Some time ago I visited a member of my congregation in hospital. He said to me: ‘Reverend, I am finished. I want to go home.” In this case, “to go home” has a double meaning. On the one side he wanted to go home to rest, without all the pipes and monitors connected to his body. On the other hand, he wanted to die and “go home” to his eternal home with God!
We would all understand the expression with this double meaning.
John uses words with double meaning in an extraordinary way.
In the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explained that nobody on earth had ever been in heaven, except for Him, the Son of Man. Then He said that He had to return to heaven. Returning to heaven is of course an extremely exaltation or glorification. John could have used the word “doxa” which would serve perfectly, had it only been about the glorification of Jesus. But in this conversation John used the word “huposyte”. This word however, has a double meaning. On the one side, it does mean to lift up or exalt a person. On the other side it is an euphemism for crucifixion! Jesus had to be exalted back to heaven, but via the cross! Crucifixion was the cruellest form of execution in the Roman era!
The word “huposyte” is used in Matthew 11:23 and in Luke 10:15 where it clearly means only exaltation: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades.” (English Standard Version) This is the normal use of this word, but John used it with its double meaning.
Where the other evangelists speak of crucifixion, they use “stauron”, the normal word for crucifixion.
All the Bibles that I could examine, correspond with the King James Version of John 3:14 by just stating that the Son of Man must be “lifted up”.
“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.” (English Standard Version)
No translation brings the meaning of exaltation to the fore, though it is implicated in the verse. Only through careful studying the original Greek, this is revealed.
John is the only evangelist who used this word with its double meaning intended. The other evangelists used this word only in its meaning of exaltation.
Matthew 23:12: ”And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (American Standard Version)
The way John used this word here in John 3:14, it is clear that he actually meant it to be understood in its double meaning, not only as crucifixion, but also as exaltation!
In John 8:12 – 30 Jesus explained to the Jews that He came from above, but they are from below. He would ultimately judge over them, but of course that would only happen after He had returned to the Father. In this paragraph Jesus then identified Himself as “I am He”, the Greek rendering in the Septuagint for the covenant name of God, Yahweh. Thereby He identified Himself with Yahweh. Returning to the Father is the ultimate exaltation of the Son of Man. But that would be done through the hands of the Jews, by crucifixion.
That is where we find this verse where John again used the same word “huposyte” with its double meaning intended:
“So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.“ (English Standard Version)
Surely both meanings of this word are equally in the centre of this announcement of Jesus.
Unfortunately I could not find an English translation depicting also the meaning of exaltation in this verse. We have to deduce this double meaning from the words “have lifted up”.
For a third time John used this word with its double meaning in mind.
Jesus explained to Andrew and Philip that the time has come for Him to be glorified “doxa”. But to achieve that, He had to die, like a kernel of wheat that can only then produce many seeds. This all is to glorify (doxa) his Father. Then Jesus spoke of the way He had to die. Here John again used this word “huposyte” with the double meaning intended. It is to the glorification of the Father, but also indicating the way He would die, through crucifixion.
“ ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ ” (English Standard Version.)
The crowd understood that He was speaking of crucifixion, but they would also hear in their minds the implication of glorification, the focus of the whole conversation.
Unfortunately this double meaning again has to be deduced from the expression “be lifted up. I could find no bible translating in that way.
These precious jewels in the Bible are only revealed through intense study of the text in its original Greek.
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