John's gospel is often divided into two major sections. The most common titles used by scholars today are the Book of Signs for John 1:19 (2:1) - 12:50 and the Book of Glory for John 13:1 - 20:31. The Book of Glory has four major sections: the introduction in John 13:1-30; the Last Discourse of Jesus in John 13:31-17:26; the Passion Narrative in John 18:1-19:42 and the Resurrection Narrative in chapter 20. John 13:1-30 dealing with the foot washing and the prediction of Judas' betrayal, the Passion, and the Resurrection is primarily narrative (though in John every narrative is full of theological conversation). John 13:31-17:26 is a unique section of the gospel in that it is one long discourse uninterrupted by narrative. It is the longest discourse section in the gospel of John, containing 125 verses.
In the Book of Signs John usually presented a narrative describing an event followed by the discourse explaining the deeper meaning of that event. The Feeding of the 5000 in John 6:1-15 and the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:25-59 may be the most notable (and noticeable) example.
That pattern is impossible in the Book of Glory. The event is Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection - his glorification, as John would say. It would be quite distracting to insert all the explanation of the meaning into John 18-20. Also, the disciples need to know the meaning before the cross. Thus the Last Discourse deals with Jesus' departure to return to the Father.
In literary form the Last Discourse can be called Jesus' testament or last words. Another term is farewell speech. This was a common literary form for Judaism. We can see it in the Old Testament. Jacob's final speech and blessings appear in Genesis 48-49. Joshua's farewell to the nation is found in Joshua 22-24. David's final speech appears in 1 Chronicles 28-29. In one sense the whole book of Deuteronomy presents the farewell speech(es) of Moses.
In many ways the farewell speech form became more common in the intertestamental period, and numerous works were written as testaments or the last words of various Biblical heroes. The farewell speech had a two-pronged purpose. It addressed the needs of the original audience - encouraging them in the face of the forthcoming death of the speaker. However, when the farewell speech was written it took on a second purpose. It served to influence all future readers in the pattern or tradition of the speaker. Thus Jesus' last discourse is designed to comfort and fortify the disciples on the eve of the crucifixion. It is also designed for us. In a real sense it is the Risen Lord who speaks to us from heaven explaining the meaning of our discipleship, too.
The outline of the last discourse is difficult to determine with confidence. This lesson will follow the divisions of Raymond E. Brown who labels John 13:31-14:31 as Division 1, dealing with the departure of Jesus and the future of the disciples. John 13:31-38 introduces this first division. John 14:1-14 is the first part of Division 1 and presents Jesus as the way to the Father. John 14:15-24 is the second part and introduces the Paraclete. The third and final part of Division 1 consists of John 14:25-31.
John 13:31-38 - Introduction to Division 1 of the Last Discourse
The departure of Judas, mentioned in verse 30, means that all the disciples, and especially Jesus, are now focused on the will of God that inevitably will lead to the cross. The word now and the five occurrences of glorify in verses 31 and 32 point to a new level of intensity. The departure of Judas means a purity in the group that enables Jesus to declare, "Now the son of man is glorified."
Several things should be noticed with regard to Jesus' emphasis on glorify in these verses. First, the Greek word for glory means brightness, radiance, and splendor. In stark contrast to the mention of night in verse 30 as the context of Judas, Jesus now is able to express the brightness of his obedience to the Father. Second, there is a note of triumph in verse 31. Verse 21 had spoken of Jesus being troubled. There has been a somber note from John 12:37 on as the Jews solidified their unbelief and Jesus gave his final public appeal before turning to the cross. The foot washing and Jesus' final offer to Judas were draped in the tragedy of betrayal. But now that Judas has gone, Jesus' statements about being glorified ring out with much more joy and excitement.
Verses 31 and 32 should also be compared with John 12:27-28. There Jesus was troubled; he raised the question of being released from his task; and he prayed that the Father would glorify His (the Father's) name. Now in John 13:31-32 Jesus confidently proclaims that glorification has come about. (The first three "glorified's" are past tense in Greek. The last two are future.) The crucifixion and resurrection are viewed both as completed, but still to come. By Jesus' death and resurrection God will visibly manifest His (God's) majesty in acts of power. That is glorification and verse 32 concludes that it is about to happen immediately (NRSV: "at once"). The cross looms before Jesus; it is urgent that he give the disciples their final instructions before he goes the way of the cross.
Because the time is short Jesus begins in verse 33 with a statement he has already made to the Jew twice in the book of signs, "You will seek me and . . . where I am going you are not able to come." In John 7:34 Jesus had said this and noted that the Jews would not find him. In John 8:21 he had added that they would remain in their sins. Here, he addresses the disciples and instead of the negative conclusions he had given the Jews, Jesus begins a discourse full of promises and hope. The condition of those promises is the love command of verse 34.
The command to love one another is not new in the sense that it had never been given before. The Greek word for new that is used here does not refer to an innovation - something never before existing. Rather, it refers to renewal and restoration. The love command's newness comes from the fact that the work of the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit were about to make it possible to really love one another for the first time. The commandment was renewed by the work of Christ that was beginning.
We will never successfully love one another without the work of Christ - the cross and the gift of the Spirit - in our lives. When we find ourselves locked in hatred and paralyzed from loving we need to be crucified to ourselves and raised to the will of God. In fact, the love that flows from that work of Christ in our lives is the only authenticating sign of discipleship. That is Jesus' message in verse 35. Any of the spiritual gifts can be and have been imitated by wicked folks. Any of the external marks of piety that Christians have adopted can be faked. Sustained, on-going love for each other, love modeled after Christ's love for us cannot be counterfeited. Such love is the true mark of the Christian.
Peter's question in verse 36 seems to change the subject. Barrett insightfully noted, "Dissatisfied with the command of love, Peter takes up v. 33 in his desire to follow Christ at once. Knowledge and religious experiences are more attractive than obedience." If he is to love the other disciples like Jesus loved them, Peter realizes that it will mean washing their feet. It is time to change the subject. But his very effort reveals his failure to share the heart of Jesus. Jesus had just told them that they could not follow where he was going. Peter persists, "Where are you going?" The implication is that Peter will be the one to decide whether or not he can follow if he just knows where Jesus is going. Jesus' response is prophetic. Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me later. Christian readers who knew the tradition of Peter's crucifixion would immediately see the point. Peter cannot and will not follow Jesus to the cross [and the right hand of the Father] now, but years later he did.
Peter's petulant response, "Why can't I follow you?" sounds so familiar to those of us with young (and not so young) children. He refuses to accept Jesus' distinction between now and later because, down deep, Peter does not acknowledge that the Master is greater than the servant. A disciple cannot follow where the Master has not led. After Jesus has blazed the trail Peter can follow - if he has died to self and been raised to the will of the Father.
John very subtly and ironically reveals Peter's problem. Though the other gospels contain Peter's boast to give his life for Christ, John's choice of words for Peter is very revealing. "I will lay down my life for you." As Barrett states, "John makes Peter assume language which is peculiarly applicable to Jesus. But this is absurd; to lay down one's life in the sense in which Jesus lays down his means complete obedience to the Father and perfect love for men, neither of which does Peter possess. In fact, the truth is the reverse of what Peter thinks." Jesus is the one who will lay down his life and it will be for Peter. That great love will be demonstrated in spite of the fact that three times Peter will deny Jesus before the sun rises the next morning.
John 14:1-14 - Jesus Is the Way to the Father
It is easy to forget that the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible were not there until hundreds of years after the Bible was written. We divide chapter 14 from chapter 13, but in the original John moved directly from 13:38 to 14:1.
Immediately after predicting Peter's denial Jesus said to the disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled!" Peter's denial did not derail Jesus; it must not derail the other disciples either. (How often the failure of a prominent believer disrupts the faith of other believers.) It is interesting that Jesus commands the disciples not to be troubled, but that is the very word that described Jesus' emotions in John 11:33; 12:27; and 13:21. He also gives them the same antidote that he used, trust in God.
Several grammatical details in the original language are important. First, John uses a verb construction in verse 1a that we do not have in English. It is a 3rd person imperative. He commands them, "Your hearts must not be troubled." It is a command. Second, the construction could best be translated, "Stop letting your hearts be troubled," or "You must not continue being troubled in heart."
Third, the verbs "believe" are in a form that can be either imperative or indicative. The second part of the sentence has four ways it could be translated:
The context and the fact that the verb troubled was a command suggests that it is best to take both verbs as commands. The construction in Greek suggests that we translate, "Keep on believing in God, and keep on believing in me." Beasley-Murray raises an important question:
Finally, we must remember that "believe" in the New Testament does not mean to hold a theological opinion but to trust one's life to someone or something. In the face of Peter's denial, with the cross looming ahead, with the power of Satan being unleashed against him, Jesus says to the disciples, "Stop letting your hearts be troubled. Keep on trusting in God, and keep on trusting in me."
Verses 2 and 3 provide a reason for the disciples not to be troubled. The Father's house has many rooms. Though there have been many spiritualizing interpretations of this sentence it is best to understand the Father's house as heaven. Describing heaven as the Father's house indicates that all in under His care and direction and the whole of heaven is a single great enterprise of God. The Father's house contains many dwelling places.
The noun that the King James Version translated "mansions," comes from the same root as the verb abide, remain, dwell that has been so important to John. In fact, John probably used this noun because of its connection to the verb. In the Father's house there are many places to abide in safety and security. The point of the word "many" is that there are enough for all. Jesus is going to prepare a place for the disciples and he will return at some point to take his followers back to the prepared abiding places. The real promise of heaven appears in the last phrase of verse 3, "that where I AM you may be also."
Verse 4 introduces one of the main themes of this section. "You know the way," Jesus reminds the disciples. Thomas' question in verse 5 is a set-up for verse 6 which contains another of the important I AM sayings of Jesus. "I AM the way, the truth, and the life." Within this context the most important term is "the way." The other two terms explain how Jesus is the way, as Beasley-Murray notes, "Jesus is the Way: he is the Way because he is the truth, i.e., the revelation of God, and because the life of God resides in him." The way to the Father is Jesus. The way to the truth about the Father is Jesus. The way to the life of God is Jesus. Verse 6 sums up most of the Christology of John's gospel. It is very closely related to the prologue, especially John 1:1, 4, 9, and 14-18.
Verse 7 both highlights the relationship of Jesus and the Father and follows up verse 6. Since Jesus is the way to the Father, coming to Jesus is coming to the Father, knowing Jesus is knowing the Father, and seeing Jesus is seeing the Father.
The question of Philip in verse 8 provides the opportunity for Jesus to explain further that Father-Son relationship in verses 9-11. Verse 11 urges the disciples to believe - to trust - the Father-Son relationship that Jesus is explaining. The main goal of John's gospel is that we believe in Jesus, but to believe we must know who he is. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. As he did with the hostile Jews, Jesus suggests that if the disciples cannot believe him, then they should trust because of the works that he had done.
Verse 12 picks up on the theme of the works and promises that the one who believes in Christ will do greater works than Jesus had done. This verse has provoked considerable discussion in the history of Christianity. Lindars concisely points out, "This does not mean better [works] than those of Jesus, but more extensive, for it is through the mission of the disciples that the work of Jesus is to be extended through the world and down the ages."
Lindars is undoubtedly correct. To claim that later Christians would do more dramatic or more powerful miracles than Jesus did contradicts John's basic position that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God in the world. The servant is not greater than his master. Part of the key to understanding comes in the final phrase of the verse, "because I am going to the Father." The greater works arise from Jesus' departure; they are the continuation of the work of Christ in the world. The "works" are the "work" of the Father. The one who truly trusts in Christ joins Christ in doing the work of the Father. When Jesus returns to the Father he will be in a position to facilitate the work of the Father through every believer.
Because of Jesus' position at the Father's right hand, the believer may ask whatever s/he will and Jesus will make sure it is done. This promise is another that has been wildly misinterpreted in the history of the church. Both verse 13 and 14 indicate that the asking must be done in Jesus' name. This does not mean just saying, "in Jesus' name," as part of the prayer. "In the name of" was a common Biblical expression meaning "as an authorized representative of" and "reflecting the character of." Biblically, to pray in Jesus' name means to pray reflecting the character of Jesus. It means to pray as an authentic representative of Jesus and his church. That excludes all self-centered prayer. To pray in the character of Jesus is to pray, "not my will but Thy will be done." The discipline of praying in Jesus' name (reflecting his character) will help a person become more Christlike in thought, word, and deed.
John 14:15-24 - The Gift of the Paraclete
The idea of living in Jesus' name (reflecting his character and authentically representing him) is expressed again in verse 15, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Loving Christ and keeping his commandments are the conditions for the gift mentioned in verse 16. Jesus promises another Paraclete. The word Paraclete has been translated as Comforter, Helper, Counselor, and Advocate. No single translation captures all the aspects of the Christian meaning of the word and so we will use the transliterated Greek form, paraclete.
Several things should be noted about the paraclete. First, verse 17 makes it clear that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit in this context. Second, the Greek word "another" in verse 16 means another of the same kind instead of another of a different kind. The promised Spirit paraclete is another paraclete of the same kind. Though Jesus doesn't directly state it here, he means the same kind as himself. This is clear in 1 John 2:1 where Jesus himself is called a paraclete. Part of the unfolding message of the Last Discourse is that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are alike. They do the same things; they do not contradict each other.
The word paraclete in Greek is composed of two roots that would mean "one called to your side." It was used to describe a person who stood up with another who was on trial or under pressure. It was not a lawyer in the sense that we now think of lawyers or advocates; the paraclete didn't speak to the judge, s/he spoke with the person on trial encouraging and helping them through it.
More important than the way paraclete was used in secular Greek is what John says about it in the Last Discourse. More will be said later in the discourse but here John says: The paraclete is given by the Father at Jesus' request. The paraclete will be with the believers forever. The paraclete is the Spirit of truth. The paraclete is not seen, recognized, or accepted by the world. The believer recognizes the paraclete. The paraclete abides (remains, stays, dwells) with and in the believer.
Verse 18 seems to interrupt the discussion of the paraclete. Jesus promises that he will not leave you [the believers] orphaned; he will come to them. Out of context and on the surface this seems to mean that Jesus intends to return and be with the disciples in the near future. Some have taken it to refer to his post-resurrection appearances. However, the interval from the crucifixion to the resurrection was so brief that "orphans" hardly describes what happened to the disciples in those three days. Some believe Jesus is referring to the second coming. If that is the case, the disciples there were orphaned because Jesus did not return in their lifetime. In this context it seems best to understand verse 18 to mean that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, will come to the disciples and not leave them orphaned.
Verses 20-24 connect the themes of love, the Father, and Jesus' presence with the disciples. Perhaps the key phrase is in verse 23 where Jesus states, "We will come to him and we will make our dwelling with him." The we appears to refer to Jesus and the Father, though Jesus and the paraclete have been connected in the preceding verses. Jesus may mean, "We - the Father, himself, and the Holy Spirit - will come." In this way the whole triune Godhead comes to dwell within the believer. John has not forgotten verse 1. He is saying, "Do not be troubled at Jesus' departure; you are trading Jesus' physical presence in for the presence and power of the whole Trinity."
The connection to the first part of the chapter continues. We will make our dwelling with him. The word "dwelling" in verse 23 is the singular form of "dwellings" (mansions) in John 14:2. Though the Father's house has many dwelling places, God has decided to come to live in us. What an amazing gospel!
John 14:25-31 - Conclusion to Division 1 of the Last Discourse
The final verses of chapter 14 seem to be full of Jesus' awareness that his time with the disciples was rapidly running out. Verse 25 states that he has spoken these things while he was remaining (abiding) with them. The implication is that he won't be with them much longer. The Greek construction of "spoken" has an important insight. It is constructed to mean, "I have spoken these things in the past, and the results - the effect - of them continues on." Certainly the impact of Jesus' last discourse has had a powerful continuing influence beyond the original setting. We feel the effect of his words still.
The shortness of the time causes Jesus to return to the function of the paraclete in verse 26. The paraclete will teach the disciples all things and will remind them of Jesus' words. The two actions of the Holy Spirit are not different. By reminding us of what Jesus' said the Spirit teaches all things. The Holy Spirit is not in the business of revealing new truth. Jesus is the truth. The Holy Spirit's work is to interpret the truth of Christ in the new circumstances that come our way. After all, verse 26 says that the paraclete comes in Jesus' name - reflecting his character and authentically representing him. This teaching of the Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to leave his disciples in the confidence that the work he had begun in them would be completed.
Verse 27 also reflects the shortness of time. The gift of peace was a common expression of farewell in the Biblical world. In fact, the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, was used for both greeting and parting. In the parting the giving of peace functioned as blessing did in the Old Testament world. Jesus' gift of peace was not a promise of the cessation of war or conflict. That peace will only come when the age to come begun with Jesus is ushered onto earth in its fullness. Jesus' peace is well-being. Even in the midst of conflict and persecution the peace of Christ can guard us (see Philippians 4:7). When one is focused on the Father's will and is supremely confident that His will will be done one can live through any circumstances with a sense of well-being. The world offers no such peace. The gift of peace is the real reason that we need not be troubled and verse 27 repeats the command of verse 1, "Stop letting your hearts be troubled."
Jesus' teaching instinct cannot be deterred by the shortness of the hour. In verse 28 he points out that logical consistency requires the disciples to rejoice at Jesus' return to the Father if they really love him. What Jesus assumes here is that love means seeking the other's best good. It was good for him to return to the Father. Thus, if the disciples loved him, that would be their desire for him and they would rejoice that it was at hand. Too often we say that we love someone, but we mean that we like what s/he does for us. If we love them, we will want what is best for them whether it is pleasant or painful for us.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word and for the Holy Spirit to make the Scripture alive and meaningful to you that day.
First Day: Read the notes on John 13:31-14:31. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were important to you as you read.
2. Select a truth for which you see a specific and personal application for your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Are you experiencing the peace of Christ in your life? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to make that peace real in some area of your life.
Second Day: Read John 15:1-16:4. Now focus in on John 15:1-10.
1. There are three "if-" statements in the focus verses. List them and describe the results that come if the conditions are met.
2. Read Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33-46. What "fruit" do you think Jesus was speaking about in John 15:2, 5, and 8?
3. How can you abide in Christ and have him abide in you as verse 4 says? List areas of life that would change if Christ really did abide in you.
Third Day: Read John 15:1-16:4. Focus in on John 15:11-17.
1. What purpose does Jesus give for speaking these words?
2. What connection do you see between the emphasis on love in these focus verses and Jesus' comment about joy in verse 11?
3. Explain the meaning of verse 16 in your own words. What part of verse 16 seems most important to you? Why?
Fourth Day: Read John 15:1-16:4. Focus on John 15:18-25.
1. Why will persecution come to Christians according to these verses?
2. What "problem" does the coming of Christ present to the world? How does it happen? Did you experience it before you became a believer?
3. Read Psalm 35 and Psalm 69. List the phrases that describe how you feel when you are unjustly treated. What promises of God are in those psalms to encourage you?
Fifth Day: Read John 15:18-16:15. Now focus in on John 15:26-16:4.
1. What function will the paraclete play according to these focus verses? What role must the believer also fill?
2. In what ways can you join the Holy Spirit in bearing witness to Christ? List specific things you can say or do that will accomplish that goal.
3. Why do you suppose Jesus (and John) mention the work of the Holy Spirit in a section on being hated by the world? How can the Holy Spirit help you respond to the world?
Sixth Day: Read John 15:18-16:15. Now focus in on John 16:5-15.
1. What new aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit are introduced in these focus verses?
2. Jesus says in verse 7 that it is for our good that he goes away so that the Paraclete can come. How is the work of the Spirit described in verses 8-11 good for you?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth relating to a specific area of your life. Do you believe he will? Will you act on the truth the Spirit will bring to you?