Friday, March 02, 2018

The theophanic Jesus

I'm going to quote a couple of commentators on a neglected prooftext for the deity of Christ:

As he has been portrayed in the course of his mission, so here [Jn 18:4-5] and throughout the passion Jesus has sovereign knowledge and therefore is in control of events. He takes the initiative in confronting the array of forces that have come out to seize him: Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, "Whom are you seeking?" It is clear that Jesus is to be no helpless victim but acts in conformity with his earlier claim that no one will take his life from him but he will lay it down of his own accord (10:18). This is reinforced in response to the reply that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth. He said to them, "I am". This is another Johannine double entendre employing the "I Am" formula (cf. 4:26; 6:20: 8:28). On the surface it can be read simply as Jesus's self-identification–"I am he, namely, Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are seeking"–but at the same time it is the divine self-declaration–"I Am", with its background in Deut 32:39 LXX and Isa 40–55.  
In order that there be no mistake regarding the significance of Jesus' self-identification, the narrator now relates that When he said to them "I am," they drew back and fell to the ground [v6]. This is the typical human reaction to a theophany (cf. Ezk 1:8; Dan 10:9). A. Lincoln, The Gospel According to John (Hendrickson 2005), 444-45.  
"The band of soldiers" [Jn 18:3] is literally "the cohort," that is, one-tenth of a Roman Legion–about six hundred men, obviously an enormous number for such an undertaking. The extraordinary size of the contingent–particularly in light of what would follow, when they all "drew back and fell on the ground" (v6)–recalls other instances in which things that Jesus does, or things that happen to him, are seen as larger than life… 
Even though an earlier "I am" pronouncement on Jesus' lips drew a strong instant response once before, when his hearers "took up stones that they might throw on him" (8:59), nothing quite prepares the reader for what happens here in the garden: "Then, as he said to them, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground" (v6). The subject of the plural expressions "drew back" and "fell to the ground" can only be the whole arresting party, six hundred strong and more, "the band of the soldiers and officers both from the chief priests and from the Pharisees" (v3).  
Clearly, the Gospel writer intends us to visualize an extraordinary scene in which more than six hundred men are literally "bowled over" by two simple words [ego eimi]. Just to make sure we perceive the connection, he repeats the two words: "Then, as he said to them, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground"…What is more shocking is that the whole company "fell to the ground" as if vanquished by a greater army. Nothing in the Gospel of John…quite matches the present scene…"No one!!"–not even six hundred Roman soldiers, plus "officers both from the chief priests and from the Pharisees"–can take Jesus' life from him [Jn 10:17-18a]. 
There is more than a touch of comedy here [vv7-9]. As if nothing has happened, Jesus asks the Roman soldiers and Jewish officers lying on the ground the same question he asked before: "So again he asked them, 'Whom are you seeking?'" Evidently picking themselves up and regaining their composure, they give the same answer, "Jesus the Nazorean" (v7). Like a patient instructor explaining things to slow-witted pupils, he says again, "I told you that I am he. So if you are seeking me, let these go" (v8). 
…they seem to have obeyed Jesus' command to let the disciples go, to the point of ignoring even Simon Peter's provocative attack on "the servant of the High Priest" (v10). In short, the Shepherd willingly gives up his life to the "wolves" (see 10:11-12,15), and the sheep go free…In all this, there is (again) a comic tough. Jesus has floored the whole company with a word (v6), and poor Peter thinks his sword is necessary to save the day! J. R. Michaels, The Gospel of John (Eerdmans 2010), 887-895.

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