Often in biblical narratives, the order in which events unfold gives us clues as to how we’re meant to understand them. John’s passion narrative is no exception. As we work our way through the text of Genesis 2–3, we encounter an empty garden, the creation of Eve (from Adam’s side), a thorn-cursed creation, and a fiery guard (assigned to prevent access to the tree of life). Then, as we work our way through the text of John 18–19, we encounter (allusions to) the same things, but in reverse order. We begin with the effects of Adam’s sin (in answer to Genesis 3), rewind through the cultivation of Eden (Genesis 2:15), and end up in a barren garden (Genesis 2:5) .
John’s passion is thus framed as a story in which Jesus undoes Adam’s fall. First of all, he approaches the garden’s guards (equipped with torches and weapons), who fall backwards as he announces his identity (‘I am the one!’). Next, Jesus is brought before Pilate’s judgment seat, where he is crowned with thorns, i.e., where he takes responsibility for Adam’s sin. Thereafter, just as ‘Eve’ (whose name means ‘life’) is brought forth from Adam’s side, so a spear is thrust into Jesus’ side from which the water of life flows forth – an event which John notes to be the fulfilment of Scripture, exploiting the resonance between the words πλευρά = ‘side’ and πληρόω = ‘fulfil’ (19:34–37). And, finally, just as Eden is ‘planted’ in a land in which no one has previously laboured, so Jesus’ body/seed is planted in a tomb in which no one has previously lain. Adam comes from the dust; Jesus is buried in the ground. John’s passion thus takes us back to a pre-fall world—to a time prior to man’s transgression, to a place (the garden) prior to man’s exile, and to a state prior to creation’s curse, which it does by means of distinctly Johannine imagery.
John’s story, however, is far from over. Just as the darkness of the crucifixion is not a darkness which overcomes the light (but anticipates its arrival), so the barrenness of John 19’s garden is not the barrenness of infertility; it is a barrenness of an unformed world that anticipates new life. Buried within it is the body of Jesus—a grain of wheat which has died and fallen into the ground.