Saturday Series: John 16:8-9

John 16:8-9

In this continuing study on sin in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters of John), we turn now to the Paraclete saying in 16:7-15. This is the fourth (and final) such saying in the Last Discourse, the prior three coming in 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27. I have recently discussed these in some detail in a set of notes and articles, part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The term “Paraclete” is an anglicized transliteration of the descriptive title parákl¢tos (para/klhto$), which means “(one) called alongside” —that is, to give help or assistance. It is a title of the Spirit, which Jesus promises will come to the disciples, after he has been exalted and has returned to the Father in heaven.

In 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of parákl¢tos in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is referred to as “(one) called alongside”, to give help to believers, specifically through the act of interceding before God the Father on believers’ behalf (in matters related to sin). In 14:16, the first Paraclete-saying in the Gospel, the Spirit is referred to as “another parákl¢tos“, implying that Jesus was the first. Indeed, in many ways, the Spirit-Paraclete continues the work of Jesus in and among his disciples (believers). Jesus continues to be present, speaking to believers through the Spirit, teaching them. For more on this, see the articles on the Paraclete-sayings (1, 2, 3, 4).

The final Paraclete-saying (16:7-15) occurs in the last of the three Discourse-divisions (16:4b-28), which has the following general outline:

    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)

The promise of the coming of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15) is thus tied to the departure of Jesus (back to the Father in heaven). He speaks as he does to his disciples because he soon will no longer be with them, at least in a physical sense. And he still has many things he must yet say to his disciples (and all believers), v. 12. For this reason, it is necessary for the Spirit to come, to be present with (“alongside”) believers, and to remain in/among them:

“But I say the truth to you: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away from (you). For, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos] will not come to you; but, if I do travel (away), I will send him to you.” (v. 7)

It is actually beneficial to the disciples (and to future believers) that Jesus should go away (back to the Father). Though he will no longer be present with them physically, as a human being, he can still be present spiritually, through the Spirit. In each of the Paraclete-sayings, Jesus explains certain aspects of the Spirit’s role. He continues that teaching here in verses 8ff:

“And, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8)

In the previous Paraclete-saying (15:26-27), the emphasis was on the Spirit as a witness—specifically, a witness to the truth of who Jesus is (v. 26). The Spirit will give witness of this to the disciples, but also to the world, through the disciples. The essence of this witness is further explained here, utilizing the verb eléngchœ. The basic meaning of this verb is to show someone to be wrong. It occurs two other places in the Gospel—in 3:20 and 8:46. The first occurrence is close in context to the use here: it refers to a person’s evil deeds being shown to be evil, exposed as such by the light of Jesus Christ—and by the Gospel witness to the truth of his identity as the Son of God. The reference in 8:46, where the verb is used, as it is here, specifically in connection with sin, was discussed in an earlier study.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular: sin (hamartía), righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), and judgment (krísis). In the verses that follow (vv. 9-11), Jesus explains the basis upon which the Spirit shows the world to be wrong about each topic. The first topic he addresses is sin; his explanation is short and to the point:

“about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me” (v. 9)

In the prior studies, we have seen how the Johannine understanding of sin entails two distinct levels, or aspects, of meaning. First, there is sin as understood in the general or conventional ethical-religious sense, as wrongs/misdeeds that a person commits. And, second, there is sin in the theological sense, defined as the great sin of unbelief—that is, of failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. Here, the truth regarding sin is clearly defined in terms of the latter (“they do not trust in me”).

Many commentators take the verb eléngchœ here to mean that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of showing the people of the world to be sinful. While this aspect of meaning is not entirely absent, I do not consider it to be primary here. To be sure, the world (kósmos), dominated as it is by darkness and evil, and being opposed to God, is characteristically sinful. However, what the Spirit does, specifically, is to show the world to be wrong about sin. The world’s view and understanding of sin—that is, the nature and reality of sin—is fundamentally wrong. People may accept the conventional meaning of sin, and even seek to live in a righteous manner, avoiding sin, without realizing the true nature of sin. Even the seemingly righteous people—such as religious Jews in Jesus’ own time, who followed the precepts of the Torah—were sinful, if they refused to trust in Jesus. Indeed, such people commit sin in its truest sense, since they commit the great sin of unbelief.

The explanation regarding the true nature of the judgment (krísis) alludes to this same theological-Christological understanding of sin. According to the conventional view, the judgment occurs at the end of the Age, at some point in the future, when all people will be judged for their deeds (i.e., sin in the conventional ethical-religious sense). However, according to Jesus, and the theology of the Gospel, the world (and its ruler) has already been judged:

“about judgment, (in) that the chief [i.e. ruler] of this world has been judged” (v. 11)

This judgment is based entirely on whether or not a person, when confronted with the Gospel witness, the truth about Jesus, trusts in him. The one who trusts in Jesus, has already passed through the judgment and holds eternal life, while the one who does not trust, has already been condemned. For the key references elsewhere in the Gospel, see 3:19-21; 5:22-24 (v. 24); 8:51; 12:31, 46-50. The subject was also discussed in the previous studies on 8:21ff and 9:39-41 / 15:22-24.

The judgment is realized through the exaltation of Jesus the Son of God. In the Johannine Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus is not limited to his resurrection or ascension; rather, it covers a process that begins with his Passion (suffering and death). This is particularly clear from the setting of the declaration in 12:31. The Son’s mission on earth, and the witness to his identity as the Son, reaches its climax with his death on the cross (19:30). Through his death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the Son is “lifted up”, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is manifest to anyone who would believe. This helps us to understand the second of the topics about which the Spirit will show the world to be wrong. In verse 10, Jesus explains the true nature of righteousness (dikaiosýn¢), as being defined in terms of the Son’s return to the Father. In other words, true righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ exaltation and his eternal identity as the Son. Believers experience righteousness only in relation to the Son.

For more detailed discussion on vv. 8-11, see my earlier article and set of notes.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the final two sin-references in the Gospel.

October 28: John 15:7

John 15:7

“If you should remain in me, and my utterances should remain in you, (then) you may request what ever you might wish, and it will come to be (so) for you.”

In the remainder of the exposition (and application) of the Vine-illustration, Jesus develops for his disciples (and for us as believers) the theme of remaining (using the verb me/nw) that is so vital to the illustration. The principal idea expressed is that the branch (the disciple/believer) must remain in the vine (Jesus). But this abiding relationship of unity is reciprocal, and works both ways: the believer remains in the Son (Jesus), and the Son remains in the believer. This is the fundamental theological principle expressed (and expounded) in verses 4-5, and is patterned after the relation between God the Father and Jesus the Son—viz., the Son remains in the Father, and the Father remains in the Son (see esp., 14:10).

All of this is essential to the Johannine theology, and can be found throughout the Gospel and Letters, utilizing both the relational participle e)n (“in”) and the verb me/nw (“remain, abide, stay”). I have discussed the verb me/nw and its distinctive Johannine theological usage in prior notes and articles; of the 40 occurrences of this verb in the Gospel, more than a quarter of them (11) are found in the Vine passage (15:1-17).

Here, however, the statement of reciprocity is framed a bit differently; compare the statement in v. 7a with those in vv. 4-5:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you…” (v. 4)
      “the (one) remaining in me, and I in him…” (v. 5)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my utterances should remain in you…” (v. 7)

Instead of the Son (Jesus) himself remaining in the believer, it is his words that must remain. The reference to Jesus’ words (lit. “utterances,” r(h/mata) may seem abrupt at this point, but no more so than the reference to his word (lo/go$) in verse 3. There is, in fact, a thematic/conceptual chain of relation between these two nouns (denoting the spoken word) and the person of Jesus himself (“I”) as speaker:

    • r(h/mata (“utterances”)—individual things (teachings, etc) said/spoken by Jesus to his disciples =>
      • lo/goi (“words”)—synonymous with r(h/mata =>
        • lo/go$ (“word”)—all the things said by Jesus in a general or collective sense; they come from God the Father and have their origin in Him =>
          • Lo/go$ (“Word”)—the Son (Jesus) as the incarnation of the living/eternal Word of God the Father

Thus, there is a continuum of meaning connecting the plural r(h/mata and the singular lo/go$, spanning the full spectrum of Johannine thought and expression—its theology and Christology. One must be sensitive to this range of special meaning when considering the use of lo/go$ and r(h=ma throughout the Gospel, but especially here in the Last Discourse. There are several places in the Gospel of John where the noun lo/go$ and/or r(h=ma is used together with the verb me/nw, as it is here in 15:7. It will be necessary to examine these.

John 5:38

Toward the close of the great chapter 5 Discourse, Jesus directs the thematic thrust of his exposition against his opponents. A key theme of the Discourse has been the premise that Jesus (the Son) performs the work of his Father. The idea of “work” (e&rgon) in this context is defined in terms of the power of God the Father to give life. Jesus exercises this same power, as demonstrated by his ability to heal the crippled man (vv. 1-17); yet the Divine power extends even to the resurrection—the giving of life to the dead (vv. 19ff, 25-29)—and to the granting of eternal life in the Judgment (vv. 22-24).

In the remainder of the Discourse (vv. 30-46), the emphasis shifts from doing the works of God to speaking the words of God (for the interchangeability of these concepts in the Gospel of John, see esp. 14:10). This transition is realized through the thematic concept of witnessing (vb marture/w, noun marturi/a)—one both sees the Divine works, and hears the Divine words. The “words” (lo/goi) of this witness testify to Jesus’ identity as the Son (and the living “Word” [lo/go$]) of God; on this dual-meaning of lo/go$ in the Johannine writings, cf. the discussion above.

Yet Jesus’ opponents do not have trust in him as the Son/Word of God. Consider how he addresses this in vv. 37-38:

“And the (One hav)ing sent me, (the) Father, that (One) has (Himself) given witness about me. You have not heard His voice at any time, nor have you seen His appearance; and His word [lo/go$] you do not have remaining in you [e)n u(mi=n me/nonta], (in) that the (one) whom that (One) sent forth, you do not trust in him [lit. in this one].”

There is an extremely close connection, if not identification, between having God’s word (lo/go$) remaining in a person and that person trusting in Jesus as the Son of God (sent by the Father). See also below on the parallel in 8:37.

John 8:31

I have discussed this verse in a recent article. The same theological concepts and motifs from 5:37-38 are present here. In 8:31a, it is narrated how some of the people, who heard Jesus speaking/teaching, trusted in him; based on the principle in 5:38, this would imply that those who trusted had God’s word (lo/go$) “remaining” in them. In verse 31b, Jesus extends this idea, giving a directive to those who trusted in him, and who had begun to be his disciples:

“If you should remain [mei/nhte] in my word [e)n tw=| lo/gw| tw=| e)mw=|], (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]”

The focus has shifted from God the Father’s word to the Son’s (Jesus’) word (“my word”). And yet, in essence, it is the same word, since, as the Gospel repeatedly explains, the Son (Jesus) speaks the word(s) that he hears the Father speaking, and which the Father gives to him. On this important theme, cf. 3:31-35; 7:16-18; 8:26, 28, 38, 40ff, 55; 12:49; 14:10, 24; 15:15; 17:8, 14; cp. also 5:24ff, 32ff; 6:63; 10:35ff.

The true believer both remains in Jesus’ word (lo/go$), and has this word remaining in him/her. The opposite situation, parallel to Jesus’ statement in 5:37-38 (cf. above), is found in verse 37, in reference to Jesus’ hostile opponents, those who do not trust in him:

“…you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [o( lo/go$ o( e)mo/$] does not have (any) space [i.e. place] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

John 12:46ff

The sayings by Jesus in 12:46-50 mark the close of his public ministry, and occur just prior to the beginning of the Passion narrative (including the Last Discourse). They effectively summarize the Gospel up to this point, beginning with the important declaration in v. 46:

“I have come into the world (as) light, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain [mei/nh|] in the darkness.”

This important juxtaposition of trusting/remaining is, again, explained in terms of receiving (and having in oneself) the word(s) of Jesus:

“And if any (one) should not hear my words [r(h/mata], and should not guard (them), I do not judge him…(but) the (one) setting me aside, and not receiving my words [r(h/mata], holds the (one) judging him—the word [lo/go$] which I have spoken: that (is what) will judge him on the last day!” (vv. 47-48)

On the relationship between the nouns lo/go$ and r(h=ma, cf. the discussion above. Moving into the Last Discourse, as Jesus presents a deeper level of teaching to his disciples, the thematic motif of guarding / keeping-watch, utilizing the verbs fula/ssw and thre/w, takes on greater prominence. The concept of watching/guarding Jesus’ word is very much related to the idea of remaining in his word. See especially the instruction in 14:23-24:

“If any (one) would love me, he will keep watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and my Father will love him, and we will come toward him and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him. (But) the (one) not loving me will not keep watch (over) my word—and the word that you hear is not my (own), but (is) the Father’s, the (One hav)ing sent me.”

The noun monh/ is related to the verb me/nw, and refers to a place where a person remains or abides (i.e., an abode). Thus, to speak of the Father and Son having an abode (monh/) with the believer, is much the same as saying that they will remain in/with the believer.

All of this comparative analysis shows how closely related, from a theological standpoint, the concepts of Jesus’ word (lo/go$/r(h=ma) and of remaining in him (vb me/nw) are in Johannine thought. We must keep this firmly in mind as we continue with our study of verse 7 and following.



October 17: John 15:2 (4:31-38)

John 15:2, continued

There are two passages in the Gospel of John that are particularly relevant for the meaning and significance of the “bearing fruit” motif in verse 2. The first of these, the saying of Jesus in 12:24, was discussed in the previous note; the second, in 4:31-38, will be examined today.

John 4:31-38

These verses comprise a short discourse-unit within the broader Samaritan Woman Discourse of chapter 4 (vv. 1-42). It follows the basic pattern for the Johannine Discourses:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 31)
    • Statement by Jesus (v. 32):
      “I have food to eat which you have not seen”
    • Response by his audience, indicating they have misunderstood the true meaning of his words (v. 33)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 34-38)

Apart from the overall narrative context, this discourse-unit shares with the larger Samaritan Woman Discourse the theme of the true food/drink possessed by Jesus, in contrast to the ordinary (physical/material) substance. The true food, like the “living water” (vv. 10-14), for which Jesus himself is the source, is invisible and cannot be seen; that is to say, it is spiritual, belonging to God and His Spirit (cf. 7:37-39; 6:63). In his exposition to his disciples (vv. 34-38), Jesus explains the nature of this unseen “food” (brw=ma / brw=si$), beginning with the statement in verse 34:

“My food is that I should do the will of the (One hav)ing sent me, and that I should complete His work.”

Jesus’ “food” is defined as the mission that God the Father (“the [One] having sent me”) has given to him (the Son) to complete. This mission is described in two different ways, in relation to the Father: (1) doing [vb poie/w] His will [qe/lhma], and (2) completing [vb teleio/w] His work [e&rgon]. Both of these idioms reflect the action of a dutiful son, who obeys his father and follows his example. Moreover the idea of the son completing his father’s work, deriving from the socio-cultural tradition of a son apprenticing in his father’s trade or business, is a prominent theme that occurs throughout the Gospel, and is central to the Johannine theology.

It is significant that this “food” is what Jesus himself eats (cf. the context of v. 31); by contrast, the “living water” that he speaks of earlier in the Discourse, is something which he gives to others. Yet, an important theological principle in the Gospel is that, just as Jesus (the Son) fulfills the mission for which the Father sent him, so the disciples of Jesus are to continue this mission, being sent forth, in turn, by the Son (Jesus). This principle takes on greater prominence in the Last Discourse, as well as the chapter 17 Discourse-Prayer, but it is introduced and expounded initially here.

The exposition of this theme takes the form of an agricultural illustration, much like the saying in 12:24 (cf. the previous note), as well as the chap. 15 Vine-illustration. The setting of this illustration is established in verse 35:

“Do you not say that ‘there are yet four months and (then) the harvesting comes’? See, I say to you, ‘Lift up your eyes and look on the spaces, that they are already white toward harvesting’!”

Most commentators take the adverbial particle h&dh (“even now, already”) as belonging to the beginning of verse 36. However, I think it is preferable to read it as part of v. 35; in any case, the modifying idea of “now/already” is certainly present in the declaration of v. 35b.

The significance of the harvest motif (noun qerismo/$, vb qeri/zw) is eschatological. This is abundantly clear from the occurrence of the motif elsewhere in the Gospel tradition—most notably the Matthean parable of the ‘wheat and the tares’ (13:24-30, 37-43), and the statement by the Baptist in Matt 3:12 par [“Q”]; cf. also in several other parables (Mk 4:26-29; Matt 25:24-26ff). It is implicit in the scene depicted by Jesus in Mark 13:27 par, as the climactic moment of the Eschatological Discourse. The harvest was a natural image for describing the end of the Age, and, by the time of Jesus, the imagery had become traditional, used as a judgment-motif in the Prophets (e.g., Isa 17:11; 18:5; 24:13; Jer 50:16; 51:33). Most notable is the grape-harvest metaphor in Joel 3:13, which doubtless influenced the vision in Revelation 14:14-20.

The main point Jesus is making in v. 35 has to do with the time interval between planting and harvesting. The implication of his declaration in v. 35b is that there is, in reality, no such interval—as soon as the sowing is made, the fields are already ripe for harvesting! This is best understood in terms of the ‘realized’ emphasis of the Johannine eschatology. The future/end-time Judgment is already being experienced in the present, and it is realized based upon a person’s response to Jesus—those who trust in him are already saved from the Judgment, while those who completely fail/refuse to trust are already judged. The sowing of the ‘seed’ of the Kingdom of God (cp. the illustration in Mark 4:26-29) refers to the Gospel witness of who Jesus is. In terms of the Johannine theology, this means trust in Jesus as the Son of God, sent from heaven by God the Father, and in the life-giving power of his sacrificial death. This theological aspect of the sowing/seed motif is demonstrated prominently in the saying of 12:24, where the seed that “dies off” in the ground (i.e., Jesus’ death and burial) produces new life out of the ground (i.e. resurrection and eternal life).

The closest formal parallel to John 4:35ff is the Gospel (“Q”) illustration by Jesus in Matt 9:37-38 / Lk 10:2. The similarity is closest with regard to the emphasis on the role of the disciples of Jesus taking part in the harvest. The Johannine illustration particularly emphasizes the theme of the disciples continuing the mission of Jesus (cf. above):

“The (one) harvesting receives wages and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], (so) that the (one) scattering (seed) may be glad, as one, also (with) the (one) harvesting.” (v. 36)

In the Synoptic references, the eschatological harvest is performed by heavenly beings (angels) to whom the task is assigned (Mark 13:27 par; Matt 13:41). Clearly, however, a certain role in this process, in the present, is also assigned to disciples/believers. The ‘realized’ emphasis in the Johannine eschatology (cf. above) alleviates the apparent contradiction between these two lines of tradition. Since the one trusting in the Son (Jesus) has already passed through the Judgment (see esp. 5:24), entering into eternal life, even in the present, then the Gospel proclamation (by disciples/believers), which leads to trust for the chosen ones, essentially causes the Judgment to be realized for them. The idea of sower and harvester rejoicing together, at the same time, reinforces this sense that there is no temporal interval between the ‘sowing’ and the ‘harvesting’ (cf. on verse 35b above).

Two things are said of the work done by believers (as harvesters): (1) they/we receive wages (misqo/$) for the work, and (2) the work involves “gathering/bringing together” (vb suna/gw) the fruit “unto/into eternal life”. In such a context, this “fruit” (karpo/$) must refer to the believers who come to trust in the Son (Jesus) through the Gospel proclamation/witness of other believers. This trust involves partaking in the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (with its resurrection into life), as the seed that, in its dying, produces the fruit of eternal life (cf. again the previous note on 12:24).

The theme of the disciples (believers) completing Jesus’ mission is brought into focus again by the closing statement in verse 38:

“I (have) sent you forth to harvest what you have not labored (over); others have labored, and you have come into their labor.”

The plural “others” (a&lloi) is problematic, since, in the context of the Johannine theology, the one who does the work is Jesus. Possibly, the plural is meant to include God the Father, as the work is done by both Father and Son (cf. above on verse 34). One might even include the witness of John the Baptist as being preliminary to the witness by Jesus and his disciples (see esp. 5:32-35ff). It is better to view the plural a&lloi as comprehensive and inclusive. It refers primarily to the work of the Son (Jesus), who fulfills the Father’s mission, but also anticipates the subsequent work of believers who continue this mission. The sowing is the Gospel witness, while the harvesting is the experience of eternal life that comes when people trust in Jesus through this witness.

In the next daily note, we will return to verse 2 of the Vine-illustration, looking at the significance of the verbs ai&rw and kaqai/rw in light of their use elsewhere in the Johannine writings.

August 10: John 6:68

John 6:68

Having discussed in detail the saying by Jesus in Jn 6:63 (over a set of eight daily notes), let us turn briefly to consider the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68, which essentially affirms, as a statement of faith, what Jesus has said in v. 63.

The difficulty posed by the teaching in the Discourse (see v. 60) proved to be a test and turning point for those following Jesus; at that time, apparently, many turned away and ceased following him (v. 66). Jesus had already made clear that some of those following him where not true disciples (i.e., believers): “But there are some of you that do not trust” (v. 64). The group of disciples was reduced considerably; the implication in the narrative is that only the Twelve remained. To them Jesus asks: “You do not also wish to go away(, do you)?” (v. 67).

This sets the stage for the confession by Peter, which, in certain respects, holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as that of the more famous Synoptic confession in Mark 8:29 par. Indeed, it has been suggest that the Johannine and Synoptic traditions, at this point, are drawing upon the same underlying historical tradition. Before considering that critical question, here is Peter’s initial response in verse 68:

“Lord, toward whom shall we go away? You hold the utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The question is rhetorical and hypothetical: even if we were to go away from [a)po/] you, toward [pro/$] whom else could we go? The question assumes a negative response: there is no one else we can go to, in place of you. Peter, speaking for the Twelve (that is, the eleven true disciples, vv. 64, 70-71), recognizes that there is something truly unique and special about Jesus; he may not yet understand completely Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but he recognizes that the words have a special Divine inspiration.

Peter uses the same plural r(h/mata (“things uttered, utterances”) that Jesus does in v. 63. In an earlier note, I discussed how, in the Gospel of John, plural r(h/mata and singular lo/go$ can be used almost interchangeably (see v. 60)—referring to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus. Thus Peter essentially affirms the connection between Jesus’ sayings/teachings (“words”) and life (zwh/), very much as in verse 63. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the noun zwh/ in the Johannine writings virtually always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God—and to His life-giving power. Peter affirms the life-character of Jesus’ words through a genitival expression:

“(the) utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) life [zwh=$] eternal [ai)wni/ou]”

Above, I translated ai)wni/ou as “of the Age(s)”; however, it is an adjective, which here modifies the genitive noun zwh=$ (“of life”); therefore, to avoid complicating the genitive relationship, I have rendered it here as “eternal”.

Syntactically, the expression could be read either as a subjective or objective genitive. In the first instance, “eternal life” would be an attribute or characteristic of Jesus’ words; in the second instance, it would most likely refer to what Jesus’ words give or bring about. Both aspects are appropriate to the Johannine theology, in context; indeed, Jesus mentions both in v. 63:

    • Subjective: His words are life
    • Objective: His words (as Spirit) make live (vb zwopoei/w, i.e. give life)

Whatever Peter may have understood, precisely, at the historical level, in the literary context of the Gospel his confession combines together both of these theological aspects. It thus serves as a suitable conclusion to the entire Discourse-narrative of chapter 6. Anticipating the fuller understanding (for believers) that would come after Jesus’ exaltation (cf. the allusion to this in v. 62), Peter’s confession affirms two important theological points—points which are developed further (and more fully) elsewhere in the Gospel:

    • The Divine/eternal character of Jesus’ words (r(h/mata), since he himself (as the eternal Son of God) is the Divine Word (lo/go$) incarnate (1:14).
    • His words give eternal life. Since God is Spirit (4:24), His word possesses the life-giving power of His Spirit, clearly indicated by role of His Word in creation (1:3-4). The Son shares the same Divine Spirit, receiving it from the Father (3:34-35); his words thus have the same life-giving power, communicating (through the Spirit) the Divine/eternal life of God. As the Living Word, the Son’s words naturally bring life.

In the next daily note, we will look at the continuation of Peter’s confession in verse 69.

August 9: John 6:63 (8)

John 6:63, concluded

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

In this final note on Jn 6:63, we will examine the second part of the verse (b) in terms of the second Christological difficulty (related to the Bread of Life Discourse, cf. the disciples’ reaction in v. 60) outlined in the prior notes—namely, the idea that is necessary to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). The first Christological difficulty—viz., Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin)—in relation to v. 63b, was discussed in the previous note.

(2) The need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”)

This aspect of the Discourse (see vv. 27, 32f, 35, 48ff, 50, 51ff) has been discussed in the prior notes, including its specific relation to the statement in v. 63a. Now, we will be looking at v. 63b: “…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In applying this statement to the idea of eating Jesus, the most obvious implication is that Jesus’ words in the Discourse to that effect must be understood (and interpreted) in a spiritual manner. If his words (r(h/mata) are Spirit, then they can only be understood correctly in a spiritual way. From the Discourse itself, it is clear that “eating” Jesus means trusting (vb pisteu/w) in him (i.e., as the one sent by God the Father from heaven). This is indicated clearly in vv. 29, 35f, 40, 47; even so, Jesus’ hearers at the time (including his disciples) would have found it difficult to understand the connection. His words became particularly “harsh” (v. 60) once Jesus began to explain this eating in terms of eating his flesh (v. 51). Some of those who heard him naturally asked, “How is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52).

Modern commentators continue to be “tripped up” (v. 61) over this point, but for a different reason—as many take more or less for granted that the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 refers to a physical eating of the (sacramental) bread (i.e., in the Lord’s Supper ritual). Against this understanding, verse 63 suggests that a spiritual interpretation of the Supper is intended.

The shift from the motif of “bread” to “flesh” represents a narrowing of focus—from the Son’s incarnate “stepping down” (to earth as a human being) to the fulfillment of his mission through his death (as a human being). While the idiom of eating is the same in both instances, the emphasis of the “bread” motif is on Jesus’ heavenly origin (“bread from heaven”), while that of “flesh” (and “blood”) is on his sacrificial death. In both instances, “eating” refers to trust in Jesus (cf. above)—i.e., trust in his heavenly origin (“bread [from heaven]”) and trust in his sacrificial death (“flesh [and blood]”).

Trust results in receiving the Spirit, which the Son gives/sends to believers, having himself received it from the Father (3:34f). Only when the believer has come to be born “from above” (3:3-8)—that is, from the Spirit—is he/she able to recognize the heavenly origin and spiritual nature of Jesus’ words (cf. 3:31ff), and to begin to grasp their true meaning. Spiritual words can only be understood in a spiritual way (cp. 1 Cor 2:13ff).

In 4:10-15, the very idiom of eating/drinking is applied to the idea of believers receiving the Spirit, as the parallel in 7:37-39 makes clear. It is fair to assume that the “living bread” in chap. 6 (vv. 51) has a correspondingly similar meaning as “living water” in 4:10f; 7:38. In both instances the living (zw=n) nourishment is given by Jesus (4:10, 14; 6:27, 33, 51), just as he gives the Spirit (1:33; 16:7b; 20:22; cf. also 3:34f). Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is life (zwh/) that the Son (Jesus) gives (5:21, 26; 6:33, 57; 10:28; 17:2, etc). There is certainly a very close connection between Life and the Spirit, as stated here in v. 63.

Thus, what the believer takes in (i.e., ‘eats’ or ‘drinks’) is the Spirit, which is also living (zw=n)—which refers to the Divine/eternal life (zwh/) that God possesses. The Son gives life, but so does the Spirit (according to v. 63a); the implication is that the Son gives life through the Spirit. However, in the Bread of Life Discourse, the “living” bread is not just given by the Son, it is identified with the person of the incarnate Son (Jesus) himself. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this is best understood by the principle that the Son (Jesus) is present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, one “eats” Jesus by trusting in him, and thus receiving the Spirit, which gives eternal life that the believer possesses (“holds”) within; the eternal Son (Jesus), who is life (1:4; 14:6), is also personally present through the indwelling Spirit. In so doing, one also eats/drinks the “flesh/blood” of Jesus, meaning that the life-giving (and cleansing) power of his death is communicated to believers, through the Spirit (cf. the earlier note on 1 Jn 1:7ff).

But what relation does this have to the specific words (r(h/mata) uttered by Jesus? In a sense, the believer also ‘eats’ these words, though in the Johannine idiom this is expressed more properly through the idea of the word(s) abiding within the believer, utilizing the key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). As discussed in the previous note, the singular noun lo/go$ can refer both to (1) a specific saying or teaching by Jesus, and (2) to the living/eternal Word of God (of the Johannine Prologue, 1:1-2, 14) with whom Jesus (the Son) is personally identified. In 1 John 1:1, these two aspects are blended together with the traditional use of lo/go$ to refer to the “account” of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel). The words abide through the presence of the abiding Word, though the repeated exhortations (in the Gospel and First Letter) indicate the importance of believers holding firm to the teachings (and example) of Jesus which they received. For the key Johannine references in this regard, using the verb me/nw, cf. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31; 14:17; 15:4-10; 1 Jn 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:9, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; 2 Jn 2, 9. The words give life because the abiding Word gives life; both are Spirit, and must be understood and recognized according to the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the confessional statement by Peter in verse 68.


August 8: John 6:63 (7)

John 6:63, continued

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

Having conducted an examination of the first part of verse 63(a) from a Christological standpoint (cf. the previous note, and the note prior), we now shall do the same for the second part of the verse (b). The Christological examination has proceeded according to the two main points of difficulty that Jesus’ disciples would have had with the teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse (see v. 60): (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin), and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). Let us now consider verse 63b from the standpoint of each of these Christological aspects.

(1) Jesus’ heavenly origin

The idea expressed by Jesus in v. 62 is that, once the disciples observe his exaltation (“stepping [back] up” to the Father in heaven), then they will realize that he, indeed, has “stepped down” to earth from heaven. It is this heavenly origin of Jesus (as the eternal Son of God) that underlies the type-image of the manna as “bread from heaven”; Jesus fulfills the figure-type in his own person, showing himself to be the true and living bread that has “come down from heaven”.

From a Christological standpoint, Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God means that he, like God the Father, possesses the fullness of the Spirit, along with the Father’s life-giving power. If God the Father is Himself Spirit (4:24), then so also is the Son, having received the full measure of the Spirit from his Father (3:34f). The creative, life-giving power of God is also possessed by the Son, being intrinsic to his identity; the Son receives everything that belongs to the Father, including His life-giving power—on this important theme in the Gospel, see esp. 1:4ff; 5:26; 6:57; 14:19.

These attributes of Spirit (pneu=ma) and Life (zwh/) are things which the Son (Jesus) possesses, and which he, in turn, is able to give to believers. He communicates them directly to believers by his presence in/with them through the Spirit. And a principal idiom of this communication is that of the word, of speaking. As the Paraclete-sayings, in particular, make clear, Jesus speaks to believers through the Spirit (see esp. 16:12-15).

From a theological standpoint, if the Son shares in the Divine Spirit (as God, 1:1; 4:24; 10:30), having received the fullness of God’s Spirit (3:34f), then also his words are Spirit; Jesus says as much here: “the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit”. This can be understood several ways, according to several specific implications of the theological premise:

    • The Son’s words have a spiritual source. The Divine/heavenly origin of Jesus’ words is expressed quite clearly in 3:31ff, and in v. 34 the connection between the Son’s speaking and the Spirit is explicit:
      “For the (one) whom God (has) sent forth speaks the utterances of God, for not out of a measure does He give the Spirit.” (cp. 8:47)
      Elsewhere in the Gospel we find the repeated theme of the Son saying what he has heard from the Father (7:17; 8:26, 28, 38, 40; 12:49; 14:10, 24; 15:15), implying that his words ultimately come from God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24).
    • The Son’s words have a spiritual nature. This is explained best in terms of the association between the Spirit and life; in the Gospel of John, the noun zwh/ almost always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God, but this can also be related to the physical motif of resurrection-life (as in chaps. 5 and 11). The life-giving (i.e., Divine/Spiritual) power of the Son’s words is most clearly expressed in 5:21, 24-29, but the implication is also present in 5:39-40; 8:31-32; 10:10, 16; 12:50; 17:2-3, 14, and elsewhere.
    • The Son’s words must be received and understood in a spiritual manner. This principle is implicit throughout the Gospel Discourses, in which Jesus’ words always have a true and deeper meaning that goes beyond the apparent meaning. The audience typically misunderstands the key sayings or statements of Jesus, which utilize images and motifs from tradition or the natural world; this provokes questions which lead to further explanation/exposition by Jesus. The exposition, which points to the true (spiritual) meaning of the sayings, is of a Christological nature, focusing on Jesus’ self-identity as the (eternal) Son and his relationship to the Father (including the mission for which the Father sent him to earth from heaven). Only a person who has been “born from above”, from the Spirit, is able to see/know the true meaning of the Son’s words (3:3-8; cf. also the Paraclete-sayings 14:26; 15:26; 16:7ff, 13-15).

Along with these points, there is the fundamental theological theme of the Prologue, identifying Jesus, the eternal Son, also as the eternal Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God (1:1-2, 14). The close connection between the Divine Word (lo/go$) and the Divine Life (zwh/) is also a central theme of the Prologue (v. 4), assuming the theological tradition of the role of God’s Word (and Wisdom) in creating life (v. 3).

In 6:63 (also v. 68), the plural r(h/mata (sing. r(h=ma) is used; often translated “words”, r(h=ma properly refers to something spoken or uttered (i.e., “utterance”). In the Gospel of John, r(h=ma is always used in the plural, referring to specific things said by Jesus (the incarnate Son) during his time on earth. However, there can be no real doubt about the relationship between these “words” (r(h/mata) and the eternal Word (lo/go$) of the Prologue. The noun lo/go$ has a broad semantic range that resists easy or consistent translation in English. It can refer to a specific saying or teaching, as by Jesus, cf. 2:22; 4:41; 7:36, etc. This is how it is used by the disciples here in their complaint: “This word [lo/go$] is hard…” (v. 60).

At times, lo/go$ in reference to the saying(s)/teaching of Jesus, hints at the deeper theological meaning of lo/go$ in the Prologue. Of particular importance in this regard is the statement in 5:24:

“the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]” (cp. 17:3)

Another Johannine theme is of the Son’s word (lo/go$) abiding/remaining in the believer, being kept/held within—8:31, 37, 51ff; 12:48; 14:23-24; 17:6, 14ff; on the theme in 1 John, cf. 1:10; 2:5ff, 14. It is hard to separate this from the related idea of God’s eternal Word, identified with the person of the Son (Jesus), abiding within (and among) believers; cf. this important theological use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) in the Gospel and Letters of John. Particularly in 1 John, the twin ideas of God’s word (identified with the Gospel and teaching [of Jesus]) and of God Himself (through the Son) abiding in the believer can scarcely be separated; cp. the use of lo/go$ in 1:1 with the me/nw-passages in 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14-15, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16.

It is understandable that the disciples, unable to discern the true meaning of Jesus’ words, or recognize their spiritual nature, or comprehend their Christological significance, would complain of their difficulty (6:60). Moreover, in the context of the Johannine theology, it is quite appropriate that they would declare “this word [lo/go$] is hard!”

In the next daily note, the last of this series, we will examine v. 63b in the light of the second Christological point of difficulty (cf. above). At the same time, in conclusion, we will consider v. 63 in relation to the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68.



August 5: John 6:63 (5)

John 6:63, continued

The transitional, connecting point between the Bread of Life Discourse (vv. 22-59), and the sayings/teaching of Jesus in vv. 60-71, is the response by the disciples in v. 60, in which they complain of the harshness (and difficulty) of their master’s words. In the literary and theological context of the Discourse, there are, as I have noted, two main sources of difficulty: (1) the claim by Jesus that he has come down from heaven (indicating his heavenly origin), and (2) the idea that people need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). Both of these are significant in terms of the Johannine Christology that is expressed in the Gospel, and both Christological themes certainly relate to Jesus’ statement in v. 63.

Let us begin with the first theme—that of Jesus’ heavenly origin. This aspect of verse 63 was discussed in the previous note, particularly in relation to the question in v. 62, and the idea of the disciples seeing the exaltation (“stepping up”, vb a)nabai/nw) of Jesus. Now we turn to the Christological point proper—viz., that Jesus, as the Divine Son sent by God the Father, has come down (“stepped down”, vb katabai/nw) to earth from heaven. In the theological setting of the Gospel (expressed most clearly in the Prologue), this implies Jesus’ eternal pre-existence as the Son/Logos of God.

How does this Christology relate specifically to verse 63? Let us look again at the Spirit/flesh contrast in v. 63a:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything!”

In the Johannine Gospel (as also in 1 John), the term sa/rc (“flesh”) refers specifically to one’s life and existence as a human being. In 3:6 (cf. also 1:13), an ordinary human (physical/biological) birth is in view, while in 8:15; 17:2 sa/rc denotes the human condition (on earth) more generally. Only in 1 Jn 2:16 is the word used in the kind of negative religious-ethical sense so familiar from Paul’s letters. The overall Johannine usage strongly indicates that the Spirit/flesh contrast is not religious-ethical, but metaphysical and existential. It refers to the distinction between the Divine and the human.

Of particular importance is the Christological use of sa/rc in the Gospel prologue (1:14), followed by the confessional statement in the Letters (1 Jn 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]):

“And the Word [lo/go$] came to be flesh and set up tent [i.e. dwelt] among us, and we looked at [vb qea/omai] his splendor, splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father…”
“…every spirit that gives account as one (of) [i.e. acknowledges/confesses] Yeshua (the) Anointed having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God”

From a Christological standpoint, sa/rc here in 6:63 would refer to the (incarnate) existence of the Son as a human being (“in [the] flesh”, e)n sarki/). The Spirit (pneu=ma), by contrast, refers to the Divine nature and status of the Son, in relation to God the Father. Since God is Spirit (4:24), so is His Son. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the Son receives the Spirit from the Father—so stated in 3:34-35, and implied in other passages (cf. 5:26; 6:57; 14:16, 19-20, 26; 15:26; 16:7b, 14-15; 17:5). Given the theology of the Prologue, the reference in 3:34, to the Father giving (the Son) the fullness of the Spirit, cannot simply reflect the traditional motif of the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. The traditional (Messianic) Christology of the Baptism-scene is maintained, with no real attempt being made by the Gospel writer to harmonize this with the implications of the pre-existence Christology of the Prologue.

The Divine nature of the Spirit in 6:63 is especially clear by its characterization as “making (a)live” (vb zwopoei/w)—emphasizing the life-giving power of God’s Spirit. In the traditional exaltation-Christology among first-century believers, this Spirit-power was associated particularly with the resurrection of Jesus, mentioned most directly in the Pauline letters (cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:45; 1 Tim 3:16). From his exalted place at God’s right hand in heaven, Jesus shares in the Divine Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; cp. 6:17) and is able to communicate the Spirit to believers.

The Gospel of John gives special prominence to this idea of Jesus giving the Spirit to believers, enhancing the traditional Messianic and exaltational Christology with a distinctive pre-existence Christology. From this Christological viewpoint, Jesus possession of the Spirit is part of his essential identity as God’s eternal Son. This is why Jesus can speak as he does in verse 63, even prior to his “stepping (back) up” to the Father.

How, then, should the declaration in v. 63a be understood, in terms of the Johannine Christology? Even though the Son is present in the flesh (as a human being), it is still the Divine Spirit entirely that possesses the power to give life. The flesh, even the human flesh of Jesus—simply as flesh—can do nothing without the presence of the Spirit. The Johannine Gospel expresses this Spiritual presence at two different levels, which, as I noted above, are never completely harmonized within the narrative. This can be represented chiastically:

    • Jesus’ eternal nature and identity as God’s Son
      • The Son’s incarnate existence on earth as a human being
    • The exalted Son’s return to God the Father

The Gospel narrative, from Baptism to Exaltation (death/resurrection), with its framing Spirit-references (1:32-34; 19:30/20:22), covers the central (temporal/incarnational) phase, while continually alluding to the eternal dimension (of pre-existence and return).

After the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-14), it would be natural for people to respond to Jesus, in the flesh, as a special human wonder-worker. And so they did, according to verse 14, even recognizing him as a Messianic Prophet (on which, cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Jesus himself, however, eschewed the socio-political (human) aspect of this identification, and would not allow them to exalt him in a worldly/fleshly manner (v. 15). The same contrastive theme (implying a flesh vs. Spirit / world vs. God contrast) dominates his dialogue with Pilate (18:33-38). When the crowd meets up again with Jesus (v. 25), he discerns that their attraction to him is primarily the result of his providing them with physical food to eat (v. 26)—i.e., to satisfy their flesh. Instead, as the ensuing Discourse makes clear, the primary purpose of the physical food is as a symbol of the spiritual food that he offers to humankind.

In the next daily note, we will examine v. 63a in light of this second Christological aspect.

August 4: John 6:63 (4)

John 6:63, continued

The Christological emphasis of the question by Jesus in v. 62 was discussed in the previous note. In the narrative context, the question serves as a challenge to Jesus’ disciples in the moment—as to whether they would continue to trust in him—but also is a promise of what they would see (and come to understand) in the future (much like the earlier Son of Man saying in 1:51). The difficulty surrounding Jesus’ words in the Discourse primarily involves his claim of a heavenly origin—i.e., that he has come down (lit. “stepped down”, vb katabai/nw) from heaven. Fundamentally, then, verse 62 entails a Christological point—viz., the disciples can trust that the Son (Jesus) came down from heaven, because they will see him going back up (vb a)nabai/nw, “step up”) to heaven.

Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning briefly the specific wording used in v. 62. The expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) and the verb a)nabai/nw (“step up”), used in the special Johannine theological sense, have already been discussed. The verb qewre/w is one of several sight/seeing verbs used by the Gospel writer—again in the special theological/Christological sense of seeing = knowing = trust in Jesus that leads to knowledge/vision of God. The specific verb qewre/w denotes looking closely at something (vb qea/omai)—i.e., being an observer or spectator (qewro/$). The idea, then, is that the disciples will observe the “stepping up” of the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus), much like the promise of vision in the Son of Man saying of 1:51. The verb occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences), making it something of a Johannine keyword; for other instances with a clear theological/Christological significance, cf. 6:40; 12:45; 14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17ff; 17:24.

What is that they will observe? The verb a)nabai/nw, in the special Johannine theological sense (and usage), refers to the exaltation of the Son (by God the Father); elsewhere in the Gospel, this is expressed by the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”), where it is specifically used in Son of Man sayings with a comparable meaning and significance to that of 6:62—cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. The “stepping up” by the Son is thus a result of his being “raised/lifted high” by the Father. This ascent, within the context of the Johannine narrative, involves a process—viz., of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The disciples of Jesus will, in different ways, observe this process. And, when they see him “stepping up” to God the Father, then they will truly understand and know that he has “stepped down” to earth from heaven.

The heavenly origin of the Son is also indicated here by the phrase “(the place) where [o%pou] he was [h@n] at the first [to\ pro/teron]”. The imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “he was”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, due to its repeated use in the Prologue (1:1-2, 4, 8-10, 15 [par 30]), where it refers to the eternal pre-existence of the Son (and Logos). Particularly in 1:1-2, the Son’s presence with the Father in heaven is clearly indicated. Jesus’ return to the Father’s presence (in heaven) is alluded to at a number of points in the Gospel (esp. in the Last Discourse), being stated most clearly in 14:28; 16:10, 28, and 17:5, 11, 13, 24. The expression to\ pro/teron (“the first”) is comparable to the use of a)rxh/ (“first, beginning”) in 1:1-2; 8:25; 1 Jn 1:1; 2:13-14; cf. also prw=to$ in 1:15, 30. Again, these terms have Christological significance, in reference to the pre-existence and deity of Jesus (as the Son of God).

Jesus’ statement in v. 63 follows after the Son of Man saying (question) in v. 62, and thus should be understood in light of the Christological emphasis of v. 62. But how, exactly, does v. 63 relate to v. 62? If the question, as both a promise and a challenge, involves seeing the exaltation (“stepping up”) of Jesus (the Son of Man), then it would stand to reason that the statement in v. 63 should be read in this immediate context:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

The initial contrast, between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc), would then relate to the seeing of the exalted Son of Man—that is, one sees it through the Spirit, not through the ordinary eyes of the flesh. But how does one “see” through the Spirit? This is indicated by Jesus in the earlier Nicodemus Discourse:

“if one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see [i)dei=n] the kingdom of God” (3:3)

As is clear from what follows in vv. 5-8, birth “from above” (which is also a new/second birth, via the dual-meaning of a&nwqen) means the same as birth “out of the Spirit” (e)c pneu/mato$). Elsewhere in the Johannine writings (esp. 1 John), the idiom is “coming to be (born) out of God [e)k qeou=]” (1:13, etc); but since God is Spirit (4:24), the two expressions are essentially equivalent—i.e., “out of God” = “out of the Spirit”. Once a person is born of the Spirit, he/she is able to see God and the things of God (“kingdom of God”); but it is spiritual, rather than physical, sight. Cf. the symbolism of the chapter 9 healing miracle, with the thematic motif of Jesus Christ as light (by which one sees, 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5ff; 2:8ff).

The emphasis in 6:63 is on the Spirit giving life; however, in the Gospel of John, light and life are closely connected—with the light of Jesus Christ leading to eternal life for those who trust in him (1:4; 3:19ff [in the context of vv. 15-17]; 8:12; 11:9-10 [in the narrative context of resurrection/life]). Similarly, in the Bread of Life Discourse, those who “eat” Jesus (meaning trusting in him) will have eternal life (6:27, 33, 40, 47, 51-54, 58); this is the significance of the expression “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48) and “living bread” (v. 51). The Father gives this Divine/eternal Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to believers (v. 57; cf. also 5:25-26; 14:19).

The development of these Christological themes in the Bread of Life Discourse is complex, and vv. 62-63 represent the climax of this development. In the next daily note, we will continue with the current discussion, looking at some of the Christological aspects of verse 63 in more detail.

August 3: John 6:63 (3)

John 6:63, continued

Having considered, in the previous note, the parallels between the Son of Man sayings in 3:13ff and 6:62, we may now examine the enigmatic and provocative question posed by Jesus:

“(And) if, then, you should observe the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first…?” (v. 62)

This question is in response to the grumbling complaint by his disciples (some of them, at least), to the effect that his teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse (“this word”, o( lo/go$ ou!to$) is “harsh” (or “hard”, sklhro/$), v. 60. Jesus’ initial response is to ask “Does this trip you up?” (v. 61); then he continues with the question in v. 62.

Most commentators regard this as an elliptical question, consisting only of its conditional protasis, and thus left hanging—with its apodosis omitted or unspoken. Many translators take the simplest approach and fill out the question “…what then?” —i.e., “And if you were to see the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first, what then?” But this does not really explain the thrust of Jesus’ question—does it imply the possibility of greater understanding, or does it offer a rebuke to the disciples, or both?

If the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching for his disciples involved the idea that he had “stepped down” (vb katabai/nw) from heaven (implying his heavenly origin), then surely his “stepping (back) up” (vb a)nabai/nw) would demonstrate the truth of his words. The a)nabai/nw/katabai/nw verb pair was used in both of the prior Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John (1:51; 3:13ff), as discussed in the previous note. Particularly in 3:13, the emphasis is on the heavenly origin of the “Son of Man”; in the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus indicates his own heavenly origin (vv. 35, 38, 41-42, 50f, 57-58), making it clear that he is identifying himself with the Son of Man figure (for more on this figure-type, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The thrust of the question in v. 62, then, would seem to be:

“If you should see me going back up to the place where I was at first [i.e. with God the Father in heaven], then would you believe that I have come down from heaven?”

In the (theological) context of the Johannine narrative, the “stepping up” of the Son—i.e., his exaltation (vb u(yo/w, “lift high” [cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34], par. to a)nabai/nw)—refers to the process of his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. The circle of Jesus’ close disciples are witnesses to this process; thus, in a real sense, the question in v. 62 entails a promise to the disciples (i.e., of what they will see), much like the Son of Man saying in 1:51.

At the same time, it presents a challenge to Jesus’ followers in the moment—a moment of decision: will they continue to trust in him, despite the difficulty of his words, or will they turn away? According to v. 66, many of his followers turned away; verse 67 suggests that only the Twelve remained (of whom only eleven were true disciples, vv. 70-71). In any case, the clear implication is that the group of Jesus’ devoted followers was greatly reduced to a much smaller circle, and that his teaching (in the Bread of Life Discourse) played a role in this development.

The Christological focus of the challenge is perhaps to be implied by the use of the term lo/go$ in v. 60: “This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?” If the fundamental difficulty for the disciples involved Jesus’ claim of a heavenly origin, then an allusion to the Gospel Prologue, with its important use of lo/go$ (1:1ff, 14), is likely intended by the Gospel writer. This is only one aspect of the difficulty surrounding Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but it is the primary focus of v. 62.

In the chapter 6 narrative, there is a subtle and implied narrowing of the audience for Jesus’ words—from a large public crowd (vv. 22-25ff), to a smaller group of Jews in the synagogue (vv. 41ff, 52ff, cf. verse 59), to Jesus’ own disciples (vv. 60ff). Some commentators would attribute this to a complex authoring/editorial process, involving different layers and stages of composition for the Gospel. According to at least one theory (by U. C. van Wahlde in his 3-volume commentary [Eerdmans Critical Commentary series, 2010]), Jesus’ question here in vv. 61c-62 belongs to the third edition of the Gospel, along with the eucharistic verses 51-58 (V2: pp. 319-22, 330-2). According to his reconstruction, in the second edition of the Gospel, the Discourse concluded with vv. 47-50 (and the notice in v. 59), after which came the disciples’ grumbling response in v. 60; Jesus then responds (v. 61ab) with the Spirit-statement of v. 63, without any reference to the Son of Man question in v. 62.

While such theories are intriguing, they remain highly speculative. In any case, the last author/editor of the Gospel (i.e., van Wahlde’s third edition) certainly intended to emphasize the Christological aspect of the narrative, by adding/including the Son of Man question in v. 62. It is therefore necessary for us to consider the verse in its present context. And, in the present context, the Spirit-saying in v. 63, follows the Son of Man question in v. 62. The Spirit-saying thus relates specifically to the Christological emphasis that is brought to bear by the question in v. 62. We must keep this in mind, as we turn now to examine verse 63, which we will begin to do in the next daily note.

August 2: John 6:63 (2)

John 6:63, continued

This set of notes is examining the saying of Jesus in John 6:63, from a Christological standpoint—that is, in terms of the Johannine Christology, as expressed (primarily) in the Gospel. This Christological aspect is largely established by the immediate context of the verse—particularly, the words of Jesus in vv. 61-62. However, in order to understand the significance of the Son of Man saying in v. 62, we must first examine the earlier parallel in 3:13. Here again I give vv. 12-15 in translation (cf. the previous note):

“If I told you (about) the (thing)s on earth, and you do not trust, how (then), if should tell you (about) the (thing)s above (the) heavens, will you trust? (For) indeed, no one has stepped up into heaven, if not the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven—the Son of Man. And, just as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e., eternal life].”

There are several points of emphasis here that are clearly relevant to the context of 6:62f, and form distinct parallels in terms of the Johannine theology and mode of expression. Let us consider each of these.

1. Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man. Throughout the Gospel Tradition, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), or identifies himself with that expression. In a number of the Son of Man sayings, the expression designates a heavenly figure, who functions as God’s chosen representative (in an eschatological setting), drawing upon a line of (Jewish) tradition based on Daniel 7:13-14. For more on this background, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” and the supplemental study on Dan 7:13-14 in relation to the Son of Man sayings. In other sayings, Jesus uses the expression in reference to his suffering and death. Both of these aspects are present in the Johannine sayings, including here in 3:13ff.

2. The use of a)nabai/nw/katabai/nw, in connection with the Son of Man figure. The Gospel of John regularly uses the common verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”, i.e. come/go up) and katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e. come/go down) in a distinctive theological (and Christological) sense. The verb a)nabai/nw refers (or alludes) to the incarnation and mission of the Son—his “stepping down” to earth; similarly, the verb katabai/nw refers to the completion of his mission, and to his exaltation (“stepping up”) and return to the Father. Both verbs occur in the first Johannine Son of Man saying (1:51), and also here in 3:13ff. From a Christological standpoint, both verbs signify the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Divine/eternal Son, sent to earth by God the Father. The use of the expression “Son of Man” conveys this aspect in traditional (eschatological and Messianic) language (cf. above).

3. Association with Moses traditions—fulfillment of the Moses figure-type. The context of 3:13 and 6:62, in each case, entails the application of ancient Moses-traditions to the person of Jesus. In 3:13ff, it is the ‘bronze serpent’ tradition (Num 21:9), while 6:62 (in its literary setting) is connected with the manna tradition(s) (Exod 16; Num 11:7-9; Deut 8:3ff), by way of the phrase “bread out of heaven” (6:31ff; Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Neh 9:15, 20). In each instance, the traditional motif and symbolism is applied to the person (and work) of Jesus, as the fulfillment of a type. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is associated, in a comparative way, with Moses (3:14; 6:32), indicating how he, as the true fulfillment of the figure-type, far surpasses Moses himself—cf. 1:17; 5:45-46; 7:19ff; 9:28-29. There are numerous other allusions, developing this same theme (comparing Jesus with Moses and/or the Torah); beyond this, the very conception of Jesus as the Messiah, in the Gospel of John, seems to be centered (primarily) on the Messianic Prophet figure-types (including Moses as “the Prophet” who is to come)—1:21, 25; 4:25ff; 6:14; 7:40; cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

4. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Tradition has the ultimate purpose of producing trust in him (leading to eternal life). This is clearly stated in 3:15 (continuing in vv. 16ff), and is equally prominent in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47f, 51ff, 57-58), leading up to vv. 62-63 (cf. also v. 68).

With these important parallels in mind, let us turn to 6:62. We must keep in view the immediate context; in response to Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), some of his disciples declared: “This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?” (v. 60). The adjective sklhro/$ is typically translated “hard”, but fundamentally means “dry” (vb ske/llw, “be[come] dry”). The basic connotation is of the harshness of dry ground, etc; here, in the context of the Moses/Exodus traditions (cf. above), it almost certainly alludes to Israel’s experience during the desert/wilderness journey, when the people grumbled (for lack of food and water, etc). Indeed, this allusion would seem to be confirmed by the use of the verb goggu/zw (“murmur, mutter,” often in the sense of complaining, i.e., “grumble”); cf. LXX Exod 16:7; Num 11:1; 14:27, etc:

“And Yeshua, having seen [i.e. known] (with)in himself that his learners [i.e. disciples] were muttering [goggu/zousin] about this, said to them: ‘Does this trip you up?'” (v. 61)

The verb skandali/zw is a bit difficult to translate in English; it essentially refers to a person falling into a trap (or snare, ska/ndalon), with the verb skandali/zw denoting the cause of falling. It is typically used in a generalized and figurative sense for anything that can ‘trip up’ a person. In the New Testament, it occurs almost exclusively (26 of 29 occurrences) in the Gospel sayings/teaching of Jesus—in the Gospel of John, only here and in 16:1; for use outside of the Gospels, see 1 Cor 8:13; 2 Cor 11:29.

What is it that “trips up” (skandali/zei) the disciples? In the literary context (of the Bread of Life Discourse), it can only be Jesus’ teaching identifying himself with the “bread from heaven” (cf. the discussion in the previous note). Two aspects of this identification would have been particularly problematic: (1) the implication that Jesus has come down (vb katabai/nw) from heaven, and thus has a heavenly origin; and (2) that, as the true bread, it is necessary for a person to eat Jesus. On the latter point, Jesus clearly, in the Discourse, explains this in terms of trusting in him; even so, it would have been difficult for people at the time to have understood this application of the idiom. Even more provocative is the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58, which further elaborates the problematic idea of eating Jesus (as bread) in terms of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. When viewed from the standpoint of the original historical context—i.e., teaching Jesus would have given to his disciples and others at the time (see v. 59)—this would have made no immediate sense whatsoever. The thought of consuming a person’s flesh and blood would, indeed, have struck many in the audience as harsh (and offensive).

One can certainly sympathize with the disciples’ response. Jesus’ own response, in turn, is seemingly ambiguous and enigmatic:

“(And) if, then, you should observe the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first…?” (v. 62)

This curious question will be examined in the next daily note.