Book Review: Isaiah Saw His Glory

IsaiahSawHisGloryTitle: Isaiah Saw His Glory: The Use of Isaiah 52-53 in John 12

Author: Daniel J. Brendsel

Series: Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Fur Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

Bibliographic info: 280 pp.

Publisher: Walter De Gruyter, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher

With thanks to Walter De Gruyter for the review copy.

Isaiah is one of the most notable influences from the Hebrew Bible on the Gospel of John, yet according to the author there is no book length study devoted to articulating the nature of this influence. In this study, the author seeks to fill this void by tackling the nature of the Isaianic influence on John, particularly in John 12 which he reckons “serves not simply as a transitional section or narrative hinge, but also somewhat as a precis of the message of the whole gospel.” In addition to this, the author focuses on implicit references to Isaiah, seeing the explicit Isaiah references in John 12:38-41 as being merely the tip of an “Isaianic iceberg.”

This study is divided into three parts.

The first part consists of three chapters. Chapter One looks at the use of Isaiah in the Gospel of John, particularly the role of John 12 in the Gospel’s narrative. Chapter Two then discusses methodological matters, including how to identify implicit references to Isaiah, and the use of Hebrew and Greek scriptures. Chapter Three then provides a reading of Isaiah 40-45 that takes into account the whole book of Isaiah, with the idea being to provide a possible way in which a first-century reader might have understood it.

The second part examines explicit reference to Isaiah in John and consists of another three chapters. Chapter Four is on the hardening of many Israelites found in Isaiah and quoted in John (John 12:37-50 and Isa. 6:9-10), the use of Isa. 6:9-10 in early Jewish literature, John’s textual use of Isa. 6:10, and his interpretation of Isa. 6:13. Chapter Five then looks at John 12:38 and Isaiah 53:1. Chapter Six discusses the glory that Isaiah saw, honing in on the antecedent of “these things” in John 12:41, which Brendsel sees as referring to both Isaiah quotations in 12:38-40.

The third and final part tackles implicit references to Isaiah in John and consists of four chapters. Chapter Seven is on the Suffering Servant of Isa. 52:13-15 and its relation to Jesus’ being lifted up and glorified in John 12:20-35. Chapter Eight talks about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and its relation to Isaiah, particularly in regards to Yahweh’s return to Jerusalem in Isa. 52:7-12. Chapter Nine is then on John’s portrayal of Jesus as the Isaianic herald of good news, especially seen in the use of Isa. 52:7 in John 12:1-8. Chapter Ten offers up the author’s concluding thoughts.

What is, in my opinion, the most interesting conclusion of this study is in regards to what John meant by saying that Isaiah saw the glory of Yahweh (John 12:41). In fact, wanting to know the author’s answer to this question is the reason why I requested the book in the first place. Clearly John sees the glory as belonging to Christ, but does this verse in John suggest that it was a glory Jesus possessed prior to the incarnation? Most commentators opt for this view, which is understandable since it is in-sync with the prayer of Jesus about the glory he had with the Father “before the world was” (John 17:5), as well as the fact the phrase “Isaiah saw his glory” is quite evocative of Isaiah’s vision of the glory of Yahweh in the temple (Isaiah 6). However, Brendsel convincingly argues that for John the glory is not just the glory Isaiah saw in the temple, but is “primarily” the future incarnate glory of Jesus, the Servant whose humiliation is his glory and whose suffering reveals Yahweh.

The author summarizes:

We have argued that when the logic of John 12:41, the immediate context, and John’s unique theology of glory and exaltation within the overall context of his apologetic aims are taken into account, the scales are tipped in favor of including Jesus’ incarnate glory as the rejected and crucified Christ in the reference to “his glory” in John 12:41b. (130)

Inspired by the multiple connections between Isaiah 6 and 52-53, John has produced some of the most dramatic Christological and salvation-historical innovations in the NT. Isaiah said “these things” in advance (both Isa 53:1 and Isa 6:10) because he was a prophetic witness to a glory that would both incorporate rejection and death and reveal its possessor to be included in the identity of Yahweh himself. For John, “Jesus’ death is the ultimate theophany.” (133; the author is quoting Craig Keener in that final sentence)

This was a thorough examination on the influence of Isaiah in John’s Gospel. One implicit allusion of Isaiah in John that I had never noticed before myself, but think the author did a fine job of proving is indeed an allusion, is the anointing of Jesus in John 12:1-8. This has an implicit reference to Isaiah seen in how John focuses in on Jesus’ feet, with Brendsel proposing that John focuses on the feet “in part, to echo the beautiful feet of the herald of good news in Isa 52:7” (212). The author did a fine job of revealing the allusions of Isa. 52:7-53:1 in John 12 and how the latter is modeled upon the progression found in the former, as well as how this was most likely done in order to identify Jesus with the Servant of Yahweh. If you’re into the Gospel of John, the intertextuality between the Old and New Testaments, or a New Testament theology of the glory of God, then this book is a valuable resource.

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