Jesus’ death on the Friday was an enactment in his own body of the Passover meal that he celebrated with his disciples the night before – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, all biblical quotes are NIV). Jesus is the New Exodus out of the oppressive rule of sin and death, through his death and resurrection, into God’s liberating reign of forgiveness and life.
Jesus’ bodily resurrection vindicated the meaning of his death, proving him to be “the Son of God in power by his resurrection” (Romans 1:4). The gospels show, particularly John’s gospel, that Jesus’ resurrection was the ‘Big Bang’ of the New Creation (my phrase. Don’t let this phrase put you off if you disagree, read it as a metaphor). Matthew’s gospel speaks of earthquakes when Jesus died and rose again, with the Temple curtain torn open and bodies of holy people coming out of the tombs. In other words, creation convulsed in anticipation of its liberation from bondage in Christ’s death and resurrection – the New Exodus of the renewal of all things. I will, however, focus this article on John’s gospel. Beside my own insights, I have drawn on N.T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God.
John’s Good News Story
John sets his themes in the prologue to his ‘theological biography’ of Jesus: Creation/New Creation (“In the beginning”, John 1:1 echoes Genesis 1:1)… in the Word/Life/Light that defeats darkness (1:3-9)… regenerating/resurrecting all who receive him (1:10-13)… God’s enfleshed Temple full of glory/grace/truth… all revealing who God is (1:14-18).
The Temple theme is the (new) creation theme. Eden was a garden cathedral where heaven and earth joined. Adam & Eve, God’s human image, were priests and kings over creation on God’s behalf. The later tabernacle and Temple were full of depictions of angels as the place of heaven on earth: God’s house where God lived in the Holy of Holies among his nation of royal priests (Exodus 19:6).
John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) is the opening of an ‘inclusio’ that closes with Jesus’ resurrection and appearances (John 20:1-21:25). The structural centre of the gospel is chapter 11, Lazarus’ return from death. And the centre of that story is Jesus’ profound statement (John 11:25-26):
“I am The Resurrection and The Life. S/he who believes in me will live, even though s/he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
To sew these themes into a seamless story, like Jesus’ garment (John 19:23), John speaks of days and times: “The next day…” (1:29,35,43), “the third day” (2:1,19), “the time is coming and has now come” (5:25), “the last day” (6:39,40,44,54; 11:24), and so on. It’s his symbolic way of showing that the end, the future age, has happened in Jesus of Nazareth, especially in his death and resurrection, inaugurating the new creation the Hebrew prophets predicted.
So, John says (2:1), “On the third day” there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jewish readers would have noted the reference to the third day – beside the symbolism of the end-time marriage feast of God and his people when “the finest of wines” is brought out and does not run dry, when God will “destroy the shroud of death that enfolds all people” (Isaiah 25:6-8). John repeats and explains “the third day” in the next story (John 2:13-22), clearly referring to Jesus’ resurrection. The other gospel writers have this story (Jesus’ enactment of judgement on the Temple) at the end of his ministry, after he enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. John puts it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, referring to his body (the Temple) being destroyed (his death), which he will raise up on the third day (his resurrection).
The wedding feast is the first of seven “miraculous signs” to “show his authority” (2:18) and “reveal his glory” (2:11, God’s Shekinah returning to Israel in the Temple of Jesus’ body). Each sign points to and is a foretaste of The Big Bang of New Creation. Sign two, healing the official’s son (4:43f); three, healing the paralyzed man (5:1f); four, feeding the 5,000 (6:1f); five, healing the man born blind (9:1f). Sign six is Jesus’ defeat of death in raising Lazarus to life (11:1f) – the center of the gospel that points to its climax: a resurrection of an entirely different order (20:1f). Clearly, John’s theology of Jesus is embedded and communicated in his stories of Jesus. The signs & wonders are the enfleshed Word speaking Life and Light into the darkness of broken creation. They defeat evil, “the prince of this world” (12:31, 14:30, 16:11), bringing order out of chaos by the hovering Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2) – the new creation that regenerates and reorders all who “receive and believe him” (John 1:12).
The signs culminate in the seventh, the number of completion and perfection: Jesus’ death & resurrection. It begins the second half of John’s good news biography of Jesus, 12:1, “Six days before the Passover Jesus arrived…” In other words, Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem is the final countdown to actual New Creation.
The Crucifixion (John 19:1-37)
On the sixth day of that final week, Friday, Jesus is crucified. On that day, early morning, Pilate twice presents Jesus to the people.
First, “Behold, the man!” (19:5). This echoes the sixth day of creation, humanity unveiled as God’s image, to rule the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). “The man” who Pilate reveals – in whom he finds no fault (19:4) – is a beaten and bloodied man, having been flogged to within an inch of death. The people are looking at the Second Adam, who represents brutalized humanity made in the image of sin and death. This man, God in human flesh, absorbs all humanity’s violence in his own body, thereby defeating the powers, “the prince of this world”, behind the chaotic darkness of broken creation. See God’s glory shining brightest in this image-bearer: Jesus is “glorified in this hour” of suffering and death (12:23).
Then, “Behold, your king!” (19:14). This echoes Isaiah 52:13f, where God’s Servant-King is presented for all to “SEE… he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted”. These are the words Isaiah uses to describe Yahweh in his vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1), which John refers to as “Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). When the Jews look at Jesus presented as “your king”, they see him (ironically, their REAL King) mockingly dressed in a purple robe with a crown of thorns thrust on his beaten brow. They were “appalled at him – his appearance was do disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness – so he will sprinkle many nations, their kings will shut their mouths because of him” (Isaiah 52:14-15). Jesus not only memorized Isaiah’s prophetic songs of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, but he became their living fulfilment.
On both occasions the people respond by chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” So, they take him to Golgotha and crucify him. They put a sign on his cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. By mid-afternoon, “knowing that all was now completed… so that the scriptures be fulfilled” (19:28), Jesus cries out, “Tetalestai”, “It is finished!” (all three italicised words are the Greek root telos, “the end” – the end goal complete). He then bows his head and gives up his spirit (v.30). John immediately mentions the Sabbath (twice, v.31,32), the seventh day that begins when the sun sets that Friday.
In all of this John is saying: the work of (new) creation of “the Word made flesh”, over the six days, in the six miraculous signs, through the entire ministry of Jesus, is now completed in his seventh sign – his death on the cross. Thus, his work now finished, he surrenders his spirit to God. And bows his head, entering rest, in hope of resurrection. Jesus died in faith of God’s vindication of his mission, trusting God would raise him from the dead. Not like Lazarus’ resuscitation, who died again. Jesus believed he would be first – the “first-fruit” – in The Resurrection spoken of by the prophets (Ezekiel 37:10-12; Daniel 12:2). His Sabbath has come, he rests as God and all creation rested after the six days of work of first creation.
The King sleeps. Let all the earth be silent!
It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming! In Part Two – in three days!