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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56 Cornelis Bennema
Our study of Palestinian Jewish messianic apocalypticism and the
Fourth Gospel demonstrates important points of contact, but the Fourth
Gospel also significantly redefines and subverts various Jewish
messianic expectations. First, both messianic apocalypticism and the
Fourth Gospel â€œspiritualizeâ€ the concept of messiahship, in that the
source of the messiahâ€™s liberating power is supernatural rather than
human military. Additionally, the Fourth Gospel also spiritualizes the
concept of liberation, claiming that all people primarily need to be
liberated from the spiritual oppression of sin and the devil (although cf.
the notion of Belial in Qumran). Nevertheless, these concepts are still
related to social-religious-political realities of this world. Second, as in
messianic apocalypticism, the Johannine messiah is also expected to sift
the righteous and the wicked rather than liberating the nation Israel
from the Romans. However, whereas for messianic apocalypticism this
is the liberation of â€œIsraelâ€ at the end of the age, the Fourth Gospel
depicts the liberation of the world at large which has already started
now. The Fourth Gospel has pulled the future into the present â€” all
people are invited now to enter the true Israel inaugurated by Jesus.
Third, we argued, contra Collins, that the Johannine Jesus uses for this
sifting/liberation a similar â€œswordâ€ to that of the messianic figures in
Palestinian apocalypticism, namely, the Spirit-imbued word of truth
from his mouth. Similar to Psalms of Solomon and Qumran, the Fourth
Gospel depicts this eschatological liberator as a teacher-messiah (63).
The continuation of Jesusâ€™ liberating mission in this world is guaranteed
through the transference of Jesusâ€™ â€œswordâ€ to his disciples.
Jesusâ€™ subversive programme of liberation, then, presents a radical
alternative to Torah-centred mainstream Judaism (as represented by
â€œthe Jewsâ€), to withdrawal from the world (Qumran community), to
go â€œquietlyâ€ underground (the apocalyptic literature), to nationalistic
militancy (social bandits [Barabbas in 18,40], messianic pretenders,
Zealots) and to collaboration with the Romans (Herodians) (64). The
Johannine Jesus is not a militant activist, but neither is he a pacifistic
quietist; he debated fiercely with â€œthe Jewsâ€, interacted incisively with
Pilate, drove people out of the temple, etc. Jesus is a â€œrevolutionaryâ€
in that he demands an exclusive allegiance to himself and constitutes a
society that operates subversively in this world (65).
(63) Cf. Daviesâ€™ suggestion that the teaching activity of the messiah in the
gospels may be more significant than any â€œDavidicâ€ title (â€œJudaismsâ€, 232).
(64) Cf. MOTYER, Father, 87-102.
(65) Cf. HORSLEY, Jesus, 324-326.