Cornelis Bennema, «The Sword of the Messiah and the Concept of Liberation in the Fourth Gospel», Vol. 86 (2005) 35-58
This article elucidates the Johannine concept of Jesus’
"sword" as the means of liberation against a background of Palestinian messianic
apocalypticism. It is argued that the Johannine Jesus is depicted as a messiah
who liberates the world at large from the spiritual oppression of sin and the
devil by means of his Spirit-imbued word of truth. In addition, Jesus also
provides physical, social, religious and political liberation. Jesus’ programme
of holistic liberation is continued by his disciples through the transference of
his "sword" in the form of their Paraclete-imbued witness.
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The Sword of the Messiah 37
I. The Sword of the Messiah
in Palestinian Jewish Apocalypticism
This section will examine the main apocalyptic writings that
envisage the liberation of â€œIsraelâ€ by Godâ€™s messiah as a â€œquietistâ€
reaction against oppression (7). The agenda consists of two leading
questions. Whom and from whom will the messiah liberate? How will
the messiah liberate? Although Psalms of Solomon and the non-
biblical Qumranic writings are not strictly apocalypses, they reflect
apocalyptically informed expectations and have been considered since
apocalypticism is broader than the literary genre of apocalypse.
We also need to account for our comparison of messianic
apocalypticism with the Fourth Gospel. First, Palestinian apocalyptic
literature is about the only source available as evidence for the
orientation and motivation of Jewish resistance to Roman rule (8).
Second, messianic ideas seem to have been developed primarily
within Palestinian Jewish apocalypticism. Third, both messianic
apocalyptic literature and the Fourth Gospel reflect a non-violent
reaction (at least on behalf of the people); instead, they awaited Godâ€™s
end-time intervention through his messiah. Fourth, in the Fourth
Gospel, Jesus is given the title of and confessed as (oJ) Cristov"
(1,17.41; 9,22; 11,27; 17,3; 20,31), and Jesus also identifies himself
as such (4,25-26; cf. 10,24-25). More particularly, the language of the
Spirit descending on Jesus and â€œrestingâ€ or â€œremainingâ€ on him (1,32-
33) probably alludes to Isa 11,2, which presents the Davidic messiah
on whom the Spirit of wisdom, knowledge and liberating power rests
(Isa 42,1 may also be in view if we accept the more difficult reading of
oJ ejklektov" in 1,34) (9). The portrayal of Jesus as the Davidic messiah
may also be confirmed by the various references to Jesusâ€™ kingship
(1,49; 6,15; 12,13.15; chaps. 18â€“19), many of which have messianic
connotations. In sum, this invites an investigation of the messianic
traditions in Palestinian Jewish apocalypticism, especially of those
texts that are rooted in Isaiah 11 (and 42).
Due to the plurality of messianic expectations in Judaism, we shall
(7) â€œIsraelâ€ may refer to the whole nation or to a remnant, dependent on the
(8) HORSLEY, Jesus, 129-131.
(9) Cf. G.M. BURGE, The Anointed Community. The Holy Spirit in the
Johannine Tradition (Grand Rapids 1987) 54-62; M. TURNER, The Holy Spirit and
Spiritual Gifts â€” Then and Now (Carlisle 1999) 58-59.