Culture

The Bible as Literature: Jesus’ Death—Two Perspectives

In comparing Matthew and John’s account of Jesus announcing his approaching death it is interesting to see the stark differences in their perspectives. John’s account is of a loving shepherd with his sheep easing them into the thought of what is to come and the reasoning for why these things must come to pass. He is painted as “Jesus the way, the truth and the light”. In contrast, the Jesus of Matthew’s account is much more a martyr. Let’s look a little closer at Matthew’s account so we can analyze the additional meaning written into John.

In Matthew chapter 16 we see that Jesus is telling his disciples about the things that must happen to him at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and on the third day he will be raised. Peter is unbelieving, but Jesus nearly taunts them by saying let anyone of them ‘pick up his torture stake’ and follow him.

In chapter 17 he reiterates “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day. And they were greatly distressed.”

And finally in chapter 20, again, he details how he will be condemned to death, delivered to the Gentiles to be mocked, scourged, crucified, and then raised on the third day.

Here I’ll note that each of these verses refer to his being raised after the third day.

Now we’ll consider John’s account of Jesus. First I’ll note that there isn’t a mention of his being raised on the third day found in these verses. In this account Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. He also uses his death as the means for prescribing their behavior and requirements for their lives as disciples. Again and again he ties their professed love for him to requirement that they’ll keep his commandments. He tells of leaving this world behind because the ‘ruler of this world is coming’ and it seemingly leaves no place for him. Throughout we see several instances where he promises to come back for them. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3) “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) “You heard me say to you ‘I go away, and I will come to you.'” (John 14:28)

I guess I would say the biggest difference in John’s account is that it seems nearly poetic. Matthew’s Jesus was pragmatic and realistic. He told of his impending doom and got to the point. John’s Jesus is telling much more of a story about why he must go, in riddles nearly, and what they must do after he is gone. His story binds them together in somewhat of a brotherhood bringing them together in a common purpose or pursuit. He tells them of how he’s going so he may pave the way for them.

He establishes that access to God the father is only through him as an intermediary. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.'” (Verse 6) He also tells them that in him they have seen the Father. “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” (Verse 7) This gives his life greater meaning than that of any normal mortal man. That knowledge of God is only through knowing Jesus, his words and his works. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (Verse 10) To believers seeking God, this makes Jesus the most important man who ever lived.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Verses 12-15) With these words he establishes the basis for generations to come to foster faith in him as Jesus the ‘Son of God’. I can’t help but think of how many distraught women have made pleas in the past with the words “if you love me, you will…”. Through Jesus’ request of his followers he sets himself up to be a legendary leader of men, and through his promises gives motivation for generation-after-generation to continue.

Matthew doesn’t provide any of this additional meaning. Matthew’s Jesus seems more like a real man, just a human, and less like a spiritual leader and the ‘Son of God’. John’s account offers us more of the man become hero and savior to Christian’s across the planet.

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