Facing the Future: A Prescription for Peace (John 14)
This week someone left a cartoon on the Xerox machine at my office in which a man was lying on the couch of a psychiatrist. When the psychiatrist asked the client what his problem was he confided that he had all kinds of fears about the future. “Doctor,” he began, “I’m worried about the energy crisis, inflation, the situation in the Middle East, political and social upheaval in Africa, our diplomatic relations with China …” I wish I could remember all of the concerns of the man in the cartoon; there were at least a dozen. In the final frame the psychiatrist responded, “Shut up and move over,” after which he proceeded to get on the couch with the patient.
A cartoon such as this would be much more amusing if it did not contain so much truth. The problems of the future are almost overwhelming. Those in a position to know the facts are privately saying that things are not nearly as bad as they seem—they are worse. Public officials seem to have taken the same approach to our national problems as many doctors do with a terminally ill patient—keep the unpleasant truth from them as long as possible.
Secular philosophy and ethics have come to assume a fearful future. That is why they are dominated by a note of absolute despair: “The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.”139
On the popular and practical level, this despair concerning the future has led to what has been called the ‘now generation.’ The most optimistic view of life is that ‘we only go around once, so we’d better grab all the gusto we can get!’, to parrot the beer commercial. Those who are more thoughtful and better informed are not so sure we are even going to go around once, and thus our pursuit of pleasure is an even more frantic one.
As a Christian I am not going to tell you that things are not all that bad. If I read my Bible correctly,140 things are going to proceed from bad to worse as the time of our Lord’s return draws near. The days ahead may be difficult indeed, but our Lord has not left us without hope.
It is at the point of facing the frightening prospects of the future that we can find a common ground with the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had spoken more frequently and clearly of His death in Jerusalem.141 During the last supper Jesus had revealed that He was to be betrayed by one of His most intimate associates (John 13:18,21). Finally, He had told Peter that before the night was over he would deny knowing his Lord (John 13:38).
All of this was a most perplexing situation to those who had given up everything to become the followers of the Savior (Matthew 19:27). They saw the future now as something to be feared, rather than that which was eagerly anticipated. They, like many of us, viewed the future as something to be dreaded rather than desired.
The words of the Lord Jesus are words of comfort and encouragement. They contain a message of peace and consolation. It is by understanding and applying the principles of this passage that you and I can look the future in the face with faith rather than fear, with hope rather than despair.
The Answer to Peter’s Question:
“Where Are You Going”
Verses 1-4 of chapter fourteen are an answer to Peter’s question in chapter 13, “Lord, where are You going?” (John 13:36). Our Lord had revealed that He was departing and that His disciples would not be able to follow Him for a little while. Peter confidently assured His Lord that he would follow Him anywhere, even to death. Chapter 13 closed with Jesus’ disturbing prophecy of Peter’s denial. The first four verses of chapter fourteen contain our Lord’s fuller response to the question raised by Peter as to where He was going.
This ‘going’ was a return to the heavenly Father, but more than this it involved an agonizing death by crucifixion.142 What prompted Peter’s question was not a lack of information, for our Lord had already spoken clearly of His death. The problem was the disciples stubborn refusal to accept the clear teaching of Christ. Suffering and death did not fit their preconceived ideas of Messiahship or of the coming Kingdom. Jesus couldn’t mean what He was saying. And so the questions persisted, always seeking some other answer than what they had consistently been told.
Jesus began by dealing with the underlying cause of their unrest and spiritual agitation—a lack of faith. God’s prescription for fear is faith. “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).143 Just as the disciples had trusted in God, so they must believe in the Lord Jesus. They could not help but question in their own minds the wisdom of the Savior in virtually precipitating His own death. This seemed to the disciples to be a foolish and senseless casting away of all their hopes.
To undergird the diminishing hopes of the eleven, Jesus first assured them of the final outcome of the immediate events of the future. He urged them to consider the final chapter of history before drawing hasty conclusions about the events of the immediate future. The final destination of our Lord was to return to the Father’s house, that is, heaven. The ultimate outcome of our Lord’s going was that He prepared a place for us there with Him and with the Father. He will go, but He will also just as surely return to take us to be with Him forever.
The events of the immediate future were not contradictory to this ultimate goal of history, but complimentary to it. It was true that Jesus would go, but more than this we should understand that he must go. This ‘must’ is not so much a necessity so far as the physical preparation of heaven is concerned, for Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (verse 2). Heaven already exists with more than adequate accommodations for all true believers.
There is a two-fold sense in which we must understand the preparation of heaven for men. First, it was necessary for heaven to be prepared for man. This preparation was not meant to be understood in a physical sense as I have already suggested, for it was physically more than adequate for human habitation (verse 2). In the book of Hebrews, especially in chapter 9, we are informed that the high priestly work of Christ involved entering into heaven to cleanse it (Hebrews 9:23-28). It is on the basis of this preparation that our Lord will return again to take the Christians home to be with Him (Hebrews 9:28).
In another sense, we must realize that the death of Christ prepared us for heaven. Every man, woman, and child is born in a state of rebellion against God, doomed to eternal punishment apart from divine intervention (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:9-20). It was the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross that provided the eternal redemption which makes every believer fit for eternity in the presence of God (Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians, 2:3-10; Colossians 1:12-22; 2:13-14; Hebrews 9:23-28).
Not long ago a friend of mine went to a very fine restaurant in Dallas. He was not allowed to dine there because he did not have on a coat and tie, which was a requirement of that establishment. Heaven is something like that, I believe. Sinful men are not properly attired to enter into it. The death of Jesus Christ has removed the filthy rags of our self-righteousness. We have been clothed in His righteousness and thus prepared to spend eternity in heaven by faith with Him.
Our Lord did not spell out in detail the means for the preparation of heaven for men and men for heaven, for they were not yet able to grasp it (cf. John 16:12). The Holy Spirit would make these things clear in time to come (John 16:13ff.). The going of our Lord was a physical departure, a return to the abode of the Father. But Jesus’ leaving was also the sacrificial death of the sinless Lamb of God, on Whom would be laid the sins of men. It was for this reason He had come, and so He must leave His disciples for a while.
Jesus was going, by means of a tortuous death upon a Roman cross. It was a departure far worse than the disciples were capable of imagining. Yet while this going was far worse than they feared, the outcome was not what they feared. They viewed Jesus’ departure as a permanent separation from the One they deeply loved. While His departure would mean a temporary end to His physical presence, it was the means of establishing a much deeper and more intimate relationship.
To use the analogy of marriage for a moment, Christ’s physical presence among the twelve had been something like an engagement. The departure or going of the Lord meant an end to this kind of relationship. But it also brought about a marriage, in which a much fuller and more permanent union would be accomplished. Think of the devastating results if Jesus had given the disciples what they wanted! He would continue in His physical presence, but they would continue in their sins. He could never take them home with Him to live with His Father, because they were not fit for it.
Jesus’ departure was a painful one. There was nothing pleasant about it. But it was both necessary and preparatory. It brought about the possibility of a greater and more permanent union and communion with Him. He would leave them for a while; He must leave them for a while. This would be painful for them and Him, but it would be profitable in the results which it would accomplish.
In Jesus’ answer to the question of Peter, there is a principle which may bring us great comfort in facing the future: GOD OFTEN EMPLOYS TEMPORARY PAIN TO BRING ENDURING PLEASURE.
Think of the birth of a child. For nine months after new life is conceived it lives in the protection of the womb. This idyllic existence cannot continue indefinitely. Through a painful process, the baby is brought into the world. And yet it is this pain which introduces the greater pleasure of a far more intimate and lasting relationship as parent and child.
So it is with the Christian life. We may fear the future. The future may be even more difficult than we imagine it to be. We may face great trials and testing and undergo great pain. In the face of such frightening possibilities we need not lose our spiritual composure because we know that our ultimate destiny is to spend eternity in the presence of God in eternal fellowship with our Savior. If there should be suffering and pain in our pathway, we may be confident: that God will use this to further us along the path to our heavenly goal.
Thomas’ Question Answered:
“How Can We Know the Way?”
Thomas was the hard-headed realist of the group. He would not believe Jesus was raised from the dead until he saw the evidence first hand (John 20:24-25). Here he was not content with the answer given by our Lord. So far as he was concerned, Jesus had not yet answered the first question satisfactorily. They did not know where He was going. They surely did not know the way.
To Thomas, the issue was a simple one, but he could not seem to hear the answer. How can one know how to get somewhere when he doesn’t know his destination? How can one find the path without knowing the place? The disciples still did not comprehend Jesus’ words concerning His departure. They refused to accept His predictions of His death. They were unwilling to think of the Master’s departure as anything more than getting out of the country, perhaps until they had cooled down. They were thinking in the most literal and physical terms. They didn’t know His destination; they surely could not know the directions as to how to get there to meet Him.
Jesus’ reply was almost too simple. He not only claimed to be the goal but the guide. The ultimate destiny of the disciples was to be with Christ. They puzzled over the details of getting to where He was. Jesus informed them that He was the guide as well as the goal: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). Our final destination, if we are truly born again, is heaven, the Father’s house. No one knows the way to the Father’s house better than the Son. He was soon to make His way back to be with the Father, later to return for His own to share in His riches. It was enough for the disciples that they know the Son and He would be their guide. In the final analysis the way is not our responsibility, but His.
There is a very important principle here, I believe. JESUS CHRIST IS BOTH OUR GOAL AND OUR GUIDE. THE ‘SECRET’ OF GUIDANCE IS TO KNOW THE GUIDE.
In a day when the future looks dim and dangerous there is great interest, even undue concern, about guidance. Here is one of the great obsessions of our day, knowing the specific will of God. In the process we have come to place more emphasis on guidance than on the guide.144 All of us should listen to the words of our Lord, for He is the all-sufficient Savior. He is the giver of life, the energizing force of the Christian (cf. John 1:1-4). He is also the embodiment of truth, the perfect reflection of the Father. His is finally the way. We need not know every fork of life’s road or every bend in the path so long as we are close to the guide.
The only way to the Father is through the Son. Here is summarized in a sentence the purpose of the Life and Ministry of our Lord Jesus. All men are sinners, under the condemnation of God. The only way to the Father is through the atoning work of the Son on the cross of Calvary. That is the one point where the disciples would have wanted Him to abort His mission.
In the matter of initial salvation, the Son is the only way to the Father. And, so far as the Christian is concerned, the Son is the only way to the presence of the Father as well. We need to consistently rely on Christ as the source of our sanctification as well as our justification.
“Show Us the Father and It Is Enough”
Again and again the unbelieving Jews sought signs from the Savior (cf. Matthew 12:38). The words of promise of the Lord Jesus were not sufficient for Philip (or I suspect, for any of the other disciples). If only Jesus could perform a spectacular sign by revealing the Father to them in all His splendor, that would be enough. That would set their hearts and minds at rest. This was the request of Philip.
The issue was one of confirmation. The future looked so threatening and the words of Jesus seemed so abstract. If only there could be some kind of spectacular confirmation. If they could just see the Father …
In this request Philip revealed the frailty of the disciple’s faith at this point in their lives. They had missed one of the primary purposes of Christ’s coming, for He had come to reveal the Father.
“No man has seen God at any time; but the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
“And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me” (John 12:45).
Throughout the Old Testament man had been forbidden to make idols or images because they were fashioned by human hands. Man can never accurately reflect the perfections of God. But Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is the product of divine creation, by means of the virgin birth. He alone rightly reveals God to man. Thus we can worship the Son as God (cf. Matthew 2:11; 8:2, etc.).
Divine confirmation of the identity of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah had already been accomplished. Jesus reminded His followers of the two main streams of His authority, His words (verse 10) and His works (verse 11). His teaching had been marked by an authority far above that of Israel’s religious leadership (cf. Matthew 7:28-29). His miracles were a divine seal of approval upon His claims (cf. John 3:2; 11:41-45; Acts 2:22). Even His enemies had to acknowledge the convincing force of His works (John 11:47-48; 12:9-19). His opponents refused to accept His claim to be God, but since He demonstrated supernatural powers, they had to attribute His works to the power of Satan (Mark 3:22).
In addition to the confirming evidences of Jesus’ words and works, there was yet another attestation to the presence of God to be revealed. It would come at a future time. “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The day of which Jesus spoke was not the day of His return for His own, nor of His second advent to establish His Kingdom. It was the day in which the power of the Holy Spirit would be released in the lives of Jesus’ followers. That day began at Pentecost and has continued until the present. Because of this spiritual power in the lives of true believers Jesus could promise: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).
How foolish our requests and desires are. The disciples desperately hoped that what they feared would not come to pass. If our Lord had not died upon that cross and ascended to be with the Father, we would never spend eternity with God, nor could we have entered into the intimate relationship we now have with the Son. More than this, had the Savior not departed, the assurance of His presence in us through His Spirit would not have been available. These ‘greater works’ were the direct result of the departure of the Son (cf. Ephesians 4:7-16). The presence and power of the Lord Jesus Christ is multiplied in His physical absence through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.145
There are at least three prerequisites for the release of God’s power in the life of one of His own which are made clear in this passage. First, the acts which are done with great power must be those which bring glory to the Father (verse 13). Second, supernatural power is provided only for those things which are done in the name of the Lord Jesus. By this I understand that our requests of God must be consistent with the character and purposes of the Son (John 14:13). We must come to understand that our work is, in reality, the work of our Lord Jesus through us. Finally, works of power must always be the product of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (verses 17ff.).
There is behind the request of Philip and the answer of our Lord, a principle which we must never forget: THE REQUEST FOR A SPECTACULAR CONFIRMATION OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS OFTEN PROMPTED BY A LACK OF FAITH IN WHAT GOD HAS CLEARLY REVEALED TO US IN HIS WORD.
Many of us desire that God reveal Himself to us in some spectacular way, to prove to us that He is real. God has disclosed Himself to man through the final and compelling revelation of His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). To ask for anything more is to challenge the sufficiency of what God has done.
There is additional confirmation of our faith, but it does not come from ‘out of the blue.’ It comes from the blessing of God as we are obedient to His Word. “If you Love Me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).
God does disclose Himself to His children, but normally it is not in a once-for-all spectacular way. (Spectacular confirmations had occurred in the sight of the disciples, but how quickly they were forgotten in the light of present or imminent adversity. Such was also the case in the Old Testament.) God normally affirms our faith as we are obedient to His Word and seek to fulfill His purposes in our lives.
The Answer to the Question of Judas:
“Why Will You Reveal Yourself to Us and Not to the World?”
Philip had requested some kind of spectacular manifestation of the Father to assure them at a time of little faith. Jesus had refused immediate response for His assurance would be given in a more continual day-to-day manner. Also, the manifestation of the Father would not be universal, but restricted to believers who would live in obedience to the will and Word of God. Messianic expectation in the days of our Lord knew nothing of this kind of manifestation. They looked for Messiah to come in a blaze of glory, to convince the entire nation that He was the Savior, and to immediately establish His Kingdom. The words of Jesus in no way fit this expectation. Judas (not Iscariot, verse 22) pressed Jesus for an explanation.
Even more intriguing than the question is Jesus’ answer. Do you see it? You shouldn’t, for there really isn’t one. Jesus politely refused to explain His statement for the present time. Instead, He chose to reiterate what He had already said, namely that the primary duty of the disciples would be obedience (verses 23-24). No explanation is given.
This leads to another principle for facing the future: THERE ARE SOME THINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE THAT FAITH DOESN’T NEED TO KNOW. THESE WILL BEST BE UNDERSTOOD IN RETROSPECT.
There is a song which I remember from my childhood which contains the words, “We’ll understand it better bye and bye.” Our fears about the future often incline us to ponder questions which are not at all profitable to us. Faith does not attempt to press God for answers which He has not chosen to give.
God did not answer this question for several reasons. First, they could not grasp the answer anyhow. Secondly, they would not believe the answer, for they refused to consider our Lord’s predictions of His death seriously. Thirdly, the answer would not really have any positive benefit for their lives. Finally, He had made provision for their full comprehension in the near future (John 14:26).
It would be well for us to give serious thought to some of the questions for which we seek an answer from God. Many of them should likely be set aside. Surely we should not be distressed if God has chosen not to inform us of His plans and purposes at present.
Jesus’ Final Words on the
Subject of the Disciples’ Fear for the Future
Jesus summed up His response to the questions of the troubled disciples in verses 25-31. The words which Jesus spoke were provisional and preliminary. The disciples were perplexed because they did not comprehend what He was saying. Further clarification and revelation would be the work of the Holy Spirit after the departure of the Master. Then all of these words would be brought to memory and their meaning more fully grasped (verses 25-26).
The outcome of Jesus’ words should be faith, the corrective to fear. Since the Lord Jesus has promised peace, they need not face the future with timidity and trepidation (verse 27). The right response to the words of Jesus concerning His departure should have been rejoicing, not remorse and grief (verse 28). Since the Father is greater than the Son,146 love would have dictated that the disciples rejoice in the joy of the Son at His return to the Father’s above. The grief of the disciples, much as ours at the death of a loved one, is selfish, thinking only of our loss and not their gain.
Verse 29 gives us the reason why Jesus spoke these words of the fourteenth chapter of John. It was not to bring immediate relief to their troubled hearts, but a peace that would be final and complete. His teaching in these verses was for the purpose of enhancing the faith of His followers. Much of prophecy falls under this purpose of strengthening our faith. When all of His words were literally fulfilled, then the disciples would realize more fully the greatness of the One in Whom their faith was founded. Fulfilled prophecy is one of the foundation stones of faith.
The message of the Savior is so simple that we look for a solution much more complicated and hidden. To summarize our Lord’s prescription for peace in facing our fear of the future we need only two words: trust and obey. That is the message of our Lord in the briefest terms. When we cannot comprehend the future we must simply trust in Him in whose hands the future rests. When we do not know what our duties will be in future times, we can be assured that God only requires us to be faithful in doing that which is our present responsibility. Would you like to look the future straight in the eye without doubts and fears? Simply do as our Lord instructs. Trust and obey. There is no other way. That is the message of a well-known hymn. That is the message of our Lord Himself.
142 In this passage there are two Greek words employed which are translated ‘go.’ The one (poreuomai) is a word used of one going on a journey. But it is also a euphemism for death. I believe that is clearly implied in verses 2 and 3. The other term (hupago) conveys the idea of returning. Our Lord’s going was to death, but it resulted in His return ‘home’ to the Father.
143 There is a great deal of discussion about the correct translation of verse one since the two terms ‘believe’ can be taken either as indicatives (a statement of fact) or as imperatives (a command). The overall tone here best fits the imperative mood in my estimation. I prefer the first verb to be translated as an indicative the second as an imperative: “Stop letting your heart be troubled; you believe in God; believe also in Me” (my translation). In any case the sense of our Lord’s words is clear. The answer to fear is faith.
144 “… it seem as if something is wrong when Christians are more interested in making decisions than in the growth of character, in geographic placement than in holy living, in guidance than in the Guide. Not God, but guidance. Not His sovereignty, but my search. Not now, not then. Not here, but there. Our problem is not so much over-emphasizing guidance as overlooking God. God has become the Hinge we must discover instead of the One Who has placed the door, and us, and the heathen, and the Tomb, and the Cross, and Eden, and the Tree, and the stars.” Joseph Bayly, ed. Essays on Guidance (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1968), Preface, p. 2.
145 The emphasis of this promise, I believe, is on the quantity of the miraculous evidences of divine power, not the quality of the miracles. Jesus evidenced the power of God in one body. Now we are His body, the church, God’s power is now evidenced through a multitude of believers.
146 Some have attempted to use these words to disprove the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is greater, not in the sense of being God, while the Son is only man. God is greater in the sense of His headship within the Godhead. He is the One to Whom the Son is in constant submission and obedience (cf. John 5:19; 7:28; 8:28; 15:10; 17:4; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).