Jesus, The Ark, And The Day Of Atonement: Intertextual Echoes In John 19:38-20:18 -- By: Nicholas P. Lunn

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 52:4 (Dec 2009)
Article: Jesus, The Ark, And The Day Of Atonement: Intertextual Echoes In John 19:38-20:18
Author: Nicholas P. Lunn


Jesus, The Ark, And The Day Of Atonement: Intertextual Echoes In John 19:38-20:18

Nicholas P. Lunn*

* Nicholas P. Lunn is translation consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators and resides at Alfriston, Rectory Lane, Wallington, Surrey, England SM6 8DX.

Many biblical commentators and preachers have seen in John 20:12 an allusion to the ark of the covenant. The text tells us that on the morning of the resurrection Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the empty tomb and upon stooping down to look inside: “She saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet.” On the position of the angels described here Lenski comments that it “has well been compared with the position of the cherubim at either end of the mercy seat or lid on the ark of the covenant.”1 Lenski does not cite any specific sources, but others who make this comparison, both old and new, are not difficult to find.2

It is, of course, a legitimate hermeneutical question to ask whether these scholars and preachers are making too much of a coincidental detail—the superficial resemblance of the angels at either end of the burial slab and the cherubim on the ark—or whether the Gospel writer himself made such an association that he wished his readers to detect? To ascertain whether there is a deliberate reference to the ark or not, confirmation needs to be sought through the presence of other similar allusions in the surrounding context. This article first establishes that a number of related allusions are in fact to be found and the details are described. Second, the matter of the theological implications of such allusions is explored. Third, in the light of the findings of the foregoing sections, the question of the enigmatic words of Jesus concerning his ascension to the Father (John 20:17) is reviewed.

Since John 20:12 relates to both the burial and resurrection of Christ, we will take the whole of 19:38-20:18 as the basis of our investigation.

I. Echoes From The Torah

Within the Mosaic law, there are several passages in which the ark of the covenant is prominent, either by its frequency of mention, or by the role it plays. Principal of these are those which concern the construction of the ark (Exod 25:10-22; 37:1-9

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