John 12:27 – “My Soul is Troubled”

Jesus praying in the gardenIn John 12:27 Jesus says his “soul is troubled,” yet he will not ask the Father to save him from “this hour.”  In the Synoptic Gospels this prayer made in the privacy of the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel the prayer is similar, but it is in public. John also makes a connection to a theophany which may suggest a different context, perhaps in the Temple courts. Since the witnesses are described as a “crowd” it does not seem likely that this Peter, James and John in the Garden.

While Jesus is deeply troubled, he knows that the reason he came into the world to be rejected, executed and buried.   Jesus may be alluding to Psalm 6:3 or 42:5, 11. The words are closest to Psa 6:3 (LXX 6:4), the verb is a perfect passive in John rather than the aorist passive of the LXX, and the adverb σφόδρα (“greatly”) is not used in John. Nevertheless, there is enough verbal similarity to say that John intended an allusion to Psalm 6:3 when he chose these particular words.

If this is an intentional allusion to Psalm 6:3, it is possible that Jesus (or John) means to evoke the context of the whole Psalm. The first two verses of the Psalm are therefore important.  The writer is calling out to God to not rebuke and discipline him, to not pour out his wrath and anger on him. The writer says that his is languishing, that his “bones are troubled” (v. 2), that he is weary from weeping, his “eyes are wasting away” because of his grief (v.  6-7).

Psalmist asked the Lord to deliver him and save him because in death he will no longer praise God (6:4). Perhaps this is the point of the allusion as well as the rhetorical question in John 12:27.  The allusion to Psalm 6 therefore emphasizes the inevitability of the suffering of Jesus which is about to occur. Jesus knows that his suffering will lead to death, but also that his death will not result in the silence of Sheol. Unlike the psalmist, Jesus knows that his death will result in vindication when God “raises him up” (John 12:32).

Unlike the writer of Psalm 6, Jesus is suffering willingly.  In fact, it is for “this very hour” that Jesus came into the world. The phrase “this hour” is always significant in John’s gospel, referring to the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. The writer of the Psalm asks “how long” until he is vindicated, while Jesus says that he cannot possibly ask to be saved from the hour.  If he is in fact the obedient Son sent by the Father, Jesus must endure the suffering of the Cross.

Similar to his baptism or the transfiguration in the Synoptic Gospels, a voice from heaven responds to Jesus’s prayer. The voice is not identified as God’s, but on the analogy of the baptism and the transfiguration it seems likely that this is the voice of the father responding to the Son.

The crowd is divided with respect to the origin of this voice. Was it thunder or was it an angel? While this seems like two very different things, there are other examples of angelic voices sounding like thunder (Revelation). When the resurrected Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, his companions did not hear the voice either.

It is possible this is an allusion to Sinai. In Exodus 19:16-19 God’s glory at Sinai is manifest with thunder and lightning. If this is an allusion to the wilderness period, then it may be part of the rejection theme of this whole conclusion to the first part of John’s gospel. The generation in the wilderness saw great signs and wonders, including the voice of God from heaven, yet they rejected those signs in the wilderness and refused to obey God as he led them into the Promised Land.

Whatever the allusion, once again there is a clear revelation of who Jesus is followed by a misunderstanding from the audience. John continues to reveal who Jesus is, he is the the one sent by God to suffer willingly on the cross.

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