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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54 Cornelis Bennema
also for their spiritual liberation. Jesusâ€™ word of rebuke in 18,11 aimed
to liberate Peter from militant activism (60). In his dialogue with Pilate
in 18,33â€“19,11, Jesus implicitly offers political liberation from
oppressive rules such as Rome since his non-violent kingdom is not
â€œfrom this worldâ€. However, although Jesusâ€™ kingdom is not from this
world â€” its source is not â€œfrom belowâ€ â€” yet it exists and operates in
this world, and the demand for an exclusive allegiance to Jesus and
his rule will inevitably clash with loyalties to regimes and ideologies
â€œfrom this worldâ€ (61).
At whom is Jesusâ€™ â€œswordâ€ aimed, i.e., who are the recipients of
Jesusâ€™ teaching, and for which purpose? Jesusâ€™ teaching is not merely
for the Jewish nation but for the world at large (8,26; 18,20). This is
not surprising if one remembers that Jesusâ€™ entire mission was geared
towards the world (1,9; 3,16-17; 10,16; 11,51-52; 12,47; 16,28;
17,18), and that everyone is in need of spiritual liberation. Moreover,
Jesusâ€™ interaction with so-called â€œoutsidersâ€, such as the Samaritans,
â€œthe Greeksâ€ in 12,20-23 and Pilate, also reveals that his liberating
mission goes beyond Israelâ€™s physical and ethnic borders (cf. 10,16).
In fact, the purpose of Jesusâ€™ â€œswordâ€ is to sift the world and to
constitute a new â€œIsraelâ€, a new community that is liberated from
spiritual oppression and that demonstrates an exclusive allegiance to
Jesus and his kingdom.
3. The Transference of the Messiahâ€™s Sword to the Disciples
After his departure, Jesus will send to his disciples the Spirit-
Paraclete to continue his mission in this world. As â€œthe Spirit of truthâ€,
the Paraclete will mediate the liberating truth present in Jesusâ€™ words
to the disciples to inform and empower their liberating witness to the
world (14,26; 15,26-27; 16,12-15). Moreover, connecting 16,8-11
with 16,12-15, the Paraclete will convict the world of sin,
righteousness and judgment in order to liberate the world precisely
through the disciplesâ€™ witness because the world cannot see or know
the Paraclete (14,17). People who are confronted with the disciplesâ€™
Paraclete-imbued witness of truth are in fact confronted with Jesusâ€™
Spirit-imbued word itself and hence this witness is expected to have
the same liberating effects. That is, the correlated witness of the
(60) Cf. HOWARD-BROOK, Children, 378.
(61) Cf. RENSBERGER, Faith, 96-100, 116-118; HOWARD-BROOK, Children,
399-400; HENGEL, â€œKingdomâ€, 340-341, 355.