Reflections on the Glorification of Jesus in the Gospel of John

Detail, The Last Supper, by Carl Heinrich Bloch (late 19th century).

One of the leitmotifs of the Gospel of John is the theme of glory: how the Son receives glory from the Father, and through this reception, the Son is manifested to us.  In fact, the very purpose of the Gospel stated in John 20:31,  regarding the signs that John records, is that: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name.” 1

In other words, the seven public signs Jesus performs in the Gospel of John are meant to reveal his glory to us, with the result that we might believe in him.  This rational is already made clear from the first of Jesus’ signs: that of turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  After narrating the event, John adds an explanatory note by saying, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11).

After the wedding feast at Cana, the remaining public signs which lead up to the seventh and final sign are as follows: The healing of the official’s son (ch. 4), the healing of the paralytic by the pool (ch. 5), the multiplication of loaves (ch. 6), the healing of the blind man (ch. 9), and the raising of Lazarus (ch. 11).  These six signs—the first involving wine, and the fourth sign, bread—give a Eucharistic sense to the Gospel of John, particularly in chapter 6,  after Jesus performs the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. He then stresses over and over the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  It is interesting, in fact, that John leaves us without a detailed narration of the Institution of the Eucharist such as the synoptics relate, but that is perhaps replaced by this command Jesus gives his disciples in John 6, which is then concretized in the seventh sign, i.e., the gift of himself in his being “lifted up” and “glorified” on the Cross.

It is to be noted that John’s comment, in 12:41, that Isaiah “saw his {i.e. Christ’s} glory,” and the continual references throughout his Gospel to “lifting up” and “glory” allude to the “Suffering Servant” of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  In the Septuagint, Isaiah 52:13 literally reads, “Behold, my servant shall understand, and he shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly.” 2 There are three places in John in which Jesus uses the same Greek verb (υψοω) to speak of his “lifting up”:

John 3:14—“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life;” John 8:28—“Whenever you lift up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM, and from myself I do nothing, but just as the Father has given me, these things I speak;” 3  and, John 12:32—“… and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

These three predictions correspond to the predictions of the passion found in the synoptic accounts, as can be understood from John’s explanation in 12:33, “He said this to show by what death he was to die.”

The first prediction, which speaks of Moses lifting up the serpent, is a reference to Numbers 21:8-9. In the Septuagint version of this Old Testament passage, the Greek of verse 8 literally reads, “And the Lord said to Moses, “Make for yourself a serpent and put it upon a sign, and it will be that whenever the serpent shall bite a man, all who have been bitten, looking at it, shall live.” 4 In other words, Jesus is saying, in John 3:14, that he will be lifted up in the same way as the serpent was, i.e., on a sign. That sign is the Cross.

In the second prediction of being “lifted up,” Jesus uses the Divine Name, “I AM,” which is a reference to Exodus 3:14, in which God tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”  In other words, Jesus emphasizes, in John 8:28, that his being “lifted up” on the Cross will itself be a sign of his Divinity.  This is ironic, because Deuteronomy says, “… all those being hanged upon a tree have been cursed by God.” 5  Yet here, Christ states that he will be crucified, “having become a curse for us,” 6 and in this very sign, we shall know He is the LORD.

Finally, in the third prediction, in 12:32, Jesus indicates the purpose of his being lifted up, which is to draw all people to himself. Why does he want to draw us to himself? In order that, as John states in 20:31, in “believing, {we} may have life in his Name.”

In addition to the phrase, “lifted up,”  Jesus also refers to his coming Passion as his “hour,” 7  which he links, surprisingly, to glory, as when he exclaims, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you …” (Jn 17:1). 8  The Greek verb John uses here (δοξαςω) corresponds to the same verb in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 52, which, as mentioned before, refers to the Suffering Servant.

Here we see two apparent paradoxes. The first is the question: why does Jesus consider the hour of his Passion to also be the hour of his glorification?  And the second paradox is as follows: On the one hand, Jesus seeks to avoid worldly glory—He withdraws when it is evident that the crowd wants to make him a king after the multiplication of the loaves (6:15), but he does not hesitate to refer to himself using the Divine Name (I AM), 9 and asks the Father to glorify him. What does this mean?

The answer to both questions can be found, perhaps, by going back to what Jesus said in John 8:28.  In that verse, he gives two effects which will come from his being lifted up.  The first one, as we said earlier, is that “then you will know that I AM” (i.e., that Jesus is God) and the second result is what follows: “{and then you will know that} from myself I do nothing, but just as the Father has given me, these things I speak.” In other words, as opposed to the devil, who Jesus tells the Jews, “speaks out of his own things” (8:44), 10 Jesus speaks what he has heard from the Father.  That is, Jesus acknowledges that he has received everything from the Father, who is his point of origin, whereas the devil refuses to acknowledge the God who made him (originally as a good angel), and, thus, refuses to give glory to the Father.  Or again, the Son knows that, because of his connection of love to the Father, when the Father glorifies his Son—in the sign of the Cross and in the Resurrection—the Son will, at the same time, be giving glory to the Father who sent Jesus.  All this, Jesus says, we will know when he is “lifted up,”  i.e., when he is crucified.  It is his crucifixion and resurrection, in fact, which will lead to our faith in him.

For this reason, when Christ prays to be glorified by the Father, in John 17:1, he quickly adds the two reasons why he prays for this.  The first is, as mentioned before, in order that Jesus, in turn, may glorify the Father (“so that the Son may glorify you”).  The second reason is, once again, in order that Jesus might “give eternal life” to all those whom the Father has given Jesus (17:2). In other words, Jesus’ motive for desiring to be glorified is ultimately a motive of love: love, first of all, for the Father, to whom Jesus will give glory; and secondly, love for all those of us whom the Father has given Jesus, i.e., those of us who are truly Christ’s disciples.

In fact, Jesus points out, in 17:4, that he has already glorified the Father “on earth by completing the work which you gave me to do.” 11 In a sense, Jesus looks back at the work of salvation (which is a work of love) as having already been accomplished, perhaps in part, as he states in verse 6, because Jesus has already “revealed your name” (i.e., he has revealed the love of the Father to Jesus’ disciples). Perhaps, also because, as God, all things are present to Jesus.  In fact, even as a man, Jesus has already entered into his “hour,” as stated back in verse 1, which begins here at the Last Supper, and extends into his passion and death.

For this reason, Jesus is able to pray, “Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world was” (17:5).  Here, Jesus indicates his divinity, and that he has, in a way, set aside the glory that he had with the Father, 12 in order to come into the world, but now the time has come for Jesus to return to the Father, and to receive an even greater glory, in the sense that now, not only will Jesus be glorified in his divinity, but in his humanity, as well.

Jesus also speaks of being glorified in his disciples (17:9b), indicating that we are to be a light of his glory on earth, and notes in verse 22 that, “the glory which you have given me, I have given to them …”  At this point, Jesus gives the reason why he wished to share his glory with his disciples, saying, “that they may be one even as we are one.” In other words, the glory of Jesus is not to be for himself alone, or for any particular disciple alone.  The glory which Jesus shares with his disciples is meant to lead to unity, to being One in the Body of Christ, to a real bond of love, which is to be a witness to the rest of the world.  We can see this in the next verse: “I in them, and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me” (17:22).

Finally, Jesus notes that the world has not known the Father, but the Son has indeed known him (i.e., “loved him”), and has made his name known to his disciples then and “will make it known” to all future disciples, as well, “so that the Love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

The glorification of Jesus in his Passion, death, and resurrection, therefore, is meant to lead to faith and, ultimately, to a union of love in Christ’s disciples.  One could say that the glory of Christ is the power of his love for the Father, and for us, manifested in the moment of Christ’s greatest weakness, with the purpose of leading us to eternal life with him.

  1. All English Biblical quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic ed., (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006), unless otherwise noted.
  2. Septuaginta, ed. Alfred Rahlfs and Robert Hanhart (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), Is.52:13, “Ιδου συνησει ο παις μου και υψωθησεται και δοξασθησεται σφοδρα.” (English transl. my own. Italics added for emphasis.)
  3. My own translation from the Greek text as found in Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland version (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993).
  4. Septuaginta, “Και  ειπεν  κυριος  προς  Μωυσην  Ποιησον  σεαυτω  οφιν και  θες αυτον  επι  μειου, και εσται εαν δακη  οφις  ανθρωπον,  πας  ο  δεδηγμενος ιδων αυτον  ζησεται.”
  5. Cf. Deut. 21:23. (English transl. my own.)
  6. Gal. 3:13.
  7. Cf. Jn 2:4, 7:30, 12:23, 13:1, 17:1.
  8. See also Jn 12:23.
  9. That is, seven times, he says simply “I AM” without a predicate (4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 8:58, 13:19, and 18:5-6) and seven times he follows the “I AM” with a predicate (6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:14-16, 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1-2).
  10. Translation my own.
  11. Translation my own.
  12. Without, of course, ever ceasing to be divine, he hid his divinity in humbling himself to become man (cf. Phil 2:6-7).
Melissa Eitenmiller About Melissa Eitenmiller

Melissa Eitenmiller is currently a graduate student at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida. She is certified as an Advanced Catechist for the Diocese of Venice, in Florida, and is also a columnist of "The Catholic Corner" for the Turtle Mountain Times, out of Belcourt, North Dakota.