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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Hour

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HOUR.1. In several of their accounts of Christ’s healings, the Evangelists indicate the instantaneousness of the cures by some such expression as ‘He was healed in the selfsame hour’ (Matthew 8:13, cf. Matthew 9:22; Matthew 15:28; Matthew 17:18, John 4:53). More definitely the word is used as a division of the day (Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:5-6; Matthew 20:12; Matthew 27:45-46, cf Mark 15:33-34, Luke 23:44, John 1:39; John 4:6; John 4:52; John 19:14). The usual system of reckoning time was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and again from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. ‘In the 1st cent. of our era the day was divided, in popular language, into twelve equal parts or hours, which varied in length according to the season.… The expression, “the first hour,” indicated the time when the shadow on the dial reached the mark which showed that 1½ of the day had elapsed’ (Ramsay, Expositor, March 1893, p. 216 f.). The question has been raised, because of the apparent divergence between John 19:14 and Mark 15:25, whether St. John adopted another method of reckoning in the Fourth Gospel, viz. from midnight to midday, and from midday to midnight. Prof. Ramsay maintains that, though the Roman civil day was reckoned in this way, it was not divided into hours; and that the note of time when the martyrdom of Polycarp took place, ὤρᾳ ὀγδόῃ, does not prove its use in Asia Minor (l.c.). But the internal evidence of the Fourth Gospel points strongly to this mode of reckoning on the part of St. John. The tenth hour (John 1:39) is more probably 10 a.m. than 4 p.m., if the two disciples lodged with Jesus ‘that day.’ It harmonizes with the custom of Eastern women of drawing water in the evening, and accounts for the weariness of Jesus, if we take ‘the sixth hour’ of John 4:6 not as noon, but as 6 p.m. And although we cannot look for precision in point of time in Oriental writers, the divergence between the Synoptists and St. John as to the hour of Christ’s condemnation and crucifixion is too wide to be intelligible on any other hypothesis than that they used different systems of reckoning. But if the ‘sixth hour’ of John 19:14 means 6 a.m., there is no divergence (see Westcott, St. John, p. 282; Smith, The Days of His Flesh, pp. 528–529; and for the opposite view, Dods, Expos. Gr. Test. i. 698, 855, 856). See, further, artt. Day, Time.

2. But Jesus, living ‘in feelings, not in figures on a dial,’ and ‘counting time by heart-throbs,’ gave the word an intense significance. To Him days and hours were moral magnitudes. The appointed span was not small, but spacious (‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?’ John 11:9), to be employed in strenuous and loving obedience to the Divine will (cf. John 9:4). Until the sunset, He knew He had no reason to fear the hostility of men. Life would be as long as duty, and in the path of God’s service there are no tragic foreshortenings (John 11:8-9). But the twelfth hour of the day was that to which He so pathetically refers as ‘Mine hour.’ At the marriage feast in Cana, when appealed to by His mother with a suggestion for His help, He replied, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come’ (John 2:4). This may simply mean that the time for giving such relief was not opportune, or that the opportunity for miracle-working, or the moment for self-manifestation, had not arrived. But the whole utterance produces the impression that the appeal had aroused strong feelings, and created a critical situation for Him.

‘He was standing on the threshold of His ministry, conscious of His miraulous power, and He was questioning whether that were the hour to put it forth.… The supplying of wine to a company of peasants seemed so trivial, so unworthy of the Messiah, so insufficient for the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven’ (Smith, The Days of His Flesh, p. 55).

But is there not even here a reference to what He calls peculiarly His hour—‘the hour when the Son of Man should be glorified’ (John 12:23; cf. John 17:1); the hour when He should be betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45); the hour when the Father’s will gave Him over to the power of darkness (Luke 22:53)? If Jesus went down to the Jordan in order to participate in the Baptism of Repentance, conscious that His vocation as Messiah was to be that of the Suffering Servant, and to take upon Himself the sins of His brethren, then the thought of His hour as the hour of His sacrifice could never be absent from His mind. And the simple suggestion of His mother, involving, as it did, for Him the first exercise of a power which came to Him as Messiah, raised suddenly and vividly before Him the issue of suffering, and called forth the intense feeling in the words, ‘Mine hour is not yet come.’

A similar tumult of emotion was produced towards the end of His ministry, by the request of the Greeks to see Him (John 12:20). The reply of Jesus, ‘The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.… Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone,’ is relevant to a prospect of possible exemption from the cross which the request raised in Him, rather than to the request itself. Once more an apparently innocent intrusion upon His thoughts had brought before Him the vision of His hour. He saw that the glory would be won at a great cost, and the prospect of it brought distress of soul, and wrung from Him the cry, ‘Father, what shall I say? Save me from this hour.’ But immediately He saw through the pain the holy purpose of God realizing itself, and recovered His poise of soul and unflinching devotion. ‘But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.’

It was by this simple word, therefore, that He expressed the conviction that His death was the climax of His life, and that the time of its accomplishment was with God. He would not forestall it by any premature manifestation of Himself to the world (John 7:6); and until His hour came, His enemies were powerless against Him (John 7:30, John 8:20). But when it came, He was not reluctant to recognize it. Though it was a dark hour, the hour of men with sinister purpose and in league with Satan (Luke 22:53), He knew it as the hour when He should depart out of this world unto the Father (John 13:1), the hour when God should glorify His Son (John 17:1).

With the approach of that hour which marked the climax and close of His earthly ministry, a wider horizon opens. A new day of God dawns, and in it also there is a critical hour—‘the hour when the Son of Man cometh’ (Matthew 25:13). Even to Him the precise point of time was not disclosed (Matthew 24:36). Of one thing He was sure, and gave repeated warning,—it would come upon men with startling suddenness: ‘and in an hour when ye think not’ (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44; Matthew 24:50; Matthew 25:13, cf. Luke 12:39; Luke 12:49; Luke 12:46); and He enforces therewith His command to ‘watch,’ ‘be ready,’ so that, though it come suddenly, it may be a glad surprise.

Joseph Muir.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hour'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/h/hour.html. 1906-1918.

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