Exploring the Gospel of John: 14

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

Farewell . . . For Now (II)

John 14:1-31

1.  Readers will find the heart of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” (13:31-16:33) in 14:28, which states:  “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father.”  The subject is Jesus’ future and his future secures the future of the disciples.  Because Jesus’ future is completely secure, so is that of the disciples.  Three successive questions, each from a different disciple, punctuate this section of the discourse.   Each of the three questions provides Jesus with the opportunity to develop the theme of why his physical departure is a good thing.

2.  14:1-7: 14:1 sets the theme for this section:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “Believe in God; believe also in me” are directly related.   Belief in God is also belief in Jesus and this belief makes it possible for the disciples to face “this hour” untroubled.  Jesus’ departure is good because this means that he has prepared a way to “my Father’s house” (14:2), a phrase that refers to the afterlife.  Jesus is departing to return to God and this return prepares a way for his followers.  Note that Jesus has answered Peter’s question of 13:36.  Jesus’ coming again and taking the disciples to himself (14:3) is apocalyptic language (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17) and refers not to the immediate consequences of Jesus’ death but to the ultimate consequences.   Jesus gives to the disciples the assurance that, although he is physically departing, he will come to them and gather them to himself.  Thomas’ question about the way to the Father allows Jesus to make an important declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).  The immediate context of this claim is Jewish convictions about Torah being the way to God (cf. Psalm 119:30). The force of this declaration is that Jesus is God’s way to himself, since the Son is the Father’s own Word, revelation, and life giving power.   The Son does not merely communicate accurate information about the Father but grants the power, to those who believe in him, to become children of God (1:12).  The claim, which the Son makes, that he is the only way to the Father, is not an arbitrary one.  He bases it upon the very identity of the Son.  To know the Son is to know the Father (14:7) because the Son shares all that the Father is and knows him completely.

3.  14:8-14:  Phillip’s request, to “show us the Father” (14:8) allows Jesus to again emphasize an important point:  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9) makes the nature of the Son’s mission clear: The Son introduces people to genuine knowledge of the Father and a living relationship with him.  Through his signs and, finally, through his death and resurrection, the Son reveals the Father’s glory and character.  In the Son, the Father displays himself.   The life of the Son is perfectly transparent to the Father, making it clear that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10) and that “the Father who dwells in me does his works” (14:10).  God gives this revelation – not for the purpose of allowing people to enter into a state of private religious bliss or enlightenment — but to put them into the Father’s service.  Jesus’ “departure” will enable Jesus’ mission of bearing witness to the Father to continue through the disciples: “ . . . whoever believes in me will also do the works I do; and greater works than these ill he do, because I am going to the Father” (14:12).  The works of the disciples will be “greater” — not in the sense of being more important or astounding — but in the sense of [a greater] extent (in the sense of Acts 1:8).  The ministry that Jesus undertook, of revealing the Father, will not come to an end with his death or resurrection.   It is in this light that we need to read 14:13-14.  Jesus is not promising to grant the disciples their every wish.   The promise of answered prayer presupposes that disciples are being incorporated into Jesus’ mission, in the same way in which he was – completely and self-sacrificially.   It will be the Church’s life of prayer, emphasizing her complete dependence upon the Son, that will sustain the Church in her mission of carrying out Jesus’ mission.  Here, we get the basic understanding of what the Church is, in terms of her fundamental reality:  a community united to Christ and in Christ, sent and sustained to continue the witness of Jesus — a witness to the world and against the world.

4. 14:15-31: This section introduces the crucial subject of the Holy Spirit.  Note that 14:15 connects love with obedience:  Love, here, is not a sentiment but an act of obedient service.  The “commandments” in view are to wash one another’s feet (13:14-15) and to believe in Jesus (14:1).

There can be no claim to love Jesus, apart from obedience.  It is important to notice that Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit in 14:16 as “another paraklatos.”  This implies that we are to also consider Jesus to be a paraklatos, an Advocate or Helper (in the sense that the Old Testament refers to God as the helper of Israel).  Jesus’ role has been to bear witness for God and to bear witness against the world.

It is through the Holy Spirit in the Church that this witness will continue.  14:16-17 and 14:25-26 make it clear that the Church is a creation of the Trinity, created by the Father in the Son and through the Holy Spirit and indwelt by the Trinity; through the Spirit, the Father and the Son come to indwell the Church (14:23).  While the Spirit is clearly distinct from the Son, his principle ministry is to bear witness to the Son, “to teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26). What seems to be ruled out here is the notion that the Spirit will make available “new revelations” which go beyond what the Son has disclosed or revealed.   If the Father bears witness to himself, in the person of the Son, then the Father bears witness to his own witness to himself in the person of the Spirit.  By referring to both the Son and the Spirit, using the term paraklatos, this draws our attention to two distinct ways in which God accomplishes his one work.   It is precisely the presence of the Spirit, who will grant peace to the Church.  This peace is not like the world’s peace, given conditionally and as the product of compromise, but the Spirit gives peace completely and unconditionally and we acquire [receive] it, not by getting things, but by complete self-surrender to Jesus’ mission.   It is Jesus’ own peace, which is not peace in the absence of difficulty, but peace in the very presence of difficulty, suffering, and anguish.  While the ultimate consequence of Jesus’ departure will be that the disciples (and those who follow them) enter into eternal fellowship with God, the immediate consequence will be that they will see him and know that he will not leave them.  (14:18-19).

Questions for Reflection

(1) Why does it seem that we misunderstand the Holy Spirit?  How does this section of John correct misunderstandings or deepen your understanding of the Spirit?

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Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

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