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Note of the Day – April 12 (John 13:31-38ff)

John 6:51-58; 13:31-38 (continued)

Today, I wish to explore the final difference between John and the Synoptics in the presentation of the Last Supper scene—the inclusion of the great Last Discourse (or series of Discourses) which follows the Supper and precedes the episode in the Garden (Jn 18:1-11). There is nothing remotely like it in the Synoptic Gospels, though perhaps a very loose parallel may be seen in the teaching which Luke records in 22:25-30, 35-38 (cf. the earlier note). It is not possible here to examine the Last Discourse (13:31-17:26, or, properly 13:31-16:33) in much detail, but a structural and thematic survey may help us to understand its place in the Passion Narrative (on this, cf. the supplemental note).

Jn 13:31-38—The Introduction to the Last Discourse

I regard 13:31-38 as the beginning, the introduction, of the Last Discourse. Indeed, these verses introduce the primary themes of the Discourse, weaving them around the Passion Narrative tradition of the prediction by Jesus of Peter’s denial. I will leave the role of Peter in the Passion (and Resurrection) Narratives for a later note. It is more important, at this juncture, to consider the place of this tradition in terms of the Last Discourse, and how it connects with the earlier Last Supper scene. I outline these verses as follows:

  • Narrative transition (v. 31a)
  • Saying of Jesus #1—Son of Man saying (vv. 31b-32)
  • Saying of Jesus #2—Declaration of his going away (v. 33)
  • Saying of Jesus #3—The Love Command (vv. 34-35)
  • Excursus: Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)

Let us examine each of these elements briefly.

Narrative transition (v. 31a)—This short statement serves to join the sayings of vv. 31-35 with the Last Supper scene. It is parallel with the even shorter statement that closes the earlier scene:

  • “And it was night” (v. 30b)—darkness symbolizing the identification of Judas as the betrayer, his departure, and the beginning of the Passion.
  • “Then, when he [i.e. Judas] went out…” (v. 31a)

Judas’ departure is significant for a number of reasons, but it has special importance in terms of the Last Discourse. With Judas gone, only the true disciples, the true believers, remain in the room with Jesus. This allows Jesus the opportunity to begin his great “Farewell Discourse” with his faithful followers, imparting information and teaching which he could not have done earlier. Now it is the right time.

Saying #1 (vv. 31b-32)—This is a complex Son of Man saying with a clear earlier parallel in 12:23. Both sayings involve the verb doca/zw—which fundamentally means to regard someone with honor/esteem, but can also be used in the sense of “give honor”. Typically it is translated in the New Testament as “glorify” (i.e. give glory). For other occurrences of the verb in John, see 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16, 28. It will become an important keyword in the Last Discourse—14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10, and cf. also 21:19. First consider the Son of Man saying in 12:23:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor/glory [docasqh=|]”

The context is Jesus’ impending death (vv. 24-27, note the parallel with the Synoptic Passion narrative in v. 27), as well as the declaration of Jesus in v. 28:

“Father, give honor/glory [do/cason] (to) your name”

This emphasis on the name of God is also an important motif in the Last Discourse, especially the Prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

I mentioned the complex structure of the saying in 13:31:

“Now the Son of Man is given honor/glory, and God is given honor/glory in him; [if God is given honor/glory in him], (then) also God will give him honor/glory in him(self), and straightaway will give him honor/glory”

The textual evidence for the phrase in brackets is divided; a simpler structure results if it is omitted:

  • Now the Son of Man is given honor
    —God is given honor in him
    —God will give him honor in him(self)
  • Straightaway (God) will give him honor

The interrelationship between the Son (Jesus, here called by the self-title “Son of Man”) and the Father is a fundamental (Christological) theme in the Fourth Gospel, which reaches a high-point in the Last Discourse.

Saying # 2 (v. 33)

“(My) little children [tekni/a], (only) a little (time) yet am I with you—you will seek (after) me, and, even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews} that ‘(the place) where I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to come (there)’, (so) also I relate (this) to you now”

This saying refers back to 8:21-22, and introduces the theme of Jesus’ departure—his going away—which covers the entire process of his Passion, much as the verb doca/zw does in v. 31 (cf. above). It refers, variously, and with complex layers of dual meaning, to: (1) his death, and (2) his return to the Father. The theme is especially prominent in chapters 14 and 16 of the Last Discourse, where it is also tied to the promise of the Spirit (the Helper/Paraclete). The word (tekni/on), used by Jesus to address his disciples, is a diminutive form of te/knon (“offspring”, i.e. “child”), which features in several key verses in the Gospel (1:12; 8:39; 11:52) and the Letter of John (1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; 2 Jn 1, 4, 13; 3 Jn 4)—always in the plural (te/kna). It may indicate that Jesus is identifying the disciples (the true believers, with Judas absent) as the “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (1:12). The diminutive tekni/on (“little children”) occurs only here in the Gospel, but is used frequently in the first Johannine letter (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21).

Saying #3 (vv. 34-35)—The last saying introduces another primary theme of the Last Discourse: the bond of love which binds the disciples to Jesus (and God the Father), and to each other. It had a precursor in the foot-washing scene of vv. 3-17 (cf. the previous note), especially Jesus’ teaching in vv. 12-17. Here Jesus frames it as a “command” (e)ntolh/), the literal Greek referring to something laid upon a person which he/she is charged to accomplish. The so-called “love command” is an essential aspect of Jesus’ teaching (cf. Mark 12:28-34 par, also Matt 5:43-46 par; Lk 7:41-48), and became a primary (and binding) component of the early Christian identity—Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1-3; 12:31b-14:1; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:13-14; Phil 1:9; 2:2; 1 Thess 4:9; James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22, etc. When the term “commandment(s)” is used in the Gospel and letters of John, it primarily refers to the love-command.

Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)—As in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 14:26-31) functions as an excursus within the Passion narrative, following the Passover meal scene. It is transitional to the Gethsemane scene (Mk 14:32-52 par), which in John’s version does not come until after the Last Discourse (18:1-11). The similar outline indicates that both John and the Synoptics are drawing upon a common historical tradition:

John’s version differs from the Synoptic primarily in the way that the core Peter tradition (vv. 37b-38) is incorporated into the Last Discourse. Verses 36-37a mark this joining transition:

“(Then) Shim’on (the) Rock [i.e. Simon Peter] says to him, ‘(To) what (place) do you lead (yourself) under [i.e. go away]?'” (v. 36a)
(to which Jesus answers:)
“(To) whatever (place) I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to follow me (there)—but you will follow later” (v. 36b)

Note the similarity in language and phrasing to verse 33 (Saying #2, above). The declaration that Peter will follow Jesus at a later point has a loose parallel in Lk 22:32. Peter’s response in v. 37a continues the same Johannine emphasis:

“Lord, through what [i.e. why] am I not able to follow you now?”

His declaration in v. 37b may also be shaped by the language and thought of the Fourth Gospel—compare with 10:11, 15, 17 (from the Good Shepherd parable):

Peter: “I will set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over you” (v. 37b)
Jesus: “I set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over the sheep” (10:15)

 

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