Justin Crisp and Abdul-Rehman Malik discuss Christology, glory, and exclusion in John 18:1–19:42. The text is appointed for Good Friday in the Revised Common Lectionary.
Justin Crisp and Abdul-Rehman Malik discuss Christology, glory, and exclusion in John 18:1–19:42. The text is appointed for Good Friday in the Revised Common Lectionary.
What John’s doing in contrast to them is John is insisting, in some way, on the fact of Jesus’ death as Jesus’ glorification.
This is Chapter, Verse, and Season: a lectionary podcast from Yale Bible Study. Join us each week as two Yale Divinity School professors look at an upcoming text from the Revised Common Lectionary.
This episode, we have Justin Crisp, Lecturer in Anglican Studies, and Abdul-Rehman Malik, Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in Islamic Studies.
They’re discussing John 18:1-19:42, which is appointed for Good Friday in Years A, B, and C. Now, this is a long one, so if you want to skip straight to the conversation, fast-forward until around minute twelve. But I encourage you to take this opportunity to begin your spiritual preparation for Holy Week by sitting with this story: the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. Here’s the text.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these people go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a rebel.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against Caesar.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth, so that you also may continue to believe.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
So AR, in John’s gospel, Jesus’ last words are “it is finished.” I think my question is, what is it that he’s finished? What is it that he’s finished? I have to say, I love the gospel of John. I’m going to give our listeners a mic drop moment. I think that the Johannine literature, including the Gospel of John, the Epistles attributed to John and the revelation to St. John the Divine, I think Johannine literature is the most beautiful and inexhaustible work of philosophy and antiquity. I mean, it’s just completely, completely, completely gorgeous for me. But I have to say, this is not my favorite ending to Jesus’ crucifixion. My favorite, my favorite last line of Jesus is what you get in Matthew and Mark, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” An incredible moment of incredible drama. Here, you don’t get Luke’s “into your hands oh Lord, I commend my spirit.” It’s not quite that stoic as it were, but you just get, “it is finished.” Though in the context of the Gospel of John what’s being finished is Jesus’ glorification.
So, the Gospel of John, there’s a paradox which runs through it that somehow Jesus’ death is going to be his glorification by the one he calls Father. Now how in the world dying would count as glorification, that’s one of the things that makes the Johannine literature so incredibly compelling and powerful to me.
And when you use the term glorification, are we now speaking of Jesus as a divine personality? Is this the moment at which Jesus, a divinity within the Christian tradition, is solidified, executed, realized?
Mm. I think you could say yes. I think that for John, you definitely say yes, right? So in the Prologue to the Gospel of John, you get, in the beginning was the word, or the logos, and the logos was God. And the logos was with God, and so on. And the logos is that through which God creates the Prologue says, and then it says that the word, the logos, became flesh and dwelt among us. And so in some fashion, this glorification is both a revelation of the logos, in Christ, right? A revelation of Jesus as the logos. And it is also I think, the end, the completion of the word. That word becoming flesh.
And that word is equated by, you know, and much of, by many of the early church fathers, much of the patristic literature in the early church, as the second person of the Trinity. The son. And here, I know, we’re getting into some territory where you as a Muslim would have a different perspective from me as a confessional Christian. And so, when you come to this text with those particular questions about Jesus’ divinity and so on, the meaning of his death, how do you, I mean, what are you getting from John?
Well, what’s interesting to me is, as I’m approaching it as a Muslim, I’m approaching Jesus as the Messiah. As the Christ. Because that is Muslim belief. As someone who has come from Virgin birth. As a prophet. And the Quran calls Jesus, Rūhun, the Spirit Of God. And so, there is in Jesus, a special kind of manifestation of God’s divinity, and yet Jesus is fully human within the Islamic tradition and his humanity doesn’t change. And the story here for me is fascinating because it’s fleshing out all of the things that the Quran doesn’t explicitly talk about but may have been talked about in what is known in Islamic literature as the Isra’iliyyat. Those aspects of Christian and Jewish traditions that make their way into Muslim story and parlance and are often confirmed by the prophet Muhammad himself.
And yet what fascinates me about this is that Jesus is crucified. And in the Islamic tradition, there is amongst scholars, particularly medieval scholars, there was a sense that was Jesus ever put on the cross or was he saved from the cross because he was taken up to God? There is a belief in the Muslim tradition that Jesus dwells alive with the creator of the heavens and the earth. And similar to Christian end of time and eschatological tradition, we believe in a Jesus who will in some way return. And so, Jesus is alive with God. That is our belief. And I think in some ways we share that broadly in a non-defined way with our Christian siblings.
But what’s interesting here, that in the Islam tradition there may have been the process of crucifixion, but it did not come to its logical conclusion, which was death. It’s this point of death that I think is, in terms of the narrative, the key difference in the stories. The idea that Jesus died on the cross and was killed is a thing that Muslim tradition has issues with.
But one question that comes to me here, Justin, is that nowhere in John’s language, do I see Jesus as divinity referred to. That when you say, “it is finished”, I have a feeling that you’re bringing the corpus and the breadth of Christian teaching to the understanding of that moment. Because in John’s language, I’m not seeing a divine Christ, but I’m seeing a human Christ.
That’s really, really interesting. I mean, I think that just working within the Johannine corpus, just working within the Gospel of John, the Gospel of John refuses to soft pedal either Jesus’ divine character as the logos or Jesus’ humanity. And I think that I, anyway, I so badly want to diminish one of those two to make them fit more easily into my head. And the thing which I find so captivating about John is John just refuses.
Thank you so much for sharing some of the Islamic perspectives on Jesus’ death. Because what I think is interesting about what John’s doing in contrast to them, is John is insisting in some way on the fact of Jesus’ death as Jesus’ glorification. For John, it’s the fact that Jesus died that seems to be the glorification, right? It’s not simply that Jesus was glorified because he faithfully went to the cross and underwent it to the point of death, but then God intervened, as it were. That’s not his glorification. The glorification is somehow the fact that he actually died. And the sense that we make of that, right? I mean, tome upon tome upon tome is written about this within Christian thought. But that’s really the literal and the metaphorical crux of the crucifixion story for John.
I guess you have to read this within the broader corpus of the literature, right? To fully understand what John is saying. And I think that’s really important. For me coming again at this fresh is to kind of have that sense, right? That this is existing within an ecosystem of texts and narratives, and this is filling one part of a broader narrative and a broader story.
The story itself, I feel very comfortable with, you know, because to me, I read it in the profoundly human way that this is Jesus, Messiah, Christ, Prophet, who understands what is going to happen. Who realizes the necessity of what is to take place. That he even in his death or near death must be an exemplar. And he’s teaching all the way. He’s teaching and mitigating against violence. He’s speaking truthfully and plainly. And it’s that plain speaking that brings me to this whole section around the way in which Jesus is brought to Pilate.
It is really high drama, Justin. And it made me, as a non-Christian, it’s compelling and uncomfortable. Because part of me reads this and immediately the antisemitic tropes that often result from passages like this sort of emerge. Being a somewhat student of those kinds of nefarious movements. And yet also there’s a way of reading this, that reads to me about the nature of religious authority when it’s challenged. That when the temple is challenged, when the hierarchy is challenged, when Jesus isn’t even claiming kingship, and Pilate in a very mischievous, maniacal, sinister way is playing with both, trying to play with both Jesus and the priest. Oh, he’s your king. And there’s this really interesting back and forth going on. And yet it is the priests, because they feel so threatened, who are demanding. And in the end, when they say we have no king, and Caesar our king, Ooh, I can feel it in my gut. It’s like a gut punch.
It’s like we are letting him loose to the point that we are embracing the authority that they know hates them. That persecutes them. That marginalizes them. What makes Jesus so threatening to them? And what about characters like Jesus who threaten hierarchy through religious institutions and religious power. That really, that part of the story I really could embrace and really feel in my bones.
AR that’s fantastic. I feel it in my bones, just listening, listening to you speak so beautifully.
I think this is an incredibly human story and it’s human in more ways than one. One of the ways in which this is a human story is that, as a Christian theologian, my theology of scripture, anyway, I just speak for a use of my language here, my theology of scripture is that human beings wrote this text. And that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit continues to appropriate these words, graciously and mercifully in order to speak to God’s people. But that the texts themselves are not perfectly sanctified as texts, as it were.
And so, I find it very convicting and revelatory of the human condition, our sinful condition, that what I’ve described as the most brilliant and beautifully inexhaustible work of philosophy and antiquity contains within it the very dynamics of scapegoating and violence and exclusion and so on which are the mechanisms which churned Jesus’s life up and grounded into bits in this story, right? The polemic between the Johannine, this so-called Johannine community, within the Jewish community, in the historical context out of which this gospel and the rest of the Johannine literature emerged. We see those, we see evidence of that polemic, evidence of that broken relationship in the description of Jewishness only to the bad characters, right? Notwithstanding the fact that the Johannine literature is largely Jewish in character. Then, you know, once these texts are appropriated by later Christians and so on, you get incredibly, incredibly virulent forms of antisemitism, which use these texts as proof texts, right? History which is well known in which we don’t need to rehearse right now.
At the same time, this is a human story. It’s human in a second way. It’s human, both in the fact that it has, it contains within it, exclusion and it is human in the fact that it reveals in a narrative fashion, the dynamics of exclusion. I have to say the most blood chilly moment for me is the one which you were referring to when the crowd says we have no king but the emperor. It’s massive. It’s incredibly human.
I love the poet W.H. Aden. And in Aden’s Christmas Oratorial, he depicts Herod as a kind of mid-level bureaucrat whose only goal was to make the trains run on time. And I wonder how he would’ve described Pilate for instance, or Caiaphas. It’s contemporary, this story. Pascal said that Jesus is crucified until the end of the world. And so, I think it’s contemporary in more ways than one.
Thanks for listening. And thank you, Professors Crisp and Malik, for your thinking a little about Good Friday with us.
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Chapter, Verse, and Season is a production of the Center for Continuing Education at Yale Divinity School. It’s produced by: Creator and Managing Editor, Joel Baden; Production Manager, Kelly Morrissey; Associate Producer, Aidan Stoddart; and I’m your Host and Executive Producer, Helena Martin. Mixing on today’s episode, and our theme music, are by Calvin Linderman.
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Host and Executive Producer: Helena Martin
Production Manager: Kelly Morrissey
Creator and Managing Editor: Joel Baden
Assistant Producer: Aidan Stoddart
Music: Calvin Linderman