The Flow of Time in the Gospel of John
The Gospel of John contains numerous references to (Jewish) feasts, given which it is possible to compile a historical chronology of Jesus’ ministry. It is also underlain by a symbolic chronology, whose purpose is not historical, but theological. John’s symbolic chronology frames the climax of his Passion narrative against the backdrop of three significant calendrical moments: i] a time of darkness at noon (the 7th hour), ii] the arrival of the feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and iii] the inauguration of a Jubilee. Here’s how.
The Gospel of John contains 50 distinct references to days/years and 25 to ‘hours’.These references assign Jesus’ crucifixion to a specific year, day, and hour. We’ll start with a consideration of its hour.
Woven throughout John’s Gospel are various allusions to a seventh hour. In John 2, at a marriage feast, Jesus’ hour has ‘not yet come’ (2.4). Then, in John 4, a ‘sixth hour’ dawns (4.6), which later becomes ‘a seventh hour’ (when a fever is driven out of a man who is about to die) (4.47ff.). A particular hour, however, remains to come, which is *Jesus’* hour (16.32). And that hour is also a seventh hour. As Jesus is brought out to the Jews by Pilate, it is ‘the sixth hour’ (19.14), and then, on the cross, Jesus’ hour finally comes (per 12.27 etc. w. 19.27). Jesus thus dies at a seventh hour (at noon), i.e., at a time of darkness in the middle of the day (13.30ff.), a time when a day of celebration becomes a day of sorrow. As such, the time of Jesus’ death resonates with the text of Amos 8, when God says he bring an ‘end’ on his people Israel. He will ‘make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight’ and will ‘turn Israel’s feasts into funerals’ (Amos 8.9ff.). That curse is borne by Jesus so Israel might live to see another day.
John’s Gospel is also underlain by seven *weeks*.
It opens on a day of darkness, in the midst of which light shines forth--Day One (John 1.5). In 1.29, ‘the next day’ dawns. In 1.35, we have another new day, and 1.43 yet another (a fourth). Then, ‘on the third day’--i.e., the 7th day--, Jesus attends a marriage feast, which marks the climax and close of John’s first week.
Six more weeks unfold over the course of John’s Gospel, as shown below.
In John 2, the Jews talks about the passage of ‘three days’ (at the end of which Jesus will rebuild his temple) (2.19); in John 4, Jesus stays in Samaria for ‘two days’ (4.40); after those two days (i.e., on the third day), Jesus departs for Galilee (4.43), which brings us to a Sabbath; and, in John 5, that Sabbath dawns--the close of John’s second week. (‘Now that day was the Sabbath’: 5.9.)
In John 6, the pace begins to pick up. A third week begins (‘the next day’: 6.22), which is brought to a conclusion by Jesus’ references to ‘the last day’ (6.39ff.). The end of the feast of Tabernacles (‘the last day’) marks the close of a fourth week (7.37). In John 9, a fifth week comes to an end (with a Sabbath). And then, in John 11, after a ‘two day’ wait, Jesus sets out for Bethany: when he arrives at Lazarus’s tomb, Lazarus is said to have been buried for ‘four days’ (11.17) (six days), at which point Martha refers to Lazarus’s resurrection ‘on the last day’ (the close of a sixth week).
And so, in John 12, as we come to a point in time ‘six days’ before the Passover, the seventh week dawns (12.1). As such, the dawn of the Passover in John 19 marks the dawn of Day 6, and the next day is ‘a Sabbath’ (19.31), which signals the culmination of John’s seventh and final week (Passion week).
Hence, when Jesus rises on the first day of the next week (20.1), he rises on a fiftieth day--a Pentecostal day, the day when the first-fruits of the wheat harvest rise up from the earth, when the grain of wheat (Jesus’ body) sown in the ground arises to newness of life (12.24). Furthermore, when Jesus ‘breathes’ on his disciples and fills them with the Spirit (20.22), he does so (symbolically) on the day of Pentecost, in anticipation of the events of Acts 2.
At the same time, Jesus rises in a fiftieth *year*. In John 2, as the Passover draws near, John tells us about the passage of forty-six years (since work on the Temple began) (2.20). And, in John 8, the Jews tell Jesus he is ‘not yet fifty years old’--a statement which hints at an imminent Jubilee year. Three Passovers later, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the relevant Jubilee cycle is completed, and the year of Jubilee begins, announced by the release of a slave to sin (Barabbas) (18.39ff.).
In sum, then, Jesus’ death (at a 7th hour) signals a time of darkness as Jesus bears the curse pronounced on Israel, while his resurrection (on the 49th day of a 49th year) signals the first-fruits of a new harvest and the inauguration of God’s Jubilee program to reclaim his land from the nations, in the which we are privileged to live and move and have our being.
Note: Thanks to Jonathan Spencer for an enjoyable conversation yesterday which prompted many of these thoughts.
In all, John uses the word ὥρα 26 times, but on one occasion it is not a reference to an hour; it is an idiom (πρὸς ὥραν), typically translated as ‘for a while’ (John 5.35) (per the Aramaic כְּשָׁעָה = ‘for a while’: Dan. 4.19).