The Ironies of Life
John Telgren

One of the characteristics of the Gospel of John is irony. Sometimes it takes multiple readings to actually see the irony. Here are some of the examples of the more obvious ironic passages in the Gospel of John.

Therefore Jesus said, "For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come." The Jews then said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?" (John 7:33-35). They never dreamed that the mission of Jesus would reach out beyond the Greek world.

The Pharisees then answered them, "You have not also been led astray, have you? No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” (John 7:47-48). But there were Pharisees like Nicodemus who believed!

Then He said again to them, "I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come." So the Jews were saying, "Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, 'Where I am going, you cannot come'? (John 8:21-22). Little did they know that Jesus was headed to the cross.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish" (John 11:49-50). Jesus would die for the people, but not in way Caiphas meant, which was to kill one person to stop the Christian movement in order to prevent the Romans from taking over to restore order.

The characters in the story sometimes miss the truth altogether, and other times they utter truths without understanding. As a literary technique, irony is more than an enjoyable or playful feature of a text. It is subversive yet subtle. It reveals truth to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, yet obscures it from others even when it is right in front of them.

So what does this literary technique remind us who have eyes to see and ears to hear? Some of the themes in John are the struggles between light and darkness, truth and untruth, being from above vs. being from below. There’s "true" light and there is "false" light. We know far more than the human characters in the story, and are often hard on them. We need to take a lesson from those who just didn't get it. This should stand as a reminder that we need to always struggle to look deeper as the disciples did, rather than be smug in our conclusions as the "Jews" were. Not only do we need to constantly live in the word, we also need to pray for wisdom and be as honest as possible with ourselves before God, as we struggle to grow in wisdom, insight, and discernment.