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Note of the Day – May 31 (John 12:50)

John 12:50

Today’s note involves the final, concluding verse to the first half of the Gospel of John (1:19-12:50). It belongs to the last discourse of Jesus in this section. The discourse, properly speaking, spans verses 20-36a of chapter 12. Verses 36b-43 serve as the narrative conclusion, both to the discourse-scene of chap. 12, as well as chapters 2-12 as a whole. In verse 36 it is stated that Jesus “…going away, hid (himself) from them”. In the narrative context, this means that Jesus has left the public scene in Jerusalem, away from the people. Though some did come to believe in him, the majority did not, as vv. 37-43 make clear. With Jesus having thus departed, the words in vv. 44-50 are lacking any definite historical-narrative setting. They are detached, and function in the narrative as a climactic statement (and summary) of Jesus’ teaching, with a number of themes and motifs from the earlier discourses (chaps. 3-10) being reprised and restated. Verses 44-50 may be divided into two portions, which I outline here as a chiasm:

  • Trusting in Jesus = trusting the One who sent him (v. 44)
    Seeing Jesus, who is the Light (vv. 45-46)
    Hearing Jesus’ words, which brings salvation from Judgment (vv. 47-48)
  • God the Father sent Jesus—trusting in him is Life (vv. 49-50)

The motifs of seeing and hearing, both frequent in the Gospel, serve as two different ways of expressing the idea of trusting in Jesus. In reference to hearing Jesus—that is, hearing his words or voice—the noun e)ntolh/ is introduced in verse 49. This word is often translated as “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading. However, it does preserve the basic association with the Old Testament Law (Torah). The language Jesus uses relates back to the covenantal language of the Torah, especially in the book of Deuteronomy (e.g., 31:19ff; 32:46-47)—”If any (one) should hear my utterances [i.e. words] and would not guard/keep them…” (v. 47a). The failure to keep/guard Jesus’ words is effectively the same as failure (by Israel) to keep the commands and precepts of the Torah, thus violating the covenant (agreement) with God. Such failure is presented as evidence against the person in the time of Judgment:

“The one setting me aside [i.e. rejecting me] and not receiving my utterances [i.e. words] has the one judging him: the word/account [lo/go$] which I have spoken—that will judge him in the last day.” (v. 48)

This brings us to verse 49, where Jesus gives us more detail about the word[s] which he speaks:

“(For it is) that I did not speak out of myself, but the (one) sending me, the Father, he has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak.”

The closing words in verse 50 repeat this statement: “Therefore the (thing)s which I spoke, even as the Father has said to me, so I spoke”. It is important to consider the syntax and context here carefully, to avoid misunderstanding about the meaning and significance of the word e)ntolh/. Jesus says, “the Father…has given me an e)ntolh/—what I should say and what I should speak”. The Greek noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is derived from the verb e)nte/llomai (entéllomai), and fundamentally refers to something given (placed on) a person to complete, sometimes in the technical sense of a “commission”. When we use the word commandment this tends to be understood as a religious or ethical injunction, but that is not really the meaning here; rather, we should render e)ntolh/ in its basic meaning: “the Father has given me a (charge) laid on (me) to complete…”. This relates to the mission and purpose for which Jesus was sent (into the world) by the Father. As the Son, Jesus imitates and repeats what he sees and hears the Father saying and doing—a theme which runs throughout the Johannine discourses. Ultimately the task given by Jesus to accomplish is his sacrificial death, as is strikingly clear in his final words on the cross: “it has been completed [tete/lestai]” (19:30, cf. also v. 28).

Here in 12:47-50, however, the emphasis is on Jesus’ words—using both the plural r(h/mata (“utterances”, i.e. spoken words, vv. 47-48) and the singular lo/go$ (“account”, i.e. his gathered words, v. 48b). Both terms appear frequently (and more or less interchangeably) in the Gospel. Jesus himself is identified with the Living and eternal Word (Lo/go$) of God in the Prologue (vv. 1-4ff), and we must always keep this theological/Christological aspect in mind when reading about Jesus’ “words” elsewhere in the Gospel. A person’s response to Jesus’ words is essentially a response to Jesus himself (and to God the Father who sent him). This is expressed two ways in vv. 47-48, as we have seen:

  • hearing (vb. a)kou/w) him and keeping/guarding (vb. fula/ssw) his words (v. 47)
  • receiving (lamba/nwn) his words (v. 48)

The motifs of hearing and receiving are essentially parallel:

  • hearing—i.e. both listening and responding (obeying/accepting)
    —keeping (watch) over / guarding
  • receiving—i.e. taking in and accepting

This does not refer simply to obeying something Jesus tells his disciples to do, but involves the broader (and deeper) sense of accepting who Jesus is and what he says. I mentioned the allusions to the book of Deuteronomy in 12:44-50, and this includes the famous passage in 18:15-19, which relates to a coming Prophet (cf. Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40) who will essentially fill Moses’ role. The words of this Prophet hold the same authority and weight as the Instruction (Torah) given by God through Moses (vv. 18-19). It is said that God will raise up this Prophet, and early Christians saw Jesus as filling the divinely appointed (and anointed, i.e. Messianic) role (Acts 3:22-23). This also reflects the fundamental meaning of the word e)ntolh/, as I discussed above.

Finally, we must consider Jesus’ statement in verse 50a:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that His e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

The precise meaning of this statement requires special examination, which I will do in the next daily note.

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