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2019-05-08

Note of the Day – May 8 (John 11:26b)

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John 11:26b

Having discussed the first three portions of John 11:25-26 in the previous notes, it is now left to examine the fourth (and last) part: Jesus’ question to Martha in v. 26b, stated simply:

“do you trust this?”
pisteu/ei$ tou=to

The demonstrative pronoun (tou=to, “this”) refers to what Jesus had said previously in vv. 25-26, beginning with the “I am” declaration in v. 25a—”I am the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life”. As discussed in the prior two notes, the main thrust of the dual-statement in vv. 25b-26a is a promise that the believer (lit. the one trusting [in Jesus]) will experience in the present the reality of the resurrection and eternal life normally thought to be experienced by the righteous in the future. The basis for this “realized” eschatology is the person and presence of Jesus—a truth encapsulated by the “I am” declaration. Throughout the Gospel, the believer’s relationship to Jesus is expressed primarily in terms of trust. This needs to be examined in a bit more detail.

The verb translated “trust” is pisteu/w (pisteúœ), often rendered in English as “believe” or “have faith”; the related noun pi/sti$ (pístis) is typically translated “faith”. It is extremely frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring nearly 100 times (more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament). Most often, the verb is used in some variation of the expression “trust in [Jesus/him/the Son, etc]”, with the preposition ei)$ (lit. “into”). Here, in v. 26b, trust in Jesus is framed in terms of trust in his word—i.e. the message which he has spoken. Elsewhere in the Gospel, trust is sometimes described differently, in terms of the works (i.e. miracles) which Jesus has done. A survey of the use of pisteu/w in the Lazarus episode may be useful:

  • In vv. 14-15, Jesus makes an interesting statement regarding the purpose of Lazarus’ death (i.e. that he had essentially been allowed to die):
    “Lazar (has) died away, and I delight that I was not there, through you [i.e. for your sake], (so) that you may trust [pisteu/shte]…”
  • The dual statement in vv. 25b-26a, where the expression “the (one) trusting in me [ei)$ e)me]” twice is used.
  • The question (with Martha’s response) in vv. 26b-27, currently under discussion.
  • A subsequent statement to Martha in v. 40:
    “Did I not say to you that ‘if you would trust [pisteu/shte], you will see the splendor of God’?”
  • The concluding words of Jesus’ prayer in vv. 41-42:
    “…(it is) through [i.e. for the sake of] the throng (of people) standing around (that) I said (this), (so) that they might trust [pisteu/swsin] that you se(n)t me forth”
  • In the transitional passage which follows the Lazarus episode, it is stated that many of the people who had seen the things which Jesus did (e.g. the raising of Lazarus) “trusted in him” (v. 45, cf. also v. 48).

There is a symmetry to these references:

  • Lazarus was allowed to die for the disciples’ sake—that they might trust
    • “The one trusting in me will…”
      • To Martha: “Do you trust this?”
      • Martha: “I have trusted…”
    • “If you would trust you will see…”
  • Jesus’ prayer was made for the sake of the onlookers—that they might trust

The outer layers reflect trust which comes through witnessing supernatural deeds (miracles) performed by Jesus; the central exchange (between Jesus and Martha, vv. 26-27) reflects a deeper level of trust, in two respects: (1) it relates to his word, not his miracles, and (2) it centers on a recognition of Jesus’ identity. At numerous points in the Gospel, this deeper level of trust is contrasted with the more superficial level based on seeing signs and miracles—cf. Jn 2:18; 3:2ff; 4:41f, 48; 6:14, 26-30ff; 7:3-4; 10:25ff, 32-38; 12:18, 37; 14:10-11, etc, and most famously in 20:26-29.

There is an interesting parallel between Jn 11:26b-27 and Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:27-29). This will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note; however, we may begin by comparing Jesus’ question in v. 26b what that in Mk 8:29a. In both scenes, discussion regarding Jesus’ identity (focusing largely on his miracle-working ability), is turned into a personal question directed to the disciple:

  • To Peter (and the others): “But who do you consider me to be [i.e. say that I am]?”
  • To Martha: “Do you trust this [i.e. what I have said to you, about who I am, etc]?”

When we compare the responses by the two disciples—Peter and Martha—we find an even greater similarity, which we will explore in the next note (on verse 27).

Note of the Day – May 7 (John 11:26a)

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John 11:26a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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