April 23: John 17:26

John 17:26

“…and I made known to them your name, and will make (it) known, (so) that the love by which you loved me would be in them, and I in them.”

In the previous note (on v. 25), we discussed the important Johannine theme of Jesus as the Son who makes the Father known to believers. This idea of knowledge (vb ginw/skw) is central to the Gospel—we come to know the Father through the Son. With the Son’s departure (return) back to the Father, this process of revelation—of making known (vb gnwri/zw) the Father—occurs through the presence of the Holy Spirit, operating in Jesus’ place. It is the related verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) that is used here, and the Father is made known by way of His name (o&noma). Both of these are key points of emphasis in the Gospel, and especially here in the Prayer-Discourse.

Jesus speaks in the name of His Father (5:43)—that is, as His chosen representative, and more, as His beloved Son. Similarly, he works in that name (10:25), referring to the entirety of his mission (e)ntolh/) on earth—the signs and miracles, etc—culminating in his sacrificial death. In so doing, he makes the Father’s name known to his disciples. In verse 6 of the Prayer-Discourse, this is expressed through the verb fanero/w—literally, “make (to) shine (forth)”. This blends together the motifs of knowing (ginw/skw), and seeing (ei&dw, and other verbs), expressing knowledge (and revelation) in visual terms. The verb fanero/w occurs 8 other times in the Gospel (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; 21:1 [twice], 14), and 9 more in 1 John (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). Here is how Jesus’ statement reads in 17:6a:

“I made your name shine forth to the men that you gave to me out of the world.”

The emphasis on the name of the Father continues in vv. 11-12:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are (still) in the world, and I come toward you. Father (most) holy, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they would be one, just as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin, if not [i.e. except] the ‘son of ruin’, (so) that the Writing might be fulfilled.”

Two points are clear: (1) the Father has given His name to Jesus (the Son), and (2) believers are protected and kept united in this name. As previously noted, in the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to embody and represent the essential nature and character of the person, often in a quasi-magical manner (cf. my earlier notes and articles on this point in the series “You shall call his name…”). Thus, in giving and making known the Father’s name, the Son is revealing the Father Himself (14:6-11, etc). Ultimately this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, by which we are united with Father and Son, and in the bond of love that the two share.

Indeed, here in 17:26, the name of the Father and the divine love are closely connected, and both are fulfilled through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that Jesus can continue to make known the Father (His name)—note the use of the future tense, “and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw]”. Moreover, it is only through the uniting bond of the Spirit that both God’s love, and the presence of His Son (Jesus), can be in us. God is Spirit, and union with Him can only occur in the Spirit (4:24). The abiding presence of this love—the Father’s love, given to us, as His children, through (and as part of) His love for His own Son—has been emphasized at a number of points throughout the Last Discourse, and again here in verse 23 (cf. the prior note). The same structural idiom is used: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives the same to those who trust in him.

This indeed makes for a powerful and fitting end to the Last Discourse, and to the Johannine Discourses as a whole. All of the key themes and theological points are distilled, in these few verses, into a poetic description of our union with God. It follows the chain of relationship—Father-Son-Believers—but is ultimately resolved into a triadic unity, which I like to represent (however inadequately) through the following simple diagram:

April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

o%ti h)ga/phsa$ me pro\ katabolh=$ ko/smou
“(in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. foundation] of the world”

This is the last of the three i%na/o%ti-clauses in verse 24. Following the first two (i%na) clauses (discussed in the two previous notes), this o%ti clause builds upon the prior clause—especially the phrase “my honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me”. Both conjunctive particles (i%na and o%ti) can be translated generally as “that”, but o%ti often indicates specifically the reason that something is— “(in) that…”, i.e. “for, because”. In particular, this clause states the reason for God the Father having given do/ca (honor/splendor) to Jesus the Son. The verb de/dwka$ (“you have given”) is a perfect form, while h)ga/phsa$ (“you loved”) is an aorist. In context, this difference is perhaps best understood as indicating the priority of the act of love—i.e., the love (past action) precedes the gift (action/condition continuing into the present). In 3:35, a similar point is made, using the present tense of a)gapa/w (indicating the love as it is generally, and regularly, demonstrated):

“The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

This “all” certainly includes the do/ca of the Father. As discussed in the previous note, the word do/ca, which properly means something like “esteem, honor”, as applied to God, refers essentially to the nature and character of His person that makes him worthy of our honor/esteem. As the Son, Jesus receives this same do/ca from the Father, possessing it as his own (1:14; 17:5), just as a child carries within him/her, in various ways, the nature and character of the parent. The Son then reveals this do/ca to his disciples (believers) in the world (2:11; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40). This is his mission on earth,  the duty (e)ntolh/) given to him by the Father, and the reason why he was sent into the world; it was completed with his sacrificial death (and resurrection), which “gives honor” (related vb doca/zw) to Father and Son both (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, etc).

The phrase “before the casting-down [katabolh/] of the world” refers to the creation of the universe (the current world-order, ko/smo$), utilizing the image of a craftsman or builder laying down a foundation. The same expression occurs 10 other times elsewhere in the New Testament, including twice (as here) with the preposition pro/ (“before”)—Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20. These latter passages evince a belief in what we would call the “pre-existence” of Jesus—that is to say, he existed as the divine/eternal Son of God prior to his life on earth, indeed, prior to the very creation of the world. The Gospel of John clearly presents such a Christological view as well (1:1-2, etc), though, in the Discourses of Jesus, it is nowhere stated so clearly as here in the Prayer-Discourse (also in v. 5). It merely confirms the idea, expressed throughout the Gospel, that, as the Son of God, Jesus shares the same (divine/eternal) nature and character of the Father.

However, the main point here is that believers are able to see this do/ca, and to share in it as well (as the offspring/children of God). By being with (meta/) Jesus, in union with him, we can see his do/ca—that is, to see the Father—and will be able to look upon it (vb qeore/w) even more closely when we are with him in heaven. As I noted, this same idea is expressed in 1 John 3:2-3, and Paul promises something similar in his famous declaration in 2 Cor 3:18:

“And we all, with a face having been uncovered, (look)ing against (the glass) at the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord [i.e. as looking at it in a mirror], we are (chang)ed over in (the) shape (of) th(at same) image, from splendor into splendor, even as from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit.”

The phrase “from do/ca into do/ca” is probably best understood as a transformation from what we are now as believers (in the Spirit), into what we are destined to be in the end. This latter splendor also comes from the Spirit—which is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Christ (they share the same Spirit, 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45, etc). This basic idea would certainly be worded differently in a Johannine context, but as a fundamental promise for believers, and as a theological statement, it is much the same.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study, by turning to the next verse (25), the second to last of the Prayer-Discourse, as Jesus circles around to another theme of the Discourses, building on the common key-word and theme of the “world” (ko/smo$).

April 20: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

i%na qewrw=sin th\n do/can th\n e)mh\n h^n de/dwka/$ moi
“that they would look upon my honor/splendor that you have given to me”

This is the second of the three i%na/o%ti clauses that make up verse 24. The first (i%na) clause, discussed in the previous note, states the primary wish or request that Jesus makes to the Father (“I wish that [i%na]…”). It is parallel to the i%na-clause in the first line of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 (discussed in prior notes), in which he requests that [i%na] all believers would be one. This unity is based on the union we have with Jesus (the Son)—and this union is reflected in the initial wish-clause of v. 24:

“that [i%na] wherever I am, they also would be with me”

This raises the question of how we should understand the force of the second i%na-clause here. Is it epexegetical, further explaining and building upon the first clause? or, does it reflect the goal/purpose and result of that clause? According to the latter view, believers are to be with Jesus so that they/we can see his do/ca. I tend toward the first view, in which case the second i%na-clause builds upon (and explains) the first—i.e., that believers would be with Jesus and that they/we would behold his do/ca. The implication is that wherever Jesus is, believers will see the honor/splendor given to him by the Father, since this is based on his identity as the Son.

There can be no doubt, however, that a heavenly setting is in mind. The context (cp. 14:1-7) is Jesus’ departure (return) to the Father, to be alongside of Him just as he (the Son) was in the beginning (1:1-2ff). While believers can see him now, in the present, through the Spirit, a different sort of vision will be possible in heaven, being present with Jesus alongside the Father. An eschatological/afterlife context is certainly implied, marked, in terms of the traditional early Christian eschatology, by the end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus on earth. It is at this moment that all believers will be gathered to him, and taken up with him into heaven (Mk 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc), even as Jesus indicates in 14:3.

There is a powerful reference to this in 1 John 2:28-3:3, as the author presents his instruction with an eschatological framework (a common feature of ethical-religious instruction in the New Testament). The nearness (i.e. imminence) of his coming (v. 28, cf. verse 18) makes it all the more important that believers remain faithful, continuing in union with Christ (and each other). As believers, we are already the offspring of God—His children, even as Jesus is the Son—but, in the end, with the appearance of Jesus, the full nature of this identity will be revealed (cp. Rom 8:18-25). This revelation comes by way of a direct vision of God (“we will see Him just as He is”), and the vision transforms believers so that they/we will also be just as God is. Some commentators understand 1 Jn 3:2-3 as referring to the vision of Jesus, rather than of God the Father; this does not seem to be correct, though it could just as easily apply, and it certainly is what is being referenced in Jn 17:24.

The verb used here in v. 24 is qewre/w, which is sometimes translated blandly as “see”, but more properly signifies an intense or careful observation of something—i.e., “look (closely) at, look upon, behold” —sometimes with the sense of “perceive”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John (28 out of the 58 NT occurrences), including 7 times in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19 [twice]; 16:10, 16, 17, 19). In those references, the emphasis is on the world (including the disciples) not being able to look upon Jesus—because he is going away to the Father. However, at a deeper level, this also refers to an inability to see the truth about Jesus. At the moment, in the narrative context of the Discourse, the disciples have only a limited awareness of this as well; but, following the resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, they will truly know and understand who Jesus is, as the Son sent by the Father. This visionary knowledge finds its completion, and fulfillment, when they are united with the Father and Son in heaven.

The key term in this regard is do/ca, typically translated “glory”, but more properly rendered as “esteem, honor”. It corresponds (loosely) to the Hebrew dobK* (“weight, worth, value”), which, when applied to God, may connote that which makes him worthy of our honor and esteem. For lack of a better term in English, this quality may be referred to as “splendor”, a shorthand honorific for the nature and character of God Himself. It is sometimes conceived of visually, through various light- and color-imagery, and so forth; however, according to the traditional Israelite theology, no human being can truly see God (visually) in this life.

A central theme of the Johannine theology (and Christology) is that Jesus, as the Son sent by God the Father, makes this do/cathe nature and character of the Father—known to his disciples (believers). This is because Jesus (as the Son) shares the same do/ca, given to him by the Father. The point is made specifically by Jesus here in v. 24, as also earlier in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 5). What is most important about this do/ca, is that it was given to the Son (Jesus) by the Father. This follows the guiding theological principle of the Johannine Gospel, that the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:35). This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

April 19: John 17:24

John 17:24

Having discussed each line of the 5-line stanzas in vv. 21-23 last week, the daily notes this week will focus on the remaining verses (24-26) of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17.

“Father, (for that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (and) that they would look (upon) my honor [do/ca] that you have given to me, (in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before (the) casting-down [i.e. foundation] of (the) world.” (v. 24)

The wording of Jesus’ request here follows that of vv. 21-23, in the use of the subjunctive verb of being to express his wish for believers (“they would be…” [w@sin]). In vv. 21-23, as we discussed last week, the emphasis was on unity or oneness; now, the request relates back to ideas expressed earlier in the Last Discourse, regarding the identity of Jesus (as Son of the Father) and the relationship of believers to him.

The neuter relative pronoun o% (“that which”) is a bit awkward, combined with the plural pronoun and syntax (“they…”) in the remainder of the verse. Many manuscripts and versions naturally read the easier masculine plural relative pronoun ou%$, but this is certainly a ‘correction’ for the neuter form. The neuter pronoun must be understood as relating back to the neuter numeral e%n (“one”) in verses 21ff—i.e., for the collective sense of all believers, in union. It also reflects the earlier wording in verse 2 (“all that [o%] you have given to him…”). This refers generally to “all things” (cf. 3:35 etc), but more specifically to all believers (the elect).

One of the main themes of the Last Discourse, restated here, is that of Jesus’ departure from the world and his return to the Father. Given his impending departure, two primary issues are dealt with in the Last Discourse:

    • That the disciples (believers) would be “with” Jesus, including, and ultimately, with him in heaven alongside the Father.
    • That, correspondingly, Jesus would remain in/with believers as they/we continue to live in the world.

The first of these is emphasized especially in 14:1-7ff, and is also the focus here in v. 24.

As in vv. 21-23, the key clauses are subordinate clauses marked by a beginning i%na (or o%ti) particle. There are three such statements (i%na/o%ti clauses) in verse 24, and it will be useful to look at each of them in order.

i%na o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where(ever) I am, they also would be with me”

Just as in the two stanzas of vv. 21-23, the first i%na clause states the primary wish/request of Jesus (“I wish that…”). In vv. 21-23 the request was “that they [all] would be one”, and the wish here must be understood in the light of that earlier request for the unity/oneness of believers. As we discussed, the basis of that unity is the union of believers with Jesus the Son (and God the Father), and that this union is realized both in terms of the presence of the Spirit, and our sharing in the love that binds Father and Son together.

The difference in v. 24 has to do with the emphasis on Jesus’ departure back to the Father (in heaven). This is one of the main ways that Jesus uses the locational conjunction o%pou (“where[ever]”) in the Discourses. In 7:34-36; 8:21-22, the thrust was negative—people in the world were not able to come to the place where Jesus goes. At the beginning of the Last Discourse, he says the same thing to his disciples (13:33, 36), but with the promise to them (spec. to Peter) that ultimately they will be able to follow him. This sets the stage for the sayings in 14:3-4, and the subsequent exposition by Jesus. By seeing Jesus (= knowing & trusting in him), believers know the “way” to the Father (vv. 6-7ff). This trust/knowledge leads to being united with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit, a point expounded by Jesus in the remainder of the Last Discourse. By way of this union, believers are with Jesus wherever he might be. This was declared by Jesus, using more conventional (discipleship) terminology, earlier in 12:26:

“If any one would serve me, he must follow me, and where(ever) I am [o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\], there also my servant will be…”

The wording is quite similar to that here in v. 24.

Returning to 14:1-7, this portion of the Last Discourse seems to preserve a traditional eschatological understanding of Jesus future/end-time return, at which point all believers will be gathered to him (and taken up to heaven)—Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc. Admittedly, the emphasis throughout the Gospel of John is on what we would call a “realized” eschatology—that is, the end-time events (resurrection, judgment, inheriting/entering eternal life) are already being realized for believers, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit. There, are however, instances of the more traditional future aspect that are preserved in the Gospel Discourses as well. While believers are present with Jesus even now, through the Spirit, this union will be fulfilled, and made complete, when he appears to us at the end-time.

Paul expresses this eschatological dimension of our union with Jesus, in a slightly different (but highly memorable) manner, in Colossians 3:1-4. This passage builds upon the Pauline theme of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. dying and rising with him), expressed at numerous points in the letters (and drawing upon the symbolism of the baptism ritual). At first, the wording suggests customary early Christian ethical instruction, using the context of baptism as a starting point: “So, if you were raised together with the Anointed, you must seek the (thing)s above, where the Anointed (One) is… You must set your mind (on) the (thing)s above, not the (thing)s upon the earth” (vv. 1-2). Then comes the powerful and striking eschatological declaration in vv. 3-4:

“For you died away, and you life has been hidden with the Anointed (One), in God; (and) when the Anointed (One) should be made to shine forth, (who is) your life, then also you will be made to shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

This emphasis on honor/splendor (do/ca) is central to the next i%na-clause of verse 24, and will be discussed in the next daily note.

April 16: John 17:22a, 23d

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 5: John 17:22a, 23d

This is the fifth (and final) line of the stanzas in John 17:21-23 (cf. the prior note on the stanza-outline). For some reason, R. E. Brown in his Commentary on John (pp. 769ff) does not include this line with the four prior as part of the parallelism in vv. 21-23. Indeed, many commentators and translators would treat the fifth line of the first stanza (v. 22a) as a separate sentence; however, the parallel in the second stanza (v. 23d) makes clear that the line is integral to the stanza as a whole, and should be included in any treatment of it.

    • “and I—the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them” (v. 22a)
      ka)gw\ th\n do/can h^n de/dwka/$ moi de/dwka au)toi=$
    • “and you loved them just as you loved me” (v. 23d)
      kai\ h)ga/phsa$ au)tou\$ kaqw\$ e)me\ h)ga/phsa$

In this concluding line, the chain of relationshipFather-Son-Believers—is restated as the basis for unity. The basic point is the same, though it is expressed rather differently in each stanza.

Verse 22a

“and I—the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them”

A simpler translation would be “and the honor that you have given to me, I have given to them”; however, this glosses over the emphatic pronoun at the beginning of the line ka)gw/ (“and I…”). Jesus emphasizes that he, as the dutiful Son, is the one who has given from the Father to his disciples (believers). This stresses again the terminology from line 4 (cf. the previous note), that Jesus was sent from the Father, as His messenger and representative. Being also God’s Son means that he is a special kind of representative—one who embodies the very nature and character of God Himself. This is part of the overall theology of the Gospel, and takes on particular significance in the Prayer-Discourse.

The key term in the line here is do/ca (“esteem, honor”, but often translated “glory”)—it is the word that summarizes the relationship between Father and Son. It is especially important within the context of the Passion narrative, as it (or the related verb doca/zw) is used to describe the death and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus, as the moment when the Son faithfully completes the mission given to him by the Father—12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5. The request by Jesus at the start of the Prayer-Discourse (v. 1), closely follows the earlier statement in 13:31 and the sense of the similar request in 12:27-28.

Equally important in the Last Discourse is the emphasis that this same honor (or ‘glory’) is established in the person of Jesus’ disciples, (believers) following his departure back to the Father. Their continued faithfulness and unity of purpose is said to bring honor to Father and Son both (14:13). The emphasis on unity is especially clear in the Vine illustration (15:8)—as believers “remain” (united) in Jesus, through the Spirit, the “fruit” they/we bear brings honor to God. The realization of this honor/glory through the Spirit, as the continuing presence of Jesus uniting all believers, is specifically indicated in 16:14. Indeed, the Spirit fills the very role of Jesus as described here in v. 22a: the Spirit receives from the Father, and gives it, in turn, to believers.

Verse 23d

“and you loved them just as you loved me”

If the key term in the first stanza was do/ca (“honor”), in line 5 of the second stanza it is love (a)ga/ph). Anyone with even a casual knowledge of the Gospel and Letters realizes the importance of love within the Johannine theological vocabulary. Drawing upon the historical (and early Gospel) tradition, love represents the one great command or duty (e)ntolh/) that believers in Christ are obligated to fulfill. In early Christian thought, the ‘love-command’ came to be seen as a fulfillment of the entire Old Testament Law (Torah). This goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (Mark 12:30-33 par; Matt 5:43-48 par), but was expressed more precisely by the New Testament authors (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14; James 2:8ff; cf. also Rom 12:9-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 13:1-14:1; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:6; Col 2:2; 3:14, etc).

In the Gospel of John, the historical tradition is expressed in 13:34-35, at the beginning of the Last Discourse, throughout which the theme of love remains central (14:15, 21-24, 28, 31; 15:9-13, 17-19; 16:27). Love serves to embody (and represent) the unity believers share with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This unity is described by reciprocity—a reciprocal relationship of shared, mutual love, such as exists, naturally enough, between Father and Son. But believers, equally as the offspring (or children) of God, share in this same relationship, and the same love. For more on this, see the previous note on line 3.

In 13:34-35, Jesus genuinely presents love as an e)ntolh/. This Greek word is typically translated as “command(ment)”, but more properly refers to a duty—i.e., something given (placed on) a person to complete. Jesus’ entire mission on earth was just such an e)ntolh/, and now he gives his disciples (believers) an e)ntolh/ as well. This idea was preserved and developed in the Johannine tradition, eventually taking the form of a definitive two-fold e)ntolh/—the only ‘command’ that is binding on believers. It is stated clearly in 1 John 3:23-24, as (1) trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and (2) love between fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example. The love and the Spirit of God are closely connected, to the point of being virtually identified with each other (cf. Jn 3:34-35). It is in 1 John, especially, that the correspondence between love and the Spirit, as the binding/unifying power between God and believers, is rather clearly expressed—3:23-24; 4:13ff; 5:1-5ff.

Given the parallel line in the first stanza, we might expect Jesus here to say “…and I loved them, just as you loved me”. Indeed, this is the reading of some manuscripts, but is likely secondary, and may be a modification influenced by the wording in 15:9, which more properly follows the chain of relationship Father-Son-Believers: “Just as the Father loved me, (so) I also loved you”. The Son’s role as binding intermediary (between the Father and believers) is certainly to be understood here as well, even if not stated explicitly. However, what the best reading of the text indicates is that, ultimately, the emphasis is not on the union of the believers with Jesus (the Son), but on their/our union with the Father. Jesus’ role is to establish and facilitate this relationship, as the “way” to the Father (14:4-6), and the role is continued through the presence of the Spirit.

Implicit in the wording of v. 23d is the identification of believers as the offspring/children (tekna/) of God. The Father loves us (his children), just as (kaqw/$, cf. the note on line 2) he loves Jesus (his Son). Apart from the term “son” (ui(o/$) being reserved for Jesus, there is no other distinction (i.e. ‘natural’ vs. ‘adopted’ sonship) indicated in the Johannine writings. We, as believers, along with Jesus, share in the same identity (and status) as offspring/children of God.

In the next few daily notes, I will be continuing on to the end of the Prayer-Discourse, discussing the remaining verses 24-26. This, I feel, is necessary in order to complete a proper study of vv. 20-23.

April 14: John 17:21c, 23b

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 3: John 17:21c, 23b

Based on the structure of the two parallel stanzas in John 17:21-23 (outlined in a prior note), the first and third lines contain (parallel) statements that contain the principal request Jesus makes to the Father, on behalf of all believers (v. 20). Each of these statements (lines 1 & 3 of each stanza) is expressed by a i%na-clause (cf. the note on line 1), with a explanatory kaqw/$-clause (line 2, prev. note) in between. The third line re-states the first, incorporating the insight from the explanatory clause. Thus, in examining the third line of each stanza here, it will be necessary to keep the prior two lines clearly in view.

    • “that they also would be in us” (v. 21c)
      i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n u(mi=n w@sin
    • “that they would be made complete into one” (v. 23b)
      i%na w@sin teteleiwme/noi ei)$ e%n

In different ways, these statements build upon the initial request (for the unity of believers) in line 1. We will examine them in turn.

Verse 21c

“that they also would be in us”

To begin with, there is a fundamental textual question regarding this phrase. The majority text includes e%n (“one”): “that they also would be [one] in us” (i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n u(mi=n [e^n] w@sin). By contrast, the shorter text (above) is read by some of the oldest/best manuscripts (e.g., Ë66vid B C*) and among a wide range of the versions (and in the Church Fathers). The shorter text is most likely original, with the numeral e%n a natural addition to help explain/clarify the meaning. In my view, however, its inclusion distorts the force of the statement, though it is certainly correct in terms of emphasizing the subject of unity/oneness.

The initial statement in line 1, of the request by Jesus, was “that they all [i.e. all believers] would be one”. Now, the statement in line 3 makes clear that this unity = being in (e)n) the Father and Son (“in us”). It does not simply refer to a unity of believers in relation to each other, but is rooted in a union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This effectively eliminates any local-congregational or ecumenical interpretation of unity. While the unity of believers may be manifest at a local or regional level, in different ways, the view of unity expressed here utterly transcends such limitations. This was clear enough from verse 20, where Jesus speaks inclusively of all believers (cp. 10:16), a conception which cannot be limited to a particular place or time. Unity manifest in local or regional communities is a natural (and practical) by-product of the essential unity of believers.

The explanatory kaqw/$-clause in line 2 further clarifies what it means to be “in” the Father and Son—it is defined by a participation, or joining, in the unity that the Father and Son share with each other. This unity is reciprocal, as the phrasing of the line indicates, with Father and Son each being “in” the other (cf. 10:38, cp. verse 30). In the previous note, I discussed how this might be understood, both in terms of the parent-child idiom, and in light of the Johannine theology. Traditionally, this relationship has been expounded, theologically, two primary ways—(1) as the love between Father and Son, and (2) by the binding and unifying presence of the Spirit. Interestingly, while Jesus says much about both subjects in the Johannine Discourses, he gives little indication of how either relate to his union (as Son) with the Father. That level of theological discussion is, for the most part, simply beyond the scope of the Discourses. There are, however, several interesting allusions, which can be examined.

With regard to the Spirit, perhaps the most interesting line of imagery involves the identification of the Spirit and Word of God. Repeatedly in the Discourses Jesus refers to the words given to him by the Father, to speak and give them, in  turn, to believers in the world. Moreover, according to the majestic Prologue to the Gospel, Jesus himself is the incarnation of the eternal Lo/go$ (or ‘Word’) of God (1:1-2ff). Thus, what the Father “gives” to the Son does not merely represent a (prophetic) message, but reflects the very identity of the Father, manifest in the person of the Son. This is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 6:63, that these “words” are the very Spirit and Life of God.

Jesus says rather more about love (a)ga/ph) in the Discourses, including repeated assertions that the Father loves the Son—3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9f; 17:24ff—though corresponding statements of his love for the Father are rare (cf. 14:31). It is the Father’ love for the Son that precedes, and is the reason for, what He gives to the Son. Outside of the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse, this is perhaps best expressed in 3:35ff:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s into his hand”

This statement on the love they share follows directly after v. 34, where we read:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God, for He does not give the Spirit out of a measure.”

Thus the love of the Father for the Son is directly related to the idea of giving to him the fullness of His Spirit.

Verse 23b

“that they would be made complete into one”

A different sort of emphasis is found in the second stanza, where the same request for the unity of believers in line 1 (“that they would be one”) is here qualified as “that they would be made complete into one”. The precise syntax is actually a bit difficult to translate, since it involves a (substantive) perfect participle following the verb of being. Literally, this would be rendered “..they would be (one)s having been made complete” (w@sin teteleiwme/noi). In other words, the substantive participle serves to describe (and identify) believers as “ones having been made complete”.

The verb here is teleio/w (“[make] complete, bring to completion”), related to the simpler tele/w (“complete”). It is used nine times in the Johannine writings (5 in the Gospel, 4 in the First Letter), out of 23 occurrences in the New Testament (more than a third). In the Gospel, it generally refers to Jesus’ completion of the work God the Father has given him to do on earth (4:34; 5:36; 17:4), also expressed by the verb tele/w in Jesus’ dying word on the cross (tete/lestai, “it has been completed”, v. 30, also v. 28). Notably, in all four occurrences in 1 John, teleio/w specifically refers to the idea of God’s love (a)ga/ph) being “made complete” in believers (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). Both of these aspects inform the use of the verb here, though the latter is primarily in view. Believers are made complete when they/we are united in the love that Father and Son share with each other.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the idea of believers being (or becoming) complete, expressed by the related adjective te/leio$, has a strong ethical emphasis—Matt. 5:48; 19:21; Rom 12:2; James 1:4, 25; 3:2, etc. In Paul’s letters the adjective is used to refer to the character of believers (as mature, whole, ideal), sometimes with an eschatological connotation—cf. 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12. The ethical aspect of teleio/w is not absent here, as can be illustrated by its use in 1 John (cf. above), in connection with the duty believers have to show love to each other. However, we must be cautious about limiting its significance to the practical side, i.e. of how we demonstrate love in practice. As important as this is, it is not what Jesus is emphasizing here. A consideration of the kaqw/$-clause in line 2 elucidates the proper meaning (cf. further in the previous note):

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The love we have is not our own—it stems from God’s love, i.e. the love between Father and Son that unites them together. This is the significance of the references in 1 John—God’s love is made complete in us, to the extent that we, as believers, share in it and remain united with it. It is this same Divine Love that makes us complete as believers, and, in turn, makes us “into one”. The very syntax in verse 23c seems to depict this idea of the plural (i.e., the participle, referring to believers) being turned “into” (ei)$) a single thing (unity with God).

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

    • “just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you” (v. 21b)
      kaqw\$ su/ pa/ter e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n soi/
    • “just as we are one, I in them and you in me” (v. 22c-23a)
      kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n e)moi/

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

April 9: John 17:20-23 (introduction)

John 17:20-23

In the previous daily note, I briefly examined the theme of unity in John 17:20-23, in light of its basis in the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how this is communicated and realized through the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is worth considering in more detail how the theme of unity is presented and understood in these verses.

The message is made twice, through a pair of poetic 5-line stanzas—each states the message in a similar (parallel) form, with certain small but significant variations. This sort of duplication/repetition is a regular feature of the Johannine style, and a number of examples could be cited from both the Gospel and First Letter (cf. the recent Saturday Series studies on 1 John). Indeed, at many points, the language and manner of expression in the Gospel Discourses is quite close to that of 1 John. In the case of the Gospel, one may rightly conclude that this reflects a distinctly Johannine treatment of the historical traditions (i.e., the words and teaching of Jesus).

For ease of reference, the lines of vv. 21-23 are identified by letter—21a-d, 22a-c, and 23a-d (cf. Brown, pp. 768-9). The second line of the second stanza is comprised of 22c & 23a.

The first point to note is that this section of the Prayer-Discourse (chap. 17) is inclusive. That is, Jesus is referring to all believers—his immediate disciples, together with those who come to trust in him, all throughout the world, in the future:

“I do not make (this) request about these alone, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word/account…” (v. 20, cp. 10:16; 11:52)

The statement in v. 20 introduces the actual prayer-request in the parallel stanzas that follow. The parallelism of these stanzas is precise, as outlined here below (cf. also Brown, p. 769):

    • “that [i%na] they all would be one {21a}
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you {21b}
        • that [i%na] they also would be in us {21c}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {21d}
            • and I have given to them the honor that you have given to me” {22a}
    • “that [i%na] they would be one {22b}
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one, I in them and you in me {22c-23a}
        • that [i%na] they would be made complete into one {23b}
          • (so) that [i%na] the world might trust that you se(n)t me forth {23c}
            • and I loved them just as you loved me” {23d}

This formal parallelism is remarkable, though it tends to be obscured in English translation. Note the significance of each line pair:

    • Line 1: i%na-clause with the request for believers to be one
    • Line 2: kaqw/$-clause comparing this oneness with the unity shared by God the Father and Jesus the Son
    • Line 3: i%na-clause restating the unity of believers in relation to the Father and Son
    • Line 4: i%na-clause stating the goal/purpose in terms of the effect this unity will have on the world
    • Line 5: Jesus declares his action (aorist vb. forms) toward believers as patterned after (and repeating) the Father’s action toward him.

Beginning on Monday, I will be devoting a detailed note, each day of the week (Mon-Fri), to each line. The first note (line 1) will cover the initial i%na-clause (vv. 21a, 22b).

References above (and in the following notes) marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A (1970).

April 6: John 6:63; 17:20-23

John 6:63; 17:20-23

In the previous note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), we examined Paul’s understanding of the resurrection of Jesus, and its association with the Holy Spirit. Pauline theology is closely aligned with the Johannine theology, in its emphasis on the participation of believers in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Three key points may be made regarding this participation:

    • It is the means by which believers are united with Jesus (the Son), and, in turn, with God the Father
    • This union occurs through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and
    • The presence of the Spirit conveys the eternal, life-giving power of Jesus—the same power that raised him from the dead—to believers.

At the ritual level, this participation is symbolized through the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In his letters, Paul tends to use the baptism ritual as a way of expressing the participatory aspect, whereas, in the Gospels, the emphasis is on the Lord’s Supper. This is clearly so with regard to the idea of participation in Jesus’ death, built into the very language of the institution, in the Synoptic Last Supper scene (Mk 14:22-25 par). The association with Jesus’ resurrection is less apparent; probably the closest we come is in the Emmaus episode of the Lukan narrative, with the eucharistic allusions in 24:30-31. With the breaking of the bread, the disciples see the resurrected Jesus, and recognize his presence with them.

The sacramental symbolism is more complex in the Gospel of John, having been detached from the Passion/Resurrection narrative, and given a new (and deeper) interpretation within the context of the great Discourses of Jesus. The eucharistic language in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:51-58) is a natural development of the Gospel tradition of the miraculous feeding, where, at an early point, eucharistic allusions were recognized and applied to the narrative (6:11ff, cp. Mark 6:41ff / 8:6ff par). What is distinctive in the Bread of Life discourse, is how this association is further developed and given a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. To “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Jesus means to trust in the message of who Jesus is (the Son of God come from heaven), and to be united with him (to “remain” in him). The overall context of the Gospel makes clear that this is realized through the Spirit, even as Jesus declares in 6:63:

“The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing); the utterances [i.e. words] that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.”

The same point is made elsewhere in the Discourses, through the image of drinking water, which symbolizes the presence of the Spirit (7:37-39; 4:13-14, 23-24). Through the Spirit, the believer is able to participate in the life-giving power of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, to (symbolically) “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood”.

Again, in the previous note, I discussed how, through the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the Spirit of God, and that it is through this Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—that believers are united with him. That this union is based upon the Spirit is a fundamental point of Johannine theology, and one, it seems, that Paul shared. Certainly his exposition of the resurrection of Jesus (in 1 Cor 15 and Rom 8:9-11, cf. also 1:4 etc) would tend to confirm this. Consider also his statement in 1 Cor 6:17: “…the (one) being joined to the Lord is one Spirit“. This is true of the union of Jesus (the Son) with God the Father, and, correspondingly, it is equally true of our union (as believers) with Jesus. While Paul does not develop this idea much further in his letters, it is central to the great Johannine Discourses of Jesus—especially the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) and the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17.

It is in the Prayer-Discourse, that this aspect of Johannine theology reaches its pinnacle, forming, we may say, the climactic point of the entire Gospel. In terms of the narrative context, it represents Jesus’ last words, in the presence of his disciples, prior to his death. From this narrative standpoint, the Prayer-Discourse holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as the institution of the Lord’s Supper does in the Synoptics. Through the presence of the Spirit, believers participate in the life-giving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Spirit is the means by which the union is achieved, while, in the Prayer-Discourse, the focus is on the nature of this union.

While sharing features of the Johannine discourse-format, chapter 17 is unique among the Discourses in that it is a prayer, addressed formally to God the Father, though the main message is intended for Jesus’ disciples (believers)—cp. 11:41-42. I have discussed the Prayer-Discourse at length as part of a series in the Monday Notes on Prayer; you should consult those notes for a detailed exegesis. The main thrust of the prayer is Jesus’ request for the protection/preservation of his disciples (believers). This request to the Father is to be understood in terms of the central message of the Last Discourse—the promise of the Holy Spirit (also referred to as “the [One] called alongside”, para/klhto$), who will continue the presence of Jesus in and among believers, uniting them with both the Son of God (Jesus) and God the Father. It is through the Spirit that the Father will “keep watch over” them (vb thre/w), protecting them from the evil in the world (vv. 11-15). As the Spirit of holiness, it will also purify believers, even as the Father Himself (and Jesus the Son) is holy (vv. 17-19).

That the Johannine Discourses are addressed to all believers, and not merely to Jesus’ immediate disciples, is a vital and essential point for interpretation. The point is made explicit here in the Prayer-Discourse, with Jesus’ words in verse 20:

“And (it is) not about these alone (that) I make (this) request, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word/account…”

The universal scope of the Discourses, involving all believers, was hinted at in earlier passages (e.g., 3:16; 4:21ff; 10:16; 11:52), and is clearly in view in the mind of the Gospel writer (20:29-31). The emphasis on the unity of believers—all believers—was stated previously, both by Jesus and the Gospel writer, respectively:

“…and they will hear my voice, and they shall come to be a single [mi/a] herd [i.e. flock], (with) one [ei!$] herdsman [i.e. shepherd]” (10:16)

“…but also that the offspring [i.e. children] of God, having been scattered throughout, would be gathered together into one [e%n]” (11:52)

Both of these passages are set in the context of Jesus’ impending death, as the means by which—through the resurrection and the presence of the Spirit—believers are united into one. In Hebrew and Aramaic this sort of oneness, or unity, is expressed through the related roots dja and djy, and the respective words dj*a@ and dyj!y`. The latter noun (y¹µîd, “unity”), has a corollary dj^y~ (yaµad) that specifically refers to a unity of persons, i.e. a community, being united together by a common identity or purpose. The Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls) referred to itself as a dj^y~, and so also, we may assume, early Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking Christians did the same for their own Community. In the New Testament, the Greek word for this common bond is koinwni/a (koinœnía, Acts 2:42 et al); it does not occur in the Gospel, but is used by the author of 1 John (1:3, 6-7).

Many Christians, I fear, have misunderstood the sense of Jesus’ prayer for unity in 17:20-23, primarily due to the tendency to read these verses out of context. Indeed, Jesus’ words here must be read in the light of the Last Discourse, with its Passion setting, as well as in terms of the Johannine Discourses as a whole. Keeping the following points in mind will help readers and commentators avoid off-target explanations regarding the unity/oneness expressed in vv. 20-23:

    • It is Jesus’ sacrificial death that is the basis for this unity—this is clear both from the Passion setting of the Prayer-Discourse, and the earlier references to the unity of believers in 10:16; 11:52 (cf. above).
    • The unity involves participation in (“remaining in”) the life-giving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection—cf. the discourses dealing with the theme of resurrection (esp. 5:19-29; 11:21-27ff), the motif of eating/drinking what Jesus gives (4:13-14; 6:51-58; 7:37-38f, etc), and the repeated use of the verb me/nw (“remain”) throughout (esp. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31ff; 12:24, 46; 14:10, 17; 15:4-10ff).
    • The unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit—the coming of the Spirit, following Jesus’ death and resurrection, is a central theme of the Last Discourse (see esp. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15), as well as being alluded to numerous times in the prior discourses.

Verses 20-23 will be discussed in further detail in the next daily note.

March 24: John 12:26

John 12:26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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