The Throne of the Cross: The Glorification of Jesus
Upon comparison, one can see in obvious and also in not so obvious ways that the death of Jesus is distinct in the Fourth Gospel from the Synoptics. That is, the theological push made by the evangelist author of the Gospel of John is unlike that of those who wrote the preceding three accounts regarding Jesus of Nazareth. As Christians, we are heavily influenced by the thought and teaching presented to us by each author concerning our Lord, His work and significance, and no greater point of ministry has such emphasis as that of Jesus' death and consequently His subsequent resurrection. That is, the death and resurrection - the Easter story - is dogmatically central to the theology of Christianity. This death, therefore, has come under much debate and speculation, and the momentum of our examinations here will be a focus on the theological issues which arise from the Gospel of John, for as we have already begun to note, the Fourth Gospel's account is quite different from those of its Gospel counterparts.
These differences may raise several questions regarding the theological impact the death of Jesus has on Christianity. With the varying portrayals of the event comes necessarily with it the particular evangelist's interpretation of it. That is, what one Gospel writer says about the crucifixion arises from that author's belief and understanding toward its significance. Thus, the particular way that the Fourth Evangelist has presented to his readers - and indeed to us - the death of Jesus goes to show that he1 must have something new, something different, something more to say about it beyond what his colleagues have already declared. Therefore, the question remains as to what exactly the author was attempting to say in regards to the death of Jesus. That is, what was the mind behind the writing of the Fourth Gospel trying to teach, trying to accomplish with such a different presentation? What was the Fourth Evangelist saying about Jesus, and particularly His death, that he needed to make such a theological break from the traditions of the Synoptics?
A major element - and perhaps the difference most readily noticed - of what sets the Gospel of John apart is the depiction of Jesus Himself. Jesus is undeniably more divinely depicted than any of the Synoptics' images of Him. Right at the end of the prologue, in John 1:17-18, Jesus is explicitly declared not only to be the Christ, but also 'God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side.' John the Baptist, who is the self-proclaimed preparer of Messiah's arrival, points Jesus out to be 'the Lamb of God' on two separate occasions (John 1:29, 36). Furthermore, even those that Jesus first calls to follow Him claim to have found the Messiah (John 1:41), and declare Him the Son of God as well as the King of Israel (John 1:49), even if these men do not completely comprehend the full meaning and significance of what they are in fact saying.
We know that all these titles are in no way incorrect, and that Jesus certainly does occupy the offices of each of them - the author of John does not let his readers, his listeners neither forget nor read with doubt. The irony throughout the Gospel continues the underlining of these facts, with many declaring great things about Jesus without realising the weight of what they are actually doing (i.e., Caiaphas in 11:52-53; Pilate's inscription in 19:19-21). Additionally, all the miracles that Jesus performs are said to simply be signs that point toward His divinity. Indeed, were it a mathematical equation, Jesus = God and the students do not yet understand, although the work is all there.
More subtly, while yet still being overt, is the usage of 'the hour' to which Jesus' life and ministry is moving toward. Even as the author never fails to underscore the point of Jesus as one who was sent - more than merely a few times does Jesus Himself declare that He was 'sent from the Father' - the notion of a heavenly purpose unravelling is a thematic thread woven throughout the Fourth Gospel. On several occasions the religious leaders and/or groups of on-lookers are ready to take - and at times explicitly seem to attempt at taking - Jesus' life, but He always divinely manages to get away and always because it is 'not yet His time,' indeed 'the hour' has not yet come. It is not until John 11, after Jesus has raised Lazarus from death, is Jesus explicitly said to avoid an area so as to circumvent a premature arrest (11:54), whereas before this point He was merely 'escaping the mobs.'
It is at this time that a climax appears to begin rising to its final end, the Crucifixion, for it is then, after Lazarus resurrection and the subsequent plot by the authorities to kill Jesus, that Jesus starts toward Jerusalem and being prepared for His death - by an anointing, a more intense teaching, and long prayers. It is this act, this seventh sign, of raising Lazarus from the dead that sets the authorities finally off so that Jesus becomes an wanted man, while being an unwanted God at the same time.2 With the raising to life of one dead is Jesus own life sought, so that the Life-giver is now wished dead and not crowned king as the crowds had attempted previously (6:14-15). However, it is also at this point that the irony of the Gospel is at its greatest, for with the crucifixion of Jesus do the people in fact enthrone Him.
- There is debate among scholars as to whether the author of the Gospel of John was indeed John, and even whether the author was a man. For simplicity, in this paper the Fourth Evangelist will be referred to as a male, and also occasionally as John, thereby representing the Johannine community.
- Rev. Thomas E. Crane, The Message of Saint John: The Spiritual Teaching of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Alba House, 1980), 85.