Note of the Day – April 12

NoteOfDay_AfterEpiphany_3

At the close of the previous day’s note, I presented the three passages in the Gospel of John which are, in some respects, parallel to the three Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Today I will examine them in more detail.

The passages are: John 3:13; 8:28; 12:32. They all involve the “Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as do the Synoptic predictions (see the prior note for more on the expression “Son of Man”). They also each use the verb u(yo/w (hupsóœ, “lift/raise high”). In the Gospels, this verb primarily appears in two contexts: (1) as a contrast with “making low[ly]”, i.e., humbling oneself, the ideal of humility expressed by Jesus in the Synoptics (Lk 14:11; 18:14; Matt 23:12; cf. also Matt 11:23 par. and Lk 1:52); and (2) in the context of these three passages in John. In the fourth Gospel, the references to “the Son of Man” usually have to do with the heavenly nature or exaltation/glorification of Jesus, often involving ascent/descent (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Only in Jn 5:27 and (probably) 9:35 is the expression used in the way it commonly is in the Synoptics. The three verses to be discussed below are each embedded in one of the famous discourses of Jesus which make up the bulk of the Gospel. Generally, these discourses follow a pattern: (a) Jesus makes a provocative statement, (b) those who hear him respond with a question which reflects misunderstanding and a failure to grasp the deeper sense of Jesus’ words, (c) Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of profound theological/christological significance. Often two or more sets of question-response are involved. Critical scholars continue to debate the origin, nature, and composition of these great discourses, which are not quite like anything we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and contain language and expressions often similar to that of, for example, the Johannine Epistles.

John 3:14

Kai\ kaqw\$ Mwu+sh=$ u%ywsen to\n o&fin e)n th=| e)rh/mw|, ou%tw$ u(ywqh=nai dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou
“And according as [i.e. just as] Moses lifted high the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary (that) the Son of Man be lifted high”

This is part of the discourse with Nicodemus which comprises John 3:1-21. I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 3:1-2)
  • Statement by Jesus: “If one does not come to be (born) from above, he is not able [lit. powered] to see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)
  • First question by Nicodemus: “How is a man able to come to be (born when) he is aged? he is not able to go into his mother’s belly and be (born) a second (time, is he)?” (Jn 3:4)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding coming to be born out of [i.e. from] the Spirit (Jn 3:5-8)
  • Second question by Nicodemus: “How are these (things) able to come to be [i.e. how are these things possible]?” (Jn 3:9)
    • Jesus’ Response—regarding the witness of the Son of Man (Jn 3:10-15)
  • Further teaching by Jesus—regarding the Son of God sent into the world (Jn 3:16-21)

The saying under consideration here is part of the response by Jesus to Nicodemus’ second question, which may be divided in this way, according to a kind of step-parallelism:

  • The witness of what we have seen and known (which people do not accept)—v. 11
    • Contrast between witness of earthly and heavenly things—v. 12
      • Only the Son of Man ascends/descends to/from heaven (to give witness concerning heavenly things)—v. 13
        • The Son of Man will be lifted high (so people can see his witness)—v. 14
          • Those who see him and trust/believe have Life of-the-Ages [i.e. eternal life]—v. 15

We see embedded in this sequence examples of the well-known dualistic imagery in the Gospel of John: earthly/heavenly, above/below, etc. The verbs used in verse 13 for ascent/descent are a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw, literally “step up” and “step down”; they are common narrative verbs (Jesus and others “step up”, that is, “go up” to Jerusalem for the feasts, etc.), but have a deeper significance in the Gospel—they relate to Jesus’ heavenly/Divine nature, and the nature of his mission: to his being sent from, and returning to, the Father. As such, they are closely tied to the verb u(yo/w (“lift high”) in verse 14, which leads to a second sort of dualism, or two-fold aspect to Jesus as the Son of Man—namely, to his suffering and glorification (or, to put it in classical theological terms, his humiliation and exaltation). Being “lifted up” foreshadows Jesus’ death on the stake [i.e. his crucifixion], but it also suggests his ascension and exaltation: his return (“stepping up”) to the Father in Heaven.

The parallel to the symbolism of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert is noteworthy, for it relates to a range of Exodus/Passover motifs in the Gospel. The episode referred to in Numbers 21:4-9 is a curious one: when the Israelites had complained of the lack of food and water, in response God sent poisonous snakes among them and many died; Moses interceded and prayed to God for the people, and was instructed to fashion a snake-image and set it upon a pole, so that all who looked upon it would be healed and live. Underlying the symbolic action is an ancient pattern of thought which might be described as therapeutic and sympathetic magic: the image represents the ailment and serves to draw it away in hope of healing. That God in the Old Testament frequently works through many apparently (from our viewpoint today) superstitious elements of the ancient world is an important principle of Biblical theology. However, already by the time of the New Testament, this passage was being interpreted at a deeper theological level. The book of Wisdom (16:6-7) makes the point that the saving symbol (the serpent-image) served to direct people’s attention to the person of the Savior (God). The Jewish Targums, too, interpret the looking on the serpent-image as turning (one’s heart) to the living and dynamic (hypostatic) Word/Name (Memra) of God. Cf. Brown, John (Anchor Bible 29), p. 133.

John 8:28

o%tan u(yw/shte to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou, to/te gnw/sesqe o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi, kai\ a)p’ e)mautou= poiw= ou)de/n, a)lla\ kaqw\$ e)di/dace/n me o( path\r tau=ta lalw=
“When you should lift high the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I Am’, and from myself I do nothing, but (rather) according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”

This saying is part of the long, multi-faceted discourse (or series of discourses) set during Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles, Sukkoth), covering chapters 7 and 8 (excluding 7:53-8:11). The specific discourse here involves Jn 8:21-30, which I outline this way, according to the pattern indicated above:

  • {There is no narrative introduction; just a connecting phrase “therefore he said again to them…”}
  • Statement by Jesus: “I go under [i.e. away] and you will seek me, and (yet) you will die away in your sins; (the place) where I go under, you are not able to come” (Jn 8:21)
  • First question of the Jews: “He will not some(how) kill himself(, will he)?” failing to understand “where I go…you are not able to come” (Jn 8:22)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing the nature of their unbelief; dualistic contrast (“above/below”, “not of this world / of this world”) highlights Jesus own identity (Jn 8:23-24)
  • Second question of the Jews: “Who are you?” (Jn 8:25a)
    • Jesus’ Response—emphasizing his identity and witness in two main aspects: (1) judgment, and (2) representing the one who sent him (the Father). (Jn 8:25b-26) There is also here an interesting wordplay in the difficult phrase in v. 25b which begins the response, and which I render literally “(from) the beginning that which even I have spoken to you”—cf. Jn 1:1-2; 8:43.
  • Further teaching by Jesus—clarification of Jesus’ relationship (and identity) with the Father (Jn 8:28-29)

The saying under consideration comes from this final pair of verses, which I arrange (and translate) together:

  • “When you should lift high the Son of Man then you will know that ‘I Am’
    • and from myself I do nothing, but according as the Father taught me, these (things) I speak”
  • “And the (one) sending me is with me [cf. Jn 1:1-2], he did not leave me alone
    • (in) that I always do the (things) pleasing to Him”

The first portion of each verse emphasizes the ontological/existential relationship; the second portion reflects the familiar Johannine theme of the Son (Jesus) doing and saying just those things he sees and hears the Father doing.

In Jn 3:14, lifting up the Son of Man was a sign and symbol of the salvation God would bring about through the Son; now in Jn 8:28, lifting up the Son of Man reveals God the Father himself. This, too, is a common refrain by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (cf. especially Jn 14:8-14). For the identification of Jesus with God the Father (YHWH) as “I Am”, see the culmination of the last discourse in this series, Jn 8:52-59.

John 12:32

ka)gw\ e)a\n u(ywqw= e)k th=$ gh=$, pa/nta$ e(lku/sw pro\$ e)mauto/n
“And I, if I should be lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself”

This third and final passage comes from a discourse (Jn 12:20-36) that is set following Jesus Entry into Jerusalem. It does not follow the same pattern as the previous two discourses examined above. Here is an outline:

  • Narrative introduction (Jn 12:20-22)
  • Statement by Jesus (Jn 12:23-28a)—there are several portions to it:
    • “The hour has come so that the Son of Man should be glorified” (v. 23)
    • Parable of the kernel of wheat, illustrating the generative power of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24)
    • A saying on discipleship, similar to Mark 8:35 and pars. (v. 25)
    • A saying reflecting the familiar theme in the Gospel of the relationship Disciple-Jesus-Father (v. 26)
    • “Now my soul is troubled…” (v. 27)—another statement on the coming of the “hour” which serves as a parallel and inclusio with verse 23.
    • “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28a)—the climax and conclusion to his words.
  • Voice from Heaven: “I have glorified (it) and again I will glorify” (Jn 12:28b)
    • Reaction by the Crowd: they heard the voice as thunder, and did not understand it (v. 29); note the apparent allusion to the Sinai Theophany (cf. Exodus 20:18-21)
    • Jesus’ Response (Jn 12:30-32)—he expounds and explains the voice with two sayings:
      (1) “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief of this world will be cast out outside” (v. 31)
      (2) “And I, if I should be lifted high, will drag all (people/things) toward myself” (v. 32)
    • Additional narrative explanation (Jn 12:33)
  • Question from the crowd: “Who is this Son of Man?”—expressing confusion between the Anointed One (Messiah) and the “Son of Man”, apparently understanding “being lifted up” as related to death or going away.
    • Jesus’ Response—teaching using dualistic imagery of light/darkness: trust/believe in the light while it is here (Jn 12:35-36)

This is probably the most complex and difficult of the three discourses presented here, with wide-ranging and dramatic shifts in emphasis, as the Gospel narrative as a whole builds toward the Passion. The discourse begins with a powerful declaration regarding the Son of Man (v. 23), emphasizing his glorification. Underlying this statement is the teaching on the purpose and effect of Jesus’ impending death (v. 24), and the way in which it connects with the one who follows and believes in him (v. 25-26). The saying in verse 32 does not specifically mention “Son of Man”, but it is clearly implied in Jesus’ use of the pronoun “I” (e)gw). Indeed, the question by the crowd (v. 34) could be understood to relate to all three of the sayings being discussed here (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). Even for believers today, the challenge remains to grapple with these two aspects of the incarnate Christ’s identity, his revelatory message and saving work, as expressed in the Gospel: suffering and glorification, brought together in one extraordinary symbol of the Son of Man being “lifted high”. The power of this symbol is so great that it will draw [literally, “drag”] all people (or all things) to him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally associated with Mary Magdalene and the Anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Three different figures came to be united in Christian tradition: (1) the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany some days before his death (Mark 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13; John 12:1-8), identified in John as Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus; (2) the ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:36-50; and (3) Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus exorcised seven demons (according to Lk 8:2). In popular tradition, Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute who repented upon encountering Jesus, her repentance being demonstrated in the anointing scene. It is doubtless her presence in the Resurrection narratives which served to strengthen her association with the anointing scene in Holy Week. For more on Mary and anointing episodes in the Gospels, see my note from Wednesday in Holy Week last year.

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