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Help for Troubled Hearts (John 13:31-14:31)

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With the traitor dismissed (13:31), the cross looming large before Him, and His departure near at hand, the Savior sought to encourage His disciples with a number of truths that were vital to their own peace of mind as well as to their ability to represent Him to a lost and hostile world. The entire passage from John 13:31 through chapter 16 is one long farewell address often interrupted by questions from the disciples who are mentioned often in chapters 13 and 14. The character of these chapters is that of final instruction designed to provide help for troubled hearts. This element is marked out by Jesus’ words in 14:1 and 27.

14:1 Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.

14:27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

Prior to these words, however, Jesus had been teaching His disciples about forgiveness, about His betrayal, His glorification, and His departure. Because of their lack of understanding of His purpose in the plan of God and their inability at that point at least, to relate all of this to their own existence and purpose, their hearts were extremely troubled. The truth they needed to settle their disturbed hearts was necessary for both their unity and courage. The fears and hostilities they would face, the unanswered questions, the differences in temperament and the jealousies which had existed among them would alienate them from one another and render them useless in the plan of God.

The Teaching Regarding His Glorification (13:31-32)

Before mentioning His departure, the fact of His glorification is mentioned five times in two short verses (vss. 31-32). Consistently, throughout His ministry, reference to His glorification was a reference to His death as the culmination of the Father’s purpose for the Savior (see John 7:39; 12:16, 23; 17:1). Included was His resurrection which would validate the significance of His death. By His death, which demonstrated God’s love and Christ’s faithfulness, both Christ and the Father would be glorified (vs. 31). In Christ’s resurrection and exaltation the Father would glorify Christ and validate not only His claims, but the accomplishment of redemption through the cross (vs. 32).

But there was surely another reason. Once His death was accomplished, He must depart to return to the Father, but the accomplishments of His death and the message of God’s love would now need to be proclaimed and manifested by Christ’s disciples. Through daily cleansing and fellowship with Him (John 13:1-17) and by the Spirit of truth, the Helper whom He would send to indwell them (John 14:15-18), they would be able to manifest the victorious Savior to the world.

However, at this point in their understanding, they simply had not grasped all of this nor could they yet comprehend it (John 16:7, 12). Once the Spirit had come, it would then not only make sense, but revolutionize their lives.

The Teaching Regarding His Departure (vs. 33)

Jesus began this instruction by addressing the disciples as “little children.” The Greek word here is teknion, a diminutive form of teknon, “children.” This was a term of love and expressed Jesus’ special concern for His own. It is used only here by Jesus in this Gospel. John used it seven times in his first epistle (1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21), and Paul used it once (Gal. 4:19). But it appears that Jesus used it here in this context to communicate a vital truth. Though He would leave them and though they could not follow Him, at least not then, His departure was not because He did not care for them. Indeed, His departure was vital to their needs (16:7).

The Teaching Regarding the New Commandment (vss. 34-35)

The command that God’s people love one another was, of course, not new. As an outworking of love for God, loving others is at the heart of the Law and expresses the last half of the Ten Commandments. So why does the Lord call this a new commandment?

“New” is the Greek kainos (kainvo”), which often denotes what is qualitatively new as compared to what has existed until now, what is better than the old versus what is “young, recent.” It speaks of what is new in the sense of unused, fresh. The religious leaders had missed the heart of the Law and had failed to truly lead the people into God’s love and love for others. So while loving others was not new in the sense of “recent,” it was new in the sense no one had fully manifested God’s love as had the Savior in such a sacrificial way—it was unused.

In contrast to the self-righteous religious Pharisees, the Lord Jesus had come to fulfill the Law and demonstrate its true meaning in both supreme devotion to God and in love for others. The new commandment to love one another, then, is based on His example, “even as I have loved you.” The command is new in that it is a special love for other believers based on the sacrificial example of Christ’s love.

The goal is expressed in the last part of verse 34, “that you also love one another.” Mutual love for one another brings comfort and help to the Christian community, but it is a powerful means of manifesting Christ to a hostile world and is an evidence for the dynamic reality of the message of Christ (vs. 35).

Nevertheless, this talk about His betrayal (13:21-30) and then about His departure was tremendously discouraging to His disciples (13:31-33). Later in this scene, Peter would be told that he would disown the Savior (13:36-38). So, their hopes and expectations were progressively, piece by piece, being dismantled; they had all kinds of reasons to be troubled or agitated in their hearts.

That they were troubled is clear from the Lord’s words in 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and by the promise of His peace in 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” This coupled with the repeat of His exhortation against troubled and fearful hearts shows they were perplexed.

John 14, then, is one of those marvelous passages of the Word that is sublime in its promises and profound in its significance to the life of the body of Christ or to His disciples. As those who would represent the Savior in a hostile world, they need the Savior’s personal assurances found in this chapter.

In view of the perplexed hearts of the disciples, John 14:1 is pivotal and the key verse of chapters 13-14. It points us to two needs and two problems every disciple faces in his or her walk in the world.

The first problem is troubled hearts, but we should note up front that a troubled heart is really the result of a deeper problem that will be addressed later.

The first need is “Let not your heart be troubled.” “Troubled” is the Greek tarassw. Literally, it means “to agitate, stir up, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro) as with water” (cf. John 5:7). Metaphorically, it means “to cause inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, disturb one’s equanimity.” Thus, it means “to disquiet, make restless; to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread; to render anxious or distressed.”

Further, this is given in the form of a prohibition, a negative command. But we must not allow an English translation such as, “let not …” imply a mere permissive idea. It is more like, “Do not let your heart be troubled” or “You must not let your heart be troubled.” The aspect or action of this present negative imperative verb commands the cessation of their troubled hearts as well as the continuation of this as a pattern of life. By applying the truth of Scripture, like those given in this passage, we are to consistently calm the agitation of our hearts. The disciples were troubled and the Lord was here calling on them to deal with their fears.

The second problem and the root is fear coupled with unbelief. The greatest problem in man is his fear caused by his unbelief in God. This is the root and heart of all wickedness and wickedness leads to troubled hearts. Isaiah wrote, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isa. 57:20-21).

It is here, then, that we find the second need, but this need is one which, when corrected, also becomes the solution. What men need is a relationship with God through belief or faith in God. As the Lord points out, to believe in God is to also believe in Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Uncertainty or an ignorance or a lack of spiritual understanding about God and His plan weaken our faith. This naturally results in troubled hearts. The disciples had troubled hearts because of their lack of understanding of the Word as it related to the sufferings of Messiah. Though clearly taught in the Old Testament, they had as yet not grasped the need of the cross. They believed in Him as the Messiah, the Son of God, but they were struggling with His repeated comments about His death and resurrection.

So how do we get understanding? By asking questions and by getting answers through instruction. And that is precisely what begins to happen in verse 2.

In this section of verses there are a number of questions asked by the disciples, questions by Peter (13:36-37), by Thomas (14:5), by Philip (14:8), and by Judas [not Iscariot] (14:22). Further, there is actually an unasked question that the Lord answers (14:12-14).

It is helpful to notice that these questions portray perplexities of the human heart which unsettle hearts and trouble minds. But marvelously, all of the questions find their answer only in the person and work of Jesus Christ and His purpose for us as His disciples.

In summary, let’s note how these verses speak to our innermost needs and philosophical questions of life. But as the text shows, the answers to these questions are found in the death, resurrection, ascension, session, and return of Christ.

Crucial Questions That Trouble Hearts

The Question of Peter, a Question of Destiny (13:36-37)

While Peter’s question was directed toward the Lord’s departure mentioned in verse 33, it really concerned the question, where are we going? He was asking the Savior, what’s going to happen to us if you leave us? In other words, is our future secure? There is clearly an element of fear here—what about heaven and how are we going to get there? The Lord answers this in 14:2-3 where He promises His personal return for the body of Christ, specifically the rapture of the church, as further developed by Paul in his epistles (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ’s answer shows us human destiny involves both a place and a person. The place is the Father’s house, a place that will contribute to happiness, but being there comes from knowing a person—Christ Himself.

The Question of Thomas, a Question of Skepticism (14:5)

Thomas shows us the same uncertainty about where we are going, but he specifically adds the question, how are we going to get there? He wanted to know who would show us the way? Christ gives the answer in verses 6 and 7. Thomas, like the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot), were believers and knew the Lord in that sense, but they did not know Him as deeply and intimately as they needed to. They needed a deeper understanding of the Savior. They had not penetrated the life of Christ as the suffering Savior as had Mary, who sat at His feet to hear His word (Luke 10:38) and who also anointed His feet with ointment in preparation of His death (John 12:3-7). So, when Christ said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also” He was not suggesting Thomas was not a believer. He was not using “know” in the sense of faith in Christ for salvation, but “know” in the sense of the intimacy and a deeper spiritual perception of a more mature faith. Christ did not say that He knew the way or that He would teach them the way, but that He Himself was “the way, the truth, and the life.” “Solutions to human problems are never found in skepticism, but rather in the affirmation of faith.”1 And the only affirmation of faith that leads us into life and into an eternal destiny is faith in Jesus Christ.

The Question of Philip, a Question of Realism (14:8-9)

Here we see the longing and need in men to get a glimpse of God and experience His reality. “Show us God and we will believe” is what Philip was asking. Philip was a materialist who wanted something more tangible than metaphysical distinctions or theological abstractions. He wanted to see some concrete evidence. This desire in man is why we are so prone to various forms of idolatry and the pursuit of things we can see and touch and hold. The answer comes in verses 9-11. To see the Lord Jesus was to see and experience the Father, the living God as Jesus’ life, words, and works made clear (John 1:14, 18).

The Unasked Question, a Question of Direction (Purpose) (14:12-14)

In pointing to the greater works His disciples would accomplish with His departure, the Lord was indirectly addressing another issue, though not actually a question asked by the disciples, because it is an issue that speaks to a basic longing in man. It’s the question of significance and purpose. Unless this question is answered and found in a personal relation with Christ, as one who abides in Him (John 15), it is an issue that not only drives men incessantly from one pursuit after another, but diverts them from the call of God on their lives. Typically, however, this question goes unresolved because, like a dog chasing his tail, men persistently, being deceived by Satan’s world system, pursue the wrong things. In fact, King Solomon addressed this very issue in Ecclesiastes; regardless of man’s accomplishments or accumulation, when he tries to live life without faith in God he experiences nothing but futility.

Here, then, is a question of the heart that people may not even know they are asking. Like a spiritual submarine, it is a question that runs silently and deeply beneath the surface in the unconscious waters of the heart. Here is a question and a longing that unsettles and troubles the hearts of men—it is the question, what is my purpose in life? Why am I here? It is the quest for significance. But it is also a question that is very much related to the Lord’s promise to prepare a place and to return for His own because it is at this time that He will surely reward His saints for the faithful use of their lives.

The big question, then, is the question of PURPOSE: Why am I here or what are we here for? What is the reason for this life? What is my purpose here on earth? What am I to do with my life?

This question and its answer, given here as a promise to the church, lies at the heart of this passage and points us to one of the key helps to untroubled hearts. Herein lies one of the major causes of perplexity, disunity, and unrest in men; here is a question that every disciple, if he or she is to be effective, must come to grips with.

John White, a Christian author and psychiatrist, has pointed out one of the spiritual problems that he has found causing serious mental disorders is being without an adequate purpose for life.2

Stephen Eyre took a survey on the values and motivations of college students at campuses in the Southeastern United States. One striking discovery of the survey was that there was little internal sense of cause or duty among students. Primary motivations centered on personal enjoyment and development of job-related skills.3

Several things can be noted here: (1) Being without God or without a right relationship with God creates a huge void in the heart of man. This leads to an almost pathological obsession with climbing the ladder of success as defined by the world (cf. John 7:37-39; Eph. 4:17f). (2) And how does the world defines success? It defines it in terms of prosperity, prestige, position, power, pleasure, and possessions. It defines it in terms of numbers, names, and noses—and too many Christians and churches seek their significance the same way. Such can only lead to troubled hearts filled with disunity, competition, and resentment. (3) At the top of this ladder called “success” there is supposed to be a place called happiness paved with streets named fulfillment, peace, and security. We might be wise to remember how Paul warns us that one of the signs of the last days and its apostasy will be the world’s pursuit of “peace and safety (security) at all cost” (1 Thess. 5:3).

At the top of the ladder of success there may be some kind of luxury automobile, a mansion on a hill top overlooking the Pacific or a beautiful mountain range, or one’s name in lights, or great recognition in some area—but is the climb worth it? The Lord warned his disciples against seeking to gain the world, while losing their souls, that is, wasting their lives from God’s standpoint and purpose. Like a bad dream, true happiness and meaning in life will always be just out of reach unless it is sought and found in the answers the Savior gives us in this passage. The picture the world offers of meaning and happiness in the good life, in peace and safety, is a satanic mirage.

As Christians who are to be disciples and disciple makers, we must realize the pursuit of the so-called ‘good life’ consumes people in a process that is ruinous and destructive. Not only does it not pay off, it has definite negative consequences.

It draws us, like a vortex or a black hole, into a pursuit that Solomon describes as “chasing wind” in Ecclesiastes. In essence, this pursuit is a paradox.

In the selfish pursuit of our own happiness, we ruin our lives and the lives of our families, and we fail to experience true meaning in life—Christ’s purpose.

It causes us to neglect our health, our mates, our children, our friends.

We become blind and callused to people in need all around us, and above all, we blatantly neglect God.

It is a pursuit that becomes selfish and immoral because it is based on wrong values and priorities, those that are self-centered rather than other-centered.

With this in mind, let’s look at 14:12-18. These verses constitute several promises, but promises that are directly related to one primary promise, one concerning the principle of direction or purpose.

    The Certainty of the Promises, “Truly, Truly” (14:12)

“Truly” is the Greek emhn (emhn). It means “to be firm, secure.” It not only points to the certainty of a particular truth, but it was used by the Lord to arrest the attention because the teaching that would follow is not at all optional but is fundamental and indispensable to life. In the context of this passage, what we have before us is as indispensable to effective disciples and untroubled hearts as is oxygen to the breath we breath (cf. vs. 1 with vs. 27).

    The Consignee (the Who) of the Promise, “he who believes in Me” (14:12)

Please note: The promises and message of this passage are not restricted to ministers or missionaries or preachers. It speaks to every believer, to all of us. The one issue here is faith in Christ. Faith in the Savior enters one into union with both His life and His purpose. It brings both the power of God and the purpose of God to bear on every believer’s life and includes a call to ministry as partners with the Savior in His enterprise on earth. God wants all believers to be disciples.

The Lord’s promise in these verses about ‘greater works’ speaks to the whole body of Christ. It drives home the biblical mandate of every member needs to get involved in God’s purpose for his or her life.

    The Content (the What) of the First Promise (14:12)
      The Continuation of His Work—”the works that I do shall he do also

Underline the word “also.” Here the Lord resumed the main thrust of His teaching in these chapters. He wanted to impress us with the fact that He was not disbanding the disciples and nor ending His purposes in the face of His departure.

Indeed, His departure would be the basis of the continuation of His work on earth.

Acts 1:1 is what is called the “resumptive preface.” “To do” refers to Christ’s works of love as He reached out to a hurting world. “To teach” is equivalent to His words of love, the gospel message, but the two go together and speak of the mission of the church to reach out to the world as partners of the Lord Jesus with His life fleshed out in ours.

This is what John Stott calls incarnational Christianity. “In ‘incarnational’ Christianity the church is both a people called out of the world to worship God and a people sent back into the world to bear witness to Him and to serve Him.”4 But the point is that it is incarnational in the sense that God’s people are fleshing out the very life of Christ by the way they live in their values, pursuits, and concern for a dying world. This will become evident in our Lord’s answer to Judas (not Iscariot) in verses 23f.

      The Amplification of His Work—“and greater than these shall he do”

The disciples were given temporary gifts that were miraculous in nature like the gift of miracles and healing. But such miraculous powers is not the point here. This applies to all believers or the church of all time until the return of Christ.

The greater works here do not refer to greater in degree, but greater in the sense of extent and effect.

  • As to extent, Christ’s ministry was limited to Palestine, to places like Judea, Peraea, Decapolis, Galilee, and Samaria, but through the church, His work would spread all over the globe.
  • As to effect, multitudes from all over the world would come to know Christ and be placed into the body of Christ, the church.

In other words, every believer and every church is to be a part of a world-wide purpose and ministry empowered by the living Christ through the Holy Spirit whom He gave to the church after His glorification, His death and resurrection and ascension.

    The Cause (the Why) of the Promise (14:12c-14)

There are three reasons given in the text. First, His Ascension and Session, second, our Intercession, and third, the Holy Spirit’s Procession.

(1) The Ascension (His departure) and the Session (His arrival)— “because I go to the Father”

The point here is that power for such a ministry would be the result of the power, authority, ministry, and gifts of the exalted Lord. This is explained and developed in the verses that follow and throughout the New Testament. Power for ministry would originate from the exalted Lord—and two further results of that which the Lord now turns our attention to—the privilege of intercession and the procession, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2) The Intercession of the Church—“and whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, …”

As believers in Christ, we have access into the very presence of God through the Lord Jesus who is there for us. But what does this mean? What must the disciple understand here? He is there for us:

Permanently—having once and for all dealt with our sin.

Exaltedly—all power and authority having been given to Him because of His glorious defeat of Satan, Sin and Death.

Sympathetically—having become man, He is able to feel for our infirmities and needs, always there for us.

Compassionately—always caring for a dying world.

Our ministries are often impotent because we are prayerless or because we fail to pray purposefully according to the goals of Scripture. We might also note something else: the promise, “whatever you ask …” is given in connection with accomplishing the greater works of Christ. This is not a blank check for selfish wants (Jam. 4:3). But power in prayer and effectiveness in ministry would depend on something else. We would not only need access, but we would need spiritual enabling and direction in our prayer life and in our ability to reach out to the world.

(3) The Procession (the sending of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son)— “and I will ask the Father …” (John 14:16-17, 18f, 26)

“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this …” (Acts 2:33)

Several times the Lord spoke of the Holy Spirit as the "Helper" or "Enabler." He is God's gift to the body of Christ to enable believers to both live the Christian life and fulfill God's individual purposes for them. A passage that is particularly pertinent here is Zechariah 4:10. God gave Zechariah a special message for Zerubbabel that was vital for his success and the completion of the task he faced. Completing the task successfully did not depend not on man’s might or power, but on the Spirit Himself. All kinds of power available to man are meant: physical, mental, moral. These at their best are insufficient for the tasks at hand or for any work of God, because it is He who supplies the power of the Spirit of God who alone is sufficient for our tasks in the hostile world in which we live.

How timely, then, is this message for our day with its complex and manifold committees, boards, drives, plans, organizations, contests, budgets, sponsors, rallies, groups, methodologies, techniques, and so much more. “These can never avail in themselves to bring about the accomplishment of the task God has entrusted to us; since it is from first to last a spiritual work, it must be by the omnipotent and unfailing and unerring Spirit of God. The arm of the flesh fails; He never does.”5 Compare 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:4-5.


The issue, then, is what does all this mean to us believer's in Christ?

(1) This is first of all a call to ministry, to envisioning an every member kind of ministry, to envisioning an entire church devoted to continuing what our Lord began.

(b) It is a call to being a Spirit-filled people, a people controlled and led by the Spirit as was the Lord Himself whose very works were the result of abiding in the Father.

(c) And it is a call to intercession, to a life in which prayer plays such a priority that it becomes the foundation of our ministry and outreach in the world.

We now turn to one last question, the question of Judas (not Iscariot), verse 22. This question is important to our grasp of the passage and its message.

The Question of Judas (not Iscariot), the Issue of Revelation (14:22)

From Judas’ question, we see one last question, one last perplexity. Why don’t you reveal yourself to the world now? Why only to us?

Let’s note the Lord’s answer. Verse 23 answers the question of Judas, and then verse 24 summarizes and concludes His instruction in answer to these questions.

At first his answer doesn’t appear to really answer all of Judas’ question, especially the part about disclosure to the world. But at closer inspection and in the light of the rest of Scripture it does. The point is, as men love the Lord, as they keep His Word, they will know deeper and deeper levels of intimacy with God. In the process they will flesh out God’s love, His values, purposes and will, and that will result in a vast disclosure of Christ’s person and that of the Father to a needy world in all that He began both to do and to teach.


We should note that if 14:1 introduces our subject, “let not your heart be troubled,” 14:27 concludes it and points us to the results we experience, but only when we accept the Lord's answers, claim His promises, and abide in His life, as the next chapter (15) so dramatically teaches us in the figure of the Vine and the branches.

People everywhere want peace, do they not? But they are looking for it in all the wrong places … The world can’t give it. Only Jesus Christ can give us peace and untroubled hearts, and only those who, as committed disciples, are sold out to Him and the life He has left us to live—a life as His partners—can know His peace and meaning in life.

Let’s ask ourselves some important, soul-searching questions, questions we must also ask our disciples:

(1) Am I running on that proverbial gerbil wheel of fortune or on some other wheel in search of satisfaction, significance, and security? Am I chasing the wind?

(2) What are those specific expectations that keep me pushing and running on this wheel of my futile expectations?

(3) What is it costing me to stay on this wheel in terms of my time, my relationships with God, family, friends, in terms of the ministry God may have for me, and in terms of my own mental or physical health?

(4) What motivates me to keep climbing?

Regardless of what people say they believe, their actions and lifestyle reveal their ultimate values and trust are economic, not biblical, and that is idolatrous. Fifteen years ago, the dominant value among college freshmen was finding an adequate philosophy of life. Today that value has dropped to number eight on the list. Predictably, being well off financially is now number one on the list.6

When the world is seen largely as an arena for economic and commercial activity, individuals tend to derive both their sense of identity and their sense of worth from what they produce and consume. We identify ourselves by where we work, what we live in, and what we drive—the more we own, the more we are.7

(5) Is there a longing within my heart to be a part of a larger cause? Do I long to see God use my life in a way that makes a difference? If so, I need to seek to identify and describe my sense of what God’s purpose might be for my life.

1 Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1948, p. 214.

2 John White, Putting the Soul Back in Psychology, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1987, p. 36f.

3 Stephen Eyre, Defeating the Dragons of the World, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1987, pp.10, 12.

4 Bibliothecra Sacra, July-Sept., 88, p. 245.

5 Charles Lee Feinberg, Zechariah: Israel’s Comfort and Glory, American Board of Missions to the Jews, New York, 1952, pp. 44-45.

6 Tom Sine, Why Settle For More and Miss the Best, Word Publishing, Dallas, 1987, p. 30.

7 Sine, p. 32.

J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M. is a 1966 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a former pastor of 28 years. Hampton currently writes for the Biblical Studies Foundation and on occasion teaches New Testament Greek at Moody Northwest (an extension of Moody Bible Institute) in Spokane, Washington.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Comfort