The Passion and Resurrection – The Sign of Signs

 Marsh pp 475-478

In this excellent section, Marsh comments " … the glory that belongs to the only Son is manifested in the great series of signs. But in the second part (of the Gospel) … the glory is to be displayed no longer in signs, but in the reality of what the signs have signified and prefigured – the glorification of the Son of man in his cross, resurrection and ascension." P475

Scholars are fond of finding patterns and symbols in John. Up till now, John has described six signs which point to who Jesus is and what his mission is. However, the number seven is of special significance in Jewish thought, representing completion and fulfillment, and given the real possibility that the the Fourth Evangelist has employed the symbolism of numbers earlier in the gospel, they are eager to discover a seventh sign, or to interpret the passion/resurrection event as being the fulfilment of the earlier signs. Hopefully you have taken on board the way in which we’ve been considering the relationship of each sign to the Passion/Resurrection events throughout our study. Here, we shall see the point of this exercise, and why it’s important to consider this aspect of the signs in essays.

The Fourth Evangelist has used standard literary devices to recount and expound each sign. The ‘wonder’ has been reported and a discourse which can take several forms, eg a dispute, a misunderstanding etc. In this final section of the gospel, the signs "give way to the reality which finally embodies them all .." Marsh p477

The ‘discourse’ takes the form of the acted parable of the footwashing in Ch 13 and the Last Supper discourses of Chs14 – 17. The discourse must be given first, because ‘Night’ is about to fall, where darkness could obscure the events which will glorify Jesus on the cross. Barrett notes that there is no miracle in the Passion narrative, not because this event does not reveal who Jesus is; in fact he states that "the death and resurrection are the supreme semeion (sign)" because they are one event, and must not be separated in the mind of the reader. " Like the other semeia (signs) it is a declaration of the character of God, and of the salvation he brings to men." Barrett p65.

Yet, he argues, it is not a sign and is not called a sign, because it "is not merely a token of something other than itself." It is not the symbol. It is the reality that all the other signs point to. The other signs meet human needs, hunger, sickness, death, but the reality to which they point, the glory of Jesus, the fulfilment of His mission, accomplishes the full will of the Father for the world, and "the suffering and sin of the world are everywhere apparent and are dealth with in their totality." Barrett.


Bultmann (and will you be surprised to hear this, dears?) takes a completely different view, separating the Passion narrative from the Resurrection, and stating that "… the meaning of the Easter happenings …can only be semeia (my italics) as the miracles of Jesus were." P631 Essentially, the Resurrection narrative become the miraculous events that point to the reality of what has been fulfilled on the cross, which Bultmann calls the "crowning conclusion" of the events of the Incarnation. It becomes the "demonstration of (Jesus’) victory over the the world". For Bultmann, that ultimate ‘salvation by faith’ Protestant, the Fourth Gospel is teaching that faith ought not really to require the miraculous, and so he interprets 20:29 "Blessed are they who do not see and yet believe!" as a vindication of his own belief that the Resurrection is not a physical reality, but an expression of faith on the part of the believer who has experienced Christ by faith.

In Bultmann’s opinion, there are two views of the significance of the Resurrection put forward in the New Testament. The Pauline view, that the life-creating power of Jesus was not released until his resurrection (Acts 3:15; 1 Cor 15; Gal 3:1, etc) and the Johannine view that Jesus has Life in Him from the first (the prologue, I Am the Resurrection and the Life etc). For Bultmann, the Fourth Evangelist has shown in the Farewell Discourses of Ch 13-16 that the "true meaning" of Easter, Pentecost and the Parousia is "the return in the experience of faith of the Jesus who had departed from the earth".

For Bultmann, then, it is the Cross that Jesus is speaking of, when He refers to ‘being glorified’. The struggle between light and darkness is played out in public on the world stage, the judgement of the world being signified by the involvement of the Roman State, so Jesus, by his obedience to the will of the Father, shows His glory to the Jewish and Gentile world.

And the Resurrection becomes a sign like the other signs – one that should not really be necessary to the eyes of faith!


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