Note of the Day (Easter Tuesday)

NoteOfDay_HolyWeek3

For the first two days of Easter (Sunday and Monday), I examined John 5:19-20 and 6:35-58—two passages in which Jesus identifies himself with the power of resurrection. Today, the third passage will be discussed: John 11:17-27ff, with attention paid primarily to the central verses 25-26.

This passage, of course, is part of the Lazarus narrative (Jn 11:1-44), one of the best-known portions of the Gospel of John. It can be outlined simply as follows:

  • The narrative introduction: a dialogue with Jesus and his disciples—11:1-16
  • Jesus with Martha, in which a short discourse (partial dialogue) is embedded—11:17-27
  • Jesus with Mary—11:28-36
  • The miracle: including a partial dialogue—11:37-44

The key verses (25-26) are from Jesus’ encounter with Martha, upon his arrival in Bethany. Here is an outline of this section:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 17-20)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, expressing faith in Jesus’ (divine) nature and person (v. 21-22)
  • Discourse (vv. 23-26)
  • Martha’s statement to Jesus, again expressing faith in Jesus (divine) nature/identity (v. 27)

The short discourse of verses 23-26 follows a general pattern found in many of the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John:

  • Saying of Jesus (v. 23): “Your brother will stand up (a)nasth/setai, i.e. ‘rise [from the dead]’)”
  • Response by Martha, reflecting a failure to understand the true/deeper meaning of Jesus’ words (v. 24):
    “I know that he will stand up in the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
  • Jesus’ Response, expounding the initial saying (v. 25-26)

Here is the text of Jesus response in verses 25-26:

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/: o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai, kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh\ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“I Am the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] and the life: the (one) trusting into me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) th(at) lives and trusts into me, no he does not die away into the Age.”

In several textual witnesses (including the early Greek MS Ë45) the words “and the life” (kai\ h( zwh/) are not present; however, they are almost certainly original, and, indeed, seem essential to the fundamental sense of Jesus’ words. Martha’s statement in v. 24 reflects the popular Jewish belief of the time—of an end-time resurrection (by God) connected with the Judgment. This same basic idea is expressed by Jesus with the four instances of the phrase “and I will stand him up in the last day” in Jn 6:35-50 (see the previous day’s note). Jesus corrects Martha’s understanding in two respects:

  1. By identifying the resurrection not with a future event, but with his own person. As has generally been recognized by interpreters of the Gospel of John, the “I Am” (e)gw ei)mi) formula used by Jesus indicates his intimate relationship (and identity) with God the Father (YHWH).
  2. By identifying himself not just with the (future) bodily resurrection (“standing-up”, a)na/stasi$), but with “the life”. In the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, zw/h (“life”) nearly always refers to divine or eternal life, sometimes specified by the traditional Jewish expression (rendered in Greek as) “life of the Age(s)”.

In the previously discussed passages (Jn 5:19-29; 6:35-50), these two aspects are indicated by the verbs a)ni/sthmi (“stand up”) and zwopoie/w (“make alive”). The first verb (related to the noun a)na/stasi$) in this context primarily signifies physical/bodily resurrection, while the second verb is tied to the Johannine theological/spiritual understanding of “life” (zw/h). The power to give (eternal) life belongs to both Jesus (the Son, 5:21) and the Spirit (6:63). In order to see something of the logic running through 11:25-26, the following diagram might be helpful:

  • Resurrection (a)na/stasi$)—power to raise the dead (at the end of the Age)
    • Life (zw/h)—power to give (eternal) life
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
        • Will live (zh/setai) [though dying phyisically]
        • Living (zw=n) [possession of eternal life through the Spirit]
      • Trusting in(to) Jesus
    • Life [implied]—believer will not ever die
  • Into the Age (to Come)

The chiastic outline moves from the external manifestation of Jesus on earth (as miracle worker and end-time judge) to the internal experience of the believer (union with Christ through the presence/power of the Spirit).

The Lazarus narrative as a whole also demonstrates these two aspects of Jesus’ resurrection and life-giving power:

  • The narrative introduction: physical death of Lazarus and arrival of Jesus in Bethany (11:1-16)
    • Encounter of the believer (Martha) with Jesus (11:17-24)
      • Life-giving words of Jesus, including the believer’s response (11:25-27)
    • Encounter of the believer (Mary) with Jesus (11:28-36)
  • The miracle: physical raising of Lazarus and restoration to life (11:37-44)

If we combine all three passages examined on the three days of Easter, we can see how the future and present dimensions of resurrection relate:

  • John 5:19-29: Raising the dead and Giving life—those who hear the voice of the Son will come out of the tomb
    • John 6:35-50 (vv. 39-40, 44, 54): Future (bodily) resurrection: “and I will raise him in the last day”
    • John 11:17-36 (esp. vv. 25-26): Present (spiritual/eternal) life-giving: “I Am the resurrection and the life”
  • Conclusion/Illustration: Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes out of the tomb (John 11:37-44)

In light of Jesus’ own resurrection (celebrated on Easter), and these passages on the power of resurrection in the person of Jesus, the central question posed to the believer (Martha) at the end of Jesus’ words in Jn 11:25-26 is most significant:

pisteu/ei$ tou=to;
“Do you trust/believe this?”

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