The “Hour” According to Saint John

The Wedding at Cana by Julius Schnorr Carolsfeld;
Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846)

This article consists of a study of the development of the theme of Our Lord’s hour, as used in the Fourth Gospel by the evangelist; its use is inclusive of His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, considered as a unit, a single glorifying act, resulting in the salvation of man. The importance of this concept is recognized by many commentators, such as Pheme Perkins, who states that it is the focus of the plot of the Gospel.1

The paper will cite each example of the evangelist’s use of the word “hour,” and demonstrate and trace changes and/or developments in its meaning as these occur in the text of the Gospel itself. An extrapolation from the data thus analyzed will offer a conclusion as to the fundamental meaning of the word as apparently intended by the evangelist.

The first use of the word “hour” in the Fourth Gospel, is in the narrative of the Wedding Feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-11). In response to His Mother’s request that He help the host of the feast whom, she noted, had run out of wine for his guests, Jesus says, “Oh, woman! What have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4) Many scholars interpret this hour as to include Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension and, hence, “Jesus’ hour is the time of his cross and resurrection when he fully reveals the Father’s love and accomplishes his saving work.”2 However, the actual text, at this point in the Gospel, without the benefit of hindsight, is not so specifically prophetic. It just says “hour” which seems to have some mystic overtones, but without any real definition. From this passage, as it stands, little can be extracted beyond the fact that the hour exists, and it has not yet begun at this point in the Gospel. Nevertheless, it can be extrapolated that the hour is not the equivalent of, or inclusive of, Jesus’ public ministry. He continues to perform His first sign, changing water into wine, after His statement above. Thus begins His public ministry, which “manifested his glory” (2:11).

The next three instances of the use of the word “hour” are not directly applicable to this paper, although they do reference future events, each using the phrase: “the hour is coming….” (Jn 4:21,5:25 and 28). These uses do not mean Jesus’ hour, but rather an indeterminate future time when something will occur.

John 4:21 may involve a double entendre of sorts. Jesus advises the Samaritan woman at the well that His hour is not yet come, but when it does come, at that time/hour, the variant worship sites (and other liturgical differences) between Samaritans and Jews will be done away with. Herein, hour is used in both a chronological sense (when a change in liturgy will occur) and in the less literal sense of Jesus’ hour. The passage does advance the meaning of the word, however, in that it adds religious connotations.

Similar expansions of the meaning of Jesus’ hour are found in John 5:25. In these instances, Jesus adds eschatological considerations, including the notion of realized eschatology when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25)

In addition, the incident at John 5:28 adds an ecclesial dimension as follows: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the temple will hear his voice.”

It is interesting to note that the various commentaries employed herein are largely silent on these passages, with Perkins offering essentially a general comment on the inclusion of the eschatological.3 Actually, Kieffer is silent on any detail referencing the hour except for a general acknowledgment of scope of the term without any discussion (which scope agrees with that stated herein).4

The next use of the word does, however, apply and does serve to advance the understanding of its meaning. In John 7:30, during the Feast of Tabernacles debate, the evangelist writes, “So they sought to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” The point is clearly stated that this passage is a reference to Jesus’ hour. Furthermore, it broadens the lack of action implied in His initial reluctance to react to others in the Wedding Feast pericope (Jn 2:1-11). This implies that other-than-earthly powers are at work. Indeed, “Jesus’ life unfolds in accord with the divine plan, and nothing happens to him by accident, or without his consent.”5 The notion of divinity is introduced, embellishing the vague mysticism seen in the speech at Cana as mentioned above.

In the “Pericope Adulterae” (Jn 8:20), these exact words are repeated, “…but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” Thus, Martin and Wright offer a very similar comment: “Jesus’ life unfolds according to the divine plan ….”6

Then, on Palm Sunday, the evangelist writes “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….’”(Jn 12:23). From the text, the hour remains basically undefined; but it has begun. While there is still no definite statement of its duration or, indeed, its end or goal (Greek: τελος ), this end or goal must include the culmination of Jesus’ mission, which is the glorification of the Son of Man, His triumphant return to the Father. Indeed, Perkins adds the condemnation of “this world” and “its ruler”7 and speaks in terms of the “unity of Jesus’ purpose with God’s will”.8

As the Palm Sunday narrative continues, Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour.’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (Jn 12:27)

Per Martin and Wright, herein the text advises that Jesus was well aware that His hour included truly difficult elements, and this hour involved the τελος of His mission.9 All these elements are included in the definition of the hour.

The concepts which surround Jesus’ hour continue to develop in the Last Supper narrative. Here, the evangelist states, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (Jn 13:1) As above, Jesus’ hour includes the τελος, now clearly in the senses of both the end of His earthly life (death), and the completion of His mission, and the resultant glorification (resurrection and ascension).

There follows four instances of the use of the word “hour” which, as above, are essentially chronological in meaning, and not directly applicable to this paper (similar to considerations above regarding Jn 4:21, 5:25 and 28). However, they do reference future events, each using the phrase: “the hour is coming….” John 16:2 and 4 are admonitions typical of farewell discourses in the ancient world and John 16:21 is the also typical rejoinder indicating the hoped-for outcome. This remaining instance is also a reference to a future event, and a detail employed in the relating of a metaphor. It is important to note that these uses do not involve Jesus’ hour, but rather indicate an indeterminate future time when some event will occur. John 16:25 is included in this because it refers to a point in the future at which a behavioral change on the part of Jesus will take place; although this is part of Jesus’ hour, this reference is chronological in nature.

It is of separate note that John 6:32 is also an admonition but, most importantly, it recites that “The hour … indeed, has come.” Jesus’ hour is well under way.

In the High Priestly Prayer, the final piece is put in place: In John 17:1-2, Jesus prays:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” Per Brown, “We are in the context of John’s hour, so much so that Jesus can now be the source of eternal life which is the fruit of his glorification.10

The final two uses of the word hour are both chronological in nature and, therefore, not directly applicable to this paper. John 19:14 gives the reader the time of the Trial, and John 19:27 indicates the immediacy with which Our Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple responded to Jesus’ command from the cross.

In summary, the following can be extracted from the above citations and comments:

(A) Jesus’ hour is not, and does not, include His ministry.

(B) Jesus’ hour has liturgical, eschatological, and ecclesial implications.

(C) Jesus’ life and ministry unfold in accordance with a divine plan, to which He voluntarily accedes.

(D) Jesus’ hour arrives at the end of the Palm Sunday procession, the end of His public ministry.

(E) Jesus accepts voluntarily the arrival and implications of His hour.

(F) Jesus hour will continue until He is reunited with the Father, which will signal the end (telos) of the hour.

(G) Verification exists, within the context of the High Priestly Prayer, that the hour has, indeed, come and it does include the glorification of Son of God.

It is, therefore, concluded that Jesus’ hour, as employed by the evangelist in the Fourth Gospel, involves a series of events (in human terms) which conclude with the end and culmination (telos) of Jesus’ mission, His glorification (exaltation), all considered as a unified experience inclusive of His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. It comprises the totality of His return to the Father, by Whom He was sent to the world as its Savior.

In a sense, this parallels the totum simul concept of creation within the divine eternity. That is, God created all together and at once. In eternity, there neither is, nor was, any time and, therefore, no measure of the sequencing of events. In the same way, the end and culmination of Jesus’ glorification and exaltation are not a sequence or series of events, but rather, from a divine perspective, are a unified, single reality. The word hour becomes the expression of this spiritual reality. Therefore, it may be that Jesus’ hour, interpreted from a mystogogical perspective, is the nexus between the human notion of time as the measure of the sequence of events, and divine eternity.

It is, therefore, considered that this conclusion represents Johannine Christology at its fundamental plane, in that it brings the notions of Jesus’ divinity, begun in the Prologue of the First Chapter of the Gospel according to John, full circle through Jesus’ humanity, including His death, resolving the end, or telos, of His mission again in the divine notion of eternity, within the precepts of totum simul.

  1. Pheme Perkins, The Gospel According to John, eds. Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy, and Carlo Maria, Cardinal Martini, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990, p.947.
  2. Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, The Gospel of John Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2015, p.58
  3. Pheme, Perkins, p. 954
  4. Rene Kieffer, John, eds. Barton, John, and John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p.984
  5. Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, p. 142
  6. Ibid. p. 157.
  7. Pheme Perkins, p. 971.
  8. Ibid. p. 972.
  9. Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, p. 225
  10. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel and Epistles of John, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1988, p.84
George Klueber About George Klueber

George Klueber is a retired Federal Executive, formerly with the General Services Administration. In his early academic career, he studied classical languages at the University of Toronto. Since 2012, Mr. Klueber has undertaken substantial studies in theology and related topics at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Catechetical Diploma from CDU. A remarried widower, his wife, Rebecca Rivers, is an accomplished watercolorist. Between them they have 5 children, 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Residents of Port Charlotte, Florida, he is a catechist in the RCIA program at St. Charles Borromeo parish in addition to being active in the Perpetual Adoration ministry and a member of the choir.