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The Theological Message of John 14:15-31

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I. Context and Setting

John was very selective in recording the words and works of Jesus Christ in order to achieve the goal that his readers might, by reflecting on his account, come to express faith in Christ and have life in His name (John 20:30, 31). In general, the gospel has four major movements beyond the theological prologue (1:1-18) which are tailored according to John's purpose: 1) Jesus' interaction with individuals (1:19-4); 2) Jesus' sayings and resultant opposition from religious leaders (5-12); 3) Jesus' personal instruction to the twelve (13-17); 4) Jesus' passion (18- 21).1

The purpose of this paper is to focus on the personal instruction of Jesus to his disciples, in particular John 14:15-31. These words appear to have been spoken by our Lord in the upper room as he ate a meal with his disciples (13:1, 2). For their part, the disciples are grieving and anxious about the thought of being separated from Jesus (cf. Jesus' need to encourage their hearts with peace 14:1, 27, 28). Indeed, the whole section from 13:36-14:31 is concerned with the departure of Jesus and the response of the disciples. In light of this and other factors it has commonly been referred to as a "farewell discourse."2

II. Relation to the Synoptic Gospels

The sayings of Jesus as found in John 14:15-31 do not appear in any of the Synoptics in the form found here.3

III. Exposition

15 Love for Christ on the part of believers is to be manifested in obedience to his commands (14:21; 15:10). This is a reoccurring theme in Johannine writings (cf.1 John 5:3). The commands (entolas) of Jesus, in light of the term logos in verses 23 and 24, may be expanded to include the teaching of Jesus in its totality, not simply ethical precepts per se (cf. 8:31, 32; 12:47-49 [rhema and entolas]; 15:20; 17:6). And, while the commands of Jesus and his teachings may be many, for John they are carried out ultimately in the context of a single command, that is, to love one another as Jesus himself loved us (13:34, 35; 15:12, 17). Therefore, love for Jesus reaches its fullest expression as we love our brothers and sisters as He commanded.4 Then,5 says Jesus, He will make a request of the Father.6

16 In typical fashion in John Jesus expresses his subordination to the Father (cf. 4:34; 5:30, 36; 7:16, 18; 8:26; 10:18), in this case by asking His Father for the gift of the Paraclete. The term allon suggests that Jesus himself had been a Paraclete for the disciples as well as the fact that this new Paraclete will be like Jesus. The idea of Jesus being a Paraclete does not look ahead to Jesus' intercessory prayer on behalf of the disciples (John 17) or the fact that He will indeed intercede on the disciples' behalf from heaven (1 John 2:1). The passage is looking back during the earthly ministry of Jesus and no doubt refers to all the acts of helping, ministering to and aiding the disciples that Jesus performed as he loved those whom the Father had given him (cf. John 13:1a; 17:12).7

This is one of the five Paraclete passages in John 14-17 ( cf. 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-11 and 13, 14 [cf. Philo Som. II:252]). The term parakletos, a passive verbal adjective,8 has undergone much study and there is no little disagreement on its meaning here.9 Barrett10 suggests that its meaning should be sought in a study of its cognates, parakalein and paraklesis for example. But, Turner11 disagrees with this claiming that John does not use the verb and this etymology requires an active not a passive adjective. In common Greek outside the N. T. the word was used generally of a "helper" or "one who appears in another's behalf" and the technical use of the term for a "lawyer" or "attorney" was rare.12

John appears to use the term in both a negative and positive light. With reference to the world the Paraclete has a negative function; to expose (eglecko) the guilt thereof for sin, etc (16:7-11). This context is somewhat forensic and like a courtroom. But, such is not the case in the other passages. In these, the Paraclete performs several essential functions: 1) teaching and reminding (14:26); 2) testifying about Christ (15:26); 3) guiding into all truth; revealing the future and making the things of Christ known to the disciples as well as glorifying Christ (16:13, 14). With this in mind and since all these functions can be summarized out of helping type role, parakletos is best understood as a "helper" in terms of whatever the disciples need in God's plan. In this sense He will do what Christ did for them, but He will also do it differently, that is, from within (cf. v. 17).

17 Jesus says that the Paraclete will be with them forever, which no doubt would have brought a great deal of comfort to these anxious men and would have guaranteed their permanent relationship to Him. Jesus also refers to the Paraclete as the Spirit of truth (15:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit, in intertestamental Judaism, was often times viewed as the Spirit of Prophecy:

Charismatic Revelation and Guidance

By his dauntless spirit he saw the future, and comforted the mourners in Zion (Sirach 48:24).


And the Lord gave Joseph favor and mercy in the sight of the Pharaoh. And the Pharaoh said to his servants, "We will not find a man wise and knowledgeable as this man because of the spirit of the Lord is with him" (Jub. 40:5).

However, John's reference to the Spirit of truth is paralleled in Jewish materials:

And at that time, when a spirit of truth descended upon her mouth, she placed her two hands on the upon the head of Jacob and said... (Jub. 25:14)

And these are the ways of these (Spirits) in the world. It is of the Spirit of truth to enlighten the heart of man, 1QS IV. 2.

Here the role of the Spirit is not unlike that found in John, though it is difficult to say that John's use has it's antecedents at Qumran.

The world (kosmos) in John's gospel is painted as a dark place (1:5) where troubles are numerous (16:33) and ignorance of God and His ways prevail (1:10). The world did not understand Christ (1:5, 10) and indeed were intent on hating him to the point of killing him (cf. 7:7) because He told the truth. It is clear from this that the world is spiritually dead (cf. Eph. 2:1) and it comes as no surprise that they do not receive or accept (labein) the Spirit. They have only earthly faculties, i.e. human sight, and are therefore unable to penetrate into spiritual realities (cf. theoreo, and the fact that the Spirit is non corporeal) and thus they fail to know (ginosko) the Spirit. In short the world is as unable to comprehend the second Paraclete (cf. 3:8) as they were to comprehend the first. We see the same today as men grope about for answers and seek for reality, missing God at every turn. They are the world of today.

But not so with the disciples. They knew (ginosko) the Holy Spirit for He had abided or lived with them and will be (estai) in (en) them.13 The presence of the Holy Spirit with believers is not uncommon in the O. T., but that He would permanently indwell is a distinct shift in God's dealings with man (cf. 7:39; 1 Cor. 2:12; 3:16). As those who stand in the line of the disciples we too are able, by the Spirit who communicates the truth, to know God and His ways (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12). We need not grope around in the dark and live as men who have no hope.

18, 19 Jesus promised his disciples that He would return and not leave them as orphans. To a person who is an orphan or who has been one, the coming of someone to take care of them is an incredibly happy experience. The disciples must have been encouraged to hear this again. But of which coming is here referred? Some say that this return is the coming of Christ in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.14 They cite the fact that the verse is embedded between passages on the coming of the Spirit. But, this does not seem to appear anywhere else in John or other biblical writers. Some say it refers to the parousia because of the repetition of erchomai taking us back to 14:3 which refers to the parousia. However, the fact that the world would not see him tends to rule out the parousia (v. 19). It seems best to take this as a reference to his resurrection and appearances to them which the world had not seen. The other possibility which Barrett and Bruce suggest is that John deliberately used language applicable to the resurrection and the parousia.15

The fact that Jesus will be raised from the dead and alive will be the basis for the spiritual life He will give to His disciples and indeed to all those who trust him as they did (cf. John 11:25, 26; Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 15:22).16 The mediator of Christ's life to the disciples and believers is the Holy Spirit.17

20, 21 On the day18 they partake of Christ's resurrection life through the Spirit (Acts 2:1ff) the disciples will come to understand (gnosesthe) the nature of Christ's relation to His Father and their relation to both Christ and the Father (cf. 10:38). And they will live in this relationship loving one another. And the person (notice that the text says o echon. . . as referring to anyone not just the disciples per se) so invited into the relationship with Christ and his Father will demonstrate their love by obeying Christ's commands (cf. v. 15). The Father in turn will love the obedient believer and Christ too will love him and manifest himself to them. The term emfanizo ("manifest") and its cognates is used in the N.T. to refer to resurrection appearances (Mt 27:53; Acts 10:40); to the exposing of people's motives and intentions (Acts 23:15) and to refer to making something known to someone (Acts 23:22). It is used in the O.T. in Ex. 33:13, 18 where God makes Himself known to Moses according to Moses's request. Philo also uses the term:

Now to what soul could it have happened to conceal vice and to put it out of the way, except to that soul to which God was revealed, and which he considered worthy to receive the revelation of his unspeakable mysteries. Legum Allegorie III, 27.

Since the passage says that Christ will reveal Himself to everyone who keeps his commands, it is perhaps best to refer to the "manifesting" as a spiritual manifestation and not to a physical appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples before His ascension. This also seems consistent with Exodus 33. Therefore, as any believer obeys Christ, He will make Himself known to him (i.e. through the Holy Spirit). This seems to be further amplified in the following two verses in light of Judas's question.19

22-24 Judas may well be Judas, the son of James, the eleventh apostle in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13.20 Apparently Judas thought that the Messiah ought show himself to the entire world. Perhaps, as Brown21 suggests, Judas is connecting Jesus' use of emfanizo with Exodus 33:13, 18 and expecting another theophany, but to the whole world.22 In any case He is confused about what Jesus means. All of us get confused at times with what God is doing and get discouraged because we cannot seem to grasp Him and His ways. Such is the case with the disciples here and we can be sure that Judas' question was not his alone, but indeed that of the whole group. Jesus responds by saying that essentially the manifestation of He and His father will take place, not visibly, but invisibly to those who obey His commands. It is a spiritual manifestation in which the Father and the Son come and make their home with the one who loves them.

The term mone ("home") links us back to 14:2 where Jesus says that there are many rooms in my Father's house. The emphasis here however, is that God will come to make His home in believers on earth, where 14:2 suggests that in eternity believers will make their home with God in heaven. The point of the connection is to emphasize the presence of God and the relationally, warm nature of the family ties between the Father, Son and believers. No verse could more fully announce the relational nature of Christianity and that good relations in the household are based upon the believers obedience to the Son's commands. As Royce Gruenler23 has said, "The family circle is defined in terms of fidelity to what is spoken by father and Son."

As the silence of verse 24 implies, for those who do not love the Son as evidenced by a lack of obedience to His teachings, there is no such entrance into the family nor enjoyment of it. The fact that Jesus points out that His words are not His own but belong to the Father who sent Him is common in John (8:26, 38, 40; 12:49; 15:15) and enjoins an air of authority to what He has just said.24 Anyone listening needs to respond!

25, 26 Again Jesus picks up the theme of His departure. Though He has spoken all these things while still with the disciples, His time with them is drawing to a close. For that reason He once again speaks of the continuance of His relationship with the them through the parakletos, who is called the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send (as He sent the Son; cf. 4:34; 5:23, 24, 30; 6:38-40; 7:16; 8:16; 12:44-49) in His name and who will teach the disciples all things and remind them of what He has said while with them.

The special function of the Paraclete in this verse is to teach and remind the disciples. These two functions are similar in nature.25 To what does the panta ("all things") refer here? It undoubtedly refers to the teaching of Jesus throughout His ministry among the disciples. The content of that teaching, as seen in the gospels and later in the N.T. seems to refer particularly to all things concerning the Messiah; i.e. the meaning of His Person, His death, resurrection, the establishment of His church and His future coming and how one ought to live in view of that.

27 Jesus, fully aware of their distress, turns again to encourage the disciples with His farewell word of peace. "Shalom (erene) is the usual Jewish greeting when friends met and parted."26 Jesus has confidence in God's plan and power (13:3) and knows that God is in control. Full of peace in the face of tremendous suffering He offers His peace to His disciples; a peace that is unlike the world in that it is grounded in God's sovereignty and is genuine, given without ever being retracted, present in the worst of trials. Since He was so confident in the outworking of God's plan, the disciples ought not let their hearts be troubled or become afraid. We too must remember that when we become fearful in the course of doing God's will that there is One who offers His peace to us (cf. Phil. 4:6, 7).

28, 29 As Jesus once again picks up the theme of His going and coming (cf. 14:3), He tells the disciples that if they loved him (that is, desired what was truly good for Him) they would be glad for His return to the Father. The disciples should have expressed their love for Christ in rejoicing over the fact that Christ was soon to be reunited to His Father. Instead they were still anxious and focused upon their grief.27

The question is posed with regards to verse 28: "In what way is the Father greater than the Son?" How does such a statement compare to 10:30 where Jesus says, "I and the Father are one?" Apparently the Arians used this verse often in defining their Christology wherein they held the Son to be something less than the Father, a created being of the Father.28 The basic problem with an Arian view is that it requires that one understand passages such as 8:58 and 20:28 as supporting something other than Jesus' essential deity. This is difficult to imagine.

Within more orthodox ranks in the history of the church, there has been a tendency, according to Beasley and Brown, to treat the statement in one of two ways: 1) as a reference to the fact that the Son is generated and the Father is not, thus making the Father greater; 2) as a reference to the Son's humanity and as a man he was less than God the Father. The first option hardly seems to be in the mind of the apostle as he writes this,29 but the second seems to be more in line with the fact that as a man, He was not equal to God the Father.30 But, the context seems to point in a direction different than these explanations. The very fact that Jesus is sent by Father (as John repeatedly makes reference) may indicate in a Jewish mind that the Father as the sender is the greater party.31 Therefore, the Father seems to have the greater role to play in redemption in that He is the One who sends the Son and commands Him what to say. Perhaps it is in this sense that Tenney can say that the statement refers to position and not essence.32

The reason Jesus told them these things concerning His death, resurrection and the coming of the Spirit was so that it when it happened they might believe that He is indeed the Messiah He claimed to be (cf. 13:19). The aorist subjunctive pisteuvshte would seem to indicate that they would enter into belief at that time, but 1:50; 2:11 and 6:69 seem to indicate that they had already believed in Him. But the difficulty can be solved if we see that the post resurrection setting allows for a faith that is complete and full as opposed to a lesser, gradually developing faith exhibited by the disciples during the earthly ministry of Christ.

30, 31 The fact that Jesus is going to allow Himself to be arrested, tried and crucified is not because the prince of this world (i.e. the devil; cf. 12:31) had anything in Christ, that is to say any point of control due to sin or fear in the Savior. No, there was nothing the Devil had in Christ, but it was of His love for the Father that He willingly gave up His life (10:17, 18).33 This is a truth which the world, as it wanders in darkness and rebellion against the Father (cf. Rom. 5:10), needs to understand and which the Paraclete will make evident (16:8-11).

The last phrase of verse 31, namely, egeiresthe, agomen enteuthen, has caused problems for many interpreters. It appears that the discourse has ended, yet 14:31 is followed by chs. 15 and 16. Dodd, (cited in Brown34) understands the phrase to refer to no spatial movement, but simply Jesus' resolve to go and meet the prince of this world. But Barret35 et al. cast considerable doubt on such a interpretation, pointing to the fact that chs. 15 and 16 follow and enteuthen means "away from here" not "to meet him." Barrett poses the idea that the difficulty might be solved on the basis of scribal error in an underlying Aramaic text. But, it appears that it is difficult to support the thesis that there was an Aramaic text underlying John. And others have suggested rearranging the text to make it fit, for example, putting 14:31b near the end after chapter 16. Still others have suggested that the discourse of 15 and 16 took place en route to the garden. Barrett36 thinks that chs. 14 and 15- 16 form two distinct versions of the last discourse. He supports this through the probability that oral sources lay behind the gospel and the numerous parallels between 14 and 15, 16.

At the present time I am not sure why the words of chapters 15-16 could not have been spoken en route to the garden as they went through Jerusalem. I see no need to rearrange the text since there is no manuscript evidence to support such a process. There may be some value however, in understanding chapter 14 and chapters 15-16 as two versions of the same discourse. The parallels may lend themselves to such a reading, but not all agree.

IV. Preaching/Homiletical Ideas and Applications

    A. Love Jesus by Obeying His teaching (14:15)

      1. His number one command is to love others believers.

      2. His commands do include all his teaching

    B. Understand the Work of The Holy Spirit (14:17; 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-11; 16:13, 14)

      1. He comes from the Father to stay forever within the believer

      2. He mediates the life of Christ to the believer

      3. He teaches us all things concerning Christ and reminds of biblical truth

      4. He focuses His ministry to believers on the Person of Christ

    C. Trust God even When You're Unsure as to What He's Doing (14:18, 22)

      1. Because He is in control

      2. Because He loves those who love Christ

    D. Understand that Christianity is about Relationships (14:20, 21, 23)

      1. With God and His Son

      2. With other believers

      3. With the World

    E. Accept the Peace that Christ Offers (14:27)

      1. It is Christ's peace

      2. Don't let your heart be troubled and afraid

1 Cf. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983): 24-27. He has four basic movements, but organized slightly different.

2 Cf. Raymond Brown, "The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI," in The Anchor Bible, vol. 29a, (New York: Doubleday, 1970): 597, 98. After citing several examples of O.T. farewell speeches, Brown considers that the book of Deuteronomy, as one grand farewell speech by Moses, most closely parallels John 13-17. Intertestamental literature provides examples of this literary genre as well: cf. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; The Book of Jubilees and even in the N.T. (Acts 20:17-38).

3 Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 445, 46. The Synoptics mention the work of the Spirit (Luke 11:13), the various struggles of the disciples with fear, etc., but in quite distinct contexts from John.

4 John's teaching here resembles the Great Commandment as found in the Synoptics (Matt 22:37-40 and Mark 12:30, 31), namely, to love God and neighbor, but it is conceived in a narrower sense focusing primarily upon Christ and fellow believers in Christ.

5 The ean sets up the protasis: ean agapate me with the apodosis being twofold: tas entolas. . . and kago. . . humin.

6 Cf. 4 Ezra 14:22: "If then I have found in favor before you, send the Holy Spirit to me."

7 Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, "John" in the Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publishers, 1987):256. He has a nice discussion of the issue wherein he counters the idea that history in the gospel of John has been swallowed up in light of a post-Easter setting.

8 BAGD, 618.

9 For detailed study of the Paraclete in John see Brown, 1135-44.

10 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978): 461-63.

11 M.M.B. Turner, "Holy Spirit," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green, Scott McKnight and I Howard Marshall, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992): 341-351.

12 BAGD, 618.

13 There is debate over the tenses of the two verbs meno and eimi. Murray (John, 242, 43) thinks that they ought both be taken as futures. External criteria are fairly evenly balanced, but it would seem that the present reading adopted by the NA26 is to be preferred. In this way we do not have to read ginoskete as a future (as Murray suggests) and the future of eimi makes clear what the passage has been emphasizing the whole way through, namely, the new indwelling role of the Spirit as opposed to the older economy. cf. Merrill C. Tenney, "The Gospel of John" in The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 9, Gen ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1981):146, 47.

14 Cf. Beasley, 258 who cites this as an increasingly common interpetation and the reasons why. cf. also Barrett, 464.

15 C. K. Barrett, 464 and F. F. Bruce, 303.

16 Cf. the emphatic use of the pronouns: because I live, you also will live. The connection is unmistakable. Christ is the basis for their spiritual life and by implication ours also (Eph. 2:1-10). cf. also R. E. Brown, 646.

17 Cf. Bruce, 303.

18 The phrase en ekeine te hemera appears to be eschatalogical; cf. Is 11:10, 11; 26:1-4 which would seem to lend support to the idea that John sees the resurrection in an eschatalogical framework, perhaps as the basis of the blessing God will bring about for Israel and the entire world (John 4:42).

19 Cf. v. 21 with Wisdom 1:2; 6:12, 18.

20 Cf. Bruce, 304 and 307 note 13.

21 Brown, 647.

22 Judas thought that Jesus was to show himself to the world. Perhaps he got that from Jesus' teaching or from passages in the O.T. such as Is. 11:4, 9, or both. Further, according to F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, no particular conception of the Messiah dominated Jesus' day, but perhaps the idea of a military Messiah was the thought in Judas's mind. cf. Acts 1:6.

23 Royce G. Gruenler, The Trinity in the Gospel of John: A Thematic Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1986): 103.

24 Beasley, 260.

25 Cf. Beasley, 261.

26 Bruce, 305.

27 Cf. Brown, 654.

28 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985): 696.

29 The idea that Jesus has come from God seems to be related in John as a statement of subordination to authority, not the derivation of his essence.

30 Cf. Brown, 654, 55.

31 Ibid, 632. see Brown for a defense of this thesis.

32 Tenney, 148.

33 Brown, 656 suggests that the text refers not to Jesus willingly offering up His life, but to His confidence that no one will be given power over Him except by permission of the Father. But, the fact that the next verse refers to Jesus doing exactly whatsoever His father commands Him, seems to fit better with His giving of His life, rather than someone gaining power over Him.

34 Brown, 656.

35 Barrett, 469, 70.

36 Ibid, 454.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Discipleship

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