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When Heaven Thundered … And What It Meant

When Heaven Thundered … And What It Meant

By Bruce Corley, adapted from his contribution to the new Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two: 52 Reflections to Inspire & Instruct (Paul N. Jackson, Editor).

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:27-33)

The scenes recorded in John 12 bring the curtain down on the public ministry of Jesus. Here we see him speak his last words to the crowd and then hide himself from view (v. 36). The coming of the Greeks, asking to interview Jesus, marks the arrival of the appointed “hour” (v. 23). The “hour” is nothing less than the appointed time for Jesus’s death, resurrection, and exaltation—in short, his glorification. Now, dramatically, the request of the Greeks changes the clock. The shadows of death fell over Jesus, and he was deeply troubled (v. 27). His agonizing prayer closing with the resolve, “Father, glorify your name,” was answered with a thundering sound from heaven (v. 28). Some heard what they believed to be thunder; others heard audible speech—that of an angel (v. 29). Both alike were wrong. The thunder of heaven was the voice of God, a direct answer to Jesus’s petition: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28). What was garbled for the crowd was intended for their benefit, a witness to the significance of that hour, that prayer, and that inquiry from the Greeks.

On the one hand, the sound of thunder is no surprise; thunder signifying God’s majestic presence is commonplace in Scripture, as when Israel trembled at Sinai’s storm of thunder and lightning (Exod 19:16; cf. Job 37:2–5; Pss 18:11–13; 29:3–4; Rev 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). But, on the other hand, we are surprised that this episode—the arrival of the Greeks—should ignite such a startling response. The divine voice was heard on two important occasions in Jesus’s ministry: the baptism and the transfiguration. At each of these momentous events the Father’s voice, distinct and measured, embraced the Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7). Yet there is no thunder. In contrast, one gets the impression of power, majesty, and glory in the thundering voice of John 12. Surely it is a portent of something vitally important that God should roar his endorsement from heaven’s throne.

Heaven thunders assurance for a troubled heart. In v. 27, after the deliberative subjunctive “What shall I say?”, most versions understand another question, “Father, save me from this hour?” (NIV, NRSV, NASB, ESV, JB, GNB, NA28/UBS5), making the words a thought that Jesus refused to pray. But a positive prayer (KJV, RV, NEB, WH, SBLGNT, reading a full stop after ταύτης, “Father, save me from this hour”) fully accords with the Gethsemane prayer, “Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36), and reflects the troubled soul of Jesus. The word “trouble” signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, and agitation, a fearful foreboding of the death that loomed on the horizon (John 12:27; cf. 11:33; 13:21). The Father’s voice both affirms the Son’s courage and points to coming glory. Jesus endured the “hour” so that we need not be troubled (“Do not let your hearts be troubled”; John 14:1).

Heaven thunders the overthrow of the dark empire. With his exaltation, Jesus dethroned the prince of this world. This dramatic development twice comes under a powerful “now” (v. 31). “Now” emphasizes the final nature of the events that are impending. The judgment of the world and the destruction of Satan—these might all be reserved for the end times, but the end times have already begun. The decisive step has been taken. In the cross the ruler of this world has been “already judged” (16:11).

Heaven thunders the power of Jesus’s cross to draw all people. The Greeks are harbingers of the harvest to come. The death of Jesus, like seeds that fall into the ground, produces “much fruit” (12:24). By his cross he draws all to himself, no matter how unexpected, calling them out of darkness into light.

—Bruce Corley, Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two

How to Use This Book

Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two offers you 52 reflections from some of today’s best scholars of biblical Greek. The authors use a variety of exegetical approaches in their devotions—including grammatical, lexical, rhetorical, sociohistorical, and linguistic—and each devotion closes with a practical application or spiritual reflection.

Use this book as a weekly devotional or as a supplemental resource throughout a semester or sequence of courses. These devotions will inspire you to keep reading and meditating on the Greek New Testament and to find new treasures from the biblical text.