This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A.
17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
Verses 17-18 form the conclusion to the discourse. In these verses, the shepherd metaphor is abandoned completely and Jesus speaks directly about his death and relationship with God. These verses focus on three theological themes that are essential to understanding the death of Jesus in John.
First, these verses place Jesus’ death fully in the context of his relationship with God. Verse 17 contains the first linkage of “love” (agapaō) with Jesus’ death in the Fourth Gospel. God’s love for the world (3:16) and for Jesus (3:35) are already known to the reader, and this verse adds a new dimension to that love. God loves Jesus because Jesus lives out God’s commandment fully (v.18). In the Fourth Gospel, the core commandment that Jesus gives his disciples is that they love one another just as he has loved them (13:34). The sign of Jesus’ love for them is that he is willing to lay down his life for them (cf. 13:1; 15:13). Jesus thus obeys the same commandment from God that he passes on to his disciples, to live fully in love. It is wrong to read these verses as saying that Jesus wins the Father’s love through his death; rather, his death is the ultimate expression of the love relationship that already exists and defines who he is and how he enacts God’s will for the world.
Second, our verses make clear that Jesus’ laying down his life is an act he freely chooses as an expression of his obedience to God. Jesus is not a victim in death nor a martyr against his will, but is in control of his own death (v.18b; see 19:11, 17). The Gospel story has already demonstrated this in the authorities’ inability to arrest Jesus (7:30, 44) and his control of the hour (2:4; 7:30; 8:20).
Third, the summary verses point to the inseparability of Jesus’ death and resurrection in John. Jesus’ enactment of God’s work is incomplete until he returns to the Father through his resurrection and ascension (13:1; 17:1, 4-5). Jesus reveals God’s will for the world not only in his death, but also in his victory over death through his return to God. When Jesus lays down his life, therefore, it is to the end of taking it up again. In this summary, Jesus speaks of himself as the agent of both his death and his resurrection (cf. 2:19-21). That is, whereas elsewhere in the NT God raises Jesus (e.g., Acts 2:24; 10:40; 1 Cor 15:15; Gal 1:1), here Jesus speaks of taking up his own life again. The “power” (exousia) that Jesus has to lay down his life and to take it up again is given to him by God (see 17:2 and Jesus’ statement about Pilate’s “power” at 19:11). These verses point to the complete union of God and Jesus in their work (cf. 4:34), a union that receives explicit expression at 10:30.
19 Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?”
The schism among the “Jews” in response to Jesus’ words (v.19) recalls the schism among them in response to his healing of the blind man (9:16). In 9:16a, some attempted to discredit Jesus by calling him a sinner; here the charge is demon possession (v.20; cf. 7:20; 8:48). Others are willing to trust the evidence of the miracle itself (9:164 v.21). Verses 19-21 make clear that the Fourth Evangelist intends the healing and the discourse to be assessed in the light of each other. A decision about Jesus’ identity must hold together both his words and his works.
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