AIM: To break the 100-tweet-thread barrier, still the voices in my head, and possibly engage in some exegesis along the way. Please join me if you’re so inclined.
One of the more novel and popular among them concerns the issue of PSA’s provenance.
They are ‘not particularly concerned with the question of how Jesus’ death enables sinners to be forgiven’ (which, of course, is what PSA purports to explain);
As a result, many Christians view the Gospels as ‘background-narratives to a death whose significance is determined by a scheme imported from outside’.
PSA is not a notion which needs to be imported into the Gospels; on the contrary, it is hardwired into the Gospels’ shape and detail.
In the context of a brief thread (!?), I can’t hope to interact with the Gospels as a whole.
a] how and what it teaches us about the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, and
b] the extent to which it affirms PSA.
Briefly put, I agree with the *premise* of the criticism outlined above.
Or, to put the point more positively, John does things in his own way; his theology is conveyed by means of actions and images rather than explicit doctrinal formulations.
For John, Jesus’ sacrifice is (at least) voluntary, substit’nary, penal, & propitiatory.
Despite many claims to the contrary, John’s gospel *is* concerned with the question of how Jesus’ death enables sinners to be forgiven.
As we pick up the story in John 18, the stage is set.
Jesus has recently been anointed in anticipation of his burial, and the Pharisees are now ready to make their final move (12.9–10).
Jesus’ death looms large on the horizon.
Consider, by way of illustration, the events of 18.1–9.
Jesus is well aware of Judas’ plan to betray him,
Not long afterwards, Judas and his soldiers arrive.
Judas’s soldiers do not recognise Jesus.
But, instead, he walks towards the (armed) soldiers and openly declares his identity, which allows his disciples to escape unharmed.
Just as Jesus will go to Calvary voluntarily,
‘I am he!’, Jesus declares. ‘If it is me you seek, let these (other) men go!’.
These particularities are not included simply for the sake of historical accuracy/completeness;
Had Jesus not handed himself over to Judas’s soldiers, his disciples would have been captured & crucified alongside him.
As such, Jesus lays his life down ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ = ‘for his friends’.
That Jesus died in order to preserve the lives of twelve then-unknown Israelites might, of course, seem a rather trivial picture of as sacrifice as epic as Jesus’.
they were men whom Jesus had specifically chosen out in order to inaugurate his earthly kingdom—men whom Jesus had specifically promised to keep and protect (18.9).
It would have been founded on the word of a man unable to keep his promises (and, worse, unable to accomplish the Father’s will).
Ch. 18’s substitutionary undertones are not restricted to the events of the Kidron valley; they look forward to—and are expanded on by—the imagery involved in John’s crucifixion scene.
For John, wine is associated with joy and fellowship (2.1–10), while water is a symbol of the outpoured Holy Spirit—‘the water of life’ which alone can satisfy man’s thirst.
As Israel prepares to enjoy the wine and fellowship of the Passover meal, Jesus is left thirsty and abandoned (cp. ‘I thirst!’), offered only the sour vinegar of the Roman soldiers.
Or, to put the point another way,
which, of course, is the very essence of substitution.
As we’ve seen, then, Jesus’ surrender in the Kidron valley is an act of substitution: Jesus gives himself up to the Jewish authorities, which enables his disciples to escape.
But Jesus doesn’t die *only* for the sake of his disciples.
Caiaphas was the one who had said,…One man should die for the people (ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ)!
Caiaphas’s statement can be understood in at least two ways.
First, at face value.
Earlier in John’s gospel, the authorities had identified Jesus as someone with the potential to stir Israel up against the Romans (with disastrous results: 11.48–52),
The plot to dispose of Jesus had hence been born (11.53), and, here in ch. 18, it is about to come to fruition.
Per Caiaphas’s statement, Jesus will be slain, and will hence spare not only his disciples,
As such, John portrays Jesus’ death as relevant not only to his disciples, but to all Israel.
But Caiaphas’s statement also hints at a deeper reality.
Israel’s problem is not ultimately her vassalage to Rome, but her enslavem’t to sin (8.34), which Jesus has come to abolish.
For John, then, Jesus dies on behalf of—and as a substitute for—all Israel.
Of course, Jesus’ death is not limited to Israel, as we’ll soon see.
If Caiaphas’s statement in ch. 18 concerns the substitutionary aspect of Jesus’ death, then the chief priests’ (in ch. 19) concerns its legal aspect, i.e., the relationship between Jesus’ death and the law.
As before, the chief priests’ statement can be understood in at least two ways.
First, it can be taken at face value.
Jesus, however, shows little regard for these rules.
He performs many of his miracles on the Sabbath
And, on one occasion, he restores a blind man’s sight by means of a ‘paste’ he makes, which is a deliberately provocative act, since many authorities would have seen Jesus’ actions as ‘work’.
As far as the religious authorities are concerned, he is a law-breaker and must be punished as such.
Consequently—and quite remarkably—, Jesus will die a death reserved for the law’s transgressors
yet Jesus himself will be innocent—a notion which we will expand on later. (Nothing in the passion narratives is an insignificant detail.)
But the Jews’ statement is also true in a deeper sense
Given the stipulations of Mosaic law, if Jesus is to redeem his people, he must die.
God has clearly said, ‘I will not acquit the guilty’ (Exod. 23).
As such, Jesus’ death takes place κατὰ τὸν νόμον = ‘in accord with the law’ and its demands.
We thus come the issue of guilt and penalty.
Suppose our discussion to date has been correct; that is to say, suppose John portrays Jesus’ death as substitutionary and penal.
The question remains,
The answer requires us to consider two important aspects of John’s passion.
The first is the nature of the chief priests’ charge against Jesus.
They instead try to give Pilate an answer which he, as a Roman polytheist, will understand and sympathise with, namely,
Should the priests’ accusations be upheld? μὴ γένοιτο!
It is not Jesus who has acquired ideas above his station, but the chief priests themselves,
They are ‘thieves and robbers’ who have unlawfully claimed the role of Israel’s shepherd (cp. 10.8 w. Psa. 23), much to the detriment of the sheep.
They have condemned themselves by their own words.
Jesus’ death can also, however, be seen as a penalty which Pilate deserves to pay. How?
Do not endorse a false report.
Do not assist a wicked man
where a malicious testimony is involved.
Do not side with the multitudes where evil is involved,
nor follow the many where injustice is involved…
and do not put an innocent or honest person to death,
for I, YHWH, will not acquit the wicked.
And Pilate contravenes them at every point.
He sides with the multitude, condemns an innocent man, acquits a known criminal, and hence endorses a false charge—one motivated by malice rather than truth.
As such, Jesus’ death can be seen as a penalty which deserves to be paid not only by the chief priests, but by Pilate as well,
for when false charges are brought against a man in Mosaic law,
Hence, as people who have (unjustly) sentenced Jesus to death, Pilate and the chief priests are themselves worthy of death.
Caiaphas and Pilate are not isolated figures on the stage of world history; on the contrary, they represent entire people-groups.
Caiaphas is the appointed representative of the Jewish people,
The guilt incurred by Caiaphas and Pilate is not, therefore, incurred by them alone.
just as the Jews who reject Jesus in Matt. 23 incur the guilt of their fathers,
As a result, Jesus’ trial is not simply a precursor to the crucifixion.
On the contrary, it is an event of epic significance and proportions in and of itself—
The chief priests’ statement to Pilate reinforces the point.
‘If you choose to release Jesus’, they tell him, ‘you are no friend of Caesar’ (19.12).
which is the very decision every man and woman must ultimately make.
Jesus’ trial also provides us with an exquisite picture of how Jesus is treated in heavenly terms.
The chief priests’ behaviour is suspicious (as Pilate soon recognises: cp. 18.30–33), and Jesus is clearly innocent of their accusations.
which provides us with an exquisite picture of a deeper theological event, namely,
Consequently, what Pilate enacts in ‘earthly terms’ in John’s passion is simultaneously enacted in ‘heavenly terms’ (cp. 3.12),
And why? So we who are unrighteous might become ‘the righteousness of God’.
More, however, needs to be said about the role of federal headship in John’s passion, since Caiaphas and Pilate are not the only federal heads in view.
In between these two kings stands a far more important federal head—Jesus—,
Of course, Caiaphas and Pilate’s actions were insincere (intended to mock rather than honour),
What happens to Jesus in ch. 19 is not ultimately a rejection of Jesus’ authority, but an acknowledgement of it,
That fact becomes even more significant when we consider what Pilate decides to inscribe above Jesus’ head.
Pilate acknowledges Jesus’ status as king in three distinct languages—Jewish Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.
My suggestion is follows:
all of which is conclusively demonstrated in his resurrection.
We thus come to the subject of atonement.
As we’ve seen, Jesus’ death is voluntary, penal, and substitutionary.
But in what sense is it an act of atonement? How is it reparatory/restorative?
Given our considerations to date,
Since Jesus’ death is penal and substitutionary—i.e., since Jesus’ death is ‘for’ (ὑπὲρ) others—, it must clearly be reparatory in some way.
But John also portrays Jesus’ death as reparatory in more specific ways.
For a start, John’s narrative includes a number of allusions to the cultic system.
Consider, for instance, the events listed below:
🔹 The high priest’s courtyard has a distinctly cultic feel: it is attended by a man with a bloody ear (18.10 w. Lev. 8.23!),
In a sense, Peter *has* brought a sacrifice to the Tab’cle, just not in the normal way.
In Lev. 14, the man-to-be-purified is brought to the priest, examined, and led outside the camp, where a sacrifice is offered to the LORD,
all of which is echoed in John’s passion.
The ritual described in Lev. 14 involves seven components:
We have a wooden cross (apparently made from cedarwood), a purple robe, a sponge drenched in wine (which is passed to Jesus by means of a hyssop branch), and two live criminals,
As for the vessel and the source of water, these components both find their counterpart in Jesus’ body = ‘vessel of clay’,
from which water flows forth in anticipation of the ‘water of life’
These parallels are not coincidental. For John, Jesus’ death enacts a reparatory sacrifice—an act which will cleanse and purify a sin-stained and impure world.
Precisely the same logic connects the text of ch. 19 to that of chs. 20–21.
Consider, by way of illustration, the state of play at the conclusion of ch. 19.
The disciples’ world lies in ruins.
Had that been the conclusion of John’s gospel, John would not have been a Gospel but a tragedy.
But, in the silence between chs. 19 and 20, heaven has its say.
and, with the resurrection, everything changes.
🔹 Soon afterwards, the disciples—whom Jesus refers to as ‘his brothers’—reassemble.
As such, Jesus’ death and resurrection make full reparation for the disciples’ sins.
The same reparation/reversal is reflected in John’s allusions to the OT.
We thus come to our final issue, viz., the issue of divine wrath.
What role does divine wrath have to play in John’s passion?
Does Jesus’ sacrifice simply enable sins to be forgiven in some mysterious and unspecified way?
That God’s wrath lurks in the background of John’s passion is practically undeniable.
John’s portrayal of Jesus as a Levitical sacrifice supports the same conclusion, since, in Scripture, the aversion of wrath is integral to the notion of atonement.
which is later assuaged by a spear-thrust.
All well and good, one might say.
PSA is not a theological construct which needs to be imported into John’s gospel.
On the contrary, it is hard-wired into the particularities of John’s narrative and lived out by its main characters,
Jesus descends into the darkness of the Kidron valley, where he is betrayed by a close friend and the final act of his life begins to unfold.
He is led away, first to a priestly courtyard and later to a Roman-governed court.
He is questioned, mistreated, and unjustly condemned, acknowledged as innocent by even his judge.
He is crowned with thorns;
As he hangs on the cross, Jesus becomes parched and given only the sour wine of God’s wrath by way of comfort.
Three days later, however, Jesus is raised from the dead by his heavenly Father.
It is to read the Gospels with only one eye open and fail to perceive their depth.
== THE END ==