Friday, February 22, 2013

Judas Fish, Part 1: The Setup

Depending on which Gospel you follow, with Jesus now in the Jerusalem area for His grand finale, we reached the point in Matthew 26:3-4 and Mark 14:1-2 where the Chief Priests, Elders, and Teachers of the Law had gathered and plotted to kill Jesus. But according to John 11:47-53, this wicked congregation met at an earlier time to discuss their dark intents. As we explored in an earlier post, for John and John alone, this murderous meeting was a reaction to the rise of Jesus' great popularity following the resurrection of Lazarus, but none of the other Gospels know anything about that.

Then, again dependent on the Gospel you follow, an unnamed woman, or possibly Jesus' beloved friend Mary, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, on either His head or His feet, and possibly wiped His feet with her hair. Oh, how confusing the "truth" is at times. Confusing, and rather fishy...

This is Part 1 of a four part series entitled "Judas Fish." The series entries are:

Judas Fish, Part 1: The Setup
Judas Iscariot. Few names in Christendom evoke such hatred, such disgust, such contempt as his name. Judas was the one from Jesus' selected Twelve Apostles who, despite knowing Jesus personally, witnessing Jesus' miracles, and hearing Jesus' divine wisdom first-hand, chose to betray Jesus. The stench of that betrayal has carried through the centuries, but a careful examination instead reveals the pungent odor of rotten fish, as we investigate the story of Judas across the four Gospels in four parts.

Let us start with Mark, the normal source for Matthew and Luke. In Mark 14:10-11, Judas went to the Chief Priests, and they promised to give him money if agreed to help them capture Jesus. Simple. Concise. Baffling.

How could any of the Twelve Disciples, who had been with Jesus through most of His Gospel-recorded life, have any doubt as to who Jesus was? Jesus' miracles and wisdom should have spoken for themselves. Judas seems like either just a fictitious and convenient plot device or an echo of a real history which was about a man who was far less wonderful than the Jesus described in the Gospels; a man who could be doubted even by long-term eye-witnesses.

On the other hand, humans do not always act in logical ways, so we should allow for the possibility that, despite the evidence of divinity, something about Jesus rubbed Judas the wrong way, enough for Judas to play dice with his eternal soul.

Also baffling is how the Gospel writer Mark would have known about this clandestine meeting. Surely this would have been a private affair, so details of the timing and dealing of the meeting are almost certainly made up.

Matthew 26:14-16 takes that fictitious lead a bit farther to tie in a prophesy. His account is essentially the same as Mark's, except that Matthew adds the price of the deal: thirty pieces of silver, a relatively small fee. You may pass this price by without a second thought, but it is meant as a specific prophetic reference. No, it is not a reference to Exodus 21:32, the thirty-shekel fine a bull owner had to pay if that bull killed someone's slave. And it is not likely meant to be a reference to Leviticus 27:4, where God decreed thirty pieces of silver to be the value of a woman. Instead, this botched allusion is most probably a nod to Zachariah 11:12.

If you read the prophesy of Zechariah 11:4-17, you will find that the thirty pieces of silver was what the Jews had given for God, but in a completely different sense. There, God had solicited them to pay Him whatever they thought He was worth, and, when they only offered that paltry sum, He rejected them, and brought about a division between the (long gone by Jesus' time) Jewish nations of Judah and Israel, and promised to raise up for them a foolish shepherd. Not exactly a great tie in to Jesus, huh? But such is the typical nature of Christian "prophesy."

Luke 22:1-6 also extends the fictitious lead, but in a different direction. Luke was an editor who thought things through, and who was not afraid to tweak the story to make it better, at least in his mind. You know the objection discussed earlier about how nearly impossible it would be for someone who really knew Jesus' power and knowledge to betray Him? Luke solves that problem with a simple addition: In Luke 22:3, Satan entered Judas. With Satan inside Judas, controlling Judas, there is no mystery as to how Judas could have betrayed Jesus.

Other than that, Luke's account is essentially the same as Mark's version. Yet Luke also failed to see that there is no way that he could have known about Satan entering Judas, just like he would not have known about the meeting Judas had with the priests.

In John 13:1-2, we do not explicitly find Judas conspiring with the priests, but we do see similar unknowable knowledge that by the time that the Passover dinner had approached, Satan had "already prompted" Judas to betray Jesus.

As opposed to Luke's version, John's wording suggests that possibly Judas was prompted, that is tempted, by Satan instead of being directly controlled by Satan, meaning that Judas had made the choice of his own free will to betray Jesus.

However, John's Gospel uniquely plays up Judas' evil nature more often in the whole Gospel story. In John 6:60-71, Jesus knew that there was a deceiver in the ranks, explicitly called him a devil. In John 12:4-6, Judas was painted as a thief. So overall, John is giving us the impression that Judas was rotten from the beginning.

(The fact that both Luke and John mention Satan with Judas may be significant regarding the origin of their source material. As noted in the previous study on the anointing of Jesus, both Luke and John shared the branch of deviation where the woman anointed Jesus' feet as opposed to His head. However, because of the way John portrays Judas as evil multiple times in his Gospel versus Luke's nearly non-mentioning of him until the point of deception, I suspect that these Satanic influences evolved independently of each other. In fact, Luke's only other previous mention of Judas, as with Matthew and Mark, is when the names of the Twelve Disciples are listed. There, in Luke 6:16, it says that Judas "became a traitor," suggesting a change in his nature.)

So that is the setup. Judas, either on his own, controlled by Satan, or merely influenced by Satan, conspired with the Chief Priests to ransom Jesus' life. The Gospel writers had no shame in recording more than they factually knew, such as the timing and details of the meeting, the extent of the influence of Satan, or the sum of money exchanged that just-so-happened to conveniently tie into a prophesy.

But perhaps this is a hasty judgement. As suspiciously fictitious as these details appear, perhaps they got these details from third-person accounts, or through divine channels. So let us just keep these in mind as we continue in our study of Judas.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Jesus had revealed the various signs of the End, concluding with an emphasis to be vigilantly ready for His Return. Then, as we continued on in Matthew, and cross-referenced Luke, we saw how there was some language suggesting a possible extended wait for Jesus' return, language which is absent from the earliest Gospel; Mark.

In Matthew 26:1-2, Jesus predicted His upcoming fate. With that, we jumped over to John's parallel track, where Jesus also predicted His fate while in Jerusalem, and took us on a strange journey of misquotes and missed connections of Jesus. John followed that up with some misquotes of prophesy. One of these quotes revealed to us that God purposefully (figuratively) blinded and hardened the hearts of some Jews so that they could not repent, and thereby God could apply His wrath to them.

Stepping back to the "synchronous" Synoptic Gospels, in Matthew 26:3-5 and Mark 14:1-2 we find the Chief Priests, Elders, and Teachers of the Law gathering then to figure out how to arrest and kill Jesus. Matthew even involved the High Priest Caiaphas in the plot. As mentioned in a previous post, in John 11:47-53 on the other hand, had this malevolent meeting of the religious elite prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem and in response to Jesus' popularity following His resurrection of Lazarus, which is not mentioned by any other Gospel.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
On the list of things you would want in your holy book, you would think that "truth" would be pretty high up there. Sure, it may be a complex, nuanced truth which does not lend itself well to simple descriptions, but still you would want some assurance that the words of revelation are accurate, and that the events which are recorded therein did happen as described. Without that basic level of veracity, there is no way to tell if the message you have received is divinely crafted, or instead devilishly enhanced by later authors seeking to provide a "better" version of the truth. Fortunately with regards to the Bible, the four Gospel accounts allow us to compare and contrast each other to help us discern what kind of "truth" we really have with them. Take the story of the woman anointing Jesus, for example.

Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 tell the story almost identically. It goes like this:
Near the time of the Last Supper after Jesus had made His Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, in Simon the Leper's house, which was in Bethany (in the region of Judea, near Jerusalem), a woman poured an alabaster jar of expensive perfume on Jesus' head while He was reclining at the table. Some people objected to the waste of money which could have been used to help the poor, but Jesus said that they would always have the poor with them, but they would not always have Jesus, and that her anointing had been for His upcoming burial. (My paraphrase)
The only mentionable differences in these two accounts is that Mark identified the perfume as being pure nard and had those who objected harshly rebuking the woman, while Matthew does not name the perfume type or explicitly mention the rebuke, but does identify the people objecting as being some disciples. These are fairly insignificant changes. The accounts are so close, but have enough differences, that you may think that they are from independent witness, except for the fact that there are some spots where they match 100% identically word for word, which indicates copying. This includes the memorable conclusion to the episode in Matthew 26:13 and Mark 14:9 where Jesus said:
"I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." NIV
It is interesting, and bizarre, that this story would be told in the memory of what this woman did, and yet this woman was not named by either author. That is not much of a legacy of memory of her.

Perhaps more noteworthy here are Jesus' words saying that wherever the Gospel is preached, this story will also be told about this mysteriously unnamed woman. Before the New Testament became canonized into one volume as we know it today, these four Gospels were circulated independent of each other. So for Jesus' words to be true, we should find similar accounts in Luke and John. Indeed, that is what we find... sort of.

We find a story of a woman anointing Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. Did you notice the chapter number? According to Luke, this happened much earlier in the Gospel timeline, and that is not the only difference. But first, how about the similarities: at a house owned by a man named Simon, an unnamed woman anointed Jesus with perfume from an alabaster jar while He was reclining at a table. Sounds familiar, right? But wait: This happened in the region of Galilee, long before Jesus' Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. This Simon was a Pharisee, not a leper. The woman anointed Jesus' feet, not His head, and also cried on His feet and wiped them with her hair. Only Simon objected to this anointing, but not because of the wasted money. Rather, he objected because this unnamed woman was a sinner and yet was touching Jesus. According to Luke, Jesus ends the episode by forgiving this sinful woman and telling her that she was saved by her faith.

This is the only anointing episode that Luke recorded. If it is supposed to be the same event as what Matthew and Mark recorded, then Luke got too many major details wrong, or visa-versa, and that makes the Gospel accuracy questionable beyond even this episode. If it is intended to be a different event, then there are a suspicious number of similarities between the two, and Jesus' words regarding the story of Matthew's and Mark's unnamed woman always being shared along with the Gospel become untrue.

I believe that Luke's episode is actually supposed to be the same story, but Luke edited it according to his desired message and philosophy. If I am correct, Luke obviously did not like the thought of Jesus' disciples rebuking the woman for wasting money on Jesus, so he re-framed the objection into a lesson on forgiveness.

Beyond that, this unnamed woman anointed Jesus' feet and wiping them with with her hair seems a bit odd in Luke's account. Did Luke just dream up these details on his own, perhaps to make the woman seem even more humble? No. That alteration happened before Luke got to it. And we can know that with some degree of certainty, as well as identify Luke's account as originating from the same anointing story, by turning to the last Gospel: John.

In John 11:2, we get a teaser aside comment from the author:
(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) NIV
This is at the beginning of the story which eventually results in Jesus resurrecting His beloved friend Lazarus. Not only did Jesus love Lazarus (John 11:3), but He loved Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha too (John 11:5). It is bizarre that this little family, so well loved by Jesus, is not specifically referenced in regards to the story of Jesus' anointing by any of the other Gospels, especially given its equally neglected, yet associated, tie in with Lazarus' resurrection?

In fact, John 12:1-8 would have you believe that this anointing came at a dinner held in Jesus' honor because of the resurrection of Lazarus. John had this event happen just before Jesus' Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, not after, but it does occur in Bethany. Whose house this happened at is not explicitly given, but the implication is that it was Lazarus' house (John 12:1). Mary anointed Jesus while He was reclining at the table, explicitly doing so with nard, which ties into Mark's version. These coincidences speak of a common origin for this anecdote.

However, Mary anointed Jesus' feet with the nard instead of His head, and then wiped His feet with her hair, which ties into Luke's version. This implies that the version John included in his Gospel had deviated from the original source material, and that Luke and John had their versions sourced from the same "branch" of that deviation. Perhaps it was an error in oral storytelling, or perhaps it was an intentional modification by an unknown author who found it offensive that the woman in the original version anointed Jesus' sacred and holy head. Anointing His feet was much less controversial. In either case, by the time Luke and John had this resource for their Gospels, it had changed.

Yet the story had not changed very much. As the account continues in John, there was an objection to the woman wasting the money for the perfume on Jesus instead of giving it to the poor, to which Jesus replied about them always having the poor with them, just like in the original Mark version. John's version does have a slight tweak to that; identifying the objecting disciple as being Judas, the one who would later betray Jesus.

By comparing Luke to Matthew/Mark and John, it becomes apparent that this is indeed another case where Luke applied his editing skills to tell the story his way instead of the true way. If Luke had thought of assigning the objection-blame to Judas, perhaps he would have kept the story the way it was. Judas, in this episode, was likely a later inclusion to the Gospel storyline, just like the resurrected Lazarus and his sister, Mary, being the woman doing the anointing, because John was not afraid to tell the story the way he wanted to tell it either.

All of this evidence points to the incontrovertible conclusion that there is fiction within the Gospels. It may be accidental. It may be (as I suspect in most cases) purposeful. But either way, or through any mix of those two paths, it is obvious that the "truth" of the Gospels as a whole is questionable, and furthermore it is blatantly wrong in some places.

(On a side note, you may remember referencing this inconsistency in less detail in a previous study which had gotten us searching for the identity of Martha and Mary.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Judging the Blinded

After Jesus' Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, some Greeks sought out an audience with Him. Jesus replied to that request indirectly by predicting His death, telling people to hate their lives and follow Him, getting God to speak, giving reminder of the impending Judgement Day, and then hiding from everyone.

Judging the Blinded
If you are denied access to knowing the right thing to do, should you be punished for not doing the right thing? Have you got an answer in your mind? How would that change if I told you that the person in charge of distributing that knowledge, the one who denied you access to that information, was the same person judging you and assigning the punishments for not knowing what to do? What then? But what are our thoughts worth here, really? Why not check in to see what God thinks about the matter?

We start our study with John 12:37-38. This is immediately after Jesus had talked to crowd and then hid Himself away. In these verses John stated that despite the signs that Jesus performed in their presence, "they" (contextually meaning most of the Jews) did not believe in Jesus, and this fulfilled the prophetic verse from Isaiah 53:1. Isaiah 53 is the longest single Old Testament prophesy which has been applied to Jesus, and, unlike many other alleged prophesies, it actually appears to be somewhat accurate at first glance. However, in a recent post I explained the contextual reasons why that prophesy is unlikely to be meant for Jesus.

Next we come to two of the most revealing verses about the nature of God. In John 12:39-40 we see:
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
"He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them." NIV
First note that "they could not believe," as in they had no choice in the matter. Belief was not possible. That feeds into the quote from Isaiah which followed.

If you are unfamiliar with the source of this quote, you might think that that "He" is supposed to represent Satan. After all, who else would be blinding people from the truth and deadening their hearts to prevent them from repenting and being healed by God? Well, guess again.

John has misquoted Isaiah 6:10, which reads:
"Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." NIV
If you read the entire short prophesy of Isaiah 6, you will see that the context of this verse is that God was cursing the Israelites/Jews because He really wanted to punish them. It was God who was blinding their eyes and making their hearts hard. They had been in a cycle of backslide-repent-backslide, and so God wanted to send them a message that they would not forget so quickly; exile from the Promised Land. But He was afraid that if they repented, He would then be obligated to forgive them and subsequently would be prevented from getting His memorable message across.

By John using those verses here, he provided a crystal clear meaning: God prevented them from believing. However, as opposed to a seventy-year exile which happened the first time, this time there were more eternal consequences involved. God damned them to Hell; not even giving them the option to choose to believe in the Salvation offered through Jesus.

Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog may remember that I highlighted how Jesus had quoted this same verse from Isaiah as a response to the question of why He spoke in parables. The purpose of the parables was to exclude certain people from the Salvation option.

Ironically the next verse, John 12:41, states how Isaiah had said this because he had seen Jesus' glory. In my opinion, there is nothing glorious about judging against the blind for not being able to see, especially if you are the one who blinded them. In fact, it is morally reprehensible.

Moving on to (perhaps) less repugnant matters, John 12:42-43 is a good example of pious fiction in the Gospels:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in [Jesus]. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. NIV
This is the kind of passage you read without giving it a second thought, because it seems reasonable. This is better than the Isaiah reference above, because clearly these people did have a choice in the matter of their Salvation. But when you think about these verses, you may realize that they have to be made up, because if these believers would not confess their faith, how is it then possible that John knew that they had believed?

In yet another seemingly odd splice(?), John 12:44 begins "Then Jesus cried out..." As you may remember from the previous study, the last thing that we have record of Jesus doing was leaving the crowd and hiding from them (John 12:36). So apparently Jesus yelled out the subsequent monologue after He had hidden Himself away from everyone. Jesus howling this speech to an absent crowd is not the only strange thing about it...

John 12:44-45 begins by discussing the vicarious nature of Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, you believe in God. Etc. Nothing too strange there, but let us move on to the next verse.

In John 12:46, Jesus claimed that His purpose was to be a light to the dark world. That in itself is not strange, until you consider another factor. In Matthew 5:15, Mark 4:21, Luke 8:16, Luke 11:33, Jesus Himself explained (metaphorically) that you should not hide that kind of light, but instead let it shine in a way that people can see by it. Yet, as noted above, Jesus said this after hiding Himself from the crowd (John 12:36)!

As Jesus continued on in John 12:47-48, we get the picture of Jesus playing a little bit of the "good cop/bad cop" routine. He said that He came to save the world, not to judge it, and explicitly claimed that He would not be the one to judge it. That is the "good cop" version of Jesus. Jesus had already played the "bad cop" in John 5:22-30 and John 9:39, where He explicitly claimed that He would indeed be the judge of all.

Jesus closed out His screaming schizophrenic soliloquy in John 12:49-50 by explaining that He had only said what God had told Him to say. If that is the case, either God morally disgusting and mentally disturbed, or God was playing one tremendous practical joke on Jesus. Or maybe, just maybe, this is all a myth.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Strange Mind of John

It is time to break off from the Synoptic Gospel storyline and catch up with John. It is interesting to note that Matthew had Jesus enter Jerusalem at the start of Chapter 21 of his Gospel, which has 28 chapters total (~71% of the way through); Mark at Chapter 13 out of his 16 (~75%); Luke at Chapter 19 out of his 24 (~77%); while John mentioned it in Chapter 12 of his 21 total chapters (~54%).

This is a little fictitious, because the Gospel writers themselves did not arrange their texts into chapters; that was a much later invention. Still, the relative comparison is exhibits that John placed a significantly large percentage of his Gospel after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem; more than any other Gospel. We pick up this study in John's timeline right after that Triumphant entry.

The Strange Mind of John
If you are an emotional reader, if you probe out the deep meanings and ruminate on the essence of the text, the Gospel of John may seem like a bastion of the love and grace of God. But if you are detail oriented, if you take note of exactly what was said and you compare it against the rest of the text, the Gospel of John takes you on a strange journey, indeed. Verses which appear to be nothing less than divine in their messages are interwoven into a fabric of utter nonsense and palpable fiction, to say nothing of some morally challenging material as well. Join me as we journey into John's strange mind.

According to John 12:20-22, some Greeks (a.k.a. Gentiles) went to Jerusalem to worship during Passover, and they asked Philip (one of the Twelve Disciples) if they could meet with Jesus. Remember that premise, because it is not clear that John did.

In John 12:23-24 we find:
Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." NIV
As we can see, this is a reply, and, given the context, this is specifically a reply to these Greeks asking for an audience with Jesus, but this reply has nothing to do with that request. Instead, it appears to be a reference to Jesus' upcoming death and resurrection, as well as being yet another reference to bad Biblical science right from the mouth of Jesus. A dead seed does not produce anything; the seed must survive in order to grow and produce more seeds.

Hold on tight, because the reply does not end there, and it will be a bumpy ride going forward.

In John 12:25, Jesus continued with:
"The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." NIV
These are some pretty potent words here. Hate this life in order to gain an eternal one. John did not come up with this idea on his own. You may remember a previous study where Matthew and Luke also harped on this theme, to the extent of even hating your wife and children to gain eternal reward. This may be a vestigial sentiment representing the ascetic underpinnings of at least parts of the early Christian community. I say vestigial, because you will rarely run into Christians who practices that level of give-up-all-to-get-all devotion, but I think that is a good thing. Those who do have that level of devotion are a bit scary.

In John 12:26, Jesus said that you must follow and serve Him in order to be honored by God the Father, so nothing special there.

However, we do see something special in John 12:27, where Jesus said:
"Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour." NIV
Presumably speaking about His upcoming crucifixion, Jesus said that although He was not looking forward to the events ahead, He would not try to get out of them because they are the very reason that He was there on earth. This is the kind of divine insight the Gospel of John excels at, for how could it be any other way? Jesus knew His future and His purpose according to God's plan. Yet (as I discussed in some detail in a much earlier post) the other Gospel writers would have you believe that Jesus prayed to God to get out of the crucifixion if that was possible (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42).

Just a quick reminder here: as far as the text indicates, it appears that it is still part of Jesus' reply to Philip regarding the Greeks.

In John 12:28-30 is a fun scene where Jesus told God to glorify Himself, and then God spoke about glorifying Himself, which the crowd thought was either the sound of thunder or an angel speaking. Jesus then informed the crowd that hearing God's voice was for their benefit. Presumably the "benefit" was to help those people believe that Jesus was who He was claiming to be. If only today we could hear from God that way, which He seemed so willing to do back then, we might have more believers and better Christians... On second thought, maybe we do hear from God that way today, every time there is a thunderstorm. ;-)

Of course, there is the question of whether or not there was supposed to be a "today" as we know it nearly 2000 years later. In John 12:31 Jesus said:
"Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." NIV
Now "now" is a relative term, for sure. If we had only the first half of that verse, we could even stretch it out closer to being something akin to Thomas Paine's famous words "These are the times that try men's souls," referring to an ongoing process of judgement. However, with the addition of the "prince of this world" (a.k.a. Satan) being driven out "now" as well, this speaks more of the final time of judgement; Judgement Day. For John, the End was near as well. Yet in our times all too often I hear how "demonic forces are on the rise" from fundamentalists and other apocalyptic-minded believers, so apparently Satan has not been driven out at all, either now-back-then or now-now.

Continuing on from there, we see how quickly the theological excellence observed earlier gives way for awkward clumsiness. In John 12:32-34, Jesus continued:
"But I (Jesus), when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.
The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" NIV
First, let us start with the editorial comment John made which I so enjoy: "He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die." It is amusing that John thinks that he knows the mind of Jesus/God so well as to fully understand Jesus' intents. Apparently, His ways are John's ways too. On the other hand, we should be grateful to John for clarifying this, because I would have thought that being "lifted up from the earth" might have instead referred to Jesus' ascension into Heaven.

But then again, I should not have thought along those lines. As you may remember from a previous study, in John 3:14 Jesus told us that He must be "lifted up" just like Moses lifted the bronze snake up in the desert. John 8:28 also mentions Jesus being "lifted up" as a reference to Jesus' death. (FYI, John is the only Gospel to mention Jesus being "lifted up.") However, it may have been confusing for the audience to whom Jesus was now speaking, given that they were probably not present for the previous "lifted up" references which happened long ago in the Gospel timeline. Indeed, that is what you find in the crowd's response... or at least John's telling of the crowd's response.

John's crowd appears to understand this as if Jesus is going away, which is contrary to what they know "from the Law." For those of you who may not know, "the Law" is a reference to the first five books of the Bible, and it is completely devoid of any mention of an anointed leader (a.k.a. a Messiah or Christ) lasting forever, so John messed up there.

You may have noticed another mistake John made: Jesus said "I am lifted up," but John wrote that the crowd quoted that Jesus had said that the "Son of Man must be lifted up" and then asked who the "Son of Man" is! This kind of bumbling mistake is likely either due to careless splicing of source material or John's chaotic mind working faster than what he was writing and getting lost in his place within the story.

We will close out this study with just a touch more of John's mental schism. In John 12:35, Jesus did not answer the crowd's questions, but instead He urged them to walk in the light while they still had it available. In John 12:36, He ends the discussion with:
"Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When He had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them. NIV
You will remember that we started this whole section with some Greeks who were looking to have an audience with Jesus. They were literally seeking a personal relationship with Jesus. But what we have here turns the platitude of "seek and you shall find" into a game of hide-and-seek, as Jesus hides away from both the crowd and the inquisitive Greeks. John has a severe continuity problem.

On a side note, I find it hilarious that Jesus told them to walk in and trust in the light, meaning that they should obey, follow, and believe Him, and then He (the light according to John 1:4, John 8:12, John 9:5) immediately hid Himself from them. I know if I wanted people to trust me, that is exactly how I would act. ;-)