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 12:31, and is strongly implied throughout the Last Discourse.

The explanation of the Paraclete-saying in v. 8 concludes with the words of Jesus in v. 11:

“…and about judgment, (in) that the Chief of this world has been judged”

The perfect tense of the verb kri/nw (ke/kritai, passive, “he has been judged”) indicates a past event, the effect of which continues in the present. The implication is that the “chief of this world” has already been judged, just as believers have already passed through [perfect form of the vb metabai/nw] the Judgment (5:24, cf. above).

The expression “the chief of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou=tou) occurred earlier the 12:31 declaration:

“Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the Chief of this world shall be cast out!”

The idea expressed is very close to that here in v. 11: “shall be cast out” (future tense) is parallel with “has been judged” (perfect tense). Essentially the same expression was used earlier in the Last Discourse, at the close of the first discourse (14:30f):

“Not much more shall I speak with you, for the Chief of the world comes, and he does not hold anything on me, but (this is so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and, just as He laid on me (a duty) to complete, so I do (it).”

This is a rather complicated way for Jesus to refer to his impending suffering (and death). The approach of the “Chief of the world” signifies the world’s role, under the dominion of its “Chief”, in putting Jesus to death. The point is strongly made that this does not mean that the world (or its Chief) has any power over Jesus, or has anything incriminating on him (deserving of death)—cf. Jesus’ words to Pilate in 19:11, and note the emphasis in 10:18. In his own way, Pilate is one of the world’s “chiefs”, though ultimately subservient to the dominion/control of its main Chief (the Devil). Jesus’ suffering and death will happen so that everyone (“the world,” in a more generic sense) will know of the love between Father and Son, and that the Son (Jesus) is simply fulfilling the duty and mission given to him by the Father.

In speaking of the “coming” of the world’s Chief, coinciding with the onset of Jesus’ Passion, one is reminded of the Synoptic Garden scene, when Jesus announces to his close disciples that “the hour (has) come [h@lqen h( w%ra]” (Mark 14:41 par; cp. Jn 12:23, 27 in connection with v. 31). In the Lukan version (22:53), this declaration is given more vivid and personal form:

“…but this is your hour, and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness”

In many ways, this language approaches the Johannine theme of the world’s opposition to Jesus; the plural “you” essentially refers to those people, hostile to Jesus, who belong to the current world-order (ko/smo$) of darkness and evil. Functionally, they are servants of the Devil, the “Chief” of the world.

According to the world’s view of things, Jesus was judged and punished by the world’s authority; yet this view of judgment (kri/si$) is decidedly wrong. Jesus’ suffering and death actually marks the beginning of his exaltation—of his being “lifted up” (as the Son of God) in glory. While it might appear as though Jesus was judged, it was actually the world (and its Chief) that underwent judgment. This is the true nature of judgment that the Spirit will bring to light, exposing the false understanding of the world. Jesus himself declared the true situation at the close of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“…in the world you have distress, but you must take courage, (for) I have been victorious (over) the world!”

Again a perfect tense form (neni/khka, “I have been victorious”) shows how the future (eschatological) event of the Judgment is realized in the present. That Jesus’ victory over the world includes the “Chief of the world” —something already alluded to in 12:31—is confirmed by the author of 1 John:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear on earth], that he should dissolve [i.e. destroy] the works of the {Devil}.” (3:8)

The mission of the Son on earth, culminating in his death, had the purpose (and effect) of destroying the ‘works’ (implying dominion/control) of the Devil. This is another way of stating that, with the death of Jesus, the “Chief of the world” has been judged.

Another way that the world is wrong about judgment relates to the future expectation of the end-time (Last) Judgment. The conventional religious view was that only at the end time, in the future (however immediate or far off), would God judge the world—judging human beings for their ethical and religious behavior. In two respects, the Gospel of John presents a very different perspective on the great Judgment: (1) the Judgment is effectively realized in the present, based on whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the Son of God), and (2) people are judged ultimately, and principally, on their response to the witness regarding Jesus identity (as the Son). This ‘realized’ eschatological emphasis in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) was discussed above, but it is worth mentioning again here. Point (2) has already been addressed in the prior notes (on v. 9 and 10), but, in this regard, the Christological emphasis of the Paraclete-saying cannot be overstated.

In the next daily note, our analysis of vv. 8-11 will be summarized, along with some exegetical comments on the following vv. 12-15.