Personally, I find it impossible to imagine what it would be like to know that tonight, I’m going to be arrested, and tomorrow, I’m going to be executed for a crime I didn’t commit.
What would I be thinking or feeling? Despair is certainly a possibility. Human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative anyway, and death is about as negative as you can get. But assuming that I was able to keep my wits about me, what else could I say to myself?
I could rail at injustice and feel self-righteous. I could stoically insist on my innocence and take pride in my composure. I could fantasize about the words of praise people would write in honor of my heroic martyrdom.
Or, I could say, “It’s time for me to go home. Just one or two last things to take care of before I leave.”
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus has insisted that he had been sent by the Father. The claim outraged many. They tried to kill or arrest him, but to no avail because, in John’s words, “his hour had not yet come.” That phrase points to the Father’s sovereignty; for all their scheming and bluster, the bad guys aren’t in charge. And yet, the phrase also lends an ominous tone to the narrative, like biblical shark music: soon, the hour will come.
In John 12, Jesus declared that his hour had come when some Greeks sought him out at Passover, a concrete symbol that all the nations were being drawn to the foot of the cross. That chapter ended with the final words of Jesus’ public ministry.
Chapter 13 then opens with these words: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (John 13:1, NRSV). Knowing this, what did he do? As we’ll see in an upcoming post, Jesus demonstrated the meaning of love by washing the feet of his astonished disciples. But here, I want us to reflect on the fact that he did this “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (vs. 3).
At a crucial point in the story, with death staring him in the face, what seems uppermost in Jesus’ mind is that he’s going back to the Father.
If all we were given was a moment-to-moment chronicle of events, this part of the story would be dominated by the impending horror of the crucifixion. Jesus knows what he must face, and it troubles his soul (e.g., John 12:27; 13:21). No denial there.
John, however, takes us deeper into the mind of Christ. Jesus loves and obeys his Father in all things. He knows his mission. To the disciples, the cross will seem like utter ruin, the death not only of their leader, but of their hopes and dreams.
But Jesus has a different perspective. Death closes a chapter, but doesn’t end the story. Beyond the cross is resurrection, and beyond that, a return to the Father he loves.
One day, I may find myself consciously confronting my own impending death. If so, I hope it will be with the attitude of one who knows he’s going home to a loving Father.
All the better to cultivate that attitude now, and not go looking for it at the eleventh hour.