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John 14:15-21 Biblical Commentary:
JOHN 14:15-24. OVERVIEW
This discourse takes place at the Last Supper (see chapter 13), and represents Jesus’ attempt to prepare the disciples for what is coming. He begins by emphasizing belief (14:1-14) and then shifts to an emphasis on love (14:15-24).
In verses 15-24, Jesus introduces two great ideas:
• First, “If you love, me, keep my commandments…. One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me” (vv. 15, 21, 23-24). Jesus links love and obedience. We need to preach the linkage. It is tempting to talk about God’s love without mentioning our duty to obey.
• Second, “I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever…. I will not leave you orphans” (vv. 16, 18). This is Jesus’ promise to give us the Holy Spirit, who will become God’s presence with us on a daily basis in this world.
It seems more appropriate to end this reading with verse 24. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word” (v. 23) and “He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words” (v. 24) mirror “If you love me, keep my commandments” (v. 15), signaling the beginning and ending of the passage.
JOHN 14:15-17. THE FATHER WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER PARACLETE
15“If you love me, keep (Greek: teresete) my commandments. 16I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, (Greek: parakletos) that he may be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth, whom the world (Greek: kosmos) can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives (Greek: menei—from meno) with you, and will be in you.“
“If you love me, keep (teresete) my commandments” (v. 15). This passage begins and ends (vv. 15, 21) by tying love to obedience. Our obedience is a sign of our love. In this Gospel, faithfulness to Jesus’ words is a defining mark of discipleship (8:31; 37, 51; 12:47-48).
“keep (teresete) my commandments” (v. 15). Teresete, translated “keep” (v. 15) means to do or to fulfill. “Commandments” is plural. In this Gospel Jesus has given the disciples three commandments (Lincoln, 393):
• “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (13:14-15).
• “A new commandment I give to you, that you love (agapate—from agape) one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:34-35). The agape love that Jesus commands is not sentimental feeling, which cannot be commanded, but loving action, which can be.
• “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me” (14:1).
The commandments to love (13:34-35) and to believe (14:1) are open-ended, in contrast to most Torah laws, which are very specific. It is easy to judge whether we have been faithful to the Torah law prohibiting adultery, but how can we know whether we have fulfilled the demands of love or the demands of faith? Jesus’ commandments require us to allow him to reshape our lives.
“I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever” (v. 16). This is the Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism (1:32), although the word at his baptism was pneuma and the word here is parakletos.
This is the first time that Jesus uses the word parakletos, and the shift from pneuma (Spirit) to parakletos is significant. In the opening chapters of this Gospel:
• The pneuma descended from heaven like a dove and remained on Jesus at his baptism (1:32).
• Jesus baptizes with the pneumati hagio (the Holy Spirit) (1:33).
• Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and pneumatos, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God” (3:5).
• Jesus says, “So is everyone who is born of the pneumatos“ (3:8)
• Jesus “gives the pneuma without measure” (3:34).
• “God is pneuma“ (4:24)—and “It is the pneuma who gives life” (6:63).
But the tone changes when Jesus begins to speak about the parakletos in chapter 14. The emphasis shifts to the help that the parakletos will render to the disciples.
• The parakletos will be with the disciples forever (14:16).
• The parakletos “will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you” (14:26).
• The parakletos “will testify about me” (15:26).
• It is to the disciples’ advantage that Jesus goes away, “for if I don’t go away, the parakletos won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7).
Parakletos is used only five times in the New Testament—four in this Gospel to refer to the Spirit (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and once in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus.
Parakletos can mean a lawyer who pleads your case or a witness who testifies in your behalf. It can refer to a person who gives comfort, counsel, or strength in time of need. It can refer to a person who comes to the aid of someone who is in danger. The literal meaning is “someone called in… to help” in a time of need (Barclay, 194).
Parakletos has been translated Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, and Intercessor, but each of those expresses only one facet of parakletos. The original readers of this Gospel would have heard the full richness of its various meanings. Some English-language Bibles use the word Paraclete, which is not an English word but a transliteration of the Greek word. The problem is that most people today don’t know what a Paraclete is, so using Paraclete without explanation won’t communicate clearly to most readers.
Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another parakletos,” the implication being that Jesus is also a parakletos. However, as a parakletos, Jesus is limited by the Incarnation—by time and space. He can be in only one place at a time, and can help only a limited number of people in any given time. Moreover, he is moving toward his glorification—his death, resurrection, and ascension—so he will be leaving the disciples. The new parakletos will be with all disciples everywhere and will be with them forever.
Even though the Spirit-parakletos is coming to help us on earth, Jesus continues to serve as our parakletos in heaven. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). “Here the ascended Lord is viewed as a Paraclete in the court of heaven, pleading the cause of his own; the Holy Spirit is then understood as the Paraclete from heaven, supporting and representing the disciples in the face of a hostile world” (Beasley-Murray, 256). This must have been a welcome word to the Johannine church, which was suffering persecution and had to feel some sense of abandonment by Jesus.
This parakletos “is the Spirit of truth, whom the world (kosmos) can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him” (v. 17a). “It is interesting to see the Spirit associated with truth, for we have just had Jesus describe himself as ‘the truth’ (v. 6), and we earlier learned that those who worship the Father must do so ‘in truth’ (4:23-24). Clearly truth is very closely associated with the Godhead” (Morris, 577).
While the word kosmos can be used to refer to the created world, in this Gospel it is the realm that is opposed to God:
• The Word “was in the world (kosmo), and the world (kosmos) was made through him, and the world (kosmos) did not recognize him” (1:10).
• The world (kosmos) loves “the darkness rather than the light; for their works (are) evil” (3:19).
• The world (kosmos) rejects the truth, because they have chosen to follow the devil, “a liar” (8:44).
• And yet, “For God so loved the world, (kosmos) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (3:16). While this verse acknowledges God’s love for the kosmos, it also tells us that it is a kosmos doomed to perish apart from belief in Jesus Christ.
“You know him, (the parakletos) because he lives (menei—from meno) with you, and will be in you” (v. 17b). The word “abide” has to do with deep, ongoing relationships.
• Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives (menei) in me, and I in him” (6:56).
• He promised, “In my Father’s house are many homes” (monai—from meno) (14:2), and calls the disciples to “remain (meinate—from meno) in me, and I in you” (15:4).
• He tells the disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain (meneite—from meno) in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain (meno) in his love” (15:10).
JOHN 14:18-20. I WILL NOT LEAVE YOUR ORPHANS
18“I will not leave you orphans (Greek: orphanous). I will come to you. 19Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more; but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.“
“I will not leave you orphans” (orphanous) (v. 18a). Orphanous describes a child whose father has died, but it also describes a disciple whose master has died.
“I will come to you” (plural) (v. 18b). Jesus is coming to the disciples. Which “coming” is involved here—Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the coming of the parakletos, or Jesus’ Second Coming? Most scholars agree that this “coming” is fulfilled by Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The “you” is plural, so Jesus makes this promise to the community of faith (O’Day, 749). However, there is no reason to believe that he will not come to us as individual believers as well.
“Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more; but you will see me” (v. 19a). After Jesus’ death, the world will not see Jesus again, but the disciples will see him. “One item about the resurrection of Jesus has sometimes been overlooked: he showed himself after death only to those who loved him” (George A. Buttrick, Sermons Preached in a University Church). Likewise, the kosmos (the world opposed to God—the world that prefers darkness) cannot see Christ today, because their eyes have been blinded to the truth—blinded by their own choice. It is only through the eyes of faith that we can see Christ—and that has ever been so.
Earlier, Jesus warned, “Yet a little while the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness doesn’t overtake you. He who walks in the darkness doesn’t know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of light” (12:35-36). There are those, however, who love the darkness, because it cloaks evil deeds (3:19). Jesus calls us to live in the light.
“Because I live, you will live also” (v. 19b). “The theme…that Jesus’ life is the basis and source of Christian life is common NT doctrine (Rom v 10; I Cor xv 22)” (Brown, 646).
“In that day” (v. 20a). This phrase refers to the day in which the resurrected Jesus will appear to the disciples, but is sufficiently open-ended to admit of other interpretations. For instance, “In that day” could refer to the day that the disciples will receive the Spirit. It could also refer to the day in which the disciples will see Jesus in glory.
“you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (v. 20b). Note the tightly woven relationship among Father, Son, and those who abide in Christ. In his high priestly prayer which will follow shortly, Jesus will pray, “I pray… that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me” (17:20-23).
JOHN 14:21. THE BLESSING OF THOSE WHO LOVE CHRIST
21“One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.”
In the Old Testament era, the test of faithfulness was obedience to the Torah law. In the New Testament era, the test of faithfulness is obedience to Jesus’ commandments.
We prefer to think of God’s love as unconditional, but this verse establishes two conditions for receiving the Father’s love—keeping Jesus’ commandments and loving Jesus—two conditions so interdependent that Jesus binds them together as if they were one. Those who love Jesus will keep his commandments. God and Jesus love those who love Jesus and keep his commandments, and the Son promises to reveal himself to them (see also 3:16-18).
The church at its best is a community of love, and that love gives the church great power. By becoming a community of love, the church is able to persuade the world of God’s love—something that it could never accomplish by skilled argumentation. No logic has the persuasive power of an act of kindness. We cannot argue the kosmos into faith, but it is often possible to love the kosmos into faith. Obedience to the commandment to love, then, is the sine quae non—the “without which nothing”—of discipleship.
JOHN 14:22-24. THOSE WHO LOVE ME WILL KEEP MY WORD
22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, what has happened that you are about to reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
23Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. 24He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word which you hear isn’t mine, but the Father’s who sent me.”
The lectionary does not include these verses, but (as noted above) it seems best to end the pericope with verse 24. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word” (v. 23) and “He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words” (v. 24) mirror “If you love me, keep my commandments” (v. 15), signaling a beginning and ending of the passage.
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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