You may think that the trial of Jesus only takes place in the latter part of John’s gospel narrative; however, there is a trial motif running through the entire Gospel. What do we mean by a trial motif?  The narrative structure and story elements suggest that the evangelist John, rather than declare Jesus’ identity through a strictly historical account, deliberately weaved the story of Jesus into a type of courtroom drama. Jesus is the one on trial. The charge is that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. In the Gospel narrative, there are witnesses who testify in the course of their encounters with Jesus, both for him and against him. There is courtroom language sprinkled throughout the text, words like ‘witness’, ‘testimony’, ‘condemned’, ‘judged’. The Gospel characters all play parts in the trial of Jesus. The gospel offers an array of people who encounter Jesus, hear his teachings, watch his miracles, are healed themselves, threatened and reviled by Jesus. Each gets to bear witness to the truth about Jesus. Some say he is holy; others demonic.

Of all those who meet and interact with Jesus, there is one group of witnesses for the defense who openly state that Jesus is no ordinary man. These include John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” (John 1:7)

 John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”(John 1:15)

and the apostle Philip:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

The encounter with the woman at the well produces another strong witness, this one not a Jew, but a Samaritan:

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did’.”(John 4:39)

The man born blind told the Pharisees that Jesus had restored his sight because: “He is a prophet.” (9:17).

The witness who offers the most positive statements about Jesus is “the beloved disciple,” the evangelist John himself:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John 1:14)

 He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.(19:35)

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

There are also witnesses who are not living human witnesses, but yet offer testimony that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Scriptures testify for Jesus, as Philip points to the Scriptures:

We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”(John 1:45)

Jesus also refers to evidence from the OT: “You search the Scriptures…it is they that bear witness.”(5:39). God himself offers testimony as Jesus declares “The Father who sent me bears witness.” (8:18). Jesus also calls on the Spirit, “who will bear witness about me.” (15:26). Finally, Jesus himself is a witness for his defense.

His miraculous works attest to his divinity (5:36, 14:11)

11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:11)

36But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.(John 5:36)

Jesus speaks on his own behalf:

 “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.(John 8:14)

18I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”(John 8:18)

In the trial motif, John also introduces the other side: those opposed to Jesus, witnesses for the prosecution. Notable among these are   the chief priests and rulers:

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, and crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” (John 19:6)

The chief religious authorities even move to silence the witnesses to Jesus ‘ miracles:

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.(John 12:10)

John chose to employ the trial motif to engage the reader and put him in the courtroom.  As the reader navigates the story, he, like the characters, has to react to the evidence about Jesus. John ultimately puts the reader on trial for “there is a judge for those who do not believe” (12:48). If the reader decides for Jesus, there is a promise: “Whoever believes is not condemned.” (3:18).

In his trial motif, John turns his courtroom cameras from Jesus and the characters in the gospel to the reading audience and subtly asks:  Reader, what is your testimony? Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and if so, have you believed and declared?

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments (3)