April 22: John 11:26a

John 11:26a

Today we will be looking at the second half of Jesus’ statement in Jn 11:25b-26a (the first half was discussed in the prior note). Here again is the statement:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

As I discussed, the first half refers to the promise of life to the believer who should happen to die physically (as in the case of Lazarus). This “life” (zwh=) reflects both the physical reality of resurrection, usually understood as occurring at the end-time (v. 24), and the realization of the future (eternal) life. Both aspects should be recognized in the verb zh/setai (“he will live“). Now let us consider the second half in v. 26a:

kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh/ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“and every (one) living and trusting in me will (certainly) not die away into the Age”

Even more so than in v. 25b, here there is a profound play on two meanings of the verb za/w, used as a qualifying participle, “the (one) living [zw=n]”:

    1. “living” in the ordinary sense of one who is still alive (physically)
    2. “living” in the sense of one who shares in eternal life (in the present)

The second aspect is indicated by the parallel use of the participles zw=n (“living”) and pisteu/wn (“trusting”). On the surface, one could understand this simply as a believer who is (still) alive; however, the use of the verb za/w (along with the related noun zwh=) in the Gospel of John strongly indicates that the divine/eternal life, possessed by God the Father and the Son, is meant. The one who trusts (believes) in Jesus shares in this life, in a fundamental sense. This promise of life is expressed by the adjective pa=$ (“all, every”)—every one who trusts will experience (eternal) life.

Let us consider for a moment the parallel established in vv. 25b-26a:

    • (if) he should die away, he will live
    • the one living…will not die away

Conceptually, I would outline the relationship between these phrases as follows:

    • die away (physical death)
      —will live (resurrection / new life)
      ——believer is alive
      —living (experiencing eternal life)
    • will not die away (final death)

The final phrase “he will not die away into the Age” requires a bit more discussion. It involves the expression “into the Age” (ei)$ to\n ai)w=na) which is related to “the life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=). The idea of dying “into the Age (to Come)” refers to the eschatological sense of a final or “second” death which extends into the distant (everlasting) future. This is tied to the concept of the end-time Judgment by God on humankind. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) is used in a similar sense (and context) in Jn 8:21, 24, where we find the specific expression of dying in one’s sins. The person who dies without trusting in Jesus will remain under the anger of God and will experience the Judgment which leads to final death (cf. 3:19, 36, etc). This is expressed clearly in 5:24, where it is said of the believer that “he does not come into (the) judgment”. Jesus’ statement in this verse, which serves as the climax of his exposition in vv. 19-24, is worth quoting here in full:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One) sending me holds life of the age [i.e. eternal life], and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but he has stepped (over) out of death (and) into life”

This is one of the best examples in the Gospel of “realized” eschatology. The one hearing and trusting in Jesus (and in God the Father through Jesus) holds eternal life—he/she does not merely come to possess it or enter it at the end-time, but holds it already now, in the present. The language in v. 24b is clearly eschatological, and yet it expresses a different reality. The present tense of ou)k e&rxetai (“he does not come”) is parallel to e&xei (“he holds”)—i.e., just as the believer already holds eternal life in the present, so he/she also is already guaranteed (now in the present) not to come into the Judgment. This is expressed in a different way by the perfect form of the verb metabai/nw, a verb which can be difficult to translate in English. Literally it means something like “step with(in)”, usually indicating a change of place—i.e., “step across, step over”. Here in verse 24, the closing phrase is “he has stepped over/across out of death (and) into life”. Quite often the perfect form (here metabe/bhken) signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. In the context of Jesus’ statement this is a powerful declaration that the one who trusts has already stepped into life—that is, has already experienced the resurrection and possesses the eternal life normally associated with the future (end-time) state of the righteous.

April 21: John 11:25b

John 11:25

Jesus’ statement in John 11:25b-26a follows the “I Am” saying in v. 25a—”I am the standing up (again) [i.e. resurrection] and the life“, which I discussed in the previous daily note. Verse 25b-26a is a two-fold statement which explains this saying; it also serves to correct Martha’s misunderstanding (v. 24), according to the Johannine discourse-format. Her misunderstanding was addressed first in the “I Am” saying, shifting the focus from the end-time resurrection of the dead to Jesus’ own person, in the present. The exposition continues in vv. 25b-26a:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every one living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

There is a poetic parallelism to this statement:

    • the one trusting—dies—will live (again)
    • every one living—trusting—will not die

Today we will be looking at the first part of this statement (in verse 25b):

o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai
“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live”

There is some question as to the precise meaning of living and dying, life and death, in this verse. Two main possibilities have been recognized:

    • It refers to physical death and resurrection
    • It refers to spiritual death and new (eternal) life

Because the words zwh= and za/w (“life”, “live”) in the Gospel of John usually refer to something akin to “eternal life”, many commentators assume the latter interpretation above. However, I believe that this is incorrect. The idea of a person being dead “spiritually”, while a popular concept and expression in modern Christianity, is hard to find in the New Testament. There is certainly precious little evidence for it in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) occurs 28 times in John, and always, it would seem, in reference to the ordinary (physical) death of a human being. The same is true of the adjective nekro/$ (“dead”), used substantively as a collective (“the dead”, i.e. people who have died). Therefore we can fairly assume that a)poqnh/skw has the same sense here in vv. 25-26. The context is clearly that of the resurrection from the dead (to be illustrated in the case of Lazarus).

However, it is important to understand the conceptual background of “life” and “death/dying” in the Gospel. The fundamental emphasis is eschatological. This is confirmed by the fact that the word “life” (zwh=) is regularly used in the expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=), typically translated in English as “eternal life”. That customary translation, however, obscures the original sense of the expression, which refers to the Age to Come. In ancient thought, shared by Israelites and Jews, the future age represents a period of blessedness, in which the righteous will share in the heavenly (divine) life. Often this was understood in a realistic sense, of a future time (and/or condition) established on earth, expressed in Jewish thought as the “Kingdom of God”. Others came to view the idea in a more symbolic sense, reflecting the divine/eternal life that the righteous would experience with God in heaven.

Perhaps the earliest occurrence of the expression corresponding to ai)w/nio$ zwh= is in Daniel 12:2, where the resurrection of the righteous is in view. In Hebrew it is <l*ou yY@j^ (µayy¢ ±ôl¹m), where the word <l*ou essentially refers to something distant—i.e. that of the distant past or future, often in the sense of time stretching out into the far distant (“everlasting”) future. The temporal aspect of life without end is clearly expressed in Jewish writings such as the Qumran Community Rule [1QS] 4:7 and the Damascus Document [CD] 3:20. By the 1st century A.D., this aspect was supplemented by the idea of “eternal life” in a qualitative sense, whereby the “Age to Come” had a character completely different from the current Age (“this Age”). While the expression “life of the Age” in John retains something of the temporal background, the overall meaning has shifted to the qualitative—it reflects the life of God the Father (and the Son) in which the righteous (believers) will come to share. In this sense, eternal does not refer to duration, but to its Divine character.

The traditional contrast between “this Age” and “the Age to Come” has also been reinterpreted within the Gospel to reflect a different sort of dualism—the world (o( ko/smo$) vs. God, the realm below vs. that which is above, etc. By the “world” we should understand ko/smo$ in its fundamental sense of order, that is, the current world-order, the arrangement of things and how they appear. In Johannine dualism, this world-order is governed by darkness, evil and sin, and is set precisely in contrast to the realm of God, characterized by light and truth. The presence of sin ultimately leads to (1) physical death, and (2) judgment by God (after death). Thus the ordinary human condition—that of mortal beings—ends in death, realized in these two aspects. After physical death, there is a kind of final or “second” death which is the fate of the wicked (cf. Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

Let us now consider Jn 11:25b in light of this background. I would argue that “death” in Johannine thought and expression has nothing whatever to do with the Spirit, or to the “spirit” of humankind; it is entirely separate, belonging to “the World”—the realm of sin and darkness. Human beings are bound under the conditions of the sinful world-order (ko/smo$), and are destined to suffer both physical and final (eschatological) death. Jesus is referring to the first aspect: physical, mortal death.

“even (if) he should die away [a)poqa/nh|]…”

The subjunctive here indicates a conditional clause, i.e. if a person should die, if he/she happens to die, just as happened to Lazarus. The promise of the statement is, that if a person trusts in Jesus, and happens to die (physically), that person will live (zh/setai). In the immediate context, this last phrase would seem to refer to the future resurrection, as Martha assumed in v. 24. Yet Jesus is actually saying that the person will live again now. This must be understood on two levels:

    • In the context of the narrative, the impending resurrection of Lazarus
    • In the sense of what may be called a “realized” eschatology

By “realized” eschatology is meant the idea that believers in Christ experience the essential reality of the future life in the present. In other words, the resurrection and “life of the Age” (eternal life) will be experienced through the presence of Jesus in and with the believer. In the Gospel of John, as elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. the letters of Paul), this divine/eternal life is realized primarily through the abiding presence and work of the Spirit. There is no mention of the Spirit in the Lazarus episode, it has to be understood based on other passages in the Gospel. I will be dealing with the relationship between the Spirit and Life (cf. Jn 6:63) in a subsequent series of notes.

It is now time to proceed to the second part of Jesus’ statement, in v. 26a. This I will do in the next daily note.

April 16: John 11:21

For the days following Easter, I will be presenting a short series of notes on the Lazarus episode in the Gospel of John (11:1-44)—specifically, the dialogue between Martha and Jesus in verses 21-27. This exchange is similar in certain respects to the dialogue format used in the Discourses, as for example, in the scenes with Nicodemus (in chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (in chapter 4).

John 11:21

The exchange between Martha and Jesus partially follows the pattern of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in 3:1-10ff. Martha’s initial address—”Lord [Ku/rie]…”—is not all that different from how Nicodemus addresses Jesus (“Rabbi…” v. 2, cf. 20:16 etc), with an honorific title. The use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) may indicate a level of deeper relationship—i.e. of a disciple to his/her master—but it should not be understood here in its full Christological sense (cp. 20:28). The occurrence of the second Ku/rie (“Lord…”) from Martha in v. 27, however, may be intended to show a greater degree of awareness as to Jesus’ true identity, and so is set in parallel with the first address in v. 21, to bring out the comparison.

There are several points to note in Martha’s statement. First, she is giving emphasis on Jesus’ miracle-working ability. It is this which marks her understanding and appreciation of him, and corresponds with her desire to see her brother Lazarus healed of his illness. By all accounts, the working of healing miracles was the basis for much of Jesus’ fame and notoriety during his lifetime and the period of his ministry, as the Gospels (esp. the Synoptic narrative) make abundantly clear. In so far as Jesus was regarded as an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure during the (Galilean) ministry period, it was primarily as a miracle-working Prophet in the manner of Elijah, or the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Nicodemus certainly recognized this as well:

“Rabbi, we see [i.e. know] that you have come from God (as) a teacher, for no one is able to do these signs which you do, if God were not with him” (3:2)

While not used exclusively of miracles, the word shmei=on (“sign”) tends to have this meaning in John, as in the rest of the New Testament.

Second, the first half of her statement focus on the physical presence of Jesus in order to work miracles: “Lord, if you were [i.e. had been] here…” This is similar to the request by the official in 4:46ff, who asked “that (Jesus) come down and cure his son” (v. 47). Clearly he, like Martha, believes that Jesus is capable of working such a cure; yet, Jesus’ response, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that this indicates a lack of faith: “If you do not see signs and wonders, (surely) you do not trust” (v. 48). In fact, the man’s son is cured from a distance, without requiring Jesus’ presence, but only the power and effect of his word (vv. 50ff). In terms of the theology (and Christology) of the Gospel of John, the presence of Jesus is important, as he is the incarnate Son who makes the Father known to his disciples (believers), and yet an equally important message is that true faith (trust) in Jesus ultimately is not based on the observance of physical events and phenomena (such as miracles), but on acceptance of the living, eternal word [lo/go$] which Jesus speaks, and which is present in his person.

Third, it is significant here that Martha frames the question of healing and life by a negative. She might have said, “if you were here, my brother would have lived,”, etc; but, instead, her statement is, “…my brother would not have died away [ou)k a*n a)pe/qanen]”. In other words, life is not-death. This introduces the important interplay between life and death which runs through the dialogue of vv. 21-27 and the remainder of the episode. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away, die off”) first appears in the Gospel of John in the earlier episode of the official’s son who is healed (4:47), occurs in a number of the discourses which follow (6:49-50, 58; 8:21, 24, 52-53). The motif of the Son’s life-giving creative power, which even gives life to the dead (i.e. resurrection), is central to the discourse in 5:19-29 as well as the Bread of Life discourse (6:35-58). In both passages, it is fundamentally Jesus’ word (or words, command, “voice”) which gives life to the dead. As the Gospel progresses, the positive aspect—of Jesus’ word being not only life-giving, but life itself—becomes a more dominant motif. This shift is manifest in the very dialogue between Jesus and Martha, as we shall see.