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Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 2)

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The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 2)

In the previous article, I examined in detail the declaration by Jesus (Mark 1:15; par Matt 4:17; cf. also 3:2; 10:7; Luke 10:9ff) which introduces his public ministry in the core Synoptic Tradition. The eschatological background and connotation of the language was discussed. Indeed, the eschatology of Jesus cannot be separated from his teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. This will be mentioned at several points during our survey of the remaining sayings of Jesus; for more detail on the expression/concept “Kingdom of God” in the New Testament, cf. my earlier article, and Part 5 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

I have decided to group together the sayings of Jesus, which have an eschatological aspect, or emphasis, under several themes. At the same time, I find it useful to continue the method applied in the earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, distinguishing between: (a) the core Synoptic tradition, representing primarily by the Gospel of Mark, (b) the [“Q”] material shared by Matthew and Luke, and (c) sayings or details which are unique to Matthew and Luke.

As we shall see, most of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in the Synoptic Tradition is grouped together, or otherwise contained, in the great “discourse” set in Jerusalem shortly before his death (Mark 13 par). This portion of the study will be limited to those sayings and statements which appear elsewhere in the narratives. The sayings cover the following areas:

  1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
  2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
  3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
  4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
  5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
  6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist

As the Synoptic Gospels essentially begin with the baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist, it is useful here to look again at several important traditions related to the Baptist. In the previous article, we examined briefly the eschatological background and context of John’s preaching, which, according to Mark 1:15 par, was generally shared by Jesus at the start of his ministry. More significant for the Gospel tradition are the two Scripture passages associated with John and his ministry—Isa 40:3 and Malachi 3:1ff. The age and authenticity of the association with these passages is confirmed by several factors:

  • Multiple attestation in several lines of tradition (Mark 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; Luke 1:16-17, 76; John 1:23)
  • The similar use of Isa 40:3 by the Qumran Community (1st century B.C.)
  • The (Messianic) language/terminology influenced by Mal 3:1ff (cf. below), which largely disappeared from subsequent Christian usage
  • The inconsistencies of application to both John and Jesus, only partly harmonized in the Gospels as we have them
  • The lack of reference/interest in John, and the related Messianic associations, in early Christianity by the time most of the New Testament books were written (c. 50-90 A.D.).

The prophecy in Malachi 3:1ff had an eschatological emphasis essentially from the beginning. As I have discussed elsewhere, in its original context, the “Messenger” almost certainly referred to a heavenly/divine Messenger (i.e. an Angel), who represented YHWH himself when he comes to judge his people. At some point in the composition of the book, this was given a specific interpretation, or application (4:5-6): the prophet Elijah would be the one preceding the Lord’s appearance on the great day of Judgment. He would bring about the repentance of the people, restoring the faith and religion of Israel. This belief and (eschatological) expectation came to be established in Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 48:10, and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) and certainly informs the Baptist traditions in the Gospels. Even though John specifically denies being Elijah in Jn 1:21, 25, early Christians came to view him in this light. Jesus himself makes this association in the Gospel tradition, in Mark 9:11-13 par, which is worth examining briefly.

Mark 9:11-13 par

This exchange between Jesus and his disciples follows the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:1-10 par), though it may reflect a separate tradition which has been joined to that scene, through thematic “catchword-bonding”—i.e. the common motifs of Elijah and the prediction of Jesus’ suffering/death. There does seem to be an abrupt shift in the discussion toward eschatology, as the disciples ask Jesus:

“(Why is it) that the writers [i.e. scribes, experts on the Writings] relate that it is necessary (for) Eliyyah to come first?” (v. 11)

This certainly reflects the tradition from Mal 4:5-6 (cf. above), that Elijah would appear shortly before the great day of Judgment. The use of the verb dei= (“be necessary” [lit. binding], i.e. required) emphasizes a very specific detail of the eschatological expectation—before the day of Judgment comes, Elijah must first appear, preparing God’s people for that moment, in fulfillment of Mal 4:5-6. Jesus would seem to confirm this belief:

“(Yes) Elijah, coming first, (does) set all things down from (what they were before)…” (v. 12a)

I have given an excessively literal translation of the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi, but the basic idea is that of restoring a previous condition—i.e. the kingdom of Israel, the religious devotion of the people, etc. The verb has eschatological significance, as is clear from its use in Acts 1:6 (to be discussed). What is interesting here (as in Acts 1:6ff) is how Jesus suddenly shifts the focus from this eschatological expectation to the situation in the present moment, namely his upcoming suffering and death:

“…and (yet) how (then) has it been written about the Son of Man, that he would suffer many (thing)s and (be) made out as nothing?” (v. 12b)

Jesus is using the equivalent of a me/nde/ construction, establishing a contrast—i.e. “[me/n] (on the one hand)…”, “but [de/, here kai/] (on the other hand)…” To paraphrase, he is telling his disciples:

“Yes, it is true that Elijah comes first and restores all things, but then how is it that the Son of Man will suffer many things and be reduced to nothing?”

Jesus’ explanation is actually a shattering of traditional eschatological (and Messianic) expectation, presented as something of a conundrum. The significance of this has specifically to do with the identification of John the Baptist as “Elijah”. The traditional understanding of Mal 4:5-6 involved Elijah (as the Messenger) bringing the people to repentance and restoring Israel to faithfulness and true religion (Mal 3:2-4). If this is so, and if John is Elijah, then how could Jesus, God’s Son and Anointed (cf. the Transfiguration scene, esp. Mk 9:7 par) have to endure suffering and death at this time? Clearly, Israel as a whole has not yet been restored in the manner prophesied by Mal 3:2-4. Jesus’ concluding words turn the tables even more strikingly on the identification of John as Elijah:

“But I relate to you that, indeed, Eliyyah has come, and they did to him as (many thing)s as they wished, even as it has been written about him!” (v. 13)

This must be understood as a radical re-interpretation of the traditional expectation. Yes, John is “Elijah”—in fact, he suffered abuse from the political and religious rulers, much as Elijah himself did! It is a uniquely Christian reworking of Messianic thought which emphasizes the suffering and death of God’s Anointed (Jesus). That this understanding goes back to the words and teachings of Jesus himself cannot be doubted (on objective grounds). His suffering and death are injected right into the middle of the traditional Messianic/eschatological beliefs of the time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scenes surrounding Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem in the Gospel Tradition, as will be discussed.

Matthew 11:14 (and 17:11-12)

Jesus also identifies John as “Elijah” in Matthew 11:14, but in a very different context, and without the unique interpretation in Mark 9:11-13 par. It is a Matthean detail, incorporated within material otherwise shared by Luke (i.e. “Q”, Matt 11:1-19 / Lk 7:18-35):

“…and, if you are willing to receive (it), this [i.e. John] is Eliyyah, the (one) about to come.”

In contrast with Mark 9:11-13, here Jesus makes an unqualified identification of John with the eschatological figure of Elijah, called “the one (who is) about to come” (cf. my discussion on the background this phrase). This also affirms an imminent expectation of the end (“about to come”), in line with the thinking of many Jews (and nearly all early Christians) of the period. Matthew’s version of the Mark 9:11ff tradition also seems to tone down the radical interpretation given by Jesus, presenting it in more conventional terms (note the words in italics):

“Eliyyah (indeed) comes, and will restore [a)pokatasth/sei] all (thing)s; but I relate to you that Eliyyah already came, and they did not know (this) about him, but did with him as (many thing)s as they wished. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer under them.” (Matt 17:11-12)

Interestingly, Luke has omitted, or does not include, the Mark 9:11-13 tradition, and has nothing corresponding to Matt 11:14. However, the author of the Gospel clearly knew (and, we may assume, accepted) the tradition identifying John as “Elijah”, in light of Mal 4:5-6 (cf. Luke 1:16-17, 76).

2. The coming of the Kingdom

Jesus’ eschatological understanding of the coming of the Kingdom is clear enough from the declaration in Mark 1:15 par, occurring at the beginning of his public ministry in the core Synoptic tradition (but not in Luke). There are a number of other sayings which emphasize this aspect as well. I note here the more significant of these.

Mark 9:1 par

In between the confession by Peter (Mk 8:27-30ff) and the Transfiguration scene (9:1-10), there is a short block of sayings by Jesus, which may be outlined as follows:

  • The need for the disciples to “take up his cross” (8:34)
  • Saving/Losing one’s life, i.e. for the sake of Jesus (8:35-37)
  • The Son of Man saying, rel. to the Judgment and faithfulness in following Jesus (8:38)
  • The saying about the coming of the Kingdom of God (9:1)

There is a clear thematic progression, moving from the motif of faithfulness in following Jesus to the eschatological theme of the Judgment and the coming of the Kingdom. The eschatological context of 9:1, which some commentators may be reluctant to admit, seems to be unmistakable in light the Son of Man saying in 8:38 (to be discussed in the next part of this study). Note the parallel:

“…when he [i.e. the Son Man] should come in the splendor of his Father with the holy Messengers” (8:38)
“…the kingdom of God having come in power” (9:1)

Here is the saying in 9:1 (with the Synoptic parallels):

“Amen, I relate to you that there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not (at all) taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power.”
Matthew’s version (16:28) is identical except for the closing words:
“…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Luke’s wording (9:27) differs slightly, but is otherwise identical to Mark, except for the omission of the final words “in power”.

While it is possible that Luke’s version downplays the eschatological context, Matthew’s version unquestionably enhances it, relating it to the Son of Man sayings in Mk 13:26f and 14:62 par (to be discussed). It is understandable why many commentators, especially those with a strong traditional-conservative leaning, would be uncomfortable with the eschatology expressed in Mk 9:1 par, since Jesus appears to say that some of his disciples would still be alive when the Kingdom of God comes (at the end-time). This has led to interpretations which view the saying in a somewhat different context than that indicated by both the wording and the association with the Son of Man saying in 8:38. These alternate interpretations include:

  • Witnessing the resurrection and/or ascension
  • A vision of Jesus’ in glory (such as the Transfiguration) which presages his subsequent (end-time) appearance in glory
  • The manifestation (“coming”) of the Kingdom through the early Christian (apostolic) mission, accompanied by miracles and the work of the Spirit

The narrative context suggests at least a thematic connection between the saying in 9:1 and the Transfiguration scene which follows, but this association is highly questionable in terms of Jesus’ intended meaning. The last option is probable, at least in terms of the understanding of the writer and overall presentation of Luke-Acts. However, the problem with all of these interpretations is they really do not square with Jesus’ own emphasis that some of the disciples standing with him would not die (“would certainly not taste death”) until they saw the Kingdom come in power/glory. For the events mentioned above as possible solutions, nearly all of the disciples would still be alive, and provide nothing remarkable in confirmation of Jesus’ prediction. On the other hand, the idea that some of the disciples would still be alive at the (end-time) coming of the Kingdom would certainly be worthy of note, establishing a general time-frame for the realization of this event (i.e. by the end of the 1st century A.D.). This is important, since in coincides with the general belief, held, it would seem, by nearly all of the earliest Christians, that end of the current Age (marked by the return of Jesus and the Judgment) would occur very soon. Only after the first generation of believers had begun to die off in significant numbers, did this eschatological expectation start to alter. This can be seen at several points in the later strands of the New Testament, most notably with the tradition involving the “Beloved Disciple” in John 21:20-23.

The obvious doctrinal difficulties related to an imminent eschatology in the sayings of Jesus will be discussed in a separate, supplemental article.

Matthew 12:28 / Luke 11:20

An interesting (and much-discussed) saying of Jesus comes from the so-called “Q” material (i.e. traditions found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). It raises questions as to Jesus’ understanding of just how (and when) the Kingdom of God will come. The saying is incorporated within the Synoptic “Jesus and Beelzebul” episode (Mark 3:22-27 par). In response to accusations that he expels unclean spirits “in (the power) of Beelzebul”, Jesus makes the following statement:

“But if (it is) in the Spirit of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived [e&fqasen] upon you.” (Matt 12:28)

Luke’s version (11:20, probably reflecting the original form of the saying) really only differs in the use of the expression “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” instead of “Spirit of God”. The verb fqa/nw has the fundamental meaning of arriving at a particular point or location, especially in the sense of reaching it first, or ahead of someone else. It is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Paul’s letters (Rom 9:31; 2 Cor 10:14; Phil 3:16; and 1 Thess 2:16; 4:15). The latter references in 1 Thessalonians are especially significant due to their eschatological emphasis. But how is Jesus’ statement here to be understood? Is the reference to the coming of the Kingdom eschatological? If so, then it would signify that the end-time is being inaugurated in the person and work of Jesus (i.e. his miracles). The use of fqa/nw could be taken to mean that the Kingdom is coming upon people, through the work of Jesus, before they realize it, and, perhaps, in a way that they would not have expected (cf. below on Luke 17:20-21). What is especially important is Jesus’ emphasis that his working of miracles is done directly through the presence and power of God (His “Spirit” or “finger”). This certainly would reflect God’s ruling power and authority (over both human beings and evil spirits). In Jesus’ ministry, the proclamation of the Kingdom is closely connected with his power to work healing miracles (Mk 1:15, 21ff, 32; 3:15-16 par; Matt 4:23ff; Luke 4:40-41, 43; 8:1-2; 9:1-2; 10:17-18, etc).

Luke 17:20-21
[cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Thomas sayings 3, 113]

Another famous (and difficult) saying regarding the coming of the Kingdom is recorded in Luke 17:20-21. It is part of a block of eschatological teaching (17:22-37), largely identified as so-called “Q” material, but which Matthew incorporates at a different location, in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Matt 24). It begins with a question by certain Pharisees: “When (will) the kingdom of God come(?)”. As is often the case in the Gospel tradition, Jesus gives an ambiguous or unconventional answer to such eschatological questions (cf. on Mk 9:11-13 above). His answer is composed of three statements, two negative and one positive:

  • “the kingdom of God does not come with (a person) keeping (close) watch alongside”
  • “they will not (be able to) say ‘See! here (it is)!’ or ‘There (it is)!'”
  • “see—the kingdom of God is within [e)nto/$] you [pl.]”

The two negative statements seem to express the same basic idea, that the coming/presence of the Kingdom will not be readily visible through observation and sense-perception—at least not by the people at large. In some respects these statements are at odds with others which emphasize the visible signs of the Kingdom (cf. Matt 12:28 par, above). There seem to be two ‘groups’ of people referenced in the first two (negative) statements:

  • Persons giving careful study and consideration to the matter—examining the ‘signs of the times’, the Scriptural prophecies, engaging in learned speculation, etc (i.e. persons perhaps like the very Pharisees inquiring of Jesus)
  • A popular response to apparent signs or claims that the Kingdom is coming, or has come (cf. Luke 21:8 par)

The implication of these statements is that the Kingdom of God comes in a way and manner that the people at large—the learned and unlearned alike—do not (and cannot) realize. This informs the positive statement in verse 21b: “For, see!—the kingdom of God is within you”. The precise meaning of this saying has been much debated and remains controversial, the difficulty centering primarily on the rare preposition (or adverb) e)nto/$ (“within, inside”). The translation “within” or “inside” can be rather misleading, as it suggests an identification of the Kingdom with the Spirit dwelling in and among believers (cf. Rom 14:17; Luke 11:2 v.l.; John 3:5). However, here in vv. 20-21 Jesus is addressing certain inquisitive Pharisees (often his opponents in debate/dispute), rather than his disciples. Also, the use of e)nto/$ with the plural pronoun u(mw=n (“you [pl.]”) suggests something a bit different.

Unfortunately, e)nto/$ is quite rare, occurring in the New Testament only at Matt 23:26; however, the basic denotation is locative (and usually spatial)—something which is located, or takes place, within/inside certain limits or boundaries. To use it in the context of a group of people suggests a meaning akin to “in the midst of” (usually expressed as e)n me/sw|), but with a slightly different emphasis. The idea seems to that the Kingdom of God exists (or is/will be established) in the very midst of the people (esp. the learned Pharisees), without their being aware of it. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus, in the saying as we have it, is referring primarily to himself—i.e., many people, including these Pharisees, do not recognize that the Kingdom is present (has “come near”, Mk 1:15 par, etc) in the person and work of Jesus. It is also possible to understand the saying, and the use of e)nto/$, in a more figurative sense—e.g., that the Kingdom comes, or is present, within the limits of their own expectation (and/or their religious understanding), without their realizing it. This may seem overly subtle, but keep in mind that Jesus’ ministry began with a declaration (Mk 1:15 par) that draws upon traditional Jewish eschatological expectation (regarding the Kingdom), and he continued to make use of similar language and imagery throughout his ministry, often giving it an entirely new meaning. This will be discussed further as we continue in our study on Jesus’ sayings and parables.

One additional difficulty involves the force of the present verb of being (e)stin, “is”) which closes verse 21. There are two ways to understand this:

  • Taken literally, in a temporal sense (i.e. referring to the present), it would mean that the Kingdom has already come, and is present. This would agree with sayings such as Mk 1:15; Matt 12:28 pars. It also would provide confirmation for the idea that the Kingdom is present primarily in the person of Jesus.
  • It may simply reflect an indicative statement describing the nature and character of the Kingdom—i.e. this is what the Kingdom is like, etc—without necessarily referring to time (past-present-future). In other words, he may be saying that, when the Kingdom comes, it will be present in their very midst (without their recognizing it).
Matt 6:9-13 / Luke 11:2-4

Finally, mention should be made of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4). It is not customary for Christians to think of this famous prayer by Jesus from an eschatological viewpoint, but it is likely that this aspect was present in its original form as uttered by Jesus. We have already seen how the idea of the coming of the Kingdom (the wish and petition expressed in the first lines of the prayer) is fundamentally eschatological, both in its background, and as used by Jesus. Similarly, the requests that one not be led “into testing” (Matt 6:13a; Lk 11:4b), and for “rescue” from evil [or from the Evil One] (Matt 6:13b), probably carry an eschatological nuance. A prayer to God for the coming of the Kingdom and deliverance from evil would have been a fundamental component of Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation at the time of Jesus.

Note of the Day – August 3 (Revelation 1:11-16)

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Revelation 1:9-20 (continued)

Revelation 1:11-16

In the previous note, I examined the introduction (vv. 9-10) to the first vision of the book of Revelation. Today, I will be discussing the vision itself, which as I noted, is presented as a theophany (i.e. manifestation of God). The figure who appears, and speaks to the seer John, though not specifically identified as Jesus Christ, is certainly to be understood as the rised/exalted Jesus. His appearance is described with both heavenly and divine characteristics, largely drawn from Old Testament tradition. Each of these will be discussed in turn:

1. “a great voice as a trumpet” (v. 10b)—cf. the previous note.

2. “and I turned about to see the voice that spoke with me” (v. 12a)—Here English translations tend to obscure what may well be an allusion to the Sinai theophany (Exod 20:18, cf. also Deut 4:12): “And all the people saw the voices…and the voice of the horn [i.e. trumpet]…” The plural “voices” refers to the sounds of thunder (i.e. thunder as the “voice” of God). Jewish tradition has explained this wording along the lines that the voice of God was so great as to seem visible to those who heard/witnessed it (cf. Philo Life of Moses II.213; On the Decalogue 46-47; Josephus Antiquities 1.285; 2. 267ff, etc; Koester, pp. 244-5ff, and for a number of the references below).

3. “seven golden lamp(stand)s” (v. 12b)—The author here repeats the verb e)pistre/yw (“turn upon/about”), adding dramatic suspense to his act of turning: “and, turning about, I saw…” These seven golden lamps are clearly parallel to the “seven Spirits” around God’s throne in verse 4 (cf. the earlier note), and again suggests that the manifestation of Jesus is very much like the manifestation of God himself. The most direct allusion is to Zechariah 4:2ff, where the lamps are explained as heavenly Messengers (“eyes”, v. 10b)—that is, Angels (“Spirits”)—but where there is also a connection with the presence of the Spirit of God (v. 6). The seven lamps may also allude to the golden lampstand, with seven branches, in the Tabernacle and (Second) Temple (Exod 25:31-40; 1 Macc 4:49-50; Josephus, Jewish War 5.217; the depiction on the Arch of Titus, etc).

4. “one like a son of man” (v. 13a)—This, of course, alludes to the famous description of the divine/heavenly being in Daniel 7:13-14 (also quoted earlier in verse 7 [cf. the note]):

“And see—with the clouds of heaven (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=] was coming…”
LXX: “And see—upon the clouds of heaven (one) as a son of man [w($ ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou] came…”

While the Greek version of Dan 7:13 uses the general particle w($ (“as”), the description here in Rev 1:13 is a bit more precise, using the adjective o%moio$ (“similar [to]”), emphasizing likeness. Originally, the expression “son of man” (Aram. vn`a$ rB^) simply meant “human (being)”, part of “(hu)mankind”; and, thus, the reference in Daniel is to a heavenly being who has the appearance of a human being. The use of the expression as a distinct title (“Son of Man”), referring specifically to such a divine/heavenly being, is fundamental to the early Christian understanding of Jesus, and of the eschatological outlook in the New Testament. For more on this topic, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. It is important to note that, while Dan 7:13f is the primary basis for the eschatological/Messianic title “Son of Man”, here the book of Revelation does not use the title, but goes back to the underlying wording in Daniel. The opening phrase “in the middle of the lampstands” emphasizes the centrality of Jesus, but also echoes the presence of God (and his throne) in the middle of the (surrounding) “seven Spirits”.

5. “a golden girdle [i.e. belt]” (v. 13b)—The initial description of this figure “like a son of man” refers to his clothing: “having been sunk in(to a garment) to the feet, and girded about toward the breasts (with) a golden girdle [i.e. belt]”. From a socio-cultural standpoint, this clothing indicates a high, honored/dignified status; possibly also a priestly status is suggested (cf. Exod 28:4-5; Zech 3:4, etc). It is best to view this clothing, with its golden belt, simply as characteristic of a heavenly being (Dan 10:5; cf. also Ezek 9:2f, and note again the description in Rev 15:6).

6. “his head and hairs were white as wool, white as snow” (v. 14a)—This would seem to be drawn from the description of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Daniel 7:9 (cf. also 1 Enoch 46:1; 71:10). It may be intended to reflect the divine/heavenly generally (white symbolizing purity, etc), and could refer to a heavenly being (Angel) such as in 1 Enoch 106; however, the context of Dan 7:13, and the other parallels with the appearance of God (theophany), suggests a comparison with the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9).

7. “his eyes (were) as a flame of fire” (v. 14b)—Again, this description would be characteristic of a heavenly/divine being (Dan 10:6; 1 Enoch 106:5f); the detail occurs again in 19:12.

8. “his feet (were) similar to white copper” (v. 15a)—The word xalkoli/banon refers to white[ned] (li/bano$) copper (xalko/$), i.e. refined/burnished bronze, “as (if) having been burned in a furnace”. It appears to be unique to the book of Revelation (also in 2:18), but is presumably derived from the description of the heavenly being in Dan 10:6. A shining fiery appearance at the feet (or below the feet) is also part of the manifestation of God (on his throne) in the language of theophany.

9. “his voice (was) as the sound of many waters” (v. 15b)—This image most likely comes from Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2, where it describes the approach of God (preceded and surrounded by heavenly beings). There is probably also an allusion to Daniel 10:6, as well as the thundering “voices” of God in the Sinai theophany (Exod 19:16; 20:18).

10. “he (was) holding…seven stars” (v. 16a)—These stars are being held in his right (lit. “giving”) hand, i.e. the hand or side indicating favor and blessing, as well as power and authority, etc. Power over the stars could be attributed to heavenly beings, but more properly relates to God as the Creator and sustainer of the heavens—i.e. God as the one who “causes the heavenly armies [i.e. bodies/beings] to be/exist” (toxb*x= hwhy). Verse 20 explains that the stars are, in fact, heavenly Messengers, connected with the seven congregations to whom the epistle-book of Revelation is addressed.

11. “out his mouth traveled a sharp two-mouthed sword” (v. 16b)—A two-edged (lit. “two-mouthed”, di/stomo$) sword was a military weapon, to be used for cutting/killing in battle (the “mouth” of the sword eats/consumes its victims). The image specifically relates to the traditional military role of the Messiah at the end-time (defeating/subduing the wicked nations), especially in the light of Isa 11:4 and 49:2, as these passages were given a Messianic interpretation. The idea of the “word of God” as a sword (Heb 4:12) presumably comes from the same background (esp. Isa 11:4 LXX, “the word of his mouth”). This military imagery is applied to Jesus more graphically in Rev 2:16; 19:15, 21.

12. “the sight of him (was) as the sun shining in its power” (v. 16c)—I have translated o&yi$ here as “sight”, i.e. “visual (appearance)”, but can specifically refer to the face, which is presumably intended here. The immediate Scriptural allusion is, again, to the heavenly figure in Dan 10:6, but, certainly, the sun (light, shining, etc) is a natural symbol for deity, and this is indicated by the qualifying phrase “in his/its power”.

This concludes the vision—that is the visual description—of the figure who appears to John. What follows in verses 17-20 are the words which the figure speaks. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout these notes, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

Note of the Day – May 24 (John 6:27ff)

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John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh=) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous daily notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh= (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

  • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
    bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
    living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
  • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
    the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
    —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
  • The noun “Life” without modification:
    —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
    —over the life of the world (v. 51)
  • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
    —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
    —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

  • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
  • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
  • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
  • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
    “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

  • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
  • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes, and will be addressing it again in this week’s Saturday series post. The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

  • Mark 14:22-24:
    “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
  • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
    “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

  • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
  • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
  • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

Note of the Day – May 17 (John 3:15-16, 34-36)

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John 3:15-16, 34-36

The explanation by Jesus in Jn 3:5-8 (of the central saying in verse 3) is followed by a second, more detailed exposition in verses 10-21. It is introduced by a second question from Nicodemus, again indicating his lack of understanding: “How are these (thing)s able to come to be?” (v. 9). Thus the exposition which follows builds upon the previous discussion in vv. 3-8, dealing with idea of being born “from above” (i.e. from God, “out of the Spirit”). This setting of vv. 10-21 in the context of the discourse is vital to any proper interpretation. The exposition is divided into two parts:

  • Vv. 10-15—The testimony of the Son of Man
  • Vv. 16-21—The witness and work of the Son of God

Two important motifs are introduced in the first section, appearing together in verse 12:

“If I said to you th(ing)s upon [i.e. about] (the) earth and you do not trust, how will you trust if I say to you th(ing)s upon [i.e. about] Heaven?”

The two motifs are: (1) the idea of trusting (vb. pisteu/w) and (2) the contrast between heaven and earth, i.e. above vs. below. This latter motif relates back to the central saying (and theme) from verse 3—of being born from above (a&nwqen). Verses 13-15 introduce the figure of the “Son of Man”, as used by Jesus in the Gospel Tradition, according to two important aspects:

  • The Son of Man as a heavenly/divine figure who will appear on earth (at the end time) to attend/oversee the Judgment
  • “Son of Man” as a self-designation by Jesus

Both aspects are combined together here, and are related to the two key motifs identified above. There is a definite progression to the line of thought in vv. 13-15:

  • The Son of Man (Jesus) is the one who has come down out of heaven (i.e. from above) [v. 13]
    • He will be “lifted high” [v. 14]—an expression of ascent (i.e. back to heaven), parallel to his descent (from heaven), understood as a comprehensive symbol entailing three aspects:
      (a) Jesus’ death—lifted up on the cross (the immediate reference to Num 21:9)
      (b) His resurrection, rising from the dead
      (c) His return to God (in Heaven)

      • Trust in him, in the entire context of his person and work (vv. 13-14), leads to Life [v. 15]—i.e. being born from above (v. 3)

As indicated above, there is a shift from Jesus as “Son of Man” to his identity as the “Son of God” (vv. 16-21)—a title which encapsulates two concepts: (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Father (as an only Son), and (2) Jesus as the one sent by the Father as His perfect representative (i.e. a “Son”). Verses 15-16 serve as the hinge joining the two sections (vv. 10-15, 16-21)—”Son of Man” and “Son of God”. The verses contain parallel statements involving the motifs of “trust” and “life” (zwh=). This parallelism can be seen by comparing the formula used in vv. 15 and 16b respectively:

  • “(so) that every one trusting in him might hold (the) Life of the Age” (v. 15)
    (so) that every one trusting him should not (come to) ruin, but might hold (the) Life of the Age” (v. 16b)

Centered in between these statements is the famous declaration of v. 16a:

“For God loved the world this (way)—so (that) he even gave his only (born) Son…”

I discussed the background of the expression “Life of the Age” (zwh= ai)w/nio$) in the earlier notes on Jn 11:20-27. It is an eschatological idiom, referring to the blessed (divine) life which the righteous will inherit at the end-time, in the Age to Come. However, this eschatological meaning was transformed in Christianity—and in the Gospel of John, especially—so that it also refers to the life which believers possess in the present, through union with Christ. This is often described as “realized” eschatology. It should be pointed out, however, that the use of the subjunctive in 3:15-16 (“might hold, should [come to] hold”) retains much of the original eschatological (future) orientation of the expression. The end-time Judgment features prominently in vv. 16-21, but it has been reinterpreted entirely in terms of faith (trust) in Jesus. The “realized” aspect of this eschatological theme is clear enough:

“The one trusting in him is not judged; but the one not trusting has already been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only (born) Son of God” (v. 18)

More nuanced (but equally clear) is the concluding exposition beginning in verse 19:

“And this is the Judgment: that the Light has come into the world and the men [i.e. all those in the world] loved the darkness rather (than) the Light…”

In other words, Judgment is realized already (in the present) when a person comes to the Light (Jesus) and/or does not come to it (because he/she prefers darkness).

John 3:34-36

The motifs of “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh=) occur together in the closing verses of chapter 3—part of a separate discourse (vv. 22-36) involving John the Baptist (rather than Jesus), but one which has a number of features in common with that of vv. 1-21. In particular, the exposition by Jesus in vv. 10-21 runs parallel, in certain respects, with the exposition (by the Baptist [?]) in vv. 31-36. I have outlined the common elements in an earlier (Saturday Series) discussion. For the purposes of this particular series of notes, the following parallels are of special importance:

  • V. 34: Jesus, as the one sent by God, speaks the words of God—this word/speaking is connected with the giving of the Spirit
    —In vv. 5-8ff, being born “out of the Spirit” is related to trust in the testimony of Jesus, as the one sent by God (vv. 11-12ff, 16ff)
  • V. 36: Trust in the Son (Jesus) results in the believer possessing Life; by contrast, the one failing to trust (lit. being unpersuaded) will not see Life, but will endure the Judgment (“the anger of God remains on him”)
    —Vv. 15-16 is a precise parallel to v. 36a; while vv. 18ff more properly relates to v. 36 as a whole.

In particular, verses 35 and 36a, taken together, result in a formulation close to that of v. 16 (common words/expressions in italics):

  • “The Father loves the Son and has given all [pa=$]… the one trusting in the Son holds Life of the Age…” (vv. 35-36a)
  • “God loved…he gave his only Son, so that every [pa=$] one trusting in him…should hold Life of the Age” (v. 16)

It is interesting to consider the different ways that the verb give (di/dwmi) is used in these two discourses of chapter 3:

  • God (the Father) has given all things/people [spec. the Elect/Believers] to the Son (v. 35, cf. also v. 27)
  • God gave his Son to the world [i.e. humankind, spec. the Elect/Believers] (v. 16)
  • The Son (Jesus) gives the Spirit [to Believers] (v. 34)

The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit to believers will take on greater prominence later in the Gospel, in the Last Discourse (and following). I discussed the interesting expression “not out of measure” (ou) e)k me/trou)—i.e., “for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit”—in the previously mentioned discussion on v. 34.

Note of the Day – April 16 (Mark 14:53-72 par)

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The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The “trial” of Jesus, which the Gospel Tradition preserves in two episodes—(1) an interrogation by the Sanhedrin and (2) and examination by the Roman governor (Pilate)—has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Passion narrative, primarily in terms of the historicity of the differing Gospel accounts. I will not be dealing extensively with all the historical-critical questions, but will address certain points related specifically to the Sanhedrin episode in a supplemental note.

There would seem to be three primary lines of tradition preserved:

  1. What we may call the core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark and Matthew
  2. The Lukan version, which only partly follows the Synoptic, and
  3. The Johannine, which differs considerably in various ways

Even though many critical scholars feel that John preserves the most accurate historical detail and ordering of events, I will continue the method in this series of beginning with the Synoptic Tradition, represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:53-72; Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71

The Markan outline of the episode is as follows:

  • Vv. 53-54—Introduction, establishing the two scenes:
    • (a) The assembly of the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes—i.e. the Council (Sanhedrin), v. 53
    • (b) Peter waiting outside in the courtyard of the High Priest, v. 54
  • Vv. 55-65—Jesus before the Council (sune/drion), which may be divided into three parts:
    • The (false) witnesses against Jesus, with a report of the “Temple-saying” (vv. 55-59)
    • The question by the High Priest, with Jesus’ response (vv. 60-62)
    • The judgment against Jesus, with the subsequent mocking/mistreatment of him (vv. 63-65)
  • Vv. 66-72—Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus

I will be discussing the scene of Peter’s denial in more detail in an upcoming note (on the Peter traditions in the Passion and Resurrection narratives). It is important to emphasize two facts:

  • The essential outline of the three denials, and the basic setting/location, are common to all four Gospels, indicating an extremely well-established and fixed tradition. The three-fold denial can be assumed (on objective grounds) to derive from a reliable historical tradition, since a single denial surely would have been sufficient in terms of its place and value in the narrative.
  • The specific details with regard to how each denial took place—where and when it occurred, who was involved, etc—differ considerably between Mark/Matthew, Luke and John. Even between Mark and Matthew, otherwise so close at this point, there are key differences. This indicates that the precise details surrounding the denials were not nearly so well-established, and remained fluid in the way they were presented by each Gospel writer. For a convenient comparative chart showing the many differences in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29, 29A (1970), pp. 830-1.

Each Gospel writer understood the dramatic power of the denial scene, and felt free to explore and express this creatively. Consider the slight but significant difference between the introduction in Mk 14:54 and Matt 26:58—the description of Peter in the courtyard is very close, except for the final words which set the dramatic tension:

  • Mark creates a vivid visual picture:
    “…and he was…warming himself toward the light [i.e. in front of the fire]”
  • While Matthew has a more psychological orientation:
    “..and he sat… (waiting) to see the completion [i.e. how things would end]”

The rooster crow of the original tradition is also extremely evocative, indicating that Peter suddenly awakes to realize what he has done. The effect is emphasized by his sudden weeping (in remorse/regret); Matthew and Luke share a detail in common here, specifically stating that Peter went away (outside of the courtyard): “…and going outside he wept bitterly” (Matt 26:72; par Lk 22:62). The rooster crow, together with Peter’s reaction, is the climactic moment of the episode in Mark/Matthew.

Luke (22:54-71) treats the scene differently in the way he has ordered events, placing it first in the episode, ahead of the interrogation of Jesus. The effect of this is two-fold:

  • It makes Jesus’ response to the Council (vv. 66-71) the climactic moment of the episode, and
  • It joins Peter’s denial to betrayal of Jesus by Judas (vv. 47-53 + 54-62), just as the author does in the Last Supper scene. In the earlier episode this appears to have been done, in part, to emphasize the theme of true and false discipleship, by connecting the prediction of Judas’ betrayal (vv. 21-23) to the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) with a short block of teaching (vv. 24-30) between.

In contrast to the accounts in Luke and John, Mark and Matthew portray the scene of Jesus before the Council in terms of a formal trial, with witnesses and the delivery of a sentence. This portrait informs the structure of the scene, with its three parts.

Part 1—The Witnesses against Jesus (Mk 14:55-59; Matt 26:59-62)

The Synoptic tradition here records that the Council desperately sought to find witnesses against Jesus (to support a sentence of death), but they could find no reliable testimony. The only charge brought against Jesus was a report of a saying regarding the Temple (the so-called “Temple saying”); interestingly, Matthew and Mark differ in the wording of this (as it was reported in the narrative):

“I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made-with-hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands” (Mk 14:58)
“I am able to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the shrine of God, and through [i.e. after] three days to build (the house again)” (Matt 26:61)

Mark and Matthew both state that this report was made by false witnesses, presumably implying that the report was false (i.e. that Jesus never said any such thing). The closest we come in the Synoptics is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:2 par. However, the Gospel of John records a saying by Jesus rather similar to that which is reported by the “false” witnesses:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)!” (Jn 2:19)

If we accept this as an authentic saying by Jesus, occurring at the time of the Temple “cleansing” scene (located close to the Passion narrative in the Synoptics), then the report of the “false” witnesses could certainly reflect the memory of such a saying. The Gospel of John, of course, specifically interprets the saying in 2:19 as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (vv. 21-22)—an interpretation most appropriate in the context of the Passion narrative. For more on the Temple saying (and cleansing) traditions, cf. my earlier notes and article on the subject.

Part 2—The Question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60-62; Matt 26:62-64)

The initial question by the High Priest (identified in Matthew as Caiaphas) relates to the testimony of the “false” witnesses, and to this Jesus gives no answer (Mk 14:60-61a). The second question is central to the episode (and the entire Passion narrative), as well as serving as the climactic statement regarding the identity of Jesus within the Synoptic Tradition. In Mark, the exchange is:

  • High Priest: “Are you the Anointed One [o( xristo/$], the Son of the (One) spoken well of [i.e. Blessed One, God]?” (v. 61b)
  • Jesus: “I am—and you will see the Son of Man sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the Power and coming with the clouds of Heaven!” (v. 62)

For more on this saying, see my earlier notes and the article on the title “Son of Man” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The Son of Man saying here is an allusion both to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1—Scripture passages which were enormously influential in shaping early Christian thought regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. As I have argued elsewhere, in the Son of Man sayings with an eschatological orientation, Jesus appears to identify himself specifically with the heavenly figure called “Son of Man” (from Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, 7:13)—who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and oversee the Judgment on humankind. Early Christian tradition associated it specifically with the image of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56, etc).

Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying (26:64) is close to that in Mark, but the question by the High Priest shows signs of development—i.e., it has been shaped to echo the confession by Peter in 16:16:

  • Peter: “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God”
  • Caiaphas: “I require an oath out of you, according to the Living God, that you would say (to us) if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God!”

For more on the differences in this scene, cf. below.

Part 3—The Judgment and mistreatment of Jesus (Mk 14:63-65; Matt 26:65-68)

The reaction to Jesus’ response—in particular, the identification of himself as the heavenly/divine “Son of Man”—results in the charge of blasphemy, i.e. that he has insulted (vb. blasfeme/w) God by claiming divine status and attributes. This is the basis for their decision that he is one who holds on him [i.e. against him] the (grounds for) death (e&noxo$ qana/tou e)stin). The mistreatment of Jesus is parallel to the more expanded tradition of his being mocked by the Roman guards (Mk 15:16-20 par), and would certainly be seen as a fulfillment of the Passion prediction in Mk 10:32-34 par.

Luke 22:54-71 and John 18:12-27

As noted above, Luke has the scenes in reverse order from that of Mark/Matthew, resulting in three distinct parts:

  • Peter’s Denial (vv. 54-62)
  • Mistreatment of Jesus (vv. 63-65)
  • Jesus before the Council (vv. 66-71)

The question of whether Luke has the more correct historical order of events will be discussed in the supplemental note on the Trial episode. I mentioned the significance for the author of joining together the failure of the two disciples—Judas (the Betrayal, vv. 21-23, 47-53) and Peter (the Denial, vv. 31-34, 54-62)—to bring out the theme of true discipleship, found in vv. 25-30 and the double exhortation of the Lukan Prayer scene (vv. 40, 46). The unique detail of Jesus turning to look at Peter following the rooster crow (v. 61a) probably should be taken as parallel to the words of Jesus to Peter in vv. 31-32—a sign of care and concern. The connection also serves to enhance the dramatic moment when Peter realizes what he has done, and how it had been foreseen by Jesus (v. 61b).

The Lukan version of the Council scene, though clearly drawing upon the same basic tradition as Mark/Matthew, is presented in a very different form. Apart from the morning setting (v. 66a, cf. the supplemental note), Luke’s version has the following differences:

  • There is no reference to the witnesses or Temple-saying (cf. above), thus removing the sense that this is a formal trial.
  • Luke presents the Council as a whole questioning Jesus, rather than the High Priest specifically (vv. 66b, 70a [“they all said…”]). The Council plays a similar collective role in Luke’s version of the Roman trial scene (23:13ff, 18ff).
  • The question involving the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” is divided into two distinct questions, separated by the Son of Man saying by Jesus (vv. 67-70):
    • “If you are the Anointed One, say (it) to [i.e. tell] us” (v. 67)
    • Jesus: “…but from now on the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the power of God” (v. 69)
    • “Then you are the Son of God…?” (v. 70)

Historical considerations aside, this arrangement may be intended to make a theological (and Christological) point—namely, that Jesus is something more than the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) as understood by the traditional figure-types of an expected end-time Prophet or Davidic ruler. The allusion to Psalm 110:1 reminds us of the interesting tradition, set in the general context of the Passion (the last days in Jerusalem), in which Jesus discusses the meaning and significance of this verse (Mk 12:35-37 par). For more on this, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Part 8, and Part 12 on the title “Son of God”).

While the form of the Son of Man saying is relatively fixed between the Synoptic Gospels, that of Jesus’ initial answer to the question(s) by the Council differs markedly. In Mk 14:62, Jesus gives a clear affirmative answer: “I am”, while Matthew’s version (26:64) is much more ambiguous—”You said (it)”, and could be understood in the sense of “You said it, not me”. Because Luke records two separate questions, Jesus gives two answers:

  • To the question “If you are the Anointed One, tell us”:
    “If I say (it) to you, you will (certainly) not trust (it), and if I question you (about it), you (certainly) will not answer.” (vv. 67b-68)
  • To the question “Then are you the Son of God?”:
    You say that I am.” (v. 70b)

The second Lukan answer seems to combine both the Markan and Matthean forms—truly an interesting example of variation and development within the Gospel tradition.

John 18:12-27

John’s account of this episode differs again from the Synoptics (its relation to the Lukan order/arrangement of events will be discussed in the supplemental note). The two main points of difference are:

  • There is no scene of Jesus before the Council, as in the Synoptics; rather we find different interrogation scene in the house of the chief priest Annas (formerly the High Priest A.D. 6-15). The introductory notice (18:13) states that Annas was the father-in-law of the current Chief Priest Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Verse 19 is ambiguous, but the reference in v. 24 indicates that Annas is the “Chief Priest” interrogating Jesus (cf. also Luke 3:2).
  • Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene:
    • Scene 1—Jesus is arrested and let to Annas (vv. 12-14)
      —Peter’s First Denial (vv. 14-18)
    • Scene 2—Jesus is interrogated by Annas (vv. 19-24)
      —Peter’s Second and Third Denials (vv. 25-27)

Clearly John’s Gospel is drawing upon a separate line of tradition. The interrogation scene in vv. 19-24 is surprisingly undramatic, compared with the Synoptic version, but it fits the essential portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Passion narrative. As I discussed in the earlier note on Garden scene, the depiction of Jesus’ calm and commanding authority is set in contrast to Peter’s rash and violent act with the sword. The intercutting in verses 12-27, I believe, serves much the same purpose—to juxtapose Jesus’ calm and reasoned response to the interrogation (vv. 20-21) with Peter’s reaction to the ones interrogating him.

It is hard to tell how much development has gone into the tradition recorded in vv. 13-14, 19-24. We do find several Johannine themes present in Jesus’ response:

  • His presence in the world, speaking (the words of the Father)
  • His public teaching in the Synagogue and Temple, which reflects the great Discourses of chapters 6-8 and 10:22-39.
  • The emphasis on his followers (disciples) as those who bear witness to him

Overall, however, the development would seem to be slight, compared with the dialogue scenes between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38; 19:9-11 (to be discussed).

Saturday Series: John 1:51 (continued)

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John 1:51 (continued)

Last week we looked at the enigmatic statement by Jesus in John 1:51:

“Amen, amen, I say to you (that) you [pl.] will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man.”

A proper study of such difficult passages requires a careful two-step approach: (1) analysis of the Greek words/phrases and how they are used, and (2) the context of the passage within the book. Last week we dealt with the first of these, today we will explore the second—that is, the context of the verse within the Gospel of John. Much of the difficulty surrounding this saying has been in trying to identify it with an actual event which the disciples experienced (or would experience). I mentioned three possibilities: (a) an otherwise unrecorded event during Jesus’ ministry, such as the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic Gospels; (b) a post-resurrection vision or encounter; or (c) an eschatological vision. None of these really seem to fit the narrative setting of this saying—at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just after the Baptism and the call of the first disciples. It seems more likely that it is meant by the author (trad. John the Apostle) as a symbolic picture, and that its fundamental meaning is Christological. I believe that a study of the Greek (last Saturday) already points rather clearly in this direction. But let us examine things a bit further.

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section is divided into four “days”, and with each “day” the witness of Jesus’ identity is developed:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

Each of the last three days follows a basic pattern, which includes a pair of declarations regarding Jesus, using a range of significant titles or descriptions:

  • Day 2: “Lamb of God” (v. 29) / “Son of God” (or “Elect/Chosen One of God”) (v. 34)
  • Day 3: “Lamb of God” (v. 36) / “Messiah” (“Anointed One [Christ]”) (v. 41)
  • Day 4: “the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote” (v. 45) /
    “Son of God” | “King of Israel” (v. 49)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel, which fundamentally has a Christological orientation, in two respects:

  1. The focus moves from John the Baptist to Jesus (see vv. 8, 15, 30; 3:28-30)
  2. John and the disciples witness (see) Jesus—that is, they begin to recognize who he is, and testify as to his identity.

The account of Jesus’ Baptism (vv. 31-34) is central to this section. Moreover, its close proximity to verse 51 makes it extremely likely that some sort of allusion to it is intended. Last week I mentioned several words in verse 51 which echo the baptism:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabainœ) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition epi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people.
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is anoigœ (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

The Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51.

Consider also that, while the saying in v. 51 concludes the first section (1:19-51), it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In terms of the Gospel of John, this means the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (see especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, see my earlier note on the subject. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching. A statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated by the use of the verbs katabainœ and anabainœ (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doxazœ (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabainœ and anabainœ in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. An allusion to Genesis 28:12

As mentioned last week, in Jesus’ saying there is almost certainly an allusion to Genesis 28:12. In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the Greek Version (Septuagint) “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (anabainœ and katabainœ) as Jn 1:51. Note also:

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (Jacob). In one reference (Genesis Rabbah 68:12) Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven.
  • The Targums (Aramaic translations) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In ancient and traditional religious thinking, the Temple served as the meeting place between God and human beings, a point of contact between Heaven and Earth. Moreover, in John 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

4. A Comprehensive Symbol?

Returning to the specific context of John’s Gospel, there is still more evidence to suggest that the saying of Jesus John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (see above, and the discussion last week), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation). Again, the location of Jn 1:51 strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (especially in the Synoptic Gospels, Mk 13:26; Matt 16:27-28, etc). However, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (that is, divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent.
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel. This expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involve parallel confessions:
    • Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    • Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
      It is possible that these confessions themselves as bracketing the entire narrative of chapters 2-20:

      • “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
        —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
        —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
      • “My God” (Deity)
    • Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (opsesthe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—as the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb optanomai, optomai/opsomai would indicate (Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22).
  • As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [eidon] you… you trust?
      you will see [opsesthe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [heœrakas] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [idontes] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.

It is a great wonder that, wherever you turn in the Gospel of John, there appears to be an almost limitless depth to the passage. Even a careful, objective treatment of individual words inevitably leads down into a wide expanse of meaning and spiritual significance. I hope that I have been able to offer some help in demonstrating how a study of both the words and context of the passage can serve as a reliable guide to exploration. For next week, I would exhort you to continue on in a similar manner, reading and studying the next two chapters of the Gospel as carefully and thoughtfully as you are able. It will prepare you for a discussion on one of the most familiar verses in all the New Testament, but one which is often cited without much consideration for its context in the Gospel. As you may have guessed, this is the world-famous John 3:16—and we will be looking at its context most carefully…next Saturday.

Saturday Series: John 1:51

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John 1:51

Today I want to continue on in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, with a verse that is one of the most difficult to interpret in the entire book—the saying of Jesus in Jn 1:51. Unlike the situation in verses 18 and 34 (discussed the past two Saturdays), there is no question about the text of the verse. The Greek is secure and there really are no significant variant readings. But this only raises a different sort of critical question: how does one proceed when we are sure of the text, but the passage is still difficult to understand? Consider the saying itself as I give it here in a (literal) translation:

“And (Jesus) says to him [i.e. Nathanel]. ‘Amen, amen, I say to you (that) you [pl.] will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man’.”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. To what, exactly, is Jesus referring here?

A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction (of a future event), or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense. Heavenly “Messengers” (i.e., Angels) are present in both the eschatological Son of Man sayings (Mk 13:26-27; Matt 13:41; 25:31, etc) and the resurrection/ascension scenes (Mk 16:5; Lk 24:23, etc; Acts 1:10f). However, neither of these seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind.

An important part of Biblical criticism involves examining the intent of the author, as far as this can be determined. In order to do this, we must explore the verse from two vantage points, much as we did in studying the text of Jn 1:18 and 34. These two aspects are: (1) the specific language and terminology (i.e. the Greek words and syntax) used, and (2) the context—both the immediate context, and that of the Gospel as a whole. Today I will examine (1) the language and terminology, leaving (2) the context for next Saturday.

1. The language and terminology used in the saying

Interpretation should always be based on a careful study of the original language (here the Greek of the NT)—the specific words and phrases, and how they are used in the passage (i.e. the grammar and syntax). I will look briefly here at the significant words and phrases, in the order they appear in the verse.

[Amen, amen]—The Greek am¢n (a)mh/n) is a transliteration of the Hebrew °¹m¢n (/m@a*), an adverb which means something like “surely, certainly, truly”. As a Semitic idiom, it was used frequently by Jesus, and is often preserved in its Hebrew/Aramaic form in the Gospels (41 times in Matthew, 13 in Mark, and 6 in Luke). It occurs 25 times in John, always in the double form (“amen, amen…”) we see in 1:51. In this form, it tends to be used by Jesus when addressing his disciples (or would-be disciples) and declaring to them something of the utmost importance. A comparable form of address in English idiom might be something like: “You may be sure of this…”, “I tell you the truth when I say that…”, etc. The formula introduces key sayings in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, and often are central to the theological (and Christological) points being made by Jesus in his exposition (cf. Jn 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24-25; 6:26, 32, etc).

[you will see]—The Greek verb optanomai (o)pta/nomai) in the future tense commonly means “see”, though its concrete, fundamental meaning would be something like “look with (open) eyes”. The motif of seeing, especially the idea of seeing Jesus, has special theological (and Christological) significance in the Gospel of John. Typically it refers to something more than the ordinary (sensory) experience of sight. There are too many passages to cite them all here—e.g., 1:14, 33-34; 3:3, 36; 6:36, 46, 62; 9:37ff; 11:9, etc. The future form (of optanomai) occurs 9 times elsewhere in the Gospel, the first being in 1:39, where it relates to the basic idea of the disciple encountering Jesus, and realizing something of his true identity. In 3:36 the context is the experience of salvation (i.e. eternal life) through faith/belief in Jesus. The context of 11:40 (the miracle of raising Lazarus) indicates that it primarily refers to witnessing the splendor of God manifest in the person of Jesus, by way of his life-giving (and miracle-working) power. The four occurrences in 16:16-22 are more difficult to decipher, due to the wordplay and dual-layered meaning running throughout the passage: of the disciples encountering Jesus (a) after his resurrection and/or (b) in the future, following his return to the Father.

[the heaven opened up]—The wording here is an echo of the earlier baptism scene (vv. 29-34). Even though John does not describe the heaven “opening up”, the Gospel writer (trad. John the Apostle) almost certainly was aware of the historical tradition (vv. 32-33). In the Synoptic account (Mk 1:10), we find the specific image, including the same verb (anoigœ, a)noi/gw, “open up”) in Luke’s version (3:21) as used here in v. 51. Elsewhere in John, this verb is often used in the idiom “open up (one’s) eyes”, as a reference again to the important theme of seeing.

[the Messengers of God]—”Messenger” is the proper translation of the Greek angelos (a&ggelo$), which is usually transliterated into English as “Angel”. Here, of course, it refers to God’s heavenly Messengers (Angels) rather than human messengers. As noted above, in the Gospels, Angels are associated both with the resurrection/ascension of Jesus (as in Jn 20:12), as well as a number of the eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics (cf. Mk 8:38; 13:26 par; Matt 16:27, etc). However, there is also here likely an allusion to Genesis 28:12.

[stepping up and stepping down]—The Greek verbs anabainœ (a)nabai/nw) and katabainœ (katabai/nw) are usually translated “ascend” and “descend”, but literally mean “step up” and “step down”, respectively. Both verbs are used frequently in the Gospel of John, and often with special theological (and Christological) significance. This will be discussed when addressing the context of v. 51 next Saturday. This is the first occurrence in the Gospel of anabainœ, but katabainœ was used earlier in the description of the Baptism scene (vv. 32-33), of the Spirit descending (lit. “stepping down”) upon Jesus. These two verbs are also used in the Greek (Septuagint) version of Gen 28:12, of the Angels ascending and descending upon (the ladder). This makes an allusion to that Old Testament tradition here all but certain.

[upon]—The preposition epi (e)pi/) here again relates to both the Baptism of Jesus (the Spirit descending upon him, vv. 32-33) and to the Gen 28:12 tradition.

[the Son of Man]—This is a translation of the Greek ho huios tou anthrœpou (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou). The expression is a Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) idiom which is generally synonymous with “Man”, referring to human beings or humankind, sometimes in the specific sense of human nature or the human condition. Jesus makes use of the expression in several special ways, which have been preserved in the Gospels. Two fundamental groups of “Son of Man” sayings relate to: (1) Jesus’ suffering and death, and (2) his appearance in glory at the end-time. Similarly, in the Gospel of John these two aspects are found in the (twelve) Son of Man sayings, though expressed in language and imagery that has special meaning in the context of the Johannine theology (and Christology). A number of Son of Man sayings involve the very verbs—anabainœ and katabainœ—used in this verse. I have recently discussed these sayings in a separate note, which may be helpful for you to read as part of this study.

Next week we will be examining the context of this verse more closely. In the meantime, I would recommend that you continue to study and meditate on Jesus’ saying. Based on what we have done so far—studying the specific words and phrases that are used—does this offer you any new insights on the meaning and significance of the verse? You may wish to write these down, or at least keep them in mind as we continue…and I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – March 28 (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 8:38; 12:23, etc)

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Having discussed the various Son of Man sayings and references in the Synoptic Gospels in the previous notes, today I will survey the sayings in the Gospel of John. None of the Synoptic sayings occur, as such, in John; as in most cases, the Fourth Gospel draws upon a separate line of tradition. However, there are some interesting parallels. As in the Synoptics, the Son of Man sayings have undergone relatively little development in John. Any adaptation that has taken place has primarily been to emphasize particular words or concepts which are common to the Gospel’s unique mode of expression. There are twelve distinct Son of Man sayings, the first of which is perhaps the most difficult.

John 1:51

“Amen, amen, I say to you (that) you will see [o&yesqe] the heavens opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

I have discussed this enigmatic verse in some detail in an earlier note, and will deal with it again this Saturday (as part of the running “Saturday Series”). Here I summarize the results of the study previously published.

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the earlier note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
    Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
    Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. Note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
      you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

The comprehensive nature of the Son of Man reference in 1:51 is paralleled by two key sayings toward the end of the ministry period (in John, the so-called “Book of Signs” chaps 2-12), which also serve to introduce the great Last Discourse (chs. 13-17) and Passion Narrative. Both of these sayings use the verb doca/zw (doxázœ), “give (or regard with) esteem, honor”, etc, i.e. “glorify”, related to the noun do/ca (dóxa, usually translated “glory”).

John 12:23; 13:31

  • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be honored/glorified [docasqh=]”—the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death (cf. below).
  • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is honored/glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is honored/glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father.

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10. This “glory” covers both aspects of Jesus’ Passion—his death and his resurrection. In classic Christian theology this duality is often referred to as the two “states” of Christ—his humiliation and exaltation. However, in Johannine terminology, it is better understood as a descent to earth (i.e. the incarnation) leading all the way to death, followed by an ascent to heaven (including the resurrection), back to the Father.

This two-fold process of Jesus’ glorification is expressed in two distinct groups of Son of Man sayings. The first group involves the verb u(yo/w (hypsóœ, “make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”); the second uses the related pair of verbs a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw (“step up” and “step down”, i.e. “ascend”, “descend”).

John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34: “lift (up) high”

  • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
  • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
  • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. above). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
  • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

John 3:13; 6:62 (with 6:27, 53): “descend / ascend”

  • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. above.
  • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
  • John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
    This saying is part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood. This is expressed in the Son of Man sayings in vv. 27, 53, associated specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death:

    • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
    • John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”

All of these sayings which speak of Jesus’ glorification through the dualistic imagery of death and resurrection, descent and ascent, along with the two-fold meaning of being “lifted (up) high”, as they run through the Gospel narrative, have a general parallel with the Passion predictions by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. the earlier note). In those declarations, reference to the suffering and death of the Son of Man is followed by the announcement of his resurrection. In a similar way, the death of Jesus, indicated by his “trial” before the Sanhedrin, prefigures his exaltation (cf. Mk 14:62 par). The Synoptic Gospels use these three Passion predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) as a framing device for the narrative. However, in the Gospel of John, the Son of Man sayings serve rather a different purpose, which is primarily theological and Christological. However, there are two Son of Many sayings in John which draw more clearly upon the traditional imagery found in the Synoptics.

John 5:27; 9:35

  • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
  • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

The first saying (5:27) identifies the Son of Man with the end-time Judgment, as we see in many of the Synoptic sayings (cf. the previous two notes). Yet consider the way Jesus expounds this traditional association in the Johannine discourse. The statement in v. 27 essentially identifies Jesus with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure-type (Dan 7:13, etc), much as we find in the Synoptics:

  • V. 27—”He [i.e. God the Father] gave him [i.e. Jesus] authority to make judgment, because he [i.e. Jesus] is the Son of Man

At the same time, the statement in v. 26 brings out the distinctly Johannine idea of Jesus as the divine/eternal Son (of God), in his unique relation to (God) the Father:

  • V. 26—”Just as the Father holds Life in himself, so also he gave (it) to the Son to hold Life in himself”

The saying in 9:35 is rather different; Jesus addresses the man whose sight was restored: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?”. As noted above, some manuscripts read “Son of God” instead of “Son of Man”, perhaps reflecting a point in time when copyists no longer understood the expression “Son of Man” and wished to stress the deity of Christ as the point of belief. However, as we have seen, Jesus often used the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference, as if to say, in this instance, “Do you trust in me?” Yet, even people at the time seem to have had difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man”, if we accept the authenticity of the crowd’s response in 12:34, and the question of the healed man here in v. 36: “Who is he, (my) lord, that I may trust in him?” Jesus’ immediate answer (v. 37) perfectly encapsulates the Johannine theology which associates belief (and salvation) with seeing Jesus—that is, coming to recognize just who Jesus is, his true identity.

It is worth noting that each of these last two sayings are set in the context of traditional healing miracle episodes, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. With these sayings we bring this portion of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, dealing with the Galilean Period, to a close. It may serve as yet another reminder of the many rich and powerful ways that the traditions were developed—a fact, and a theme, that we will continue to explore as we enter into the next major portion of this series: the Passion Narrative.

Note of the Day – March 27 (Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke)

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Having examined the Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic (Triple) Tradition, it will be useful here to survey the additional sayings and references found in Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark). While these most likely derive from separate lines of tradition, they all relate fundamentally to the sayings already discussed. I begin with the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in Matthew and Luke.

The “Q” Sayings

There are between 7 and 9 distinct sayings from the “Q” material. The first three (as they occur in Luke) tend to focus on the earthly life and suffering of Jesus, while the remainder have an eschatological (Judgment) emphasis.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19—Here we seem to have a simple self-reference by Jesus, dealing with his behavior/lifestyle during his ministry on earth. However, the expression “the Son of Man has come…” may allude to a certain eschatological and/or Messianic expectation (cf. below). In both Luke and Matthew, this saying is part of a (fixed) block of material dealing with the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 par).

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20—The emphasis is on the poverty and hardship endured by Jesus during his earthly ministry:

“The foxes have holes/lairs (for dwelling), and the birds of the heaven(s) (have place)s to put down house [lit. tent], but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head (for the night)” (Lk 9:58)

This also is part of a (fixed) sequence of sayings on the theme of discipleship. A motif of self-sacrifice is tied to the suffering and hardship of Jesus—i.e., his identification with the human condition.

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40—In this saying, Jesus draws upon the Old Testament story of Jonah, as a type or figure of his upcoming death. The saying is formulated quite differently in Luke and Matthew, but it clearly derives from a common tradition. It combines the idea of suffering (his death) with the scene of Judgment in Lk 11:29-32 par—two important aspects of the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33—This saying presents a vivid scene of the Judgment and the heavenly tribunal, or courtroom, with the Son of Man playing a central role in the proceedings. It was discussed briefly in the previous note, in relation to the corresponding saying in Mk 8:38 par.

Luke 12:10 / Matt 12:32—Another Son of Man saying follows immediately in Luke (by way of “catchword” bonding), while in Matthew it is found in a different location, joined to the Synoptic parallel in v. 31 (Mk 3:28-29). As I noted previously, the Synoptic saying in Mark raises the possibility that “Son of Man” could have originally been intended (by Jesus) in the general sense of “human being(s)”. However, in the context of the “Q” version in Matthew and Luke, it is almost certainly understood as a (self-)title of Jesus. Luke has more clearly preserved the eschatological/Judgment setting of the saying.

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44—Here the Son of Man saying is part of a short parable (Lk 12:39-40 par), and has a definite eschatological emphasis, warning Jesus’ disciples of the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance:

“(So) you also must come to be prepared, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is at) an hour of which you are not thinking/aware (that) the Son of Man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

Luke has included it as part of the eschatological material in chapter 12, while Matthew has set it in the eschatological “discourse” (chaps. 24-25 = Lk 21:5-36) during the final period in Jerusalem.

Luke 17:24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37, 39—There are three references to the Son of Man in the eschatological “Q” material of Lk 17:24-37. Matthew has included these sayings as part of the Jerusalem eschatological “discourse”, in a different arrangement:

Again, in both versions, the emphasis is on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance at the end time:

“Very (much) as the flash (of lightning) flashing out of the (one place) under the heaven(s) into the (other place) under the heaven(s), so it will be (with) the Son of Man [in his day]” (Lk 17:24)

Matthew’s version is expressed in more conventional imagery—parousi/a (parousia) being a common early Christian (technical) term for the return of Jesus:

“For just as the flash (of lightning) comes out from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] and shines unto the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. in the west], so will be the Son of Man’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a, i.e. his coming/return]” (Matt 24:27)

The Son of Man’s appearance will be both sudden and all-encompassing, like a flash of lightning which fills the sky from one end to the other. The Scriptural allusions in Lk 17:26-30 par—Noah and Lot [Matthew only refers to Noah]—involve Judgment by God upon humankind, expressed through natural disaster and destruction. Such natural phenomena were typically seen as accompanying the end-time Judgment (the “Day of YHWH”) in the Scriptural prophecies, such as those cited by Jesus in Mk 13:24-25 par (Isa 13:10; 34:4). It essentially reflects the idea of theophany—the presence of God breaking through into the natural world.

Luke includes certain elements in this section which are unique to his Gospel, such as the two references to Lot (vv. 28-29, 32-33). Both are likely part of the original tradition. Matthew may have omitted the reference (cp. Matt 24:37-39) for the sake of brevity. Similarly, a reference to Lot’s wife is a natural illustration for the saying in v. 31, which has a parallel in Mk 13:15-16. More significant is the Son of Man saying in verse 22:

“The days will come when you will set (your) impulse [i.e. heart/desire] upon seeing one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see (it)”

The expression “days of the Son of Man” probably is meant to fit the pattern of the sayings which follow—”days of Noah”, “days of Lot” (vv. 27-28). It refers to the time of the Son of Man’s appearing. More curious is the formulation “one of the days of…”, the precise meaning of which remains uncertain. Perhaps it serves to intensify the dramatic tension of the illustration—i.e., people will not be able to see anything, not even a glimpse, of the Son of Man’s appearance, no matter how much they long for it. As the following sayings make clear, this will be due to the death and destruction which will come upon human beings at the time of the Judgment. Only the elect/chosen ones (i.e., believers in Jesus) will be saved from this fate. Here seeing the Son of Man is synonymous with experiencing the salvation/deliverance which he brings (cf. Lk 21:28, etc).

Sayings and References found only in Luke

Apart from Lk 17:20, mentioned above, the following occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” are found only in Luke:

  • Lk 6:22—This is the Lukan Beatitude corresponding to Matt 5:11; while in Matthew Jesus uses the expression “on account of me“, the Lukan form is “on account of the Son of Man“. It is a clear example of “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus, being readily understood as such in the early Tradition. It also draws upon the motif of suffering and persecution which is central to a number of the Son of Man sayings. The Judgment setting of the Beatitude form (on this, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes) comes across more clearly in Luke’s version (6:20-26).
  • Lk 18:8—The parable in vv. 1-8a concludes with a Son of Man saying (v. 8b) which may originally have been given in a separate context. It serves as a kind of eschatological warning, and an exhortation, to Jesus’ followers, that they remain faithful despite the hardship and persecution they may experience in the current wicked Age:
    “The Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he (truly) find (any) trust (in God) upon the earth?”
    The coming of the Son of Man, in the context of the Lukan narrative, must be understood in light of the earlier eschatological material in chap. 17 (cf. above).
  • Lk 19:10—This saying appears to be a “floating” tradition, which is found in different locations (i.e., Lk 9:55; Matt 18:11) in the various manuscripts. Its inclusion at the end of the Zaccheus episode (19:1-9) may be a Lukan adaptation of the tradition. The saying itself refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus, with a possible allusion to his (sacrificial) suffering and death (cf. Mk 10:45). The emphasis on salvation—the Son of Man’s role in saving sinners—is unique here among these sayings in the Synoptics, being more prominent in the Son of Man sayings in John (to be discussed in the next note).
  • Lk 21:36—The end-time Judgment and the heavenly tribunal are certainly in view in this saying (cf. 12:40 par), with the Son of Man even more clearly in the position of Judge—”…to stand in front of the Son of Man”.
  • Lk 22:48—On this addition to the Son of Man references in the Passion narrative, cf. the earlier note.
  • Lk 24:7—The words of the Angel in the Lukan resurrection scene refer back directly to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par).

Sayings and References found only in Matthew

  • Matt 10:23—In Matthew’s narrative, this saying is part of Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve prior to being sent out on their mission (vv. 5ff). It includes sayings and teaching which are found in different locations in the other Gospels. While it all fits thematically, portions such as vv. 17-23 seem decidedly out of place. Indeed the instruction/exhortation in verses 17-23 is much more appropriate to a setting closer to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (cf. Mk 13:9-13 and the Last Supper Discourses [chs. 13-17] in John). In its original context, v. 23 almost certainly was eschatological, referring to the end-time coming of the Son of Man, as in many of the passages discussed above. However, the narrative setting here in Matthew creates an obvious chronological difficulty.
  • Matt 13:37, 41—There are two Son of Man references in the parable of the Weeds (i.e., Jesus’ explanation in vv. 36-43, cf. vv. 24-30). Verse 37 is unique in the Synoptic Gospels with its apparent allusion to the divine pre-existence of the Son of Man (otherwise found only in the Gospel of John). It no doubt also refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Verse 41 draws upon the image of the Son of Man as God’s representative overseeing the end-time Judgment (cf. the passages discussed above, and in the prior note).
  • Matt 16:13—In the episode of Peter’s confession, Jesus (in Matthew’s version) asks, “Who do men count [i.e. consider] the Son of Man to be?”. In Mk 8:27 par it is: “Who do men count me to be?”. Cf. on Lk 6:22 above, for the interchangeability with “Son of Man” as a self-reference of Jesus.
  • Matt 16:28—Matthew’s version of the saying in Mk 9:1 par may reflect an adaptation influenced by the earlier Son of Man reference in v. 27 (cf. Mk 8:38). Compare:
    “…until they should see the Kingdom of God having come in power” (Mk)
    “…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (Mt)
    The result is a saying with a more pronounced Christological emphasis (cf. Lk 23:42, etc).
  • Matt 19:28—This saying has been discussed in an earlier note. It may properly belong to the “Q” material (cp. Lk 22:29-30), but the reference to the Son of Man is unique to Matthew’s version. It draws upon the image of Jesus’ exaltation, which is otherwise found in the Son of Man sayings only in Mk 14:62 par, though it may also be inferred from the very idea of the Son of Man coming to earth (from Heaven) at the time of Judgment.
  • Matt 25:31—The eschatological image of the Son of Man, at the beginning of the parable (vv. 31-46), very much follows the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38; 13:26 par, etc. This is the clearest Judgment scene involving the Son of Man in the Gospels.
  • Matt 26:2—This saying by Jesus, echoing the earlier Passion predictions, has been utilized by Matthew in his introduction of the Passion narrative.

The next daily note will survey the dozen or so Son of Man sayings and references in the Gospel of John.

Note of the Day – March 25 (Mk 8:38; 13:26; 14:62)

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One major group of Son of Man sayings are eschatological—they refer to the coming of the Son of Man at the end-time, in connection with God’s (final) Judgment upon the world. Early Christians, along with most believers today, understood these sayings as referring to the future return of Jesus. However, viewed in this light, the sayings would have made little or no sense to people in Jesus’ own time. Even his close disciples could scarcely grasp the idea of his death and resurrection, prior to their occurrence; in this context, reference to his future return would have been unintelligible. Some critical commentators would treat such sayings as creations of the Church which have been projected back and set on Jesus’ lips. I find this to be most unlikely, given the apparent authenticity of the Son of Man sayings (on objective grounds), as discussed previously.

More plausible is the critical theory that, at the historical level, Jesus, in these sayings, is not referring to himself, but to a separate heavenly/divine figure called “the Son of Man”, inspired by Daniel 7:13 (and subsequent tradition). A close examination of the eschatological sayings (cf. below) shows, I think, that this view is possible; however, there are still serious problems with it. In what is arguably the best-established tradition (Mk 14:62 par, discussed below), Jesus is clearly identifying himself with this heavenly/divine figure. The same may be said for any number of the other eschatological sayings.

The “Son of Man” figure in these sayings is clearly derived from the being “like a son of man” (vn`a$ rb^K=, k§»ar °§n¹š) in Dan 7:13. While the book of Daniel was immensely influential on Jewish thought and belief in the first centuries B.C.-A.D., reference to this passage (and the “Son of Man” figure) is surprisingly absent from the Qumran texts, and other writings of the period. There is really only one contemporary parallel to the eschatological usage by Jesus: the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), often dated by scholars to the time of Jesus and the early Gospel tradition (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.). Equally inspired by Daniel, the Similitudes depict a heavenly figure, called by the title “Son of Man” (among other titles), who will function both as divinely-appointed Redeemer and Judge. There are definite parallels to the figure-type with whom Jesus identifies himself in the Gospels. For more on this subject, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental note on Dan 7:13.

There are three eschatological Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par—the last two of which are closely connected and relate to the Passion narrative. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

Mark 8:38

“For whoever would feel shame (because) of me and my [words] in this adulterous and sinful (period of) coming-to-be [i.e. generation], even (so) the Son of Man will feel shame (because) of him when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers”

This saying follows the first Passion prediction by Jesus (v. 31), and is part of a short block of teaching on the theme of discipleship (8:34-9:1). We see how it is conceivable that Jesus might be referring to a heavenly being separate from himself. However, the parallelism within the saying, together with Jesus’ frequent use of the expression “son of man” as a self-reference, makes this somewhat unlikely here. At any rate, it is clear that the “Son of Man” plays a role in the Judgment, as a witness, it would seem, for or against the human being. The basis of the Judgment, and the Son of Man’s witness, is the reaction of the person to Jesus and his words. The verb e)paisxunomai essentially means “bring shame [ai)sxunomai] upon [e)pi] (oneself)”, but sometimes in the sense of experiencing or feeling shame (within oneself) because of someone or something. The person—that is, the one who is supposed to be a disciple—who feels shame because of Jesus, will suffer a similar (reciprocal) fate in the time of Judgment.

The parallel passage in Luke (9:23-27) follows Mark closely, including the saying in v. 26. Two small differences are worth noting:

  • Instead of phrase “in the splendor of his Father”, Luke reads “in his splendor and (that of) the Father”, emphasizing the Son of Man’s own glory, which he has together with the Father. This formulation could indicate a slight Christological adaptation.
  • In the following (concluding) verse (27), Luke’s version generalizes the saying somewhat. Mark reads “…will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power”. Luke omits the qualification “…having come in power”, softening the eschatological emphasis.

Matthew has a rather different Son of Man saying at this point (Matt 16:27); it may stem from a separate tradition, or it may simply represent a generalization of the saying in Mk 8:38 par—regarding the role of the Son of Man in the Judgment.

In addition, we find a saying similar to the Synoptic version in the so-called “Q” material—in Matt 10:32-33 and Lk 12:8-9. Quite possibly, the Synoptic and “Q” versions each stem from a single historical tradition. The Q saying is more extensive and preserves a clearer sense of the Judgment scene:

“Every one who should give account as one [i.e. acknowledge/confess] on (behalf of) me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one on (behalf of) him in front of the Messengers of God. And the one refusing to speak (on behalf of) [i.e. who denies/disavows] me, he will not be given (any) speech (on his behalf) [i.e. will be denied/disavowed] in the sight of the Messengers of God” (Lk 12:8-9)

Here it is not a question of feeling shame, but of publicly affirming (or refusing to affirm) faith in Jesus. The would-be disciple’s behavior and attitude “in front of” other people will be reciprocated “in front of” the heavenly tribunal at the end-time.

Mark 13:26

This saying is part of the collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which is set as taking place, in Jerusalem, in the days prior to his death. It is presented as a sermon (or discourse) given on a specific occasion, but it is more likely that the arrangement is traditional and thematic, based on the common eschatological theme(s). This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Matthew includes eschatological sayings (“Q” material) which occur in Luke at an entirely different location (17:20-37). The saying in Mk 13:26, occurs at a climactic (central) point in the “discourse”, covering verses 24-27. It is preceded by a quotation/adaptation of Scripture (Isa 13:10; 34:4) which vividly depicts the heavenly phenomena which will occur at the end-time (vv. 24-25). This marks the sudden appearance of the Son of Man:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, coming in (the) clouds with much power and splendor” (v. 26)

The expression “coming in/with the clouds (of heaven)” clearly derives from the ancient theophanous motif associated with “the one like a son of man” in Dan 7:13. The Judgment setting of vv. 24-27 is certain, though it must be inferred somewhat in this particular verse. It is the role of the Son of Man in the act of saving/redeeming the Elect people of God which is emphasized in v. 27:

“And then he will set forth the (heavenly) Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) (all) his (people who are) gathered out [i.e. chosen] (from) out of the four winds, from the (furthest) tip of the earth until the (furthest) tip of heaven.”

Matthew (24:29-31) generally follows Mark, but adds/includes certain details in vv. 30-31:

  • A separate(?) Son of Man saying in v. 30a, which seems to allude to Zech 12:10 (cf. Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7); if so, it introduces the context of Jesus’ impending suffering which is absent from the tradition in Mk 13:24-27 par.
  • v. 30b fills out the expression “…clouds of heaven” (cf. Dan 7:13)
  • v. 31a adds the phrase “with a great trumpet”
  • in v. 31b, the spatial/geographic image for the gathering of the Elect is more straightforward than in Mk 13:27

The corresponding section in Luke (21:25-28) differs considerably, and may reflect an interpretive development of the Synoptic tradition. Note:

  • The detail of the Isaian passages cited in Mk 13:24-25 is summarized briefly in v. 25a & 26b
  • The reaction of humankind to the heavenly phenomena is included/inserted in vv. 25b-26a
  • In place of Mk 13:27 par, it would seem that Luke has included a separate saying of Jesus (v. 28), which more clearly brings out the idea of the coming redemption/deliverance of God’s people (i.e. believers)

The actual Son of Man saying in 21:27, however, follows the Synoptic/Markan version closely—another indication of its established/fixed position within the Tradition.

Mark 14:62

Even better established is the saying in Mark 14:62, which, if we accept as authentic and derived from Jesus’ actual words (on objective grounds), must have exerted a profound influence on every other eschatological reference to the Son of Man in the earliest Christian tradition. This is seen clearly enough from the way that the death of Stephen is narrated in the book of Acts, where the visionary scene in 7:55-56 obviously relates back to the Synoptic tradition of Mk 14:62 par. The setting of this saying—Jesus’ appearance before the Jerusalem Council (Sanhedrin)—will be discussed in the next part of this series, on the Passion Narrative. Here it is enough to look at the saying itself in its immediate context. It is presented as Jesus’ response to a question by the Council (the High Priest in Mark/Matthew):

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the ‘Blessed’ (One)?” (Mk 14:61)

Matthew’s version of this question (26:63) has added Christological resonance, in the way that it closely echoes the confession of Peter in 16:16. Jesus’ initial response to this question differs significantly in all three Gospels, but the declaration involving the Son of Man is generally fixed in the tradition. Mark’s version (v. 62) is:

“you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”

The context makes clear that Jesus is identifying himself with the heavenly Son of Man figure (from Dan 7:13 etc); nowhere else in the Gospel tradition is this so readily apparent. However one may interpret the other eschatological Son of Man sayings, there is no mistaking the self-identification of Jesus here. It is also the clearest reference to the exaltation of Jesus, in the way that it blends the reference to Dan 7:13 together with Psalm 110:1. The image of the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, so prevalent in early Christian tradition (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 1 Pet 3:22, etc), is prefigured here.

Again, it should be pointed out that, despite the numerous differences in how the Sanhedrin scene is narrated in the Synoptics, this particular Son of Man tradition is extremely well-established and fixed. Matthew and Luke (Matt 26:64; Lk 22:69) follow it closely, each including one small temporal phrase at the start—”from now (on)…”—which serves to contrast the current situation with that of the (future) end-time. Now Jesus is being judged under the power/authority of a human council, but from this point on (i.e. after his death and resurrection), the exalted Christ (the Son of Man) will be seated in the ultimate position of authority and judgment, at God’s right hand. We have seen how there is often a motif of reciprocity or reversal-of-fortune in the Son of Man sayings which deal with the Judgment—a person’s fate in the end-time Judgment will mirror his/her attitude and behavior on earth. Just as the Council is judging Jesus, so too will they be judged.

It is possible that Luke’s version of the saying is meant to objectify Jesus’ exaltation. Instead of “you will look with (open) eyes [i.e. see, gaze] at the Son of Man…”, the Lukan version reads simply “the Son of Man will be…”. It is no longer a question of something people will see, but of an objective reality which transcends one’s perception. People will see the Son of Man in glory at God’s right hand because that is where he will be after the resurrection.

The remainder of the Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” material, etc) will be discussed in the next daily note.