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John 14:8-27 Biblical Commentary:
JOHN 13-17. THE FAREWELL DISCOURSE
In chapter 13, Jesus gathers the disciples together in the Upper Room for the Passover meal. The disciples are aware of Jesus’ conflict with Jewish authorities and the danger that it presents. Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet, modeling servant ministry (13:1-20). Then he foretells his betrayal and sends Judas into the night to do his treachery. Finally he speaks of his glorification, by which he means his death, resurrection, and ascension (13:31-33), commands the disciples to love one another (13:34-35), and foretells Peter’s denial (13:36-38). It is to counter the darkness of the situation that Jesus addresses his disciples. On a night when hope seems dim, Jesus reveals an exciting future.
In chapter 15, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine in which the branch must abide if it is to bear fruit (15:1-17), and he warns the disciples that they will experience the world’s hatred (15:18-27). In chapter 16, he promises 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 constitutes Jesus’ high priestly prayer in which he prays for his disciples.
The Evangelist 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.
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.
“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.
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 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 (Brown, 638).
“I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, (Greek: parakletos) 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 (Spirit) and the word here is parakletos (comforter, advocate, helper).
This is the first time that Jesus uses the word parakletos, and the shift from pneuma (Spirit) to parakletosis 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 told Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and pneumatos, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God” (3:5).
• Jesus said, “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). So we have a parakletos (Jesus) in heaven, advocating in our favor, and a parakletos (the Holy Spirit) here on earth, helping us as we live in 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). 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, “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 menei (“lives”) 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 14:18-24. NOT PART OF THE LECTIONARY READING
While these verses are not included in this lectionary reading, the preacher needs to be aware of them. Jesus promises not to leave his disciples orphaned (v. 18). He also promises that, because he lives, they also will live (v. 19).
He tells his disciples that those who keep his commandments are the ones who love him, and promises that his Father will love them—and Jesus will also love them and will reveal himself to them (v. 21).
He once again emphasizes that those who love him will keep his word, and the Father will love them (v. 23). Those who do not keep his words do not love him. Jesus’ word is not his own, but comes from the Father (v. 24).
JOHN 14:25-26. THE COUNSELOR WILL TEACH YOU EVERYTHING
25“I have said these things to you, while still living with you. 26But the Counselor, (Greek: parakletos) the Holy Spirit, (Greek: to pneuma to hagion) whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.”
“I have said these things to you, while still living with you” (v. 25). Imagine going on a long trip and trying to tell your children or work associates all that they will need to know while you are gone. It is an exercise in faith and frustration. You know that you are saying the right words, but can see that your listeners do not fully appreciate the import of your instruction. Only later, after they have experienced your absence and their responsibility, will they really understand. It is clear to Jesus that the disciples do not understand, but he must tell them anyway. Later, they will remember his words, and the Holy Spirit will teach them everything and remind them of all that he has said.
“But the Counselor, (parakletos) the Holy Spirit” (to pneuma to hagion) (v. 26). Jesus assures the disciples that he will not leave them alone. The word, parakletos is translated variously as Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, or Helper, and describes a Spirit who remains at our side forever (v. 16) to represent us, defend us, argue our case, give peace, or provide counsel as needed. Unlike defense lawyers today, who are not responsible for revealing truth but instead must try to secure a favorable verdict for their client, the parakletos whom Jesus introduces here “is the Spirit of truth” (v. 17). Barclay says, “Always a parakletos is someone called in to help when the person who calls him is in trouble or distress or doubt or bewilderment” (Barclay, 194). The Paraclete gives us peace, because we know that our Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Helper is always present with us.
“whom the Father will send in my name” (v. 26). The father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does no sending (Kostenberger, 442).
The Paraclete/Holy Spirit “will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you” (v. 26b). Jesus has taught the disciples a great deal, but they will understand only after the resurrection. Then the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, will help them to remember Christ’s teachings and to interpret those teachings for their immediate situation. The Paraclete, the one who stands beside them day and night, will make all things clear.
This is still an encouraging word today. The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, stands beside us to guide us. If we follow, the Spirit leads us to truth. If we obey, the Spirit leads us to life. But the blessings are not automatic. We must follow; we must obey.
JOHN 14:27. PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU
27“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.“
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (v. 27a). This is Jesus’ last will and testament. He had no money or property to leave to them, but he could leave them with his peace (Gossip, 713). As Jesus will reveal in the next chapter, he will also leave his disciples with love (15:9-10) and joy (15:11).
“Not as the world (kosmos) gives, give I to you” (v. 27b). The conventional greeting, shalom, means peace, but frequent use turns it into a cliché. In kosmos usage, shalom can mean as little as “I recognize your presence” or “I must go now.” By contrast, Christ offers real peace. We see it in the lives of those who have truly entrusted their lives to Christ. We envy their calm strength. Their creed is, “If God is for us, who is against us,” (Romans 8:31) and they have peace.
At this time, the world is enjoying a kind of peace—the pax Romana—the Roman peace. The pax Romana, however, was founded on Roman military prowess, funded by Roman taxation, and maintained by Roman soldiers. It is dominance rather than peace. Many people chaff under Roman rule and want to expel Roman occupiers from their midst, but Rome has the power to crush rebellion—and uses that power ruthlessly.
By contrast, Christ offers real peace. We see it in the lives of those who have entrusted their lives to Christ. We envy their calm strength. Their creed is, “If God is for us, who is against us,” (Romans 8:31)—and they have peace.
But Jesus does not offer a trouble free life. He is moving quickly toward the cross as he speaks, and his disciples will soon find themselves the target of powerful enemies (Kostenberger, 444).
“Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (v. 27c). The presence of faith drives out fear. The person who knows that in life and in death he/she is in God’s loving hands has a shalom that transcends anxiety and fear.
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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