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“When the Son of Man is Lifted Up”: The Redemptive Power of the Crucifixion in the Gospel of John

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

John W. Romanowsky
Affiliation:
The Catholic University of America

Abstract

Some scripture scholars argue for an interpretation of Johannine soteriology as primarily one of revelation which questions the redemptive centrality of the historical crucifixion. Others insist on the primacy of historical event in the Johannine narrative—“The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14)—and the spiritual meaning of this event, which is at once concrete in its historicity and universal in its meaning as symbol. The historical event of the crucifixion as an object of Johannine theological reflection is indeed central in his soteriology, but only insofar as he reflects upon its transcendent meaning. The three “lifting up sayings” in John's gospel offer us a window into this crucial aspect of his soteriology. In this essay, the author's textual analysis of each saying provides us with ample evidence for the redemptive centrality of the historical crucifixion; but it also will make clear that the “lifting up of the Son of Man” in his “hour” on the cross is at the same time his exaltation and glorification, when he returns to the Father whence he came.

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Copyright © The College Theology Society 2005

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References

1 I do not presume to know the author or redactor of the Gospel of John, although for convenience I will sometimes refer to the author as “John.” However, even if, as many scholars agree, the gospel was written by the Johannine community over a period of time and includes diverse traditions, I will treat the text as an integral whole as the final author or redactor intended and in the final form in which the church discerned its apostolic authority and included it in the New Testament canon. Regarding the integrity of the texts in question as they appear in the gospel, see Moloney, Francis J., The Johannine Son of Man (Rome: Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, 1976), 44.Google Scholar

2 Bultmann, Rudolf, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols. (London: 19521955), vol. 2Google Scholar; Ashton, John, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)Google Scholar; Nicholson, Godfrey C., Death as Departure, (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983).Google Scholar

3 The Johannine approach does not confuse historical narrative with theological reflection. Rather, it insists that a gospel event is more than, but not less than, historical. In other words, the truth and reality of the event is paradoxical: it is at the same time historical, concrete, and unique as well as symbolic and universally meaningful and efficacious.

4 “Symbolic” refers to an historical event with its own meaning and reality as well as the participation in and revelation of a greater divine and spiritual reality. See Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Gospel According to St. John: Commentary on Chapters 5–12, 2 vols. (New York: Seabury, 1980), 2: 408–10.Google Scholar

5 Moloney, 5.

6 Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation, and Notes: Chapters 1–12, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 1: 146.Google Scholar

7 Moloney, 214; see John 1:51; 3:13–14; 6:27; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 19:5.

8 Mark 8:27–29; Matthew 16:13–15; Luke 9:18–20.

9 Moloney, 140–41.

10 Brown, 145.

11 Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34.

12 Forestell, J. Terence, The Word of the Cross: Salvation as Revelation in the Fourth Gospel (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974), 61.Google Scholar

13 Brown, 146.

14 Forestell, 59–61.

15 Ibid., 101–02.

16 Quoted in Matera, Frank J., “‘On Behalf of Others,’ ‘Cleansing,’ and ‘Return’ Johannine Images for Jesus' Death,” Louvain Studies 13 (1988): 161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Scott quoted in Beasley-Murray, G.R., Gospel of Life: Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 3435.Google Scholar

18 See above Bultmann, Forestell, Nicholson, Matera.

19 Matera, 177.

20 Beasley-Murray, 42.

21 Nicholson, 99–102.

22 Forestell, 62–64; Moloney, 60–67; Crossan, John Dominic, The Gospel of Eternal Life: Reflections on the Theology of St. John (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967), 64.Google Scholar

23 Moloney, 60.

24 Brown, 133.

25 Ibid., 13; Nicholson, 100.

26 Crossan, 64.

27 Matera, 175.

28 Brown, 145; Moloney, 61–62.

29 For a good summary of this approach in John, see Johnson, Luke Timothy, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (New York: HarperCollins, 1999).Google Scholar

30 Ashton, 365.

31 Moloney, 179–80.

32 Brown, 146.

33 Ibid., 478.

34 Ashton, 495.

35 Forestell, 65.

36 Nicholson, 78–79.

37 Brown, 137–41.

38 The use of the term “Jews” in John's gospel is one of the strong indications that the gospel was written at the time when the Christian community was struggling with the larger Jewish community and there had already appeared a clear rift between them.

39 As cited in Nicholson, 43.

40 Moloney, 57.

41 Brown, 145.

42 Moloney, 59–60.

43 Ibid., 60.

44 Brown, 350.

45 Moloney, 137–38; Schnackenburg, 400–01.

46 Moloney, 137; also see Schnackenburg, 202–03.

47 Lindars, Barnabas, John (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 8486.Google Scholar

48 Forestell, 64, 27.

49 Beasley-Murray, 46–47.

50 Moloney, 176.

51 Scott, E.F., The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose and Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1943), 295–97.Google Scholar

52 Beasley-Murray, 47.

53 Moloney, 175.

54 Schnackenburg, 400.

55 Dodd rightly concludes that 12:33 refers not only to Jesus' death, but the manner of his death as crucifixion. He continues: “This note is very commonly attributed to a ‘redactor’. Even if this be granted, it appears that the redactor has rightly understood the intention of the author” (Dodd, C.H., The Parables of the Kingdom [New York: Scribner's, 1961], 378Google Scholar).

56 Schnackenburg, 401.

57 Forestell, 65–66.

58 Ibid., 66.

59 Schnackenburg, 402.

60 Ibid., 403.

4
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