In the gospel of John we are told on five occasions concerning our Lord that ‘his hour had not yet come’, cf. 8.20, and in the same gospel we are also told on five occasions that ‘the hour is come’, cf. 12. 23. The initial mention of the time not being yet is in connection with the first miracle in Cana of Galilee when the Lord turned water into wine. In speaking to His mother the Lord is evidently indicating that the time for showing forth His glory had not yet arrived. Nevertheless He does take action, and the host of the wedding feast is spared the embarrassment of running out of wine. In fact the new wine was so good that the host is questioned as to why he had kept the best wine until last, which was contrary to convention. In this encounter the hour and the glory are closely jinked.
The other occasions the phrase is used are when people tried to put the Lord to death. This ambition had been fostered by many. The first to try was Herod and he was joined by others over the years, both the common people and those in positions of influence and authority. Attempts to put the Lord to death before His hour had come were doomed to failure because they were taking place too early. Let us examine this facet of the problem.
When Herod realised that the wise men had appreciated his real intention and had avoided reporting back to him by going out of the country by another way, he determined to exterminate the threat posed by a new king by killing all the male children under two years of age. This he initiated in the anticipation that the attack was broad enough to include the Child of whom the wise men had spoken. However, God had prepared Joseph for this eventuality by instructing him to take the Child down into the safety of Egypt. This he did; the plot failed; the Saviour was preserved.
It could be said that Herod failed because he was too late; the Child had been taken away in time, but in reality he failed because he was too early, ‘his hour had not yet come’.
Similarly, an attempt was made, in John 8, to stone the Saviour to death. However, He ‘hid himself … going through the midst of them, and so passed by’. This attack on the Lord’s life also failed because it was too early; His hour had not yet come, again recorded is an attempt to push Him over the edge of a cliff. That too failed abysmally. The reason was the same; His hour had not yet come.
In John chapter 7 the temple guards are sent to arrest Him so that the authorities might kill Him. As they approached they heard Him teaching the people who had gathered around Him. They listened and were overwhelmed by what they heard. They did not arrest Him and on reporting back to their masters they said, ‘never man spake like this man’, John 7. 46. Why had they not brought Him? His hour had not yet come! In the same chapter we see Christ, again in the temple environs, surrounded by interested passers by and engaged in teaching them. We are informed that no man laid hands on Him. Why not? His hour had not yet come; it was still too early.
In Mark chapter 4 Satan seems to lend a hand. The Saviour is asleep in the hinder part of a ship and the storm, or earthquake in the deep, possibly instigated by Satan, threatens to sink the ship and to drown the occupants. This rather more sophisticated attempt also failed; His hour had not yet come.
Thus, every endeavour, whether from kings, guards, the authorities, the common people or the Devil all met with the same result. They all failed; they were too early; the time was not yet.
In John chapter 13 the dramatic announcement is made that the hour has come. In John chapter 17 we appreciate that this is not just to be the occasion of the Lord’s death. It was linked closely with glory, both for the Father and the Son. ‘Father the hour is come, glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee’, John 17. 1. In the same way, in John VI, the death of Lazarus is linked with glory for the Father and the Son. Whether it be the exodus of the Son or the passing away of the saints, both Father and Son are glorified thereby.
At Calvary the Lord suffered death by crucifixion. An appalling death, yet specially favoured by the Romans because by it they could determine how long the victim should live. Even on the cross the victims enduring crucifixion would, like men everywhere, struggle to the last in a vain yet determined effort to slay alive. A feature of this was that due to the nature of crucifixion, the weight of a man’s body soon crushed lifegiving air from his lungs; he would die of suffocation. To combat this he would use his legs to thrust himself upwards on the cross, thus temporarily reducing the pressure on his lungs, enabling him to breath again more freely. This struggle could go on for a long time and if the Romans wanted a man to suffer torture for a long time, even days, they simply left him alone to die slowly. However if they wanted to end his struggle, and his life at their convenience, they broke his legs and the battle was over in minutes.
The Jews were aghast that on this occasion the bodies might remain on the crosses into the Sabbath day. Therefore they besought Pilate that their legs be broken. Soldiers were detailed for this grim task. When they came first to the malefactors they broke their legs, thus prematurely ending their struggle. Then they came to Jesus. At this point it seemed that at last men could take the Saviour’s life. There He was, apparently helpless. All that needed to be done was that I lis legs should be broken. All earth and hell raised their hands in support of the foul deed about to be enacted. They had waited a long time; now is the moment to strike.
However, John tells us, ‘And when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was dead already, so they brake not his legs’. Pilate, we are told, marvelled that He were so soon dead. In the moments before His legs were to be broken the Saviour gently bowed His head and commended His spirit into the Father’s hand. For over 33 years men had been too early, and now, at the last minute, they were too late! The hour had come and had gone. The Father and Son were glorified and wicked scheming men were disappointed and confused.
Initial attempts on the life of Christ failed because they were too early. The final attempt failed because it was too late. How true, how beautiful, how sublime the words of the Saviour, ‘No man taketh my life from me. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again’. In His own good time He laid it down and in three days He took it again!
Thus are the designs of men frustrated. They can never get the timing right. Always too early or too late, it is too true that they are easily defeated by a God who works with precision to a divine timetable: in the fulness of time; in due time; the hour is come; the exact day that He was taken up; in the twinkling of an eye. May we therefore rejoice that, eventually, the hour did come; Father and Son were glorified; Satan and men comprehensively defeated and blessing reserved for the saints of all ages.