An appointed time for meeting or for religious festival, a brief moment of time, one twelfth of the day or of the night, and in the Gospel of John the significant period of Jesus' saving mission on earth from His triumphal entry until His death and resurrection.
Biblical Hebrew has no word for hour, only an expression for an appointed meeting time (1 Samuel 9:24 RSV). The New Testament term hora can refer to a general time of day, a “late hour” (Matthew 14:15 NRSV), to a brief moment of time (Revelation 18:17; compare
John 5:35), or to the time of an expected momentous event (Matthew 8:13;
Mark 13:11). It also designates a period of time, somewhat flexible in duration, one twelfth of the daylight hours and one twelfth of the night, a day being divided into the two periods (or watches) of light and darkness beginning at sunrise, making the seventh hour (John 4:52) about one p.m.
Jesus' hour is a central theme in John's Gospel, creating an emotional uncertainty and expectancy and a theological understanding of the central importance of Jesus' death and resurrection. In John's Gospel, “hour” usually refers to the period from the triumphant entry (John 12:23) until the climactic death and resurrection.
The reader of the Gospel first encounters the term in Jesus' reply to His mother's implicit appeal for help at the wedding in Cana: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Although His “hour” had not arrived, Jesus proceeded to perform His first sign, changing water to choice wine, thus manifesting His “glory” (John 2:11). The narrator informed the reader that this is only the beginning of signs (John 2:11). Since weddings and wine are associated in both Jewish and Christian thought with the messianic kingdom, the reader's expectations concerning Jesus' “hour” are quite traditional at this stage in the narrative (Isaiah 62:4-5;
Revelation 19:9; see also 1 Enoch 10:19; 2 Baruch 29:5). Jesus, surrounded by His family and His believing disciples, had manifested His glory at a wedding feast by supplying an abundance of choice wine. Still, His “hour” was yet to come, as were additional “signs.”
In His conversation with the woman at Sychar (John 4:1-42) Jesus referred again to a coming “hour” (John 4:21,John 4:23), a time when Jerusalem and Gerizim, the holy sites of Jews and Samaritans, respectively, would lose their significance, for worship—would be “in Spirit and truth.” The reader's expectations concerning Jesus' “hour” still take the form of a future manifestation of Jesus' messianic glory.
After healing the lame man on the Sabbath in Jerusalem, Jesus entered into a controversy with Jewish leaders over His authority (John 5:1-47). They wished to kill him for violating the Sabbath and for blasphemy (John 5:18). Jesus spoke of a coming “hour” when His own voice would call forth the dead from the tombs (John 5:28-29). This hour had, in fact, already arrived in some sense (John 5:25; compare
John 11:43-44). Thus far in the narrative, the reader has heard of Jesus' coming “hour” in which His glory will be manifested, Jerusalem and Gerizim will lose their significance, and life will be provided for the dead. Like the water in the stone pots at Cana, the meaning of all this would eventually be transformed into something far richer.
In the Capernaum synagogue following his feeding of the multitudes, Jesus again spoke of raising the dead “at the last day” (John 6:39-40,John 6:44). Although the discourse contains no reference to Jesus' hour, the reader is reminded of the statements in
John 5:28-29. A puzzling element is introduced in chapter six, however. Jesus clearly associated His ability to give life with His own death (John 6:51-58). This is the first time the reader has been asked to understand Jesus' “hour” in terms of death.
In chapter seven this association becomes more explicit. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sought Jesus' life, so He became unwilling to “walk in Judea” (John 7:1). Jesus' brothers challenged Him to make a public appearance in Jerusalem, but He refused because His “time [kairos, not hora] is not yet at hand” (John 7:6). He did proceed to the feast of tabernacles but on His own schedule (John 7:8-10). Jerusalem leaders continued to seek His life, but were unable to lay hands on Him because “his hour was not yet come” (John 7:30,John 7:44;
John 8:20,John 8:59;
John 10:31,John 10:39). The reader has by now developed strong suspicions that Jesus' “hour” somehow forebodes His death.
Suspicions are confirmed when, following more intense plots against His life (John 11:47-57) and a proleptic anointing for burial (John 12:1-8), Jesus made a public entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19). After some “Greeks” sought an audience with Him, Jesus announced for the first time, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). Jesus did not seek the hour; rather he sought deliverance from it (John 12:27). Still He knew the hour was necessary to glorify His Father (John 12:28). He then interpreted this “hour” as the time of his being “lifted up” in death (John 12:32-34; compare
John 3:14-15). In the references to Jesus' hour that follow, the association with His death is explicit (John 13:1-3;
John 17:1). In fact, the word occurs in the account of the crucifixion itself, when the narrator says of Jesus' mother, “from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:27).
The Johannine theme of Jesus' “hour” makes a significant theological contribution to the Gospel. As the reader encounters this motif repeatedly, a perspective on Jesus' death develops that is quite different from that gained in the other Gospels. Without trivializing the reality of Jesus' suffering and death, the Gospel of John presents that event as the “hour” of Jesus' “glory,” the time of His “exaltation/lifting up.” Jesus' death is the means by which eternal life is provided for the world (John 3:14-15;
John 6:51-53). From that hour on human distinctions no longer apply (John 4:21-24;
John 12:20-23). The glory of Jesus' death is found both in what it enabled him to offer the world (John 6:51-53;
John 7:37-39) and in its being the means by which He returned to the Father (John 13:1). The accounts of the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus in
John 20:1-21:23 serve to underscore the glory of His “hour.” See Glory; John; Time.
R. Robert Creech