The Emotional Impact of the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ According to the Gospel of John

Robert A. Boileau

Rev. J. Harrington THL 203: Introduction to Sacred Scripture 4/05/06

2 Among the canonical Gospel accounts, three are distinguished as synoptic. The fourth stands alone, as it has its own original style and prose. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the synoptic Gospels, are varied in their detail amongst their descriptions of various accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John, however, is significantly dissimilar to the synoptics. “It is commonly observed that 92% of its material is unique when compared to the synoptics”1. While John’s account does indeed retain the majority of the content found in its predecessors dealing with the life of Christ, its delivery tends to focus more on impacting the reader’s emotions more so than the synoptic Gospels, which are mainly concerned with explaining the historical events of the life of Christ based on oral and written tradition. Although there are differences found among the four Gospel accounts, one event in the life of Christ is shared among all four. The narrative of the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of several accounts found in all four Gospels, evidencing its extreme importance, and allowing the reader to see that all four Gospel writers deemed this event in the life of Jesus to be the most significant. The passion narrative, though remaining essentially similar throughout the Gospels, shows an unusual difference in the Gospel of John. According to John, Jesus was very “conscious of having preexisted with God before He came into the world”2. Upon this basis, it is clear to the reader that John is clarifying Jesus as God, and that Jesus knew He was God. Meditating on those words while keeping in mind the agonizing torment Jesus underwent makes it clearly apparent to the reader that God, having created us, allowed Himself to be handed over and put to death by His very creation, so that ultimately, that same creation could have eternal salvation.

3 At the time of Jesus’ arrest, He and His disciples were in a garden. Jesus shows an extraordinary act of love here for His disciples, and by doing so, demonstrates God’s supreme love for His creation, for Jesus, who is God, “[knew] everything that was going to happen to Him”3 (Jn. 18:4). Jesus knew He was going to be handed over, scourged, and crucified, and along with accepting this and allowing it to happen, He also ensured the safety of those who were with Him. “Jesus puts Himself at their disposal, [and] He ensures that nothing happens to the disciples”4. Contrary to what the synoptic Gospels may lead the reader to believe, the Gospel of John immediately makes it clear that “Jesus is the one who acts, and He is in control of the situation”5. This indication verifies Jesus’ earlier statement, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father” (Jn. 10:18). What greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends? When one thinks of the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, an almost immediate thought of pain and suffering comes to mind. While it is true that Jesus endured excruciating pain and suffering during his scourging and crucifixion, the Gospel of John displays this in quite a unique way, differing from the passion narrative depicted in the synoptic Gospels, which at times graphically describe the suffering of the Lord. In the Gospel of John, “The road to Calvary is a glorious parade leading to the final hour of glory when He dies having fulfilled all that was expected of Him”6. It is important to be reminded of the purpose of the passion. Despite all of the suffering Jesus had to endure, it should not be viewed negatively, but rather the Gospel of John is conveying the message of truth to the reader, and makes it apparent that Jesus “is proclaimed the true

4 King of the world and the power of life flows from [Him] to those who believe in Him”7. While Jesus hung on the cross, he exclaimed to the soldiers that he was thirsty (Jn. 19:28). “Thirst: the crucified Christ’s greatest torment. The vinegar [offered to Him by the soldier] was supposed to relieve His thirst. One act of pity from the soldiers. He who is the fountain of living water in an agony of thirst. At the mercy of a Roman soldier. Physical thirst. Thirst of the Holy One bearing in Himself all men’s thirsting, all men’s hopes. All the world’s thirst endured, quenched by Him”8. It is ironic that the living fountain of water as Christ is depicted here is being tormented by physical thirst. One reason the author may have for informing the reader that Jesus is thirsty would be to show His humanity. Although Jesus is God, fully divine, and in control of His situation, He is also fully human. Because of this, He shares in our human needs. The very fact that a God who is omnipotent, omni-present, and all-knowing, would subject Himself to human needs and desires, in an astonishing act in itself. One of the passion events exclusive to the Gospel of John is the piercing of Jesus’ side9. Immediately preceding His death, Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), showing that His work on earth was done. After this, Jesus bowed His head and died, handing His spirit over to the Father. After He breathed His last, the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, but did not break Jesus’ legs, because they found that He was already dead. The Gospel of John informs the reader that a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a lance, and “immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn. 19:34). The significance of the water flowing along with the blood from Jesus’ side is very vital. “Jesus, the real paschal lamb. All the sacrifices throughout the ages were only figures of Him. It is right that none of His bones be broken. It is right that His blood flow – be spilled – to give life to the world. Blood of the covenant, living

5 water of the Spirit. Jesus’ baptism – baptism of water and of blood. Given life. ‘This is He who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water only but with water and blood.’ (1 Jn. 5:6)”10. Jesus has said He is the life (Jn. 14:6). Without water, man would quickly perish, for water is essential to a man’s life. Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, he was constantly informing others of the need to believe in Him, and to get to the Father and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, one must first go through Him. Essentially, in order to have eternal life with the Father in heaven, which is greater than our earthly life, one must see Jesus as important to our spiritual life as water is to our physical life. “Unlike the Jesus of the synoptics, who needs assistance in bearing His cross, Jesus in this Gospel bears the cross alone”11. In the synoptic Gospels, Simon of Cyrene was called on to be of assistance to Jesus, who could no longer carry His cross alone. However, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is once again depicted as being in control of the situation, and by carrying His cross alone, His power over mankind is visible. Jesus’ obedience to the Father is displayed here, as He is walking down the path of glory to Calvary, doing not His will, but the will of the Father. Jesus “will control His own destiny and fulfill what is expected of Him”12. Interestingly, John makes it very clear that Jesus will, and did, control His destiny. Based on the Gospel of John, at any time during Jesus’ arrest, trial, scourging, or crucifixion, He could have stopped it all. Yet, He chose to bear the suffering and pain, both physically and emotionally, for the sins of His people. This Gospel account asks the reader not to consider that Jesus had to suffer and die, like the synoptic Gospels do, but rather that Jesus had to be exulted and glorified for our sins, which could only have been fulfilled by Him suffering and dying. “What looks like a terrible death in fact is the path to glory”13.

6 During the time of Jesus, crucifixion was a common practice for putting a criminal to death. Crucifixions were normally extremely grotesque public events, where crowds would gather to cheer on the death of a local criminal. For Jesus, this was no different. There was a large crowd gathered as spectators for this public event. Among the crowd, however, only the two most faithful followers of Christ were at the foot of His cross: His mother, and the Beloved Disciple. “[His mother and the Beloved Disciple] hear His final testimony and accept the Spirit that he communicates to them. Both believe in Him and in His ministry, and now both stand faithful to the end. Fittingly, they are first to receive the promised gift of the Spirit. Aware that he has accomplished all that was expected of Him, He announces that ‘it is finished’ and, bowing His head, hands over His Spirit to those present to receive it”14. This scene in the passion graciously depicts Jesus’ compassion towards His mother, by entrusting her to the care of the Beloved Disciple. Jesus also may have a deeper intent on handing his mother over to the Beloved Disciple. In this passage, Jesus does not call Mary “mother”. He refers to her as “woman”, which may signify Mary as the “new Eve”, fulfilling the promise of “woman” in Genesis 3:15 who will “fatally crush the head of evil by her association with the redemptive act of Jesus”15. The Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of John, though it is radically different than the three synoptic Gospels, essentially retains the same message put forth by the synoptics: Jesus Christ, who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died for the sins of mankind, in order to grant them eternal life in the Kingdom of God. The three synoptic Gospels depict the passion as a detailed account of the sufferings of Christ and his horrible death on a cross for our salvation. The Gospel of John shows us that Jesus knew that His hour would come, accepted it, and maintained control of it throughout his entire walk on the path to exaltation and glory.

Charles C. Bing, “The Condition for Salvation in John’s Gospel,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 9, no. 16 (Spring 1996): 2. 2 Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 364. 3 Donald Senior, The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible (New York: Oxford University Press 1990). All subsequent citations from the Holy Bible will come from this version of the New American Bible by Donald Senior. 4 Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Western Printing Services, 1971), 637. 5 Bultmann, 637. 6 John F. O’Grady, According to John The Witness of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 93. 7 Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 98. 8 Suzanne de Dietrich, And He is Lifted Up (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), 150. 9 O’Grady, 95. 10 de Dietrich, 151. 11 O’Grady, 96. 12 O’Grady, 96. 13 O’Grady, 97. 14 O’Grady, 97. 15 Senior, 110.


Works Cited Bing, Charles C. “The Condition for Salvation in John’s Gospel.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 9, no. 16 (Spring 1996): 1-10.

Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Bultmann, Rudolf. The Gospel of John. Western Printing Services, 1971. De Dietrich, Suzanne. And He is Lifted Up. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969. O’Grady, John F. According to John The Witness of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. Senior, Donald. The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Senior, Donald. The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991.