The Son of Man Must be Lifted Up

I’m going to take a break from the covenant theme and I’ll get back to it tomorrow. Today, I’d like to talk about John’s Gospel, the last gospel written. John’s Gospel is very unlike the synoptics in that John does not rely on parables to tell the story of Christ. It is also far more explicit in its Christology than say, the Gospel of Mark. Consider the following passages in John:

John 3:13-14
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Remember that Moses mounted a bronze serpent on a pole in Numbers 21, to spare the Israelites from the plague of serpents that had entered their camp. In John 3:13, Jesus speaks of himself in the third person, predicting that he will be lifted up on the cross. He calls himself the Son of Man, a term also used by Matthew 30 times, Mark 14 times, Luke 25 times, and John 12 times. Notice that Jesus speaks in the third person in verse 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…

John 8:28
So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.”

This passage occurs while Jesus preaches in the temple area in Jerusalem. Facing a skeptical crowd, he defends himself by explaining his relationship to the Father. Jesus calls himself ἐγὼ εἰμὶ “I AM,” borrowing from Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 43:10 to establish himself as on par with God.  But again, he still refers to himself in the slightly cryptic third person.

John 12:32-34
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. Then how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

After entering Jerusalem for the week of Passover, Jesus finally dispenses with formality and speaks in the first person. Ironically, the crowd, in their unbelief, glosses over Jesus’ reference to himself. They argue that the Messiah will remain for ever, refusing to accept the idea that the Son of Man will be lifted up.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus takes his time revealing who his, performing seven miracles that progress from the incidental (conversion of water into wine) to the astonishing (the raising of Lazarus). By the same token, Jesus reveals himself to be the Son of God by predicting three times that he will be raised up. In the first two passages, he refers to himself in the third person. In the third passage, he refers to himself in the first person, but the crowd misunderstands him. The Sacred Author John not only reveals Jesus as the Son of God in a gradual way, but he always emphasizes the tension between belief and unbelief among those who were witnesses to the preaching and work of Jesus.

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