For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday), I will be looking at three passages in the Gospel of John (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-58; 11:17-27ff) where Jesus is associated (and identified) with the power of resurrection. Of the Gospels, it is only John which specifically treats this as a theological motif, though, interestingly, not within the Resurrection narrative itself; the passages discussed here all come from the first half of the book—the so-called “Book of Signs” (chapters 2-12).
First a note on vocabulary.—There are two main verbs related to resurrection:
- e)gei/rw (egeírœ), “rise/raise”, often in the sense of rising/awakening from sleep. In the New Testament, it is the word regularly use to refer to rising/raising from the dead (as in Jn 2:19-20, 22; 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:14), but it also occurs in the simple concrete sense of “get up” (Jn 5:8; 11:29; 13:4; 14:31), or abstractly (“appear”, “become prominent,” etc, Jn 7:52).
- a)ni/sthmi (aníst¢mi), “stand up”. In the Gospels and Acts, this verb is mainly used in the general sense (“stand/get up”); however, occasionally, it refers to resurrection (“stand up [out of the dead / in the last day]”), as in Mark 8:31; Luke 16:31; 24:7, 46. In John, too, it is primarily used in the sense of resurrection (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:23-24; 20:9). The related noun a)na/stasi$ (anástasis, “standing-up”) came to be the technical Greek term in Judaism (and Christianity) for bodily resurrection, in John (5:29; 11:24-25) and throughout the New Testament.
One should also mention the verb zwopoie/w (zœopoiéœ), “make alive” (i.e., give/bring life), which is used in Jn 5:21; 6:63, and in several New Testament epistles (Rom 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45, etc). In addition, there are two other verbs in John which carry a special meaning related to the idea of Jesus’ ascension/exaltation, and where an association with the Resurrection is probably to be included: a)nabainw (“step up”), u(yo/w (“lift high”).
This passage is part of the extensive discourse (Jn 5:19-46) which follows the miracle of Jesus’ healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda/Bethzatha (Jn 5:1-8). In the narrative context, the miracle occurs on the Sabbath, and results in one of the Gospel “Sabbath Controversies”—this controversy is the main stimulus for the discourse, especially Jesus’ saying in v. 17 (“My Father works until now, and I also work”). Jesus’ identity, and his relationship to God the Father, is the dominant theme of the discourse. Verses 19-29 can be broken into three sections, each beginning with the expression “Amen, amen, I say/relate to you…”, and containing a principal saying followed by exposition; the middle section being much more succinct, limited to a single saying.
Verses 19-23: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”
“…the Son does not have power [i.e. is not able] to do anything if not [i.e. except] what he sees the Father doing; for whatever That (One) does, these (things) the Son also does likewise” (v. 19)
This is a familiar theme in the Gospel of John: the Son only does and says what he sees (and hears) the Father doing (and saying). It stems from the basic image of family business and training, where the child (son) learns to follow the trade or occupation of his father, gaining skill, knowledge and expertise. In the verses which follow (20-23), this relationship is described in more detail:
- The works which the Father shows the Son are due to the Father’s love (file/w) for him, and, as a result, the Son’s work will be great and marvellous (v. 20)
- The Father gives the Son the power to raise (e)gei/rw) the dead and make them alive (zwopoie/w) (v. 21)
- The Father gives the Son the power of (the final) Judgment—i.e. to judge all people/things (v. 22)
- The Son therefore deserves the same honor as the Father who sent him (v. 23)
Note here especially the eschatological thrust of vv. 21-22 which emphasizes the resurrection of the end-time—the power of which belongs to Jesus (the Son).
Verse 24: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”
“…the (one who) hears my word, and trusts the (one who) sent me, has life of-the-Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped (from) out of death into life”
Here a number of Johannine words and motifs are present:
- The specific association of “hearing” and “trusting/believing”—in particular, to hear (a)kou/w) has a special theological emphasis in John (Jn 3:29, 32; 5:24-25, 28, 30, 37; 6:45; 8:26, 38-47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:47; 14:24; 15:15; 16:13; 18:37).
- One hears the Word[s] and Voice of Jesus, and thus the Word/Voice of God. Here of course “word” is lo/go$, as in Jn 1:1ff.
- The important teaching that Judgment depends on trust/belief (or lack thereof)—namely, trusting in Jesus, that he has come from the Father (thereby trusting in the Father who sent him); cf. especially Jn 3:16-21.
- The theological use of compound verbs derived from bai/nw (“step, walk”): in particular, a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”) are frequently used to refer to the Son ascending/descending to/from the Father in Heaven. Here, metabai/nw has the sense of stepping from one place to another. There is frequent theological import to these prepositions e)k/ei)$ (“out of”/”into”) as well—”out of” death and “into” life.
- The dualistic juxtaposition of life and death, as well as the specification of “eternal life” (“life of the Age[s]”)
Again, an association with resurrection is implied by the eschatological coupling of “Life of the Age” and “Judgment”. To see the association more clearly, it may be useful to compare Jn 3:16-21 with Jn 11:25-26.
Verses 25-29: “Amen, amen, I say to you…”
“…the hour comes—and now is—when the dead (ones) will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)
Once again hearing (a)kou/w) is emphasized, joining with the saying in v. 24. There is also a clear thematic parallel with vv. 20-22 in the first section—the relation between Father and Son is demonstrated twofold:
- The power to give life (i.e. resurrection/eternal-life), v. 26 [par. in v. 21]
- The power (authority) for (the) Judgment, v. 27 [par. in v. 22]
The reciprocal phrasing of verse 26, so common in the Johannine discourses, is especially worth noting here:
“For just as the Father has life in himself, thus also he gave life to the Son to have in himself”
The relationship between Father and Son is intimately connected to the power of Life. The extension of the relationship (to include believers), stated clearly in other passages, has to be implied here. It could be rendered something like:
…so too the Son has the power to give life to those whom he wishes
The phrasing at the start of verse 25 is significant in framing this entire section:
- The hour comes (e&rxetai w&ra)—eschatological imminence is here implied (i.e., “the day is coming [about to come]…”)
- And now is (kai\ nu=n e)stin)—the present moment, with the presence/appearance of Jesus
Present and future are joined together in a way that is unique to the discourses of Jesus in John. Jesus will give life in the resurrection at the last day, but also gives life now to those who hear, believe and come to him. The power of resurrection will be demonstrated concretely in the present at the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11), and in Jesus’ own resurrection, but there is deeper spiritual significance as well, which I will touch on more in the next two posts. For now, it may be worth concluding with Jesus’ dramatic words in verses 28-29:
“Do not wonder (at) this: that (the) hour comes in which all the (one)s in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out…“