I’m reading a book by Chris Skinner of Cruxsolablog called Reading John (review). Throughout the book Skinner takes a rhetorical approach to John’s Gospel and shows the reader how to read John by the way John begins his Gospel, the way he portrays his characters, and they way they interact with Jesus.
In his chapter called An Alien Tongue, he gives us some examples of irony.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Greek term here… [katalambanō]… can be used of comprehending as well as overcoming. It is functioning ironically here, because both nuances prove to be as true as the narrative progresses; those who are shrouded in darkness fail to understand Jesus and while the forces of darkness attempt to overcome Jesus, they ultimately fail (86).
Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?
The reader knows more about Jesus than the characters, for John gives the reader the Prologue (1.1-18). We know that Jesus is the Word who was with God and who is God (1.1). He came into the world (1.9) and lived among people (1.14). So the reader knows what Jesus means when he says he is going to “him who sent me.” “[He] must return to the Father” (86). We understand, but the Jewish leaders do not.
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
The chief priests and the Pharisees are brainstorming over what to do about Jesus. If they allow him to perform his signs, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11.48). But Caiaphas speaks “about what is good for the nation. His point is that it is better for the Romans to punish Jesus for his teachings, than for all of Israel to suffer at the hands of the Romans” (86).
The irony, of course, is that the reader knows Jesus must die for the sins of the world. It is his mission. What may be even more ironic though is that it will be because of Jesus’ death that Israel will be judged and in 70 AD the temple in Jerusalem will be razed (Matt 21.33-46; 24.1-51). Who will the Temple be razed by? None other than the feared Romans themselves. This is just what Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders didn’t want to have happen.
This is but a taste of the irony in the Gospel of John. There is double-entendre, multiple layers of meaning, and mass confusion all over. Reading John is a short little book, but it’s very helpful on accomplishing its title and teaching the reader to read John.