John 12:27 and Psalm 6:3

In John 12:27 Jesus says that 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.  This prayer is similar, but the public venue and connection to the theophany 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’ 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.

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