Posted by: mattcolvin | December 30, 2011

Back-translating “The Son of Man Must be Lifted Up”

Friday, December 30: John 12:34-50

Some Greek notes on this passage:

4 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”
35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

The crowd has a fairly normal sort of 2nd Temple Jewish eschatology: they expect that the Messiah’s coming will be the beginning of “the Age to Come,” and that there will be no end of that age. Thus, for Jesus to claim (especially by His signs and actions) that He is the Messiah does not mesh in their minds with His claim that He “must be lifted up” (δεῖ ὑψωθῆναι). In Aramaic or Hebrew (whatever was being spoken, it wasn’t Greek), this probably would have been a word that also means “to remove” as well as “to lift up”, much as the Greek αἰρῶ (say, a Hiphil of ‘alah). Thus it is directly opposed to their understanding that “the Messiah abides (μενεῖ) forever.”

Christian eschatology is different: there is an understanding that the Age to Come has burst into the present, even if the fullness of it has not yet been realized. Thus, Martha exhibits standard 2TJ eschatology when Jesus tells her “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes, Lord,” she replies, “I know he will rise again at the last day.” By “the last day,” she means the end of the present age and the beginning of the age to come. Jesus’ reply, “I am the resurrection and the life” is a claim that in Him the Age to Come is already here.

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