Lifeless, Yet Priceless

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. John 19:38-42 ESV

Using His final breath, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and then He died. Only in His third decade of life, Jesus had brutally tortured and killed, by means of one of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment ever devised: Crucifixion. From the perspective of His mother and what remained of His followers, all that remained of Jesus was His beaten, bruised, and lifeless body.

Three times in five verses, John refers to “the body of Jesus.” There is a sense of finality in these closing verses of chapter 19. One almost gets the impression that John is bringing his gospel to an abrupt and unexpected end. With Jesus dead, this must be the end of the story. And everything John records in these verses seems intended to portray the shocking end of Jesus’ life and the disappointing failure of His mission.

John describes the efforts of Joseph of Arimethea, who came to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. John provides no insights into this man’s identity, other than he was a disciple of Jesus. But in his gospel, Mark reveals that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43 ESV). So, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of the Jews who had condemned Jesus to death. But Luke adds that he “had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51 NLT).

This dissenting member of the Sanhedrin risked not only his reputation but also his place in the religious community of Israel. The Sanhedrin had threatened anyone who showed allegiance to Jesus with ex-communication from the synagogue. But out of love for Jesus, Joseph was willing to put it all on the line. And he was not alone. He was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the high council. This is the same man who had made a light-night visit to Jesus and received a head-scratching lecture on the need to be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

These two unlikely characters are the ones who remove the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross and prepare it for burial. It should not be overlooked that these men were members of the very same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Matthew records that when Caiaphas the high priest had asked the members of the council for their verdict, they had shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And then, Matthew describes the scene that followed:

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” – Matthew 26:67-68 ESV

Yet surprisingly, from out of this prideful and hate-filled mob emerged two men who showed their final respects for Jesus by ensuring He received a proper burial.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. – John 19:40 ESV

John’s emphasis on the body of Jesus is crucial. All throughout his gospel, John has stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus. These two aspects of Jesus’ identity are inseparable and equally vital in John’s understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was the Son of God who came from heaven and became a man so that He might dwell among us and reveal the glory of God to us. According to John, Jesus, in HIs incarnation, made God known (John 1:18). The apostle Paul declares that Jesus, by virtue of His humanity, was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT).

But there was far more behind the miracle of the incarnation than making God known. Jesus came to make God accessible. Paul describes that Jesus’ coming to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have,” had much more long-term and radical implications.

He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The physical body of Jesus had profound spiritual implications. It was His body that allowed Him to live as a man and to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And it was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the absolute necessity that Jesus be fully human so that He could serve as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of a guilty and condemned humanity.

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

The body of Jesus, while lifeless, was also priceless. And John’s emphasis on the extravagant and expensive quantity of burial spices brought by Nicodemus is intended to drive home the infinite worth value of the body of Jesus. And Peter also emphasizes the priceless nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1: 18-19 NLT

And Peter would go on to describe how Jesus paid the price for our sins with the offering of His own body on our behalf.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV

And Peter was simply restating the prophetic words of Isaiah, who centuries earlier, described in stunning detail the atoning work of Jesus.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

And John reveals that Joseph and Nicodemus treated the body of Jesus with utmost respect and dignity, washing it and anointing it with burial spices, then wrapping it in linen cloths. Then he adds that they placed the body of Jesus in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV). Matthew notes that the tomb belonged to Joseph and this point becomes significant because of the prophetic words of Isaiah.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

The sinless one was treated like a criminal. He died the death of a sinner even though He was without sin. He was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…beaten so we could be whole…whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). He was “struck down for the rebellion of my people” (Isaiah 53:8 NLT).

And His body, though lifeless, would not undergo the indignity of decay and decomposition. Because it was of immeasurable worth and value. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David would prophetically speak on behalf of Jesus when he wrote:

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:9-11 NLT

Years later, the apostle Paul would preach a sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, in which he stated:

“For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT

The body of Jesus, while just like the bodies we sinners have, did not suffer the same post-death fate that all human bodies do. And while John’s description of Jesus’ burial has a sense of finality to it, he is simply preparing his readers for what comes next. He subtly hints that there is more to come when he mentions what all of this took place on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42 ESV). This is a reference to Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus were under pressure to make sure the body of Jesus was interred before the Sabbath began and all forms of work would have been prohibited. But his reference to the day of preparation has far more in mind than the mandatory observance of the Sabbath. He is preparing his readers for something even greater.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Is Finished!

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:28-37 ESV

Just as he did with his recounting of Jesus’ trials, John presents a highly truncated version of Jesus’ crucifixion. In some sense, John portrays the death of Jesus as the work of men. The Sanhedrin had plotted and planned for it to happen, and the Roman governor had given his official approval, commanding his troops to carry out the execution of Jesus. John has portrayed Jesus as the King of the Jews and purposefully juxtaposed Him with two of the most powerful men in Israel at the time: The chief priest and the Roman prefect. These two men played significant roles in the death of Jesus, ensuring that His crucifixion was carried out. And John’s abbreviated treatment of the death of Jesus may simply be His way of diminishing or downplaying the power of men over the Son of God.

During his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate had arrogantly proclaimed, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10 ESV). Pilate was backed by the full power and authority of the Roman government. He had been appointed by Caesar and had thousands of well-trained and heavily armed Romans legionnaires at his disposal. He could issue a command and it would be carried out. But Jesus, unphased by Pilate’s boastful declaration, had calmly responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 ESV).

In His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus had been confronted by Caiaphas, the high priest, who had demanded that Jesus publicly state His claim to be the Messiah.

“I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” – Matthew 26:63 NLT

Caiaphas was looking for a confession from Jesus, not some kind of confirmation. He harbored no suspicions that Jesus might truly be the Messiah. He was simply wanting Jesus to condemn Himself by proclaiming His claim to be the Son of God – in public and in front of witnesses. This powerful and influential leader of Israel’s religious elite believed that he held the fate of Jesus in his hands. But Jesus had responded by stating, “…in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 NLT).

Like Pilate, Caiaphas had no power over Jesus. And for John, the crucifixion seemed to represent man’s vain attempt to thwart the plans of God. Their treatment of Jesus had been cruel and unjust. They were putting to death an innocent man. But little did they know that they were actually fulfilling the will of God and the desires of Jesus. They were not the ones in control. While they believed they were taking the life of Jesus, He had made it clear that no one had that kind of authority over Him.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

The death of Jesus was the will of God. It was being carried out by men, utilizing a man-made instrument of death, but it was all according to the sovereign and providential plan of God and the full consent of the Son of God. So, John seems to fast-forward through the gruesome details surrounding the crucifixion, focusing only on a few carefully chosen scenes. He is more interested in what happens next.

After recording how Jesus had personally commissioned him to care for His mother, John provides an interesting first-person impression of what he saw. He describes Jesus as “knowing that all was now finished” (John 19:28 ESV). Somehow, John ascertains that Jesus was reaching not only the end of His life but also the completion of His mission. And he reports hearing Jesus say: “I thirst” (John 19:28 ESV).

The one who had stated, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV), was declaring His own thirst. He was nearing the completion of His earthly ministry, having suffered greatly at the hands of sinful men, and He found Himself suffering from intense spiritual thirst. John indicates that the words of Jesus were in fulfillment of Scripture. It is likely that he is referring to two passages found in the Psalms that seem to prophesy this very moment.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death. – Psalm 22: 14-15 ESV

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
    and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. – Psalm 69:19-21 ESV

But Jesus’ expression of thirst has even great implications because they tie back into His earlier declaration: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Jesus was about to complete the work of His Father, and that work had been grueling, painful, and exhausting. It had left Him physically and spiritually depleted. Jesus had told James and John that they would not be able to drink from the cup that He would be forced to drink (Mark 10:38). This cup represented the wrath of God (Jeremiah 25:15-16). In His crucifixion, Jesus was taking on Himself the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of mankind. And, as He had told Peter, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).

Doing the work of His Father had left Jesus thirsting after righteousness. He was bearing the sins of mankind and, in doing so, feeling the displeasure of His Father for the first time in His life. And He longed to be restored to fellowship. Isaiah describes the extreme nature of His sacrifice.

because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12 ESV

It is impossible for us to comprehend the burden that Jesus bore on our behalf. When Isaiah states that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV), we have a difficult time understanding the gravity and intensity of that weight.

And in response to Jesus’ words, He was given a sponge dipped in sour wine. The one who had turned ordinary water into extraordinary wine was given sour wine to slake His spiritual thirst. He who had poured out His blood as a drink offering to satisfy the just demands of a holy God was given spoiled wine to satisfy His need for refreshment.

And then, John records the last words Jesus would utter from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV). With His final breath, Jesus proclaimed the successful completion of His God-ordained mission. He had done what He had come to do. Now, the rest was in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

In order to expedite death, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the three men, making it impossible for them to push themselves up in order to breathe. But Jesus was spared this indignity because He was already dead. Yet, as a precaution, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ body with a spear. Even in death, Jesus was subjected to indignity and disrespect. And John declares that all that he has written is true because he saw it with his own eye.

This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. – John 19:35 NLT

John reveals the reason why he chose to report the things he did. The facts that the legs of Jesus remained unbroken and that His side was pierced are crucial to John. For him, they provide further proof of Jesus identity as the Son of God. He sees these two details as evidence of the deity of Jesus because they fulfill Old Testament prophecy. John seems to have three primary passages in mind: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and Psalm 34:20. The first two deal with the divine prohibition against breaking the bones of the Passover lambs. In His death, Jesus performed the role of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul ties Jesus directly to the Passover lamb, stating, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). Psalm 34:20 describes how God protects the truly righteous man, preventing anyone from breaking his bones.

Even in His death, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies of Scripture, providing further evidence that He truly was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And for John, the proofs for Jesus’ identity are far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus, King of the Jews

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:17-27 ESV

John presents the trials of Jesus in an abbreviated form, choosing to leave out many of the details provided in the Synoptic gospels. His record of these events is rather short and to the point, but the one thing he clearly intended to emphasize was the kingship of Jesus. The very first question Pilate asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 ESV).

From Matthew’s account of this scene, it appears that the Jewish leaders had brought a series of charges against Jesus, which most likely included such things as sedition, insurrection, and an accusation that Jesus had claimed to be the King of the Jews. When Jesus had refused to answer Pilate’s question, the governor had responded with a second question.

“Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” – Matthew 27:13 ESV

Unknowingly, the Jewish religious leaders were speaking prophetically. In their attempt to convince the Roman government to put Jesus to death, they had concocted the story that Jesus was a dangerous radical who was fomenting revolution and claiming to be the rightful King of Israel. But as the events unfold, it will become increasingly clear that they did not believe what they were saying about Jesus. And yet, John will use their words against them. While they saw their mention of Jesus’ kingly aspirations as a way to get Him killed, John viewed it as the focal point of the entire narrative.

The abusive and demeaning treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers was intended to mock and humiliate Him.

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. – John 19:2-3 ESV

But their words, while spoken with mocking sarcasm and disdain, were actually true. They were unwittingly declaring the identity of Jesus. These unbelieving and hard-hearted Romans soldiers had become unwilling and unknowing ambassadors for God. They were making known the truth regarding the Son of God.

This brings to mind an earlier encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees that took place immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). But the Pharisees had accosted Jesus, demanding that He rebuke these people for their preposterous claims. But Jesus had simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV).

The Greek word for “stones” is lithos, and it refers to a small rock or pebble. It is the same word John the Baptist used when speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Matthew 3:9 NLT

John the Baptist had declared that God could create children out of inanimate, unthinking rocks. And Jesus had claimed that, should the Jews stopped declaring His Kingship, the common, everyday stones would pick up the cry.

So, when these unbelieving Gentile soldiers shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” they were fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. The Jewish crowds had long disappeared and their voices had grown silent. The streets of Jerusalem were dark and empty, but the sound of voices declaring the Kingship of Jesus still echoed through the night.

When Pilate presented Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders, he had sarcastically declared, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14 ESV). To which they had replied, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15 ESV). And when Pilate mockingly asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?,” the chief priest of the Jews had angrily declared, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15 ESV).

Pilate mocked Jesus for claiming to be the King of the Jews. But the high priest and his companions, who because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, should have recognized Jesus for who He claimed to be, chose to reject Him instead. And they would not be content until this would-be-king was put to death. So Pilate, having decided to give into their demands, handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Once again, John provides an abbreviated account of the crucifixion. He leaves out many of the details contained in the other three gospels. But he continues to focus His attention on the kingship of Jesus. The scene shifts to a hillside outside the city walls, a location known as Golgotha, which meant “The Place of the Skull.” It was evidently a common site used by the Romans for crucifixions and that may have led to its grim-sounding name. While the other gospel writers spend a great deal of time describing the details of Jesus agonizing transition from Pilate’s residence to the place of His crucifixion, John chose to concentrate his attention on one particular and often overlooked aspect of Jesus’ death.

It was a common practice for the Romans to place a sign above the head of the one being crucified describing the nature of the crime they had committed. In this case, Pilate personally dictated what was to be inscribed on the placard that was placed above the head of Jesus.

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:19 ESV

There is little doubt that Pilate meant this as mockery of Jesus but also as a subtleslight to the Jewish religious leaders. He knew that it would infuriate them and he was not disappointed. Pilate had ordered that the inscription be written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, insuring that the Jewish pilgrims, who had come from all over the world for the Passover celebration, would be able to read what was written.

Caiaphas, the high priest, accompanied by Annas, his father-in-law, attempted to convince Pilate to make a slight, but significant edit to the wording on the sign.

So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” – John 19:21 ESV

But Pilate refused. So, the sign that hung above the head of Jesus, declaring the nature of His crime and the reason for His death, read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Rabbi from Nazareth was being put to death for being exactly who He claimed to be. He was killed for being the King of kings and Lord of lords.

There is a sense in which this inscription was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder to the Jews of what happens when anyone attempt to stand opposed to the rule and reign of Caesar. The sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns, would have been a very gruesome, yet effective means of deterring any future would-be kings.

And as the King of kings hung dying on the cross, a handful of “stones” gambled over his garments. These hardened and discompassionate Roman soldiers were attempting to profit from Jesus’ death, and little did they know that their callous actions were in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Hundreds of years earlier, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the great King David had penned these prophetic words:

For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots. – Psalm 22:16-18 ESV

And as the soldiers gambled over what they believed to be the sparse remains of Jesus’ inheritance, another group of individuals looked on in horror and heartache.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. – John 19:25 NLT

While the soldiers were hoping to gain some small financial advantage from the death of Jesus, these women were forced to face the loss of all their hopes and dreams. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, this was not what she had been expecting. At no time over the last 33 years had Mary ever expected this outcome. As she stood watching her Son being nailed to the cross and hoisted up before the angry crowd, she must have replayed over and over again the words that Gabriel had spoken to her 33 years earlier.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And yet, here was her Son hanging on a cross rather than reigning over the house of Jacob. And to make matters worse, some of the last words she would hear her Son say simply emphasized the finality of the horrific scene she was having to endure.

“Woman, behold, your son!” – John 19:26 ESV

Jesus was letting His mother know that John would be responsible for her care from this point on. His earthly life was coming to an end. And His imminent death would also bring with it a change to His relationship with Mary. With His resurrection, Jesus would no longer be her earthly Son. He would be her King, Lord, and Savior. Everything was about to undergo a radical and revolutionary change. The insurrection the Romans feared was going to take place, but it would be nothing like what they expected. It was as Jesus had told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unlikely and Unholy Alliance

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 18:28-32 ESV

John has chosen to give an abbreviated version of Jesus’ trial before the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps it was because he understood this charade to be anything but a fair trial. Jesus had been brought before these self-righteous religious leaders for questioning but they had already made up their minds concerning His guilt. In his gospel account, Matthew records that all the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. And while Jesus was being interrogated by Annas, the members of the Sanhedrin were busy plotting how they could falsely accuse Jesus.

the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. – Matthew 26:59 NLT

But according to Jewish law, they were required to have two witnesses with corroborating testimonies.

Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60-61 NLT

When they demanded that Jesus answer these charges, He remained silent. And it was not until the high priest demanded, “tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT), that Jesus spoke.

“You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Matthew 26:64 NLT

In a rather melodramatic display of shock and awe, the high priest tore his own robe and cried out, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Matthew 26:65-66 NLT). And the council-turned-mob shouted in unison, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 NLT).

Their verbal declaration of Jesus’ guilt was followed by physical abuse as they began to beat him with their fists and spit in His face. And as they slapped the face of the Son of God, they mocked Him saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” (Matthew 26:68 NLT).

They had their official charge of blasphemy, which was a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 24:16). They had their two witnesses. Now, all they needed was the assistance of the Roman government to see that Jesus’ death was carried out. According to Roman law, the Jews were prohibited from carrying out any form of a death sentence. But it was going to be unlikely that the Romans would execute Jesus based on a violation of some obscure religious law. So, the high priest and his companions knew they would have to drum up additional charges that portrayed Jesus as a threat to the Roman government.

Interestingly enough, John records none of this. Perhaps he considered the whole affair a travesty of justice and not worth the time and effort to document. Whatever his reasons, John picks up the story in the morning as they transferred Jesus to the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor over the region.

In a subtle statement cloaked in irony, John records that Jesus’ “accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover” (John 18:28 NLT). Unwilling to risk becoming ceremonially unclean by entering the un-kosher home of a Gentile, these pious hypocrites chose to remain outside. There were the same men who had gone out of their way to solicit false witnesses so they could draw up fabricated charges against Jesus. Their self-righteous display of moral superiority was a sham and their actions gave proof of the veracity of Jesus’ earlier statements concerning them.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

These men were little more than actors in a play. In fact, the Greek term, “hypocrite” with which Jesus described them was commonly used to refer to an actor or stage player. To be a hypocrite is to portray yourself falsely, putting on an outward act meant to conceal your true nature or identity. And as these men stood outside the offices of the Roman governor, they pompously displayed their commitment to moral purity as they prepared to betray the sinless Lamb of God and condemn Him to an undeserved death. His face still red and swollen from their repeated slaps and beatings, Jesus, the innocent Son of God was handed over to the Romans by men who were spiritual pretenders, full of pretense and dissimulation.

When Pilate demanded to know what charges they were bringing against Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders responded somewhat sarcastically, “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” (John 18:30 NLT). It wasn’t that they lacked any charges to level against Jesus, it was that they wanted Pilate to know just how serious they were. According to their description of Jesus, He was kakopoios – an evildoer. Luke records that they accused Jesus of trying to foment an insurrection against the Romans.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

But, once again, John leaves out these details.

Pilate, out of frustration over the early morning disturbance and the lack of an official charge against Jesus, demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He had heard nothing that deemed this matter worthy of a Roman trial. And in an effort to drive home the seriousness of their intentions, the Jews reminded Pilate that they were forbidden by Roman law to carry out capital punishment. They had deemed Jesus worthy of death and they would not be satisfied until Pilate acquiesced and accommodated their wishes.

It is at this point in the narrative that John adds the note: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 18:32 ESV). This is similar to what he wrote when Jesus had declared, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). John had added the aside, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV).

Several times in his gospel, John reports that the Jews had intended to stone Jesus, but had failed to do so (John 8:59; 10:31). According to God’s divine plan, stoning would not be the means by which Jesus would die. He would be “lifted up” on a cross. And for that to happen, Jesus would have to be condemned by the Roman government. Crucifixion was the official form of capital punishment used by the Romans. And God had ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by the Jews and officially executed by the Romans. And just days after Jesus ascension, the apostle Peter would address a crowd of Jews, declaring the sovereign will of God behind all that took place during Jesus’ final days.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.” – Acts 2:22-23 NLT

And sometime later, Peter would pray a powerful prayer of thanks to God, expressing the gratitude of the believers for all that God had accomplished through the sacrificial death of His Son on their behalf. And all that God had done had been in spite of the efforts of the Gentiles and the Jews who had joined forces against the Son of God.

“Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. – Acts 4:27-28 NLT

What a remarkable thing to consider that all the forces of Rome and Israel were aligning themselves to stand against Jesus the Savior of the world. The Jews were the chosen people of God and the Romans were the most powerful nation on earth, and they were sworn enemies. But these two unlikely partners were linking arms in order to put to death the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And all according to the sovereign will of Almighty God. They would be instruments in His all-powerful hands, unwittingly performing His will and accomplishing His divine strategy for the redemption of men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just As God Intended

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:1-11 ESV

For 17 chapters, John has gone out of his way in establishing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. But at this point in the story, it would be easy to understand if a reader of John’s gospel began to question whether Jesus really was who He claimed to be. After all, Jesus Himself has admitted that He is going to die. He has warned that His own disciples are going to desert Him. For an uninformed observer, this could all begin to raise doubts about the validity of John’s claims about the divinity of Jesus.

And the scene described in chapter 18 will raise further doubts. But, in fact, John would argue that the scene that took place in the garden that fateful night, which he witnessed and later recorded, would be one of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ identity.

The scenes of betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death that mark the end of Jesus’ life are not meant to call into question His identity, but to confirm it. While they appear to the human eye as evidence of defeat and failure, they are actually powerful proofs of God’s divine strategy for bringing about Satan’s fall and Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
 – Romans 8:3 NLT

When reading the gospels, many Christians find themselves wishing these graphics scenes could have been left out. They would prefer to skip all the gory details concerning Jesus’ humiliating trials, merciless beatings, and agonizing crucifixion and death. Why couldn’t John just have fast-forwarded to that Hallmark-card image of the empty tomb? After all, isn’t that the point of the whole story? Jesus rose again.

But John wants us to understand that, without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. And as painful as it may be to read about all that Jesus had to suffer and endure, it is essential that we understand the high price that Jesus paid. The apostle Peter would have us remember that our salvation didn’t come cheaply.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 BSB

And Paul told the believers in Corinth, “God paid a high price for you…” (1 Corinthians 7:23 NLT). That image of the empty tomb came with a hefty price tag.

So, as we read these all-too-familiar chapters, may we do so with a sense of awe and gratitude for what God ordained and Jesus fulfilled. Every step Jesus took, every blow He suffered, every nail driven into His body, and the very last breath He breathed were all part of the price He paid that we might be made right with God. Do not hurry through these uncomfortable moments in your rush to get to the empty tomb. Savor every painful, agonizing moment, because not only do they represent the high price God paid for your salvation, but they reveal the staggering scope of the debt you could not pay.

After having complete His high priestly prayer, Jesus led His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. And it was in this familiar spot that Judas decided to carry out his plan to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders.

So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. – John 18:3 ESV

Don’t miss the stark contrast contained in this scene. Jesus, the faithful Lamb of God, is in the company of his disillusioned and dispirited disciples. But Judas, the unfaithful disciple, is accompanied by armed soldiers and the sworn enemies of Jesus. You can sense the tension. And the fear and confusion of the disciples are almost palpable. But Jesus was unsurprised and unmoved by this obvious display of force. John juxtaposes the heavy drama of the moment with Jesus’ calm demeanor and measured response.

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” – John 18:4 NLT

This simple question is the key to understanding the Gospel of John. By asking it, Jesus is demanding that Judas and his associates confess who they believe Him to be. Early in His ministry, Jesus had asked His disciples a similar question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). And their answers had been all over the map. So, Jesus had followed that question up with another one: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). And to that question, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

Now, in the darkness of the garden, illuminated by the glow of torches, the Light of the world asks Judas and his companions to reveal the identity of the one for whom they are seeking. And, unlike Peter, their response is neither bold or enlightened.

They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” – John 18:5 ESV

They are simply looking for a man, and nothing more. They had not come looking for the Messiah. They weren’t expecting to encounter the Son of God. And their answer revealed all that they knew and believed about Jesus: What He was called and where He was from.

And Jesus responds to their answer by confirming that He was the one for whom they were looking. But His simple answer carries tremendous weight.

Jesus said to them, “I am he.” – John 18:5 ESV

In Greek, it reads, “I am!” Why is this important? This was the very same phrase Jesus used when stating the various aspects of His identity.

I am the bread of life.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the light of the world.” – John 8:12 ESV

I am the door.” – John 10:7 ESV

I am the good shepherd.” – John 10:11 ESV

I am the resurrection and the life.” – John 11:25 ESV

I am the way and the truth and the life.” – John 14:6 ESV

I am the true vine.” –John 15:1 ESV

Every time Jesus uttered this two-word statement, He was declaring Himself to be God. He was echoing the very words spoken by Yahweh when He had appeared to Moses in the burning bush. When God had commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of captivity, Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).

And God had responded, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). That was His name. It was a declaration of His transcendency and eternality. He was God, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. As God would later reveal through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 54:6 ESV).

And just to make sure Moses heard what He had said, God repeated His answer. “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).

So, when Jesus declared Himself to be “I am,” He was not-so-subtly declaring that He was far more than just Jesus of Nazareth. He was the very one Philip had told Nathanael about.

“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:45 ESV

And John reveals the power inherent in Jesus’ self-proclaimed statement of identity by describing what happened when the words left His lips.

When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. – John 18:6 ESV

This was not a voluntary act of reverence or submission. It was an uncontrollable response to the power and presence of God almighty. Of no choice of their own, they were driven to the ground in submission and subjugation to the Son of God. It was a foreshadowing of a future day when all mankind will acknowledge Jesus as who He really is.

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:10-11 NLT

But their submission proved to be shortlived. When they recovered their senses, they arrested Jesus but allowed His disciples to go free. And John reveals that this was in keeping with the declaration Jesus had made to His Father: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one” (John 17:12; 18:9 ESV).

Throughout this tension-filled scene, Jesus exhibits a strong sense of calm and composure. But Peter reveals the turmoil taking place within the hearts of the disciples. He draws a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Rather than wield his sword against one of the armed guards, Peter attacks a defenseless slave. It was likely his attempt to prove his earlier boast to Jesus, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:23 NLT).

But Jesus calmly responded, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV). John ignores the fact that Jesus healed the ear of the servant. For him, the salient point behind this encounter was the willingness with which Jesus faced His God-ordained fate. What He was about to do, He would do willingly because, as He had told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unity and Glory

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 ESV

The 11 disciples are being given the privilege of listening in as Jesus prays to the Father on their behalf. Overhearing this “private” conversation was providing them with a glimpse into the intimate relationship shared between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. But it also seems clear that Jesus meant for them to hear His prayer because He wanted to encourage them. He knew they were full of fear and struggling with doubt. The thought of losing their teacher and friend, whom they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah, had left them confused. So, Jesus allowed them to eavesdrop in on His prayer so they would better understand what was about to happen.

The Good Shepherd was preparing to lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), but He was turning over the care of the flock to His Father. In His absence, they would find themselves in the highly capable hands of God Almighty. And Jesus requests the Father to “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15 ESV) and that He “sanctify them in the truth” (John 17:16 ESV). When Jesus left, they would remain behind, but they would not find themselves alone and unprotected. Their sorrow would be turned to joy. Their devasted hope would be renewed as they witnessed Jesus in His resurrected state. And their confidence would soar as they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to John, who recorded this prayer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, generations of believers have been allowed to listen in as Jesus prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples. And Jesus made sure that these future followers would also receive encouragement and insight from His private petition to the Father.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” – John 17:20 ESV

Even before He has gone to the cross, Jesus prophetically proclaims the effectiveness of His mission. He will sacrifice His life on behalf of the sheep and His faithful undershepherds will carry the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection to the world. And the result will be the “ransom of many” (Matthew 20:28).

Jesus was fully confident that His sacrificial death would result in the salvation of all those who had been given to Him by His Heavenly Father. His death would be, as the theologians like to put it, efficacious or effective. Not a single drop of His atoning blood would go to waste. As the author of Hebrews puts it, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life would not be in vain.

Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

His seemingly wasteful and meaningless death would end up producing a rich and bountiful harvest, just as He had told His disciples.

“…unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:24 NLT

And as Jesus looks into the future, He prays on behalf of all those who would place their faith in His sacrificial, substitutionary death on their behalf. His desire is that they experience the joy of unity and the hope of future glorification.

His first request is for a spirit of unity among all of His followers. And He is very specific as to what He means.

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:21 NLT

Jesus is not describing some kind of monochromatic homogeneity where all believers look and sound the same. He is expressing that His followers reflect the same kind of unity that He shares with the Father. They are unified by their love for one another and by their commitment to redeem and restore the world they have made. They share a common mission to recreate and renovate what sin has marred. And Jesus, out of love for His Father, has faithfully carried out His commission and will soon complete the final task given to Him, setting in motion the final phase of God’s divine redemptive plan. And Jesus’ greatest desire is that His followers would share in that undistracted and unwavering commitment to the divine mission. And this request of Jesus would be fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit, who by indwelling each believer would permanently unite them to God the Father and God the Son.

And it is this spiritual union with the Godhead that provides the proof or evidence of the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrificial death. The ability of Jesus’ followers to live in unity, despite their many differences, will reflect the life-transforming nature of the Gospel.

Back in chapter 13, John recorded a message Jesus gave to His disciples.

“I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 1334-35 NLT

But their ability to carry out this command would not be possible until Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit. It would be the indwelling and empowering presence of the Spirit of God that made mutual love and unity achievable among the increasingly diverse and disparate followers of Jesus. The unity for which Jesus prayed would come about through the work of God’s Spirit. And the result would be a miraculous ingathering and unifying of people from all walks of life and every conceivable background.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Jesus explains that this supernatural unity has been made possible because He has faithfully shared the glory given to Him by God.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” – John 17:22 NLT

But what does this mean? How did Jesus share God’s glory and what does this have to do with the unity of His followers? Well, to understand what Jesus means we have to go all the way back to chapter one, where John describes the incarnation of Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

By taking on human flesh, the Son of God made the glory of God visible. Through His miracles and messages, Jesus revealed Himself to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He made the glory of God known to men and, for all those who believed Him to be who He claimed to be, they were united to God through faith in Him. Their acceptance of Jesus as the manifested glory of the invisible God resulted in their restoration to a right relationship with God. And, as Jesus puts it, this reunion with God the Father is what makes it possible for His followers to live in unity and so prove to be His disciples.

“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” – John 17:23 NLT

The lives of the disciples would end up bringing glory to God on earth. And all those who would come to faith in Christ through their ministry and message would do the same. But Jesus fast-forwards and expresses His desire that all His disciples experience the future glorification that will result in their reuniting with Him in heaven.

Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! – John 17:24 NLT

The ultimate goal behind Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was the justification of sinful men and women so that they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. But this wonderful truth will not be fully fulfilled until Jesus returns again and makes possible the future glorification of our mortal bodies so that we might spend eternity with He and the Father. The apostle Paul expresses this hope in clear and compelling terms.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

Jesus had His eyes fixed on the far-distant future. His ability to face death was made possible by His understanding of its ultimate outcome. And the author of Hebrews used Jesus’ example of confident hope as an inspiration to all those who follow in His steps, so that we might remain steadfast to the end.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Prayer of Encouragement

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19 ESV

From the surrounding context, it would appear that Jesus is praying this prayer audibly, and in the hearing of His disciples. His words are directed to His Heavenly Father but for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this conversation because it contains vital information concerning their relationship with God that should provide them with further encouragement to face what lies ahead.

He begins by stating, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). As John revealed in the opening chapter of his gospel, with His incarnation, Jesus made God known (John 1:18). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the glory of God on earth. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT) and “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Jesus manifested or made known the name of God by revealing the divine nature of God through His life and ministry. His miracles displayed the power and authority of God. His words were spoken on behalf of God. And His death on the cross would be the ultimate expression of the love of God. For the last three years, He had been providing His disciples with an earned theology degree on the nature of God. These were “the people” given to Him by God to instruct and prepare for their future roles in the ongoing redemptive plan. They belonged to God because He had chosen them and then given them to His Son to train up as the future ambassadors of the Gospel.

Jesus reveals that these men, whom God had given Him, had remained faithful. They were still with Him, in spite of all the disturbing news He had just shared with them. While they didn’t understand everything Jesus had said, they still believed He was sent from God. And they were still walking with Him even as the darkness around them seemed to grow increasingly more intense. Their continued presence was proof of their commitment. All that they had seen and heard over the last three years had left them convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.

“I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” – John 17:8 NLT

And Jesus audibly states that His prayer was on their behalf.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. – John 17:9 ESV

It seems doubtful that Jesus would have made this clarification for God’s benefit. The more likely explanation is that His words were aimed at His disciples. As they listened in on Jesus’ prayer to His Father, they would have realized He was speaking not only about them but to them. He wanted them to know that, because of their relationship with Him, they were no longer of this world but were united to God. They belonged to Him.

All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:10 NLT

The disciples were going to share in the unity that exists between Jesus and His Father. God had given them to Jesus and now Jesus was giving them back to God. He had prepared them and was now presenting them to His Father for use in His divine plan for redeeming a lost and dying world. Jesus was leaving but they would be staying. And He makes that point clear.

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. – John 17:11 ESV

This is a somewhat strange statement for Jesus to make because He was still standing in front of His disciples. But it reflects His attitude at that moment. His earthly ministry was over. He had one last task to perform and that was to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was fully committed to completing His God-given assignment and His mind was fixed on the glory that awaited Him. The author of Hebrews explains the motivation behind Jesus’ single-minded focus.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:2 NLT

But as Jesus makes clear, His disciples would remain behind. Yet He wanted them to know that while they would be in the world, they were not to be of the world.

“…they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” – John 17:14-15 ESV

Yes, He was leaving them behind, but He was not leaving them alone or on their own. He was asking His Father to protect them. Again, it seems unlikely that Jesus is attempting to remind God to take care of His own. But this prayer would have revealed to His disciples that their future was going to be marked by spiritual warfare. Yet they could rest assured that their Heavenly Father would be caring for them every step of the way. As Jesus prepared to leave, He was turning over the daily care of these men to God. He had faithfully and successfully protected them for the last three years.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

But now, in anticipation of His return to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, Jesus was placing His disciples in His Father’s all-powerful hands.

Verse 13 strongly suggests that Jesus was praying within the hearing of His disciples.

“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13 ESV

He spoke so that they could hear and, in due time, they would recall His words and be filled with joy in knowing that His prayer had been answered. They would experience the joy of seeing Jesus in His resurrected state. They would watch Him ascend into heaven and then, just days later, receive the promised Holy Spirit and know the joy of having indwelling presence of God to guide and protect them.

Once again, Jesus stresses that the disciples were no longer of this world. And, as He had told them earlier, they would be hated by the world just as He had been.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

This “in it, but not of it” relationship the disciples would have with the world was not going to be easy. Jesus had come into the world and been rejected by it, so the disciples could expect to experience the same fate. And Jesus makes it clear that their presence in this sin-filled and hateful world was part of the divine plan.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:18 ESV

Just as Jesus had been commissioned to bring God’s plan of redemption to stubborn and rebellious world, the disciples would received their marching orders from Jesus to carry on His work after He was gone.

“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And Jesus asks the Father to continue to provide these men with the one thing they will need to accomplish their mission: The truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17 ESV

To sanctify simply means to set apart for service. The disciples were going to need a constant and steady flow of truth. Up until this point, Jesus had been their sole source of truth. As He had told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). But now, they were going to receive truth directly from God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. They would experience the reality of what Jesus had foretold.

“When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:19-20 NLT

But for this to happen, Jesus was going to have to complete His assignment. The Spirit would not come until Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side. That’s why Jesus states, “And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart” (John 17:19 NET). His death was going to make possible their ongoing exposure to the truth of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Path to Glory

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:1-5 ESV

Chapter 17 contains what has come to be known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” This somewhat lofty designation is based on the role that the high priest of Israel played in mediating the spiritual needs of the people before God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies and offer sacrifices intended to atone for the sins of the people. And God had warned Aaron, Moses’ brother and the high priest of Israel, that he was prohibited from entering the Most Holy Place at any other time.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this theme as he compares the role of the high priest with that of Jesus.

But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. This is an illustration pointing to the present time. – Hebrews 9:7-9 ESV

During the days of the Exodus, when the Israelites were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, the  Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle was where the glory of God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. And this sacred place was off-limits to all, including the high priest, except on the Day of Atonement. Even then, the high priest could only enter into God’s presence after performing a series of ritual cleansings to purify himself from sin.

Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. – Leviticus 16:3-4 ESV

Aaron, performing his role as the high priest, was also required to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and a goat as a sin offering for the people. He would take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Then he would do the same thing with the blood of the goat, “sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:15-16 ESV). 

These elaborate and mandatory rituals were designed to illustrate the glory and the holiness of God and to stress the unrighteousness of the people. It was not without the sacrifice of blood that the people of God could enter into His presence. Their sinfulness separated them from Him. And there was no way for them to stand before God in their sinful state. So, as the author of Hebrews states, atoning blood was required.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

And according to Hebrews, Jesus had come to replace the old system with a new and better one.

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrew 9:11-12 NLT

So, when Jesus prayed this prayer, He was interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was acting as their high priest, mediating for them before God the Father. But in reality, Jesus would not be fully fulfilling His role as the high priest until He sacrificed His own blood on the cross as a payment for the sins of mankind.

Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:14 NLT

But this powerful prayer provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ heart and mind as He prepared to fulfill His Father’s redemptive plan. He had just told His disciples, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). And then John states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1 ESV). There is no break in the action. John doesn’t indicate that Jesus left the disciples and found a quiet place to be alone. He simply describes Jesus as lifting up His eyes and praying. One moment He had been talking to the disciples and then suddenly, He was talking to God. And John and the other disciples were allowed to eavesdrop on this intimate conversation between Jesus and His Heavenly Father.

Jesus had assured His disciples that they could take heart because He had overcome the world. His mission was as good as done. They could have complete confidence that what He had been sent to do, He would do. And Jesus expressed His complete commitment to fulfill His Father’s wishes by requesting that His glorification take place just as it had been planned.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” – John 17:1 ESV

Jesus is not just focusing His attention on His future resurrection and ascension. In other words, He’s not expressing His desire to get the crucifixion over with as quickly as possible so He can enjoy a restored relationship with the Father. For Jesus, the cross was a central part of the glorification process. By offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind, He would be faithfully fulfilling the will of His Father, performing the final act of obedience that would mark His life as pleasing to God.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV

Jesus knew that it was necessary for His death to proceed His glorification. The path to future glory passed through the shadow of the cross. It was just as He had told His disciples.

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. – John 12:23-24 NLT

His death would produce new life – not only for Himself but for all those who placed their faith in Him. His crucifixion would result in His own glorification but also that of His followers. The apostle Paul reminds us of this incredible reality.

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 BSB

Ultimately, Jesus was expressing His desire to bring glory to God. He knew that by sacrificing His life on the cross He would be expressing His Father’s love for mankind. The willingness of God to offer up His Son on behalf of sinful, undeserving humanity would end up glorifying Him by demonstrating His goodness and grace.

This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. – 1 John 4:9 BSB

Jesus was the means by which God would extend His offer of eternal life to sinful humanity. And Jesus knew that He had been given divine authority to extend this offer on behalf of His Father.

For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. – John 17:2-3 NLT

Everything that Jesus had done and said up until this point had brought glory to His Heavenly Father. He had done nothing of His own initiative or for His own glory.

“I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me.” – John 8:50 NLT

He had come to earth in order to point people to God. The sole purpose behind His incarnation had been to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). There were no other means by which sinful men and women could find access to and a restored relationship with God.

Jesus indicates that He had done all He had been commissioned to do.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 ESV

His miracles and messages had all been in keeping with His Father’s will. And now, it was time to complete His mission and return to His Father’s side.

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:5 ESV

Again, Jesus knew full well that the path to His glorification led through the cross. He would have to be “lifted up” before He could be raised up to His former place of glory at His Father’s side. The apostle Paul describes well this path of humility and suffering that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ glorification.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Do You Now Believe?

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:25-33 ESV

Jesus continues to stress the radical change that is about to take place in the lives of the disciples. While their current circumstances and the news of His pending death have left them distressed, Jesus wants them to know that will improve – dramatically.

But He admits that His words have been veiled in secrecy and symbolic language, such as His analogy of the woman in childbirth. He had used this naturally occurring process in an attempt to explain the spiritually-based transformation that awaited them. Yet, despite His efforts to inform and encourage them, they remained just as confused and perplexed as ever. All His talk about a woman giving birth and her sorrow being turned to joy had escaped them. They had more questions for Him than ever but were afraid to ask them.

So, Jesus makes them a promise.

The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. – John 16:25 ESV

He brings up the issue of time again. Having already used the phrase “a little while” seven different times to emphasize the imminent nature of His death and resurrection, Jesus now assures them “the hour” (hōra) is near at hand. The end is closer than they realize and it will bring about a series of unexpected and unprecedented changes.

This is not the first time Jesus has used this term. John recorded a number of instances where Jesus spoke of this future hour or moment in time. The first instance was at the wedding in Cana when Jesus had stated to His mother:

“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour [hōra] has not yet come.” – John 2:4 ESV

Later on, in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus had informed her:

“Woman, believe me, the hour [hōra] is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” – John 4:21 ESV

“…the hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:23 ESV

In one of His confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus brought up this matter again.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. – John 5:25 ESV

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour [hōra] is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice…” – John 5:28 ESV

The religious leaders had not been impressed by Jesus’ claims, but instead, they had become angered by His apparent arrogance and boastful assertions. Rather than acknowledge Him as their Messiah, they had sought to arrest Him.

So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 7:30 ESV

In another encounter with these men, Jesus had claimed to be the light of the world, and their response had been the same. They had wanted to arrest Him so that they might silence Him. But their plans were foiled because His time had not yet come.

These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 8:20 ESV

Sometime later, after Jesus had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He had told His disciples, “The hour [hōra] has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23 ESV). And Jesus would inform His disciples that this “hour” or time was the sole reason behind His incarnation. It was why He had come to earth in the first place.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour [hōra]’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour [hōra]. – John 12:27 ESV

In the very next chapter, John points out that, even before His final Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus “knew that his hour [hōra] had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1 ESV). And He later told them, “I have said these things to you, that when their hour [hōra] comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:4 ESV).

The very moment to which Jesus had been referring was closer than ever. The climax to His earthly ministry and the focal point of His entire incarnation was right around the corner, and it was going to result in unfathomable changes in the lives of His disciples. His death was going to set into motion a chain of unprecedented events that would have truly life-altering implications for His followers.

Jesus tells them that the long-expected “hour” was going to bring about “that day” – another point in time when they would experience remarkable changes in their relationship with Him and with His Heavenly Father.

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” – John 16:26-27 ESV

With this statement, Jesus is informing His disciples that, because of their relationship with Him, they will have direct access to the Father. They will be able to go to God, in the name of Jesus, and receive answers to their prayers. Their love for Jesus will ensure the Father’s love for them and guarantee their access into His presence and His answers to their petitions. It would be just as He had told His disciples:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:6-7 NLT

The whole purpose behind His coming had been to provide sinners with a means of experiencing a restored relationship with God. Their sinful state had left them separated from God and with no means to remedy the problem. But Jesus had come to make atonement for their sins by offering His sinless life as the sacrificial substitute or payment for their sin debt.

And the hour was fast approaching when Jesus would fulfill His God-ordained assignment to serve as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). He would faithfully accomplish the will of His Father and offer His life as the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And when He had done what He had come to do, Jesus would be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven.

“I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” – John 16:28 ESV

It was all part of the Father’s plan. He had come to die, but HIs death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And upon His return to heaven, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit. In time, every single facet of God’s redemptive plan would be unveiled and revealed to be a vital aspect of the long-awaited “hour” Jesus had told them about. The cross would not be the end, but it would only be the beginning. It would set in motion a series of momentous, earth-shattering events that would radically transform the disciples and revolutionize the world.

But in the meantime, the disciples reveal their eagerness to understand what Jesus is saying, but their words make it clear that they remain just as ignorant as ever.

“Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.” – John 16:30 NLT

They meant well, but their words reveal the insufficiency of their understanding. They were sincere when they stated their belief that Jesus had come from God, but they had no real concept of what that meant. They clearly did not understand the part about Him returning to God. It seems that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to meet the criteria they had established for the Messiah by setting up His Kingdom on earth. They believed Him to be the Son of God who had been sent by God, and they were still hoping He would establish Himself as the King of Israel and re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus bursts their bubble and brings them back down to earth.

“Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” – John 16:31-32 NLT

This revelation must have been a blow to their egos and served as a final wake-up call, putting to bed once and for all any lingering expectations they might have about an earthly kingdom. Jesus let them know that their self-proclaimed belief in Him would turn into fear and result in their abandoning Him.

But, once again, Jesus lets them know that these things are to be expected. They were all part of “the hour” that was fast approaching. Jesus knew these things would happen because they were all part of His Father’s plan. He wasn’t shocked, disappointed, or surprised. And He wanted His disciples to know that their desertion of Him would not be the end. He would die, but He would soon be back. They would desert Him, but they would eventually return. And they could take heart because His mission was as good as done. The will of His Father would be done and the victory would be theirs to share.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sorrow Turned to Joy

19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:19-24 ESV

Seven times in just four verses, John records Jesus using the phrase, “a little while.” It is the Greek word mikron, and it refers to a small or brief space of time. Jesus basically told His disciples that it would not be much longer before He would be gone. But then He followed up that bit of bad news by assuring them that, in no time at all, they would see Him again. Rather than finding Jesus’ words encouraging, the disciples became further confused and increasingly anxious. They had no idea what He was talking about. He seemed to be speaking in riddles that left them with more questions than answers. And, while Jesus had so much more He wanted to share with them, He knew they lacked the mental and emotional bandwidth to handle it.

Jesus, always alert and aware of what was going on in His disciples’ hearts, heard them discussing among themselves.

“What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” – John 16:18 ESV

They were afraid to admit their ignorance to Jesus, so they polled one another, hoping that one of them might have a clue as to what He was talking about. But Jesus, knowing that they were dying for an explanation, graciously answered the question they were too scared to ask.

Their confusion revolved around that little Greek word, mikron. They wanted to know just how long “a little while” was going to be. In other words, they were focused on the length of time, rather than on the events themselves and their subsequent outcome. How long would it be before they could no longer see Jesus? How much time did they have left? And then, how long would they have to wait before they could see Him again?

These men were stuck on an earthly plane, unable to see behind the veil and incapable of understanding the spiritual dimension of the moment. Jesus had already told them all that was going to take place in Jerusalem, but they had failed to grasp the significance of His words.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:18-19 ESV

Just two days before the Passover Festival was to begin, Jesus had reiterated the details concerning His fate to His disciples.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

And later, on the Mount of Olives, just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus would add another new twist to the pending proceedings.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:31-32 ESV

Jesus had spoken to them about His death and resurrection, but the news appears to have gone in one ear and out the other. It had never fully registered with them. In fact, Matthew provides powerful proof that the disciples had failed to comprehend what Jesus had told them. It seems that immediately after Jesus had announced He would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised on the third day, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

And the text reveals that these two brothers were standing right next to their mother when she made this request on their behalf. They were hoping for positions of power and prominence in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be the Messiah and were fully expecting Him to rule as the King of Israel from David’s throne in Jerusalem. Nothing of what Jesus had said to them about His death and resurrection had sunk in. And now, as He revealed to them that time was running out and His death was at hand, they were still unable to get their minds around the epic nature of what was happening around them.

And Jesus breaks the news to them that things were going to get worse before they got better.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. – John 16:20 NLT

The unbelieving world, comprised of the Jewish religious leaders and all those former followers of Jesus who had turned their backs on Him, would rejoice over His death. But all those who believed Him to be the Messiah would weep and mourn because His death would be proof that they had been wrong. Their hopes would be dashed. Their eager anticipation that their Savior had come would die alongside Jesus as He hung on the cross.

But Jesus gives them the good news: “You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:21 NLT). Their sorrow will be real, but it will also be brief. It will only last “a little while.” Just when everything appears dark and grim, something remarkable will take place. And the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. 

“…the Son of Man…will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:19 NLT

Just three days after being placed in a grave and written off as a failure and a fraud, Jesus will appear to His disciples. They will see Him again. And while the period of time is significant, it pales in comparison to the reality of the resurrection. For the disciples, those three days will feel like an eternity. They will be days filled with fear, sorrow, confusion, and a growing sense of despair. All will look lost. The future will appear bleak. But then, the impossible will take place. And their sorrow will be turned into joy. They will discover the truth of the psalm written by King David.

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5 NLT

Jesus doesn’t diminish the reality of their sorrow and suffering. Instead, He puts it into perspective by comparing it to a woman in labor. In the midst of giving birth, she suffers very real and intense pain. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. And while her labor may seem to last an eternity, it will all be over in “a little while.” And all the suffering will turn to overwhelming joy because it has resulted in the birth of a child.

“…her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.” – John 16:21 NLT

And Jesus lets His disciples know that what they are experiencing is natural and normal, and to be expected. But like the birth of a child, their suffering and sorrow will be turned into joy and celebration when they see the miracle of “new birth” that God will bring about through the resurrection of His Son.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” – John 16:22 NLT

Not only will they witness the supernatural transformation of Jesus from death to life, but they will also experience a spectacular alteration in their relationship with God. Things will be radically different. With Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples will find themselves experiencing an intimacy with God the Father that they have never known before. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will be able to communicate directly with God. And Jesus informs them that even the nature of their questions will change.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” – John 16:23 ESV

Up until this point, the disciples had aimed all kinds of questions at Jesus. And most of their inquiries had to do with points of clarification and explanation. They rarely, if ever, petitioned Jesus for anything. Unless you include the request made by the mother of James and John. Jesus seems to be saying that the very nature of their questions is going to change. They will be less self-focused and motivated by ignorance. With the Spirit’s assistance, their questions will fall in line with God’s will and guarantee His gracious answer.

The disciples had been great at asking questions like, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4 ESV). They asked questions because they were looking for answers. But Jesus wants them to know that, in the future, their questions will become less focused on receiving information and more desirous of asking for God’s will to be done. The Holy Spirit will provide them with all the insight and information they will need. So, they won’t have to focus their questions on things they need to know. Instead, they can ask God for things that will further their task of making Him known.

And Jesus points out the key difference between their current line of questioning and how they will ask in the future.

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24 ESV

They will ask in His name. This means that they will ask according to the very character and nature of Jesus as the Son of God. They will make requests of God in the same way that Jesus did, in keeping with the will of God. And John wrote of this Christlike attitude of petitioning the Father in a later letter he penned.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

All of their questions will be answered. All their requests will be in keeping with God’s will and guaranteed to come to fruition. And all their sorrow will be turned to joy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson