JOHN 13-17. THE FAREWELL DISCOURSE
In chapter 13, Jesus gathered the disciples together in the Upper Room for the Passover meal. The disciples were aware of Jesus’ conflict with Jewish authorities and the danger that it presented. Jesus began by washing the disciples’ feet, modeling servant ministry (13:1-20). Then he foretold his betrayal and sent Judas into the night to do his treachery. Finally he spoke of his glorification, by which he meant his death (13:31-33), commanded the disciples to love one another (13:34-35), and foretold Peter’s denial (13:36-38). Now, to counter the darkness of the situation, Jesus addresses his disciples. On a night when hope seems dim, Jesus reveals an exciting future.
Later, in chapter 15, Jesus will speak of himself as the vine in which the branch must abide if it is to bear fruit (15:1-17), and will warn the disciples that they will experience the world’s hatred (15:18-27). In chapter 16, he will promise the gift of the Holy Spirit (16:4-15)—that sorrow will turn into joy (16:16-24)—and that they will have peace (16:25-33). Chapter 17 is Jesus’ high priestly prayer in which he prays for his disciples.
The author of this Gospel tends to follow a pattern: Something happens—followed by discussion—followed by Jesus’ explanation. In chapters 14-17, Jesus explains events that are to come—Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.
Sloyan warns, “To preach on John 14-17 is easier said than done. Its sonorous phrases somehow bring out the banal in us and invite the hearer to boredom…. The inspired prose needs to be dissected or dismantled, each part examined and related to every other, then all polished and reassembled like the parts of a watch if it is to function for the hearer” (Sloyan, 178). This call to careful exegesis is well stated. These chapters are tightly packed and difficult to understand at a deep level.
JOHN 14:1. DON’T LET YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED
1“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”
“Don’t let your heart be troubled” (v. 1a). The disciples have much to trouble them:
• Jesus has spoken of betrayal and death (13:21-30), and has been himself “troubled in spirit” (13:21). Judas is, even now, in the midst of betrayal (13:30). The disciples can imagine danger lurking in the shadows—not only for Jesus, but for themselves as well.
• Jesus has said, “I will be with you a little while longer…. Where I am going, you can’t come” (13:33). For disciples who have left everything to follow Jesus, it must be terribly disorienting to hear Jesus say that he is leaving them.
• Jesus has just told Peter, “Most certainly I tell you, the rooster won’t crow until you have denied me three times” (13:38).
“Believe in God. Believe also in me” (v. 1b). Although facing the prospect of death, Jesus does not focus on his own troubles, but instead comforts his disciples. His counsel in the face of pending disaster is faith—“Believe in God. Believe also in me.” “Grammatically these two verbs can be taken either as indicative or imperative” (Howard, 698), making it possible to translate Jesus’ words in four different ways:
• “You do believe in God” (a fact). “Believe also in me” (a command).
• “You do believe in God” (a fact). “You do believe in me” (a fact).
• “Believe in God” (a command). “You do believe in me” (a fact).
• “Believe in God” (a command). “Believe also in me” (a command).
The last of these is most likely Jesus’ intent.
In our feeling-sensitive world, it is worth noting that Jesus acknowledges the disciples’ fear without endorsing it. Instead of making their fear the focus, Jesus calls them to faith.
Jesus calls the disciples to believe, not because of the situation but in spite of it—to be assured of things hoped for—to be convicted of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). It was that kind of faith that led Abram to follow God without knowing his destination (Hebrews 11:8-12). God blessed Abram’s faith by bringing forth from him a great nation—Israel—the people of God. Jesus will bless the disciples’ faith—a faith not yet fully present at this table—by bringing forth from them the church—the new Israel—the people of God.
Jesus calls the disciples to believe, not only in God, but also in himself. The time will come when these disciples will believe, but they struggle with belief right now.
It is worth noting that Jesus’ counsel works! When friends tell us not to worry, we worry anyway. However, when we obey Jesus’ counsel to believe in God and Jesus, our worries lose their power. If, indeed, “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28), what have we to fear? If God is for us, what does it matter who is against us? (Romans 8:31). That kind of faith triumphs over fear.
JOHN 14:2a. IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE
2a“In my Father’s house (Greek: oikia) are many homes” (Greek: monai).
The phrase, “In my Father’s house,” is more personal and more open-ended than the word “heaven.” The person who has a loving relationship with his or her father enjoys privileges in the father’s house that are denied to most people. Jesus is at home in the Father’s house, and promises that we will be at home there too.
O’Day warns that we should not take “my Father’s house” as a synonym for heaven. “Throughout the Gospel, location has consistently been a symbol for relationship” (O’Day, 740). As we proceed through this exegesis, we will see that relationship is an ongoing theme.
“there are many homes” (monai). The Latin Vulgate translated monai as “mansiones,” and the KJV followed suit (“In my Father’s house are many mansions”). That language is familiar to many older Christians, but “homes” is a better translation. The point isn’t that the space will be lavish, but that there will be room for all (Carson, 489; Morris, 567).
The word, “homes” (monai) also has to do with relationships. The Greek monai is the noun form of the verb meno, usually translated “abide” or “abiding” in this Gospel. Jesus uses meno to describe close relationships:
• “You don’t have his word living (menonta) in you; because you don’t believe him whom he sent” (5:38).
• “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives (menei) in me, and I in him” (6:56).
• “Remain (meinate) in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains (mene) in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain (menete) in me” (15:4—see also vv. 5-10).
Moloney translates monai as “abiding places” to reflect the kinship between what Jesus is saying in verse 2 and what he says about “abiding” (monai) elsewhere (Moloney, 397). The point is to understand monai as having to do as much with relationship as with place.
But while we should not limit monai to mean only heaven, neither should we dismiss heaven as one of its meanings:
JOHN 14:2b-3. I WILL COME AGAIN, AND WILL RECEIVE YOU TO MYSELF
2b “If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. 3If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.“
“If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you” (v. 2b). Jesus is not abandoning his disciples. His impending death is part of God’s plan, but is not the final act. Jesus will return to gather his disciples, but first he will prepare a place for them.
What a privilege to have the Son prepare our place in the Father’s house! When a guest is coming, we try to make things nice. We clean the house. We bring out our best china and prepare our best recipes. Just imagine having Jesus prepare a place for us in the Father’s house. He does so in joyful expectation that we will go there. Let’s not disappoint him (Gossip, 699).
“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also” (v. 3). There have been various interpretations of these verses—that Jesus’ promise to come again was fulfilled by his post-resurrection appearances—or that Jesus will come to us at death. There is a sense in which both of these are true, but the deeper meaning is eschatological, meaning that Jesus will come again at the end of time.
JOHN 14:4-7. I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE
4“Where I go, you know, and you know the way.”
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.”
“Where I go, you know, and you know the way” (v. 4). Jesus has told the disciples the way that he is going (8:21-30; 10:11; 12:23-24), but his meaning is clear only in retrospect. We cannot blame the disciples for failing to understand that his death will be, at the same time, the way by which he will return to the Father and the way by which he will be glorified.
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (v. 5). We must admire Thomas’ questioning. After the resurrection, he will not believe the testimony of those who claim to have seen the risen Christ, and he will be bold to tell them that he does not believe (20:24-31). Here he does not understand the way, and is bold to ask for clarification. Teachers love students like this. Thomas doesn’t understand, but is willing to risk embarrassment in his pursuit of understanding.
Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (v. 6a). This is one of the many “I am” (ego eimi) sayings of this Gospel (6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7; 11; 11:25; 15:1)—”I am” being God’s name (Exodus 3:14).
• Jesus is “the way.” If we ask for the directions and someone tells us to turn left here and to turn right there, we are likely to get lost. However, if the person leads us to the destination, we are assured of getting there. That person becomes, for us, the way. Jesus does not simply point us to the Father, but is himself the pathway (Barclay, 183).
• He is “the truth.” The truth sets us free (8:32). Jesus is the truth in the flesh, and will leave us in the hands of the Spirit of truth (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Jesus is the opposite of the devil, about whom he says, “there is no truth in him” (8:44).
• He is “the life.” For the Jewish people, the Torah was the book of life. It instructed people in life-giving faith and practice. Now Jesus becomes the life-giver. He says, “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (10:10).
Just as we have defined “homes” or “dwelling places” or “abiding places” in terms of relationship, Jesus defines life as relationship. In his high priestly prayer, he says, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (17:3).
Through the centuries, countless Christians have validated Jesus’ claims. When we have followed Christ, he has proven true. He delivered us from our addictions, our false hopes, and our heinous sins. He loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), and provides us a way back to the Father.
“No one comes to the Father, except through me” (v. 6b). Many Christians are offended by the exclusiveness of this statement.
• But God chose his Son as the one to convey grace, so it stands to reason that the person who refuses the Son also refuses the grace that he offers.
• We should also note that when Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father, except through me,” he is not defining a ten-step process that the person must follow. He is simply saying that he is the channel of blessing, and will dispense grace in accord with the Father’s will.
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (v. 7a). Does Jesus mean, “You know me, and therefore you know my Father also”—or “If you were to know me, you would know my Father”? Is he assuming that they know him and the Father or that they don’t? Probably the latter. The disciples have been with Jesus for some time now, and know him at some level. However, it will be only after the resurrection that they will truly know him. Therefore it will be only after the resurrection that their knowledge of Jesus will help them to understand the Father in greater depth.
“From now on, you know him and have seen him” (v. 7b). The crucifixion is just around the corner. Mary has already anointed Jesus’ body for burial (12:7), and “the devil (has) already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray (Jesus)” (13:2). Jesus has already foretold Peter’s denial (13:38). He will engage in teaching in chapters 14-16, and will engage in prayer in chapter 17. Then he will be betrayed and arrested (18:1ff.). The stage is set for the last act, which will include not only Jesus’ crucifixion (19:16ff.), but also his resurrection (20:1ff.). It will be at that point—after the resurrection—that the disciples will begin truly to know Jesus and, through him, the Father.
JOHN 14:8-10. HE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does his works.“
“Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (v. 8). Much earlier, Moses prayed, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), but God answered, “You cannot see my face; for man may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20. See also Job 9:11; 23:8-9; Psalm 18:11; 97:2).
“Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip?” (v. 9a). Jesus rebukes Philip, but his rebuke is gentle. He understands that Philip cannot yet understand how truly Jesus and the Father are one (17:11, 22). In truth, verse 9a is less a rebuke than a lead-in to verse 9b, where Jesus makes clear the linkage between himself and the Father.
“He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, ‘Show us the Father?'” (v. 9b). The prologue to this Gospel prepared us for this statement by saying, “No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (1:18).
• Jesus earlier claimed that his works and words were those of the Father: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me, I say these things” (8:28).
• He also called his disciples to see the unity between himself and the Father through his works: “If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. But if I do them, though you don’t believe me, believe the works; that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in the Father“ (10:37-38).
• Now he states the matter even more clearly: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (v. 10a). Note again the emphasis on relationship. Jesus’ oneness with the Father is rooted in the Jewish understanding that the emissary bears the identity and speaks with the authority of the sender (Brown, 621; Moloney, 399; Vawter & Carl, 44). This works only if the emissary has a close relationship with the sender, understands the mind and heart of the sender, and is faithful to comply with the sender’s will.
“The words that I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does his works” (v. 10b). This Gospel refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs (2:11; 4:54; 6:2; etc.). These signs confirmed Jesus spiritual authority, and point to the Father who dwells in Jesus and whose works Jesus does.
JOHN 14:11-14. IF YOU ASK ANYTHING IN MY NAME
11“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works’ sake. 12Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. 13Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it.“
“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (v. 11a). The church asks people to believe a whole host of doctrines, but at its heart the Christian faith is belief in a person. We begin the life of faith by believing in Jesus—that Jesus is one with the Father—that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus—that Jesus is the Son of God. If we believe this, the rest of Christian doctrine hangs together nicely. If we do not believe this, Christianity makes no sense whatsoever.
“or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (v. 11b). These “works” are Jesus’ miracles, the first of which was changing water into wine (2:1-11). This was “the first of his signs.” (2:11).
Jesus’ signs are important in this Gospel, because they reveal his glory (2:11), help people to understand who he is, and make it possible for people to believe in him (2:23; 3:2; 4:54; 6:2, 14; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:18). The disciples will not fully understand Jesus until after the resurrection, but Jesus is saying that Philip and the other disciples can, for the moment, base their belief on the signs that they have seen with their own eyes.
“Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father” (v. 12). Given the magnitude of the signs that Jesus has worked (chapters 2-11), this is a stunning promise. It is, however, understandable when we consider that Jesus’ earthly ministry was limited to a very few years in a very small place. His disciples will go into all the world, empowered by the Spirit. They will do so for many centuries.
The fulfillment of this promise will begin at Pentecost, where Peter and the apostles will baptize three thousand people (Acts 2:41). We see the promise being fulfilled through the work of the church (the people of God) yet today, and can expect Jesus to continue fulfilling the promise until he comes again.
Bock, noting that in this same discourse Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit (14:16, 26; 16:7, 13-15), says, “After the Cross, Jesus’ followers are indwelt by the Spirit and get to participate in the fulfillment of God’s saving purposes…. Thus, the works of Jesus’ followers are of a greater quality, since they belong to the era of God’s promises fulfilled” (Bock, 56).
“Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (v. 13). Because of this verse, many Christians conclude their prayers with the formula, “in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Their assumption seems to be that if they include that formula, they can expect Jesus to do what they ask—but if they fail to include that formula, Jesus will not do what they ask.
If that assumption were true, it would put deadly power in the hands of the person offering the prayer and tie Jesus’ hands so that he could not exercise discretion. That cannot be the intent of this verse.
Jesus’ point has to do with praying in accord with his name. To appreciate the significance of that, we must first understand the significance of names in that culture. A person’s name was more than a label. It was an integral part of the person, and revealed that person’s essential character.
To act in another person’s name was to use that person’s authority as a basis for one’s actions. For instance, a king might give an emissary authority to act in the king’s name. If so, that emissary would speak for the king. He might spend the king’s money or obligate the king to a treaty or exercise the king’s power in other ways.
However, the emissary would first want to be certain that he understood the king’s mind so that he could represent the king faithfully. An emissary who failed to represent the king faithfully would not retain the king’s authority for long—and might even suffer dire consequences for unfaithful service.
To pray in Jesus’ name, then, requires that we first try to understand Jesus’ mind so that our prayers represent his will as closely as possible. To pray in Jesus’ name is to bring our prayers into accord with the essential character of Jesus.
Praying in Jesus’ name, then, is not a matter of whether we include the formula, “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayer. It is rather a matter of discipleship—of bringing our lives and prayers into congruence with Jesus’ will. Praying in Jesus’ name is praying for those things that Jesus can gladly bless.
To pray in Jesus’ name, then, requires that we be in a close relationship with him—that we do what we can to understand and submit to his will. Prayers for revenge, wealth, power, and other selfish or petty requests are not covered by this promise.
“If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it” (v. 14—see also Matthew 7:7-11; 18:19; 21:21; Mark 16:17-18; 1 John 5:14-15). When we first read this verse, it appears to obligate Jesus to do anything that we ask. However, Jesus begins this promise with a condition—”If you will ask anything in my name.” See the comments on verse 13 above to learn what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Snow, John H. and Furnish, Victor P., Proclamation: Easter, Series A (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975)
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Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan