Jesus Barleycorn Must Die

Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn. 12.24 WEB)

But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s, at his coming. (1Cor. 15.20-23 WEB)

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev. 1.18 WEB)

It had taken about sixteen centuries for the concept of “John Barleycorn” to be more or less a confused drinking song, though John Burn’s rendition still retained some Christian elements. I say confused since, if he is a corn (individual grain), he cannot be cut off at the knees. The song in Burn’s version switches from the grain of barley to the straw that holds up many grains in the head of barley. Also, if the farmer doesn’t retain some grain then he will not see the sprout from the ground for the next crop. The original parable gives a clear meaning applicable and fulfilling of a prior prophetic figure.

I am not against alcohol production, of course, it is one way to preserve an annual fruit or cereal crop and has the blessing of God. One could almost say that alcohol is the drug of Jews and Christians since it is featured in some of their observances. Careful moderation is the key for enjoying many of the good fruits given by God.

All the English translations of Jn. 12.24 that I have seen render sitou (sitos) as “wheat.” However, a careful student of scripture will translate it “barley.” The Koine Greek word sitos can refer to any cereal grain. So, why should it be translated “barley” in this instance? The rationale for “barley” comes from the “First Fruits” that were waved before the Lord during Passover. The first sheaves of barley in the Land of Israel ripened, presumably, around the area of the Jewish Temple (or possibly Southern Judah where barley was typical). The ripening or readiness of the barley (the Aviv) determined the start of the Israelite calendar year. The Jewish calendar was based on a lunar cycle which needed an intercalary month every few years. If the barley was not ready by the turn of the yearly cycle, an intercalation was necessary.

The first Redemptive Feast of the Jews was Passover starting on the 14th day of the first month (hence the ripening of the barley determined when the Passover would be held). Passover consisted of a cluster of observances: The Festival of Unleavened Bread, the sacrifice of the Lamb, and the waving of First Fruits (In this case, barley. The wheat harvest occurred later in the Spring when its First Fruits would be waved during the second Redemptive Festival of Shavuot-Pentecost, 50 days later.). Therefore, Jesus’ reference to grain in Jn. 12.24 should be “barley.”

The waving of the barley sheaf (First Fruits) was on the first Sunday after Passover (the day Christ arose becomes The Lord’s Day). Paul identifies Christ as these “First Fruits” in 1Cor. 15, the great resurrection chapter of the Christian faith.

Returning to John 12. 24, Jesus states His necessary death to redeem humanity, as well as the necessity of His disciples to die to themselves for them, in turn, to be fruitful. Technically speaking, Jesus didn’t need to die after becoming flesh (Jn. 1.14) since He was “The Author of Life” (Acts 3.15) . However, this great act of love and self-sacrifice ensured His bringing many to glorification (Heb. 2.10). He was “The Living One” who died voluntarily and who now has the keys of death and Hades to give eternal life to all who believe on Him (Rev. 1.18).

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