The Last Discourse of Jesus has three large divisions. The first division, John 13:31-14:31 dealt with Jesus' departure and the disciples' future. The second main division, John 15 and 16 focused on the disciples' life after Jesus' departure. The final main section, John 17, contains Jesus' high priestly prayer.
The second division began with a treatment of Jesus as the Vine and his disciples as branches in John 15:1-17. The hatred of the world toward both Jesus and his disciples was the theme of John 15:18-16:4a. John 16:4b-33 returned to the theme of Jesus' departure and return. The first part of that section, verses 4b-15, dealt with Jesus' departure and the Paraclete. John 16:16-33, part of this lesson, focuses on the joy that Jesus' return will bring to the disciples.
John 16:16-33 - Joy and Understanding about Jesus' Return
Most commentators divide John 16:16-33 into two sections: verses 16-24 and verses 25-33. However, Raymond Brown suggests that the two-fold division should be verses 16-23a and verses 23b-33. He sees a chiastic structure (a pattern followed by the pattern in reverse order) outlined here.
Brown's analysis shows that there are common themes in both verses 16-23a and 23b-33. The entire section is also connected back to verses 4b-15 from our previous lesson.
Jesus abruptly turns from the subject of the role of the Paraclete in guiding the disciples into all truth back to his impending departure in verse 16. In a typical way for John this verse has a double meaning. little while and you will no longer see me points to Jesus' death and also to his departure to heaven after the post-resurrection appearances. The following remark, and a little while again and you will see me, points to the resurrection and also to the second coming.
There are two different Greek words used for "see" in the two parts of verse 16. Some scholars believe that the word translated "see" in the second part of the verse, you will see me, refers to deeper, spiritual insight. Among other results this allows them to "spiritualize" the second coming into the personal coming of Christ into individual believers' hearts. John did use a variety of words for "see" that had different shades of meaning in classical Greek. However, John's use interchanges the words so much that it is unlikely he intends any distinctions in meaning.
Verses 17-19 report misunderstanding by the disciples. John's purpose in recording the questions is to provide Jesus the opportunity to further explain the statement of verse 16. The key word in all three verses is "little while." In verse 17 the disciples ask, "What is this that he is saying?" and then quote verse 16. They also ask the meaning of Jesus’ going to the Father, a theme discussed in John 13:31-14:31 and especially in 14:4-14. Verse 18 specifically identifies a little while as the phrase the disciples do not understand. In verse 19 Jesus re-phrases their question in his words, emphasizing a little while. The questions set the stage for verse 20.
The opening words of the Greek sentence in verse 20 are Amen, Amen. This double use of "amen" emphasizes that Jesus is about to reveal a solemn truth to the disciples. It also indicates that his words are, in fact, a revelation from God. Though we translate them truly, truly, the Biblical world used "amen" as a response to the word of God.
The disciples will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. The immediate and obvious meaning is a reference to Jesus' death. The words "weep and mourn" were the customary terms for loud wailing and lamenting. The Palestinian culture of Jesus' time expected a public display of grief at the death of a loved one. Professionals were hired to wail and lament loudly outside the house as the body was prepared. They then wailed through town as the body was taken out to be buried.
Jesus' death would cause the disciples great sorrow. It is interesting that while the disciples grieve the world will rejoice. John obviously has the Jewish leaders who are plotting Jesus' death in mind as "the world." A second level of meaning is that the disciples grieve at Jesus' absence after the Ascension. As persecution increases the world rejoices but disciples "miss" Jesus more intensely. One of the dangers of living in our time is that we accept Jesus' physical absence from earth while he is in heaven as normal. Disciples "miss" him even though the Paraclete provides his spiritual presence.
However, the disciples' grief and the world's joy are only temporary. Yet a little while and you will again see me. The grief of the disciples will turn to joy. (The joy of the world will also be turned to grief but Jesus did not develop that truth.) At the resurrection the disciples' grief will be turned to joy.
Verse 21 illustrates the connection of sorrow and joy with the example of a woman giving birth. When the baby is born the pain of childbirth is forgotten. Verse 22 applies the illustration to the disciples. They are sad because of his departure but he will see them again and they will rejoice. It is significant that in describing his post Resurrection appearances Jesus said, "I will see you again," instead of simply promising to return. I will see you expresses a personal sense of the Shepherd seeing and caring for his sheep.
Even more significant is the promise that no one will take your joy from you then. The resurrection of Jesus is the final and unfailing source of Christian joy. Regardless of whatever else might disappoint and hurt, the believer can and does rejoice in the Resurrection. It is the ground of our hope and thus of our joy. As a result Jesus can say in verse 23a, "On that day you will not ask me anything." The resurrection and the accompanying gift of the Paraclete make available the answer to our questions.
The words, "truly, truly," translating amen, amen, in verse 23b mark a new section. The Greek verb for "ask" in verse 23a means to ask a question - an inquiry. The verb for ask in verse 23b means to ask for something - a petition. Thus verse 23b repeats the promise made in John 14:13 and 15:16. Up to that time the disciples had not asked anything in Jesus' name according to verse 24.
Probably the simplest explanation is that they had prayed directly to God the Father in the past. As a result of the Resurrection (and Ascension) they (and we) will pray to the Father in Jesus' name. "In Jesus' name," still means as genuine representatives of Jesus. Lindars insightfully states, "Both the asking and the receiving are to be done in Jesus' name, because the Resurrection unites him to the Father without breaking the relationship with the disciples."
In this new relationship the disciples are instructed to ask and promised that they will receive. The verb "ask" is constructed in Greek to mean, "keep on asking." This promise is parallel to that found in Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10. What is not found in Matthew and Luke is the purpose that asking and receiving is done, "in order that your joy may be fulfilled."
We have a natural tendency to think that by receiving what we ask for our joy will be made full. However, it is in the asking and receiving - in other words in our relationship with God - that our joy is fulfilled. The asking and receiving are not the mechanics of getting what we want. They are the expression of a relationship of mutual love, trust, and desire for the will of God to be done.
The disciples would probably have agreed with Jesus' statement in verse 25, "I have spoken these things to you with dark sayings." The Greek word "dark sayings" sometimes simply means proverbs, but here it communicates language that was hard to understand. The disciples did not understand much of what Jesus had taught them and was teaching them that night. The promise, however, was that he would no longer speak to them in dark sayings, but would proclaim the things about the Father in plain words.
The change from dark sayings to plain words would take place at the "hour." Thus the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus would mean a change in the way Jesus' communicated with the disciples. It is most likely that the plain proclamation that was coming would be the work of the Paraclete. When it came Jesus would not have to serve as an intermediary between them and the Father - verse 26 - because the Father will love them - verse 27 - and grant their petitions.
Jesus then states that the reason the Father will love them is because they have loved him (Jesus) and have believed that he (Jesus) came from the Father. It is interesting that the words for "love" in verse 27 are not agape but phile and phileo. This is evidence that John did not carefully observe the distinction between agape love and phile affectionate friendship.The Greek text expresses the love and the believing of the disciples to show that they began to love and believe at a point in time in the past, but the results are continuing in the present.
As he concludes his speech Jesus summarizes the four main moments of God's work through him. I have come from the Father refers to the Incarnation in which the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. I have come into the world speaks of the humiliation and revelation accomplished by Christ's ministry and death. I am leaving the world speaks of the event of Christ's death, resurrection, and Ascension. Finally, I am going to the Father points to Christ's work of intercession and guidance at the Father's right hand.
At this point the disciples respond that Jesus is speaking plainly without dark sayings. The disciples, ironically, were confident that they believed they understood what Jesus was saying. In fact, verse 25 had promised the plain understanding after his passion and resurrection.
Though they confidently affirm their faith Jesus was forced to warn them in verse 32 that another painful, incomprehensible learning experience was about to come their way. Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived in order that each one of you will be scattered to his own place. The reference to scattering suggests that John saw a reference to Zechariah 13:7. Mark 14:27 had explicitly quoted that prophecy, "I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." Though the disciples are clean and chosen they are about experience failure and be scattered. One result is that they will abandon Jesus and leave him alone. Yet, even in that moment Jesus is sure that he will not be completely abandoned. The Father will still be with him.
Verse 33 concludes the second major section of the Last Discourse. It also concludes Jesus' words to his disciples. Chapter 17 will be addressed to the Father. Jesus concludes that the teachings of the Last Discourse were given so that the disciples might experience peace as the events of the next few days unfolded. Left to the resources of the world or themselves there would be no peace, only pressure. Jesus' final words to the disciples around the table were, "Cheer up, I have conquered the world." The verb "conquered" is constructed in Greek to mean that by a single event Jesus had conquered the world and that the victorious results would continue on through time. It was a confident prophecy. Jesus' victory over the world would be accomplished through the Cross and the Resurrection. The on-going results would be the blessings and benefits described in John 15 and 16.
John 17:1-26 - Jesus' High Priestly Prayer
The Last Discourse has many of the characteristics of a Farewell Speech, a literary form frequently used in the Bible and the Intertestamental Jewish literature. Often the Farewell Speech concluded with a prayer. The book of Deuteronomy is an extended Farewell Speech. In Deuteronomy 32 and 33 Moses brings the speech to its closing climax by prayer. Jesus' high priestly prayer has three parts: the prayer for glory in John 17:1-8, the prayer for the disciples in verses 9-19, and the prayer for future believers in verses 20-26.
John 17:1-8 - The Prayer for Glory
The theme of glory dominates verses 1-5. Jesus began the prayer by stating that the hour has come. He has already said the same thing in John 12:23; 13:1; and 16:32. As Brown notes, "Obviously 'the hour' is a long period of time, beginning with the first indication that the process which would lead to Jesus' death had been set in motion, and terminating with his return to his Father." This is the last time the hour is mentioned in John's gospel.
Because of the urgency of the hour Jesus moves directly to pray for the accomplishment of the whole purpose of his life and ministry. He prays that God glorify him, in order that he may glorify God. It seems a bit strange that Jesus would pray that he be glorified. As John has portrayed his ministry, he has been glorified almost from the beginning. John 1:14 said, "We beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a Father." The water-into-wine miracle at Cana manifested his glory so that the disciples believed in him. Several other passages speak of Jesus' glory.
Without denying the reality of those references Jesus, in John, seemed to understand that his glory would ultimately be seen in the Cross and the Resurrection. All the previous "glory" somehow was a pointer to the splendor of the work that God would do through the cross and the empty tomb. Thus his prayer is, "Father, the hour has arrived. Let's pull it all together and accomplish the real goal to which my whole life has been pointing."
Verse 2 states Jesus' purpose with different but characteristically Johannine words. The goal of Jesus' life was to grant eternal life, which is defined in verse 3. It is very important that we understand how Jesus and John understood eternal life. The matter of heaven and the matter of never-ending-ness are not mentioned at all. Eternal life consists of knowing God and knowing Jesus. Knowing in Semitic thought is not data or facts about something, but experience of something or relationship with someone. Eternal life consists of experiencing God and Christ. It is a matter of personal relationship. By bringing about the circumstances through which we can experience God Jesus has accomplished his goal and that brings glory to the Father (verse 4).
Verses 6-8 further develop the concepts introduced in verses 2 and 4. The work that Jesus was accomplishing and thereby bringing glory to God was the work of revelation. Jesus states in verse 6 that he has made known or revealed God's name to the disciples. Raymond Brown develops the interesting suggestion that Jesus here understands God's name to be I AM, ego eimi.
The name of God was a matter of concern in the Old Testament as Exodus 3:13-15 and 6:2-3 make clear. The name Yahweh was the covenant name by which Israel knew God. By Jesus' time there was considerable speculation about the meaning of God's name and efforts were made to prevent the pronunciation of Yahweh. Most scholars believe that Yahweh is linguistically connected to I AM WHO I AM.
Since Jesus used the I AM statements so frequently it is quite possible that Brown is correct. However, it is simpler and more direct to assume that when Jesus said in verse 6, "I have revealed your name," that he meant, "I have revealed your character." That is how the NIV understands it when it translates, "I have revealed you." Certainly that would fit John's understanding of Jesus' ministry. Jesus shows us what God is like. The disciples have received, kept, and believed the revelation that Jesus gave them as verses 6b-8 point out. The statement that the disciples believed that God sent Jesus is another way of saying that Jesus has accomplished the goal of his life and ministry. That successful impact on the disciples' lives brought glory to the Father and to Jesus.
John 17:9-19 - The Prayer for the Disciples
The disciples had been mentioned several times in verses 1-8. Starting with verse 9 Jesus began to pray directly for them. There is continuity from the prayer for glory to the prayer for the disciples. The faithfulness and success of the disciples in carrying forward the work of Christ will be another means of bringing glory both to the Father and to the Son. In fact, Jesus noted in verse 10 that he had been glorified in (or it could be translated through) the disciples.
Verses 9 and 10 reiterate what Jesus had said about the disciples in verse 6. They belong to God, just as they belong to Christ. At the critical moment as the work of Christ is about to be handed over to the disciples to continue, Jesus reminds God that He (God) has as much at stake in the disciples as he (Jesus) does. As Lindars notes, "It is the Father's own purpose for mankind which is at stake, and his own chosen agents whose welfare Jesus prays for."
The first specific prayer for the disciples appears in verse 11. Holy Father, keep them by your name. . . that they may be one just as we are one. The context is that the disciples are still in the world after Jesus returns to the Father. While Christ was with them he kept and guarded them from the world. The assumption at work here is that the world is a hostile force that threatens the disciples. Jesus had effectively protected them during his ministry, but in his absence he was concerned that the Father take over protection.
Without being paranoid we would do well to be aware that the world is hostile against Christians. We need not to underestimate the power of the enemy and not to fail to use the Father's protection. It is also interesting that at this point Jesus' purpose for the Father's protection is the unity of the disciples. A major evidence of the hostility and danger of the world is its success in destroying the unity of the body of Christ. Somehow the oneness of Christ's followers is supposed to reflect the oneness of God and Christ.
Jesus states in verse 14 that he has given the disciples God's word. There is a double meaning there since word means message, but it was also a title for Christ in John 1. Jesus has conveyed the message of God to the disciples, most powerfully by being that message himself. The result is that the disciples are equipped for the task that lies ahead of them. They can transmit the message. Jesus' concern is how they will handle the hatred and attacks of the world.
Verse 15 expresses a very significant Christian idea. Jesus does not ask for the disciples to be removed from the world. Though the world is dangerous, the disciple's place is in the world. To use the analogy of Matthew 5:13-14, the disciple cannot be salt and light without being in the world. There is no place in Christianity for withdrawal or isolation from the world. The world is where ministry must take place, and the disciple must be there to accomplish that ministry. However, the disciple cannot be shaped and influenced by the world; s/he cannot be "of the world." So Jesus prays that God keep them from the evil influence and power of the world.
To be in the world but not of the world requires sanctification. The second direct petition of the prayer for the disciples appear in verse 17, Sanctify them in (or by) the truth. The word sanctify is sometimes translated "consecrate." It means to make holy by separating the person or thing to God's use. In this context it means to set the disciples apart from the world for the accomplishing of the work of God in the world. To be in the world in ministry but not shaped by the world they must become holy, that is, like God (who is described as holy in verse 11). They are to be sanctified in and by the truth. Jesus himself is the truth, and his teaching and sin-removing, sacrificial death bring saving truth.
Verse 18 makes it clear that the purpose of sanctification is not to enjoy the status of holiness but to be equipped for ministry in the world. Jesus has prayed for the disciples to be sanctified. Just as God sent him into the world, he now sends the disciples into the world. John 3:17 indicates that God sent the Son into the world in order that the world be saved. Jesus sends the disciples into the world for the same purpose - though the salvation of the world will be accomplished by the saving work of Christ not by the work of the disciples. In fact, Jesus sanctifies himself for that purpose. He sets himself apart for God's use and will in order that we might be authentically set apart and equipped for God's use and will.
John 17:20-26 - The Prayer for Future Believers
In the final portion of his prayer Jesus turns his attention to the future. He assumes the success of the disciples that he has prayed for in verses 9-19. To the degree that they continue his ministry in the world there will be a constant flow of new believers into the body of Christ. Verses 9-19 certainly apply to all believers throughout Christian history, but verses 20-26 are specifically oriented toward those will come into the Kingdom by means of the ministry of the original group of disciples.
The first petition for the future believers is the same as the purpose of the first petition for Jesus' original disciples - that they may all be one. The model for the unity of believers is again the oneness of Jesus and the Father. That fact suggests several important ideas. First, oneness does not mean sameness. Jesus and the Father were different; believers are called to be one, but will be different. Second, the oneness of Jesus and the Father is not primarily understood in structural or institutional ways. The different denominations may or may not be God's will, but they do not prevent us from a oneness like that of the Father and the Son. Third, the oneness of Jesus and the Father seemed to operate primarily in sharing the Father's will for the world. Oneness for believers arises from sharing the Father's will for the salvation of the world. The last part of verse 21 states that the purpose of the oneness is that the world may believe.
One of the results that should flow out of the oneness of the future believers is that the world will know that God sent Christ and that God loves the world. Regardless of the issue of church structure(s) the world must know that God sent Christ. If the church cannot convince the world that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), it has failed. If the world does not understand that God loves them, the church has failed. Unless the church learns to incarnate the love of God like Jesus did, it will fail in its most basic purpose. The fact that much of the world perceives God as a mean, vindictive, hateful being is a condemnation of a church that has been mean, vindictive, and hateful.
The final note of Jesus' prayer for future believers is that God's love might be in them and that Christ might be in them. Paul's phrase in Colossians 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," summarizes part of the importance of Christ indwelling in the believers' lives. But it is also by Christ's indwelling presence that the love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit into believers' lives. That love enables the believers to fulfill their ministry in the world. It also enables us to fulfill the command to love one another with which the Last Discourse began in John 13:34. Jesus has come full circle from love to love. Now it is time for him to give the final lesson about love. After the prayer he and the disciples leave to go to the cross.
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 16:16-17:26. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that you thought were important.
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. Has Jesus' prayer, "Sanctify them in the truth," come true in your life? Write a brief prayer asking God to bring the fruit of that sanctification into your life.
Second Day: Read John 18:1-40. Now focus in on John 18:1-11.
1. What effect did Jesus have on the group that came to arrest him? Why?
2. Describe Jesus' attitude and purpose in these verses. What application can you draw for your own life?
3. Read Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 49:12; and Mark 14:36. What do you think Jesus meant when he spoke of the cup in John 18:11?
Third Day: Read John 18:1-40. Focus in on John 18:12-24.
1. Put into your own words Jesus' reply to the high priest's question about his teaching.
2. Read John 11:47-53 again in relation to verse 14. What is the significance of verse 14 in the context of chapter 18?
3. Describe Jesus' attitude in verse 23. Was his response appropriate? How would you have responded? Would your response have been appropriate?
Fourth Day: Read John 18:1-40. Focus on John 18:15-27.
1. How did Peter end up being by the fire in the courtyard? Does John imply that that was a bad thing for Peter to have done?
2. Read Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; and John 18:25-27. What do the first three gospels say about Peter that John does not say? Why do you think John did not deal with it?
3. Do you ever feel like you have denied Jesus? How do you feel about yourself and about God when you do? What can you do to be more victorious at this point?
Fifth Day: Read John 18:15-19:16. Now focus in on John 18:28-38a.
1. Why did the Jews not enter the palace (praetorium)? What do you think of their reasoning?
2. What do you think Jesus meant by verse 36? What application can you make for your own life?
3. What purpose does Jesus give for his life and ministry? How did his death contribute to that purpose?
Sixth Day: Read John 18:15-19:16a. Focus on John 18:38b-19:16a.
1. Describe the personality of Pilate based on these focus verses.
2. In what ways is Jesus' kingship implied or stated in these verses?
3. What would it mean for you to acknowledge Jesus as your king? Are you open to the changes that would require? Write a brief prayer asking Christ to rule in your life this week.