Israel Redux: The Image of Christ in the Gospel According to John (Part III)

John 12.12 – John 17: Latter Prophets

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Kings is followed by the Latter Prophets. John 12:15 quotes Zechariah 9:9 as having prophesied Jesus’ triumphal entry: “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”[1]

N.T. Wright sees, beside Zechariah, the fulfillment of Isaiah 40 and 52 in the triumphal entry.[2] In It is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture, D.A. Carson writes about John 12: “In a still unpublished paper, Evans (n.d.) has listed the numerous links between John 12: 1-43 and Isa 52:7-53:12, suggesting that the former is a midrash on the latter…Evans then lists a dozen features in John 12 that seem to reflect tight linguistic or thematic links with Isa. 52: 7-53:12; and he concludes, against some recent treatments, that John may well be trying to identify Jesus with the suffering servant of the Lord.”[3]Köstenberger agrees: “The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 underlies John’s portrayal of Jesus especially in chapter 12.”[4]

Although the crowds had seemed to agree that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they are confused about Jesus’ talk of death since they understand from the Law that the Christ will not die. John quotes Isaiah twice (Isa 53:1; 6:10) in the remainder of chapter 12, referring to the unbelief of many Jews, and concludes: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” [5]

The King (and representative) of Israel enters Jerusalem, the city of God, to drive out “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Henk de Jong writes in De Overste Van Deze Wereld that the legal context of these “prince of this world” (or “ruler of this world”) passages recalls Zechariah 3 where Satan functions as the accuser of high priest Joshua, the representative of Israel. [6]

The five chapters following John 12 are lectures and prophesies from Jesus to his disciples, reflecting the latter prophets’ lectures and prophesies to Israel. The tenet of Jesus’ words in these chapters is prophesy about the immediate hours and days to come, mirroring the prophets’ prophesies about Israel’s and Judah’s coming fall and exile. But paradoxically, Jesus also talks of a future beyond the coming judgment, a future of kingdom come. His death will not be the end; Jesus predicts that the disciples’ grief will turn to joy, echoing the latter prophets who predicted a glorious future for the nation following judgment (Isa 2:1-5; 4:2-6; 9:1-7; 11; 45:17, 25; Jer 23:5-6; 30-31; 32:37-41; 33; 50:4-5; Ezek 34:22-31; 36:8-12; 37; 43:1-9; 47-48; Hos 1:10-11; 2:14-23; 3:4-5; Joel 2:18–3:3; 3:14-21; Amos 9:11-15; Obad 17-21; Mic 2:12-13; 4:1-8; 5:2-5; 7:7-20; Nah 1:12b-13, 15; 2:2; Hab 2:2-4, 14 ; 3: 2, 13, 17-19; Zeph 2:7; 3:11-20; Hag 2:1-9; 2:20-23; Zech 2:10-13; 8; 9:8-17; 10:6-12; 12-14; Mal 3:16 – 4:5). [7]

In John 13, references to God’s Suffering Servant Israel continue: Jesus begins his Passover sermon (setting the tone of the events to come) by modeling lowly servanthood, washing the feet of his mortified disciples. Gary Burge writes: “When Jesus ‘lays aside his (outer) garments’ and wraps a towel around himself (4) he is adopting the posture of a slave […]; he is doing something which symbolizes his greater act of sacrifice on the cross (7).” [8]

In John 14, the disciple Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, to which Jesus replies: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Andreas Köstenberger writes: “In the OT Moses asked for and was given a limited vision of God’s glory. Isaiah [and in a like manner, Ezekiel] was granted a vision of “the LORD seated on a throne, high and exalted” (Isa 6:1) and later predicted that in the day of the Messiah the glory of the Lord would be revealed (Isa 40:5).”[9]

Köstenberger continues: “Following closely on Jesus’ promise of the Spirit is his assurance of ‘peace’ for his followers (14:27) … The OT prophetic writings in particular look forward to a period of peace inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah. The ‘prince of peace’ (Isa. 9:6) would ‘command peace to the nations’ (Zech. 9:10; cf. 9:9), and there would be good tidings of peace and salvation (Isa. 52:7; cf. 54:13; 57:19).  Through the royal messiah, God would make an everlasting ‘covenant of peace’ with his people (Ezek. 37:26) … By invoking ‘that day’ anticipated by the prophets (14:20), Jesus places this period squarely in the context of OT expectation.”[10]

In John 15, Jesus explains: “I am the true vine.”[11]Isaiah (5:1-7), Jeremiah (2:21), Ezekiel (19:10-14), and Hosea (10:1) each speak of Israel as God’s vine.[12]

In John 16, as in chapter 14, Jesus prophesies the coming of the Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus’ stead; a Spirit of truth that will guide them into all truth. Compare that to Jeremiah’s prophesy: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:31-33). Ezekiel prophesies likewise of this life-giving Spirit whom God will send to Israel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek 36:26-28). Also consider Joel 2:28-29: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, our old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

In his concluding prayer in John 17, Jesus states the bottom line. This is why he has come: that his followers may be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus specifically says that he is not praying for the world, but only for those his Father has given him (including those yet unborn). Jesus prays for unity and protection for the chosen who will remain in the world after he leaves; for unity among them so that the world may know Jesus was sent by the Father. Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers parallels the prophetic vision of the ingathering of the unified house of Israel as prophesied by Isaiah (11:12), Jeremiah (3:14-18; 23:5-6; 31:1-6, 27, 31; 33:14-26; 50:4-5), Ezekiel (37:15-23; 47:13-23; 48), Hosea (1:10-11), and Zechariah (8:13; 10:6), a future where Israel and Judah will be one, no longer two kingdoms, divided and scattered, but one nation with one shepherd (Ezek 37:15-28). [13]

Geert Heetebrij (MFA, UCLA) is assistant professor of film and media in the Department of Communication at Calvin College.

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References

[1]Burge, John, 115. “Do not be afraid” may either come from Zeph 3:16 or Isa 40:9 and the balance of the quote is cited from Zech 9:9.”

[2]Wright, Jesus, 171.

[3]Donald A. Carson. “John and the Johannine Epistles.” Pages 245-264 in It Is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture: Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars. Edited by Barnabas Lindars, et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 249. The unpublished paper that Carson refers to: C. A. Evans, “Obduracy and the Lord’s Servant: Some Observations on the Use of the Old Testament in the Fourth Gospel,” in Craig A. Evans and William F. Stinespring (eds.), Early Jewish and Christian Exegesis: Studies in Memory of William Hugh Brownlee(Homage Series 10; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987) 221–36.

[4]Köstenberger, Commentary, 416

[5]In “The Influence of Isaiah on the Gospel of John.” Pages 139-162 in Perichoresis: the theological journal of Emanuel University5/2 (2007), 144-146, James Hamilton points out that Isaiah is also directly quoted by the Baptist in John 1:23 [According to Köstenberger’s Commentary, Isaiah invokes the larger exodus motif there (427)] and likely by Jesus in 6:45, 7:37-39, and 17:12 which shows that “Isaiah exercised extensive influence upon the Gospel of John.” However, Hamilton points out that the John 12: 38, 40 references from Isaiah are the only times the evangelistdirectly quotes Isaiah, and Köstenberger’s Commentarynotes that structurally, these 12: 38, 40 quotes are the most significant OT quotations in John’s Gospel (415).

[6]Henk de Jong, De Overste van deze Wereld(Franeker, The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Van Wijnen, 2015), 10.

[7]All the prophets predict final blessing for Israel/Judah, bar Jonah who was sent to gentile Nineveh.

[8]Burge,John, 121

[9]Köstenberger, Commentary, 489.

[10]Köstenberger, Commentary, 491.

[11]Ibid., 492: “The OT prophets envisioned a time when Israel would “bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6; cf. Hos. 14:4-8).

[12]Ibid., 491-492: “The OT frequently uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people, especially in two “vineyard songs” found in Isaiah (Isa. 5:1-7; 27:2-6; cf. Ps. 80:8-16 [Regarding the use of Psalms in John’s Gospel, see “The Writings” later in this essay]; Jer. 2:21; 6:9; 12:10-13; Ezek. 15:1-8; 17:5-10; 19:10-14; Hos. 10:1-2; 14:7; […] Jesus’ statement in 15:1 that his “Father is the vinedresser” harks back to Isaiah’s first vineyard song, […] Pruning is also mentioned in prophetic texts such as Isa. 18:5; Jer. 5:10 (cf. Heb. 12:4-11) […] The reference in 15:6 to branches that do not remain in the vine being picked up and thrown into the fire and burned closely resembles the thought of Ezek. 15:1-8, where the prophet likewise warned that a vine failing to produce fruit would be good for nothing but a fire.”

[13]Köstenberger, Commentary, 463: “The notion of one flock being led by one shepherd as a metaphor for God’s providential care for his united people is firmly rooted in OT prophetic literature (Jer. 3:15; 23:4-6; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:15-28; Mic. 2:12; 5:3-5) […] Yet whereas the OT envisions primarily the gathering of the dispersed sheep of Israel, the present passage refers to the gathering of Jews and Gentiles into one messianic community.”