Anticipating the Cross
Topic: Passion Week Passage: John 2:4–2:4, John 7:6–7:6, John 8:30–8:30, John 12:23–12:23, John 12:27–12:27, John 13:1–13:1, John 17:1–17:1, John 4:21–4:21, John 5:25–5:25, John 16:2–16:2, John 16:25–16:25, John 16:32–16:32
Time is significant because of its unique quality. For one thing, it is completely irretrievable. Despite the slogan, it is impossible to “make up for lost time.” Neither can you repeat it or relive it. In reality, there is no such thing as “instant replay”...that is something that only appears digitally or on film.
Time travels with us every day, and yet it has eternal ramifications. Perhaps you have heard the verse that goes...
I’ve only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
And while that verse is certainly true, time seems so relative, doesn’t it? For example, two weeks on a vacation hurries past much more quickly than two weeks on a diet. An hour in your favorite restaurant goes by faster than an hour in the dentist’s chair. And no doubt the forty-five minutes that I spend preaching this sermon will seem longer to you than it does to me.
Benjamin Franklin wisely said that time “is the stuff life is made of.” Invisibly and, more often than not imperceptibly, it forms the “building blocks of life.” It has been well said that “the great use of time is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
When Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on that first Palm Sunday,” He had less than a week to live...and He knew it. In fact, despite what some skeptics and cynics tell us, Jesus was in full control of the circumstances that led to the cross upon which He would die later that week. The Bible argues that, although being “like a lamb that was led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), He was no helpless victim. Just before being apprehended and subjected to several unlawful trials, He testified, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54).
That being said, nothing along His journey to the cross took Jesus by surprise. He fully anticipated what awaited Him there, including the time at which it would occur and every horrific detail that would be involved. We know that with certainty because of the manner in which John the Apostle crafted the account of our Lord’s passion in the Gospel that bears His name. Even the most casual reader cannot help but recognize how John builds upon a common theme in recounting the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ.
That theme centers upon what Jesus repeatedly referred to as His “time” or His “hour.” Although Jesus had co-existed with the Father in eternity-past and would return to Him when His work on earth was finished, by means of the incarnation He entered into a world that was marked by time. But even that—the Creator fully identifying with His creation—was declared to have been on schedule...or as we might say, “right on time.” The Bible puts it this way: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
God has a plan that was drawn up from “before the foundation of the world” (cf. Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20), and He has been bringing about its fulfillment ever since its inception. Sometimes He works hidden behind the scenes, as we see in the Book of Esther, while at other times He demonstrates His providential control in easily recognizable ways. It is a plan that will culminate with the manifestation of His glory, as well as in the redemption of those who have turned to Him in repentance and faith.
When He walked this earth, trodding the same soil that you and I trod daily, Jesus was fully conscious that the events of His life were leading to a predetermined goal. He said as much to His inquisitive disciples in John 9:4, when He declared, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
In our time together this morning, I want to walk with you through John’s Gospel and point out that Jesus was not only aware that His appointed mission would take Him to the cross, but that He fully anticipated it...and, as we shall see this Friday evening and next Sunday morning when we come together again, He endured it and even embraced it. So please open your Bible to John’s Gospel, because I want you to see these things for yourself.
John expresses the theme of Jesus’ “hour” or “time” in three ways. I believe it will be helpful if we focus our thoughts on those three expressions. Therefore, we will be moving around throughout the book, but hopefully landing where we need to land and be able to take with us some reflections to consider during this week of our Lord’s Passion.
The first time we encounter this theme is in the 2nd chapter of John in the scene describing the wedding at Cana. Here, the words of Jesus with regard to His destiny are...
“My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4; 7:6, 8, and 30; 8:20)
This event marked the first public appearance of Jesus following John’s record of His calling disciples to Himself. We are not told whose wedding it was, but Jesus and His family had been invited to attend, along with His disciples. It was during the very early days of Jesus’ ministry, and He was just beginning to public identify Himself as the promised Messiah.
The celebration of a Jewish wedding was an all-day affair, and on occasion could go on for days. At some point, we are told, “The wine ran out” (John 2:3), and Mary, Jesus’ mother—who seems to have been the “coordinator of the wedding reception”—was in a panic as to what to do. Normally, the good wine was served at the beginning of the festivities and then “watered down” as the proceedings continued. But now there was no wine left to dilute. So Mary mentioned the dilemma to her eldest Son.
His response to His mother has been taken by some to have been rude, but it was not. He didn’t simply say, “Sounds like a personal problem to me,” because we know He performed His first miracle at that time and provided quality wine for the guests. We read in verse 4, “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” This is the first time that our Lord speaks of His “hour.”
It appears that Jesus performed this miracle covertly...perhaps only His mother and His disciples saw what was taking place. And yet everyone experienced its effects. It occurred during what theologians refer to as “the period of consideration” in Jesus’ ministry. He is raising more questions with regard to His true identity at this point than He is answering. It was much too early for Him to fully disclose His identity. Had He done so, He might have been swept up by the crowds and hailed as a “king” who met their specifications. As it was, this miracle served as a “preview” of what was to come.
As we skip ahead into chapters 7 and 8, we find Jesus repeating that “his hour had not yet come.” He has been both teaching the multitudes and demonstrating Messianic authority through miraculous signs. It is clear to those who heard and saw Him that this was no ordinary man. He has begun to create controversy among the masses, not the least of all were the Jewish religious leaders who considered Him a threat to their authority over the people. That controversy will soon break out into open conflict.
Even His brothers, who did not yet believe Him to be the Messiah (cf. John 7:5), tried to force His hand during the upcoming Feast of Booths. They appear to “egg Him on,” by suggesting that it would be the perfect occasion to give a public demonstration of His supernatural powers and gifts.” But in John 7, verse 6, “Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.’” And again in verse 8, He adds, “You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”
Immediately we see that Jesus has altered the expression in these two verses from “my hour” to “my time.” Most Bible scholars agree that there is no significant difference in the use of the two terms, even though two separate Greek words are found in the text. If there is any intended distinction, it would lie in the fact that the word for “time” (“καιροs”) is used in ancient Greek literature to designate the passing of one era of time into another. Perhaps the word “season” better captures its meaning. On the other hand, the more commonly used word by John, “hour” (“‘ωρα”), in addition to meaning a period of sixty minutes, was used to a certain “fixed time” or “appointed time.” Whichever word is being used, Jesus is clearly pointing to the “hour” or the “time” of His impending death.
The addition of the word “fully” in verse 8 suggests that God’s plan is proceeding according to schedule. Nevertheless, the time of its fulfillment had not yet arrived. Once again we find Jesus in total control. No man is able to override the Providence which is invisibly guiding His every step.
Some time later, we find Jesus’ conflict with His naysayers reaching a pinnacle. He is becoming more open in declaring His heavenly origin, a claim that is met with great delight on the part of some and sheer disdain on the part of others. In fact, verse 25 of chapter 7 indicates that there were some who sought to assassinate Him. No doubt that mob was incited by the Pharisees who blatantly accused Him of misrepresenting Himself. They would have had Him arrested on the spot for creating a public disturbance if it were not for the fact, as John again tells us in verse 30, “his hour had not yet come.”
The conflict intensifies through chapter 8, where Jesus further enflames the wrath of His opponents by declaring Himself to be “the light of the world” in verse 12. It is believed that He spoke those words during another of the Jewish festivals, “Hanukkah”—or “the Feasts of Lights”—an eight-day celebration marked by the kindling of the eight Menorah lights. The setting would have made it impossible to miss the significance of Jesus’ claim.
And the Pharisees didn’t miss it. For a second time in as many chapters, they seek to have Him arrested. But again we read, this time in John 8:20, “No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”
But that “hour” was drawing near. By the time we get to chapter 12 we find the expression concerning the “hour” to have changed. For now we read,im
“The hour has come” (John 12:23 and 27; 13:1; 17:1)
Clearly a “turning point” has taken place between chapters 8 and 12. Consideration regarding Jesus’ identity has advanced through periods of controversy and conflict and has settled into a “period of crisis.” But what has precipitated this shift? Through chapter 8, Jesus has repeatedly stated that His “hour had not yet come,” but now we hear Him say in chapter 12, verse 23, that “The hour has come.” In fact, it is within this verse that we begin to discover to what that “hour” has been pointing.
Were we to glance quickly through the intervening chapters of John’s Gospel, we would find Jesus repeatedly making bold pronouncements regarding His Deity interspersed with a series of miracles that to a rising degree confirm His Messianic authority. All the while, the battle lines between belief and unbelief were becoming more and more obvious. From now on there would be no “straddling the fence” when it came to relating to Jesus. You were either “for Him” or “against Him. You either “loved Him” or “hated Him.” To borrow from C.S. Lewis, you either “believed Him to be Lord” or considered Him to be “a lunatic” or “a liar.” So, have you bothered to consider who Jesus is to you?
Those who were “for Him” were devotedly so, and those who were “against Him” were just as committed in their opposition. What to do with a Man who claimed to be the incarnation of God (cf. John 8:56-58) and was able to raise the dead (cf. John 11:38-44). It was impossible to remain “neutral,” because neutrality was simply a veiled admission of unbelief. You either wanted to enter into His life, or you wanted to put Him to death.
You will notice that chapter 12 begins with John’s account of our Lord’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. How timely that we recognize that event on this day. With the arrival of the “Miracle Worker,” every “reporter” in town wanted an interview with Him...everyone wanted a few minutes of His time. We can’t say for certain what they perceived was about to happen, but even the disciples sensed that something was in the offing. Things were about to come to a head, so to speak, and none of their lives would ever again be the same.
Knowing this to be so, Jesus put it to them this way in verse 23: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
“To be glorified”...what could that possibly mean? Only one thing, as He explains in the following verse: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Clearly, Jesus Himself was the “grain of wheat” of which He spoke. He must die. The “hour” of His pre-ordained death had arrived. And in stating that—a truth that the disciples could not have comprehended at that moment—He further added that anyone who wished to follow Him must be willing to lay down their lives as well (cf. John 12:25-26).
Perhaps while still in their presence, Jesus could not any longer contain His emotion. In one of the most touching scenes of fellowship within the Godhead found anywhere in Scripture, we read this Divine exchange between the Son and the Father in verses 27 and 28. Jesus speaks first, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” And then in response, the Father answers from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” That would happen a few days later, but first Jesus must die.
Beginning with chapter 13 and extending through the better part of chapter 18, John records in greater detail than any of the other Gospel writers the final hours Jesus spent with His disciples. As the Passover approached, John gives us these remarkable words in chapter 13, verse 1: “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.”
What follows are five-plus chapters in which Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure from them. In these chapters, we find an extended record of the most intimate moments of our Savior’s entire earthly pilgrimage. We see Him washing the feet of the disciples, instructing them, celebrating the last Passover and instituting the Lord’s Supper with them, and telling them openly what is about to take place over the next several hours. Although He is fully human and is, therefore, fully experiencing the emotional anguish of His impending execution, He is also fully divine and is able to chart its outcome.
Because of His unwavering submission to the Father’s will and due to His condescension in becoming one of us, Jesus remains in complete dependence upon the strength of His Father. While still in the company of His closest followers, He opens Himself up before them in sacred prayer. In describing the scene, John tells us, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1).
Here we find Jesus eager to return home to heaven, but He could not do so until He had fulfilled the work He had been sent to do. And He would not leave His disciples comfortless nor unprepared to complete the mission that He was leaving for them. He lived according to a heavenly timetable marked out for Him by the Father. One cannot read these words of Jesus’ high priestly prayer without recognizing that He had set His face like flint toward the cross, knowing that upon the cross He would die, but that the Father would raise Him up and together they both would be glorified.
Early in His ministry, Jesus knew that “his hour had not yet come.” As it proceeded according to God’s foreordained plan, “his hour had (now) come.” That “hour” related to His glorification, which could not be accomplished apart from meeting the executioner’s cross and enduring the unimaginable wrath of a holy God that would be poured out upon Him as the ransom price for the debt of sin that people like us had incurred. We deserved to incur the penalty of our sin, and yet Jesus knowingly and willingly stepped forth to pay it for us.
But there remains one more expression found in John’s Gospel related to the “hour” of which Jesus so often spoke. It is that phrase which reads...
“The hour is coming” (John 4:21; 5:25; 16:2, 25, and 32)
In addition to the references we have already looked at, this phrase occurs in five additional places. While trying not to imply more than the text would suggest, Jesus’ impending death is said to bring about further changes, namely in the way God’s people would relate to Him as well as to one another. Let’s briefly notice together the five times this phrase appears in order to determine to what Jesus is referring.
The first time we come across it is in Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John, chapter 4. When quizzed by her as to the proper place in which people ought to worship, He responded to her in verse 21, saying, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In verse 24 He would add, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Until that time, the Temple was where the people of God met with Him. Now here Jesus is suggesting a new worship, one that centered not on a place but on a Person, namely Himself. It was through His work on the cross that this new way of worship would be brought into existence.
We next find this phrase in chapter 5. Jesus had placed a target on His back when He claimed Divine authority and equality with the Father. Knowing that the religious elite sought to kill Him, Jesus reacted in verse 25 with what must have seemed an outlandish declaration: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is here now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Here He is stating the assurance of a new life...a life that extended beyond the grave...a life that would issue forth in salvation to some but judgment for others. One’s response to Jesus’ work on the cross would determine one’s fate. Belief would issue forth into eternal life, and disbelief would bring eternal death.
Continuing our way through John’s Gospel, we do not find this phrase again until we get to chapter 16, where it occurs three times. There Jesus is giving His final instructions to His disciples. He is just a couple of hours away from being arrested and hauled off as a common criminal to undergo the indignity of a series of illegal trials. The next morning will find Him dying on a cross. And by then, His disciples will have all scattered.
In their wildest imagination, none of them could have foreseen that the One to whom they had devoted their lives would suffer and the cowardice with which they all would react. Not even Jesus’ prior warnings were able to have prepared them, and so He warns them again in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 16: “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” In other words, as the opposition toward Christ and by extension to His disciples would intensify, a new commitment would be required of them. The cross would become the line of demarcation that would separate those who were His true followers from those who were merely observers. And it is still that way today.
So much of what Jesus shared with the disciples during His final hours would remain unclear to them until after His death on the cross and His resurrection a couple of days later. He tells them as much in verse 25, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” By this, Jesus is implying that a new revelation will be given to them. A few verses earlier He had indicated that is was necessary for Him to be taken from them in death in order that the fulfillment of God’s plan for redeeming sinners would be accomplished. Only then would the full meaning of it all be revealed to them.
The final time we see this expression is in verse 32 of this same chapter. Just before entering into prayer with the Father, Jesus told them, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” The anticipated “hour” had arrived, and its arrival would signal a new relationship with His disciples.
The more He revealed to them about the necessity of the cross—an experience He must enter into alone...not even His closest companions could walk with Him through it—the more clearly defined His relationship with them became. In the previous chapter, He had said to them, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15).
It was typical of Jesus to temper with words of comfort what must have seemed to the disciples to have been a remote and horrifying prospect. We find them in verse 33, which turn out to be the last of His direct instruction to those who would soon be entrusted with carrying on His mission: “I have said these things to you, that in me you have peace. In the world you will be tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
“Overcome the world”? Really? A famished, beaten, and dying Jesus hanging on a blood-spattered wooden cross would not have looked anything like One who was able to overcome the world. But remember, He had foretold numerous times that His anticipated “hour” would end where it did. Never is it hinted in the Scriptures that the cross had caught Him off guard or taken Him by surprise. He anticipated it, and He did not shy away from it.
It is thus imperative that we recognize that Jesus was in full control of the circumstances that led to the cross upon which He would die. By constantly referring to His “hour,” Jesus was clearly conscious of the fact that throughout His earthly ministry He was accomplishing a task entrusted to Him by the Father. Every detail had been definitely stipulated in the eternal decree, so that every act of the unfolding drama carried a meaningful purpose. He anticipated the cross and was well aware of the consequences associated with it.
Dozens of Old Testament prophecies surrounding the cross were fulfilled in precise detail on the day that Jesus died. The evidence that God had written the script long before these events took place is overwhelming. And the fact that Divine Providence had orchestrated their fulfillment is compelling.
In “the fullness of time... (when) God sent forth his Son” (cf. Galatians 4:4) into the world, and the road He would travel would lead to a cross. In a verse that we will look at in greater detail this Friday evening—Hebrews 12:2—we read the remarkable words that Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is (now) seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
But why? Was the cross really necessary? It was, if men and women were to be saved. To borrow from J. Sidlow Baxter, the late British Bible teacher of the last century:
God would never have permitted the awful spectacle of cross as mere dramatic effect if it were not a redemptive necessity. If damnation were not a reality, then redemption would not have been necessary. But death and judgment and hell are fearful realities, and only the willing sacrifice of God’s sinless Son was able to provide a satisfactory cure.
To glibly imagine that God could have merely swept our sins “under the rug” is to misunderstand the holiness of Deity and the sinfulness of humanity, as well as the huge gap that separates them. If God was to save man, it must be in a way that united His wrath toward sin and His mercy toward the sinner. No one but God Himself was able to bridge that chasm. And that is what the Son of God did when He submitted Himself to the cross.
But in order for the work of Christ to avail for you, you must first of all be willing to acknowledge that you are a sinner who has violated the righteous character of a holy God. In doing do, you must believe that Jesus’ death was on your behalf in order to bear the full penalty of your sin that you deserved to pay. And then you must confess your need to Him by being willing to turn from sin (the Bible calls that “repentance”) and trust Him in faith.
By anticipating the cross—His appointed “hour”—Jesus was thinking of everyone who would one day respond to Him as Savior and Lord. Did He have you in mind?
As most of you know, the Gospel of John was not the only book of Scripture that this apostle wrote. In the first of three epistles that bear his name, he included an interesting statement that relates to our discussion this morning. Twice he said, “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). I wonder if you have stopped to consider what those words mean to you personally in the light of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
Writing in a similar vein, John’s fellow-apostle Paul has left us with thus challenge: “Now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The clock is ticking toward another anticipated “hour” in which this same Jesus will be coming back in order to gather to Himself all those who are His. We have entered into that “last hour” and “the day of salvation” He is now offering will not remain forever.
Are you anticipating His return with confidence...a confidence that rests not in yourself, but in Him and the work that He both anticipated and accomplished on the cross?