Having a Friend in High Places (John 14:1-31)
Those of you who are preachers or teachers will understand what I am about to say. You are probably familiar with the song, part of which goes like this: “Fill my cup, Lord …” In one form or another, preachers fervently pray these words every Saturday evening. Every Sunday, we empty our “cup” of understanding when we preach. The next week, we study and meditate and agonize, praying that God will again “fill our cup” before next Sunday’s sermon. I must confess to you that my “cup” was empty until the early hours of the morning I had to deliver this message. It wasn’t that I did not have anything to say. I had a lot of observations and comments, but the message of the chapter as a whole was not clear in my mind. I could not discern the point of the chapter, or how John was developing his argument. There is no point in time when I feel my own inadequacy as a preacher more than at such “empty cup” moments.
I believe God graciously granted my request, but just late enough to remind me, once again, that preaching (like all Christian living) is divinely enabled. As our Lord puts it in chapter 15, “apart from me, you can accomplish nothing” (verse 5). We can understand this one chapter in John’s Gospel only as we understand the context in which it is found. Chapters 13-17 contain the “Upper Room Discourse” and High Priestly Prayer of our Lord for His disciples. The matters dealt with here are not found in the Synoptic Gospels, but only in John. The events which occur and the words spoken by our Lord take place in a small window of time when our Lord is finally able to enjoy a private moment with His disciples. Jesus has already dismissed Judas, and he is now in the process of betraying the Master (see 13:27; 18:1-3). In his absence, Jesus can speak freely with His true disciples.
The disciples are confused, perplexed, and greatly troubled by what Jesus has just told them: “Children, I am still with you for a little while. You will look for me, and just as I said to the Jewish authorities, ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ now I tell you the same” (13:33). Jesus had given them some shocking news. One of the 12 would betray Him, and besides this He informs them that He is leaving to go somewhere else, without them. Peter questions Jesus further about this, and seeks to assure Him of his loyalty, but Jesus silences him by telling him that he will deny Him three times before the cock crows (13:38).
The words recorded in chapter 14 (indeed, in 13-17) are intended to minister to the troubled spirits of the disciples—but not to give them immediate comfort. Have you ever noticed that virtually every advertisement for pain relievers claims the same thing—fast relief? I have yet to find any advertisement which says: “Our product will not give you quick relief. If you purchase it and take the recommended dosage, nothing will happen for some time. …” The “relief” which our text offers is not “fast” relief. The Upper Room Discourse is not a “play by play” account of the events that took place in the Upper Room, as the disciples experienced and perceived them at the time. The Upper Room Discourse is a reconstruction of these events, recorded years later, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. These words were written by John after the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost, who enabled the disciples to recall and understand what they had seen and heard in their last hours with the Lord (see 16:12-16).
The immediate effect of our Lord’s words to His disciples was confusion and sadness. I would like to suggest that this was exactly what our Lord intended them to produce—for the moment. Suppose the disciples really did grasp what Jesus was about to do. Suppose, for example, that the disciples understood that Judas was about to betray our Lord and to hand Him over to the Jewish authorities, so that they could carry out a mock trial and crucify the Son of God on the cross of Calvary. I think I know what Peter would have done—he would have used his sword on Judas, rather than the high priest’s slave. I believe the disciples would have attempted to prevent what was about to happen, had they known what that was. But the confusion our Lord’s words produced threw them off balance. The result was that when Jesus was arrested, they fled. They did not die trying to defend the Savior, and in part this was because they were utterly confused by what was happening. Jesus’ words were not intended to produce instant “relief,” but eternal joy. The confusion and sadness that the Upper Room Discourse created in the disciples enabled Jesus to die just as He knew He must, just as it had been planned, purposed, and promised long before. The disciples were surely not “in control” at this point in time, but, as always, the Master was.
While our Lord’s words in the Upper Room are intended to comfort and encourage His disciples later on, they are also words that apply to Christians today as well. Whose spirit does not find comfort in these words: “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you …”? Let us turn, then, to this assuring, comforting text to find peace for our souls in these troubled times.
The “Bad News” Is Really “Good News”
1 “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you. I am going away to make ready a place for you. 3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.”
The disciples are told what will give their troubled hearts relief: faith—faith in God the Father and in God the Son. I have read the words of verse 1 many times before, but have not really understood them. I suspect I am not alone in this, because there is considerable discussion in the commentaries about how we should take the word “believe.”23 As I now understand this passage, I would paraphrase our Lord’s words in verse 1 in this way:
“Don’t be distressed that I am going away, and that you cannot come with me right now. You believe in God, don’t you? Can you see Him? Does He have a physical body that you can see and touch? No. I am going away, and you will not be able to see Me as you have for these past three years. I challenge you, therefore, to believe in Me in the same way that you believe in God the Father, as your unseen Lord. I will be just as real in My absence as I have ever been while dwelling among you.”
I don’t think that I’m overreaching the text here. I believe that the word “also” in verse 1 is intended to link the way the disciples believe in the Father with the way they must also believe in the Son. The disciples are in danger of a temptation as old as the Garden of Eden. From the very beginning, men have been tempted to rely more on what they can see than on what God has said. Let me call your attention to the biblical account of the fall in Genesis 3:
1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the animals of the field which the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it indeed true that God said, ‘You shall not eat from every tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden God said, ‘You shall not eat from it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eye, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Genesis 3:1-7, emphasis mine).
I will not go into detail here, but it is my conviction that everyone but God was visibly present at the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve. Eve was there, as was the serpent. I believe Adam was there also, but kept silent: “She took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6b, emphasis mine).
Adam was there, as was Eve and the serpent. Only God was absent (see Genesis 3:8ff.). Though God was absent,24 Adam and Eve had a clear command from Him regarding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were not to eat of it, lest they die. Eve chose to believe the serpent and her own eyes, rather than the Word of God. Satan said the fruit was good; when Eve looked at it, it did look good, and so trusting in what she saw, she ate and gave some of it to her husband as well. Notice that her “sight” was not as good as she thought, for after she and her husband ate of that forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, and they saw that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). Eve should have believed what God had said. For Eve, seeing (the fruit as good) was not believing (in God).
A similar incident occurs in the Book of Exodus:
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:1-8, NKJV, emphasis mine).
The sin of Israel was prompted by the absence of Moses. He was up on the mountain, obtaining the law on tablets of stone. The Israelites could not stand to be left alone, with no visible leader, and so they engaged Aaron in an idol-making project. The end result was the golden calf, which the people could see, carry along with them, and worship. They worshipped this image as the true God, who led them out of their Egyptian slavery. In so doing, they committed the sin of idolatry. They wanted to “see” their “god,” but the God they served could not be seen and could not be represented by any image. How tempting it is in the absence of a visible leader for men to want someone, or something, they can worship and that can serve as “god.”
Is this not a danger for the disciples as well? Jesus has been very visible and very real to His disciples for nearly three years:
1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life—2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4).
The disciples don’t want this to change. They want a God who is not only near them, but one who can be seen and touched.25 It is better that Jesus returns to the Father, and that they begin to worship Him just as they do the Father. Strangely enough, while He will no longer be with them as He once was, they will come to know Him more intimately than they ever did while He was with them.
What we read in verse 1 is not really that difficult for us, as Gentiles, but let us remember that our Lord’s words would have stuck in the throat of a Jew. As early as John chapter 5, the Jews are violently reacting to our Lord’s claim to be equal with God. The Jews did not (and do not) believe in the Trinity, and thus our Lord’s exhortation to His disciples to believe in Him as they did the Father would sound blasphemous. Our Lord’s claims and teaching are revolutionary to the Jews living in those times, including our Lord’s disciples.26
Let me sum up a very important principle which Jesus is teaching His disciples in the first verses of chapter 14: The relationship which Jesus sustained for a few years with His disciples was temporary and exceptional. In the light of His imminent death, burial, resurrection, and return to the Father in heaven, they must now relate to Him in a very different manner—the same manner in which they relate to God the Father.
This is a point well worth pondering, because the expectations of the disciples at the time of the Upper Room Discourse are very much like the expectations of many Christians today. Many of us, like the disciples, would prefer to sustain a physical relationship with Jesus. We often look back longingly on Old and New Testament times, wishing that we could have been there, or that those days could be re-lived in our day. We wish we could walk and talk with Jesus, as they did. We see the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry as “the good old days.” The truth of the matter is that those days weren’t as good as we may imagine. The disciples didn’t understand Jesus well at all, even though they walked and talked with Him and spent much time in His presence. They sought to talk Him out of the very thing He came to do—die on the cross for sinners. It was not until after His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit that these disciples entered into real intimacy with their Lord. It was after His departure that they came to understand what His earthly life and death were all about. It was after His departure that they spent much time in prayer. It was after His exodus that they experienced great joy, even in the midst of persecution and adversity. In short, it was better for the disciples that Jesus departed from them. It is better for us that He did as well. Let us ponder the privilege that is ours to know our Lord more intimately than we could have and would have had we lived in the days of the disciples.
Let us realize as well that we will never be able to “turn the clock back” to those “good old days” we are reading about in John’s Gospel. At Christmas time, we think of Jesus as a tiny, helpless babe in a manger, surrounded by cattle. That is how He came to this earth, but it is not the way we are to remember Him. Neither should we think of Him as He was at this moment in the Upper Room. We should think of our Lord as John last saw Him, and as we shall all see Him in the future:
9 I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island named Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches—to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze that has been refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 namely, the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I have the keys of death and Hades!” (Revelation 1:9-18)
The “Jesus” that Peter rebuked and resisted (Matthew 16:21-23; John 13:6-8) came as one whose deity and glory was “veiled” (not set aside), and who was not recognized for who He really was:27
1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:1-4, NKJV).
The glory which the disciples beheld was not evident by His physical appearance or earthly form. When Jesus was transfigured, His glory was seen by the inner three, but there His appearance changed or was transformed, so that they saw Him differently than they usually did. Jesus, as He appeared at His transfiguration, was like the One who appeared to John in Revelation. Those who desire to “turn back the clock” to the “good old days” when we would have been able to walk and talk with Jesus wish for something that never was, and can never be. When we see our Lord at His second coming, He will not look like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. Let us therefore be careful not to wish for a return to the “good old days” of our Lord’s presence as the disciples experienced it when they followed Him on this earth. Times have never been better for true believers than since our Lord’s departure, and they will be even better yet when He returns!
The bad news for the disciples (so far as they perceived it) was that Jesus was going away without them. The good news puts all this into perspective. He is going to His Father’s house; He is going back to heaven. He is going there to prepare a place for His disciples, so that they can be with Him for all eternity. His Father’s house has plenty of “dwelling places.” The word “mansions” is not really accurate, as both Leon Morris and D. A. Carson point out to us:
The Greek word translated in the King James Version as ‘mansions’ is found only here and in verse 23 in the New Testament. It is connected with the verb that means ‘to abide, dwell,’ which is used quite often in chapter 15. It points to places to stay. The translation ‘mansions’ is due to the fact that when Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin he used the word mansiones at this point, and the King James translators used the English word that came closest to that. But the Latin word means ‘lodging-places’; it refers to places to stay and not to elaborate houses.28
The King James Version promises ‘many mansions’ rather than ‘many rooms’; and no doubt the prospect of an eternal mansion is more appealing to many than the prospect of an eternal room. The word mansion has called forth quite a number of songs which picture eternal bliss in largely materialistic categories: ‘I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,’ we sing, scarcely able to restrain our imaginations from counting the valets at our beck and call. ‘A tent or a cottage, why should I care?/They’re building a palace for me over there.’ Here we even manage to upgrade ‘mansion’ to ‘palace.’29
Our Lord is telling His disciples and us that there is plenty of room for us all in His Father’s heavenly house. Dwelling with Him there will be a significant improvement on their “housing” while on earth with Jesus: “As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57-58). A good deal of the time, the Lord and His disciples may have been camping rather than living comfortably in some spatial home. What Jesus promises His disciples is a dramatic (what an understatement!) improvement.
The question must occur to the reader, “But why is it taking Him so long to prepare this place for us? After all, doesn’t the Father’s house already have many dwelling places? Is Jesus taking up carpentry again, in heaven, and busily building rooms for His followers?” I think we know better than that. It only took seven days to create the heavens and the earth, so why is it taking Him so long to make a place ready for us?
While on this earth, Jesus referred to the temple as His Father’s house (John 2:16; 14:2). Now, it is apparent that He is speaking of His heavenly “home” and not the temple in Jerusalem. In heaven, there will be no temple, for God’s place of dwelling will be with His saints:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among men and women. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain; the former things have ceased to exist.” … 22 Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God All-Powerful is its temple, and the Lamb. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (for there will be no night there). 26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27).
Compare this passage in Revelation with these texts from Ephesians and 1 Peter:
19 So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, 5 you yourselves as living stones are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in Scripture, “See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” 7 So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:4-10).
If the “place” our Lord is preparing is this heavenly temple, a house made up of living stones (saints), then this “house” will not be completed until the last of His elect is brought to faith. Is this not what Paul is saying in Romans 9?
22 But what if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us, whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24).
God is delaying the outpouring of His wrath on guilty sinners, destined to condemnation, so that He might manifest His grace by saving those who are His “objects of mercy.” The punishment of guilty sinners is delayed until the full measure of those prepared for glory are saved. This, in my opinion, is what our Lord is presently preparing—a holy temple, a congregation of believers in whom, and among whom, He will dwell for all eternity. When the disciples comprehend what Jesus is saying here, they will look on His “absence” in an entirely different light. It is better for them that He leave them, for a time, so that they may dwell with Him for all eternity.
4 “And you know the way where I am going.”30 5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus has just told His disciples that He is going to “His Father’s house” so that they can be with Him there. He then tells them that “they know the way where He is going” (verse 4). Thomas chooses to differ with His Master. He says, in effect, “Master, we don’t know your destination, so how can we possibly know the way to get there?” We have a couple of computer programs which map out the best route to various destinations. There are two pieces of information which these trip planners must know before they can map out a route: (1) the point of departure, and (2) the destination. Once the program knows the starting point and the destination, it can quickly and easily lay out a travel route between these two points. Both pieces of information are required. The disciples actually do know the Master’s starting point (Jerusalem), but they think they do not know His destination. If this were true, they could certainly not know “the way” to where He was going.
But Thomas was wrong. They did know where Jesus was going. They had simply forgotten it, or at least put it out of their minds. Over and over again Jesus had told them that He had come from the Father in heaven, and that He was going to return there: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (6:38).
33 Then Jesus said, “I will be with you for only a little while longer, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come” (7:33-34).
Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me” (8:42).
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (10:34-36)
I was a school teacher for several years. Many are the times when I’ve asked a student a question and gotten a blank look and silence, or a statement that he or she didn’t know the answer. But I knew that they did know. They just didn’t know that they knew. They needed to be reminded. They needed to hear the question put differently. Then, suddenly, their face would light up, and they would blurt out the answer they knew all along. This is the way it would be with the disciples. They were so taken back by what Jesus had told them that they thought they did not know where He was going, even though He had told them.
How gentle and comforting is our Lord’s response. There is no rebuke, simply a statement—one of the most comforting statements of our Lord recorded in the Gospels: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). One could preach an entire sermon on this one verse. Jesus is not merely One who has shown men the way; He is the way. It is His death, resurrection, and ascension that has made a way for men to spend eternity with God in heaven. He is not merely a way; He is the way. He is the one and only way that God has provided for men to obtain the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. Lest anyone miss this point, Jesus says it again, in the plainest of words: “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” To know Jesus is to know the way to the Father, for He is the way.
Jesus is also the truth. He does, of course, teach the truth. His words are truth. But beyond this, He is the truth.31 He is the “wisdom” of Proverbs chapter 8. All truth has its source in Him, as the Apostle Paul writes: “My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches of full assurance in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). He is all the truth that men need for salvation, life, and godliness. This is why Paul restricted his preaching to proclaiming Christ and Christ crucified. The “wisdom” which the false teachers taught was contrary to the truth which is in Jesus. It is this “truth” in Jesus which reveals God to men, which discloses the way to eternal life, which is the basis for sanctification, and which provides the content of the gospel.
Finally, Jesus is the life. We know that He has raised the dead to life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, after he had been in the tomb four days! Jesus gives life, but this is because He is the source of life. He is the One who called heaven and earth (and the church) into existence (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20). To reject Him is to reject life and to choose death (see John 5:21-40; 6:33-63). Because He is the life, His life cannot be taken away from Him. He lays it down, just as He has authority to take it up again (John 10:17-18).
To know Jesus is to know the Father (verse 7). The disciples have not known Jesus fully, but from the time of His glorification they will know Him and the Father. Indeed, Jesus can not only say that they have known the Father, but that they have seen the Father, in Him.
Seeing and Believing
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me; but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. 18 I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. 20 You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. 21 The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.”
22 “Lord,” Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “what has happened that you are going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. 24 The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 I have spoken these things while staying with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, 31 but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Get up, let us go from here.”
There is enough material in these verses to keep a preacher going for a long time. It will take all eternity to plumb the depths of these words, so I will not attempt to do so here—as though I could. Instead, I would like to try to capture the main point which unifies the entire passage and constitutes the principle argument John is seeking to develop in chapter 14. That will make sense of the whole text and help us plug in some of the details as we continue to study this great text in the days and years to come.
Philip’s question contains the key to this text, in my opinion: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” Philip is basing his request on the premise that “seeing is believing.” If they could but see the Father, then they would believe all that Jesus has told them about the Father, and then they could have peace of mind. Jesus is going to turn this reasoning inside-out. He is going to say that it is not “seeing that leads to believing,” but rather it is “believing the leads to seeing.” Believing is seeing. It is to those who believe in Jesus to whom He reveals Himself (verse 21). Let us attempt to trace the argument as John sets it out.
Philip asks Jesus to “show them” the Father, so that they can believe. Jesus begins with a gentle rebuke. Has He been with His disciples all this time, without Philip really coming to know Him? If he had known Him as he should, he would not be asking Jesus to show them the Father. They should have known that to see and know Jesus is to know the Father. He and the Father are intimately connected. The Father dwells in Him, as He dwells in the Father. To know one is to know the other. To reject one is to reject the other.
The words that Jesus has spoken to them have been the Father’s words. I am reminded of the opening words of this great Gospel:
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only One, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18, emphasis mine).
Jesus was the Logos, the Word. He did not speak independently of the Father. He spoke the words which the Father gave Him to speak (John 8:26, 28, 38; 12:49-50). The disciples should have believed His words because they were the words of the Father; they were the truth. But if this was too much for them to do, they should believe His words because of His works. They are the Father’s testimony that Jesus is the Son, and that He speaks for the Father.
These miraculous works which God has accomplished in Jesus are not the greatest works that men will see. Those who believe in Jesus will do even greater works. The basis for these greater works is the Lord’s presence and ministry in heaven. Once again, we see that it is better for the disciples that Jesus leave them behind for a time, because His absence makes possible the “greater works” of the disciples. Whatever they ask in His name, the Father will do in order to glorify Himself through the Son.
Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. He made the lame walk. He raised the dead. Just what would the disciples do that was greater? First, I would think the miracles which the apostles and the early church performed would be greater in number than those done by our Lord, in the three short years He ministered to men on this earth. Second, the miracles were greater in their outworking. Jesus healed the paralytic in John 5, but like many others He healed, this man was not saved as a result. The saving of a lost sinner, the transfer of one from death to life, and from darkness to light, is the greatest miracle of all. What a miracle a transformed life is! Such were the miracles about to take place through the disciples and their preaching. Third, I believe the miracles God accomplished through the disciples were greater because of those whom God used to achieve them. Are we surprised that the Lord Jesus Christ could heal the sick or raise the dead? We shouldn’t be. The wonder is that God empowered men like Peter and John to heal the sick and even to raise the dead.
The Lord’s statements in verses 12-14 are often twisted by those who insist that there must be miracles and signs today.32 They wish to hear our Lord assuring them that anything they ask will be granted, if the request is but made in Jesus’ name. They insist that miracles like those accomplished by our Lord (and even greater ones) should be expected today. The purpose of the miracles our Lord promises is not the glorification of the men God uses to accomplish them; the purpose is to bring glory to Himself (verse 13). He is not obliged to grant us every selfish request we might make (see James 4:1-3).
Jesus is not encouraging His disciples to become miracle-workers here. In fact, He is doing the opposite. He is urging His disciples to believe His words, because they are the Father’s words. If they must have added verification, let them take note of His miraculous works as the Father’s accreditation and approval of His teaching. The “high road” is to simply believe in what Jesus has said. The “lower road” is to believe what He has said because of the miracles He has done. Let us not twist this text and our Lord’s words to promote miracles, signs, and wonders, when Jesus speaks of sign-faith as second-class faith (see also John 2:23-25). Soon, Jesus will be speaking these words to Thomas, who must see in order to believe:
24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!” 26 Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” 28 Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29).
Ideally, it is not “seeing” that should result in believing, but believing that should result in seeing. Philip would like to see (some dramatic revelation of the Father, some theophany), so that he might believe, and so that his mind can be at ease. Jesus urges Philip to believe His words, if necessary because of His works. Verses 15-21 spell out the “high road” for Philip and for every follower of Jesus Christ.
Those who love the Lord Jesus should eagerly seek to obey His commandments—His Word. Having trusted in Him and having obeyed His commandments, Jesus will request that the Father send “another Advocate” who will be with them forever. He is an “Advocate,” a “Helper” like our Lord. He is not an “Advocate” of a different kind, but an “Advocate” of the same kind, an “Advocate” like Jesus.33 The difference is that this “Advocate” will be with them forever. When He comes, He will not leave them. In order for Him to come, to be sent to them, Jesus must first go away. He will ask the Father, who will send the Holy Spirit to be with them—forever. He will not only dwell among them, He will indwell them. He is called the “Spirit of truth.” It is He who will call our Lord’s teaching to their remembrance. It is He who will cause all that once confused them to become clear. It is He who will transform them into bold witnesses who proclaim the gospel in the face of great opposition.
The Lord is leaving this world, and He is leaving His disciples behind, at least for a time. But Jesus is not abandoning His disciples as though they were orphans (verse 18). These are those whom He regards as His “little children” (13:33). When He ascends to the Father, the world will see Him no longer. This is not a detriment to the gospel, but a witness to the righteousness of Jesus Christ (see 16:8, 10). While the world will not “see” Him, His disciples will. This “seeing” is not with one’s physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. They will “see” Him by faith. It is then that they will grasp the unity of the Father, the Son, and the sons of God. It is those who love God and who keep His commandments whom God will love, and to whom the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself (verse 21). Believing and obeying (the Word of God) results in seeing.
There is yet one more question to be asked, this time by Judas. This is not Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord, but another Judas (verse 22). He understands Jesus to say that henceforth He will reveal Himself to His disciples, but not to the world. Judas questions Jesus as to what has happened, what has gone wrong, to produce this change. What has changed so that Jesus will no longer reveal Himself to the world, but only to His disciples?
I believe that Judas, like his fellow-disciples, was wrong. Jesus did promise to reveal Himself to His disciples. He made it clear that “the world” would not see Him any longer. But Judas was wrong to assume that Jesus had given up on all but His handful of disciples. Jesus means that He will no longer reveal Himself physically and visibly to the world, just as He will no longer be (literally) seen by His disciples. Jesus will continue to reveal Himself to the world in the same way He reveals Himself to His disciples—through His Word. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ words to His disciples will be remembered and recorded in the Gospels. This gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world. Anyone who loves Jesus and keeps His commandments will enjoy the Lord’s dwelling among and within them through His Spirit, just as His disciples will (verse 23). Those who reject His Word do not love Him, nor do they keep His commandments. In rejecting the words of our Lord, they reject the words of the Father. In so doing they reject both the Father and the Son.
These words have been spoken by our Lord to the disciples, but they have not been understood. When Jesus leaves this earth and returns to His Father in heaven, the Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father in the name of the Son. He will teach the disciples what they are to proclaim to the world, and by means of this teaching, some will believe, obey, and “see” Jesus.
The final verses of this chapter (27-31) return to the peace which our Lord gives, which will keep their hearts and minds so that they need not be distressed by His absence. He gives them peace, but it is not a peace like the world offers. It is not a peace rooted in what is seen. It is a peace based upon what is unseen, upon what is said by our Lord, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” They heard Him say that He was leaving, but these words should bring them great joy. He is leaving them to go to the Father, who is even greater34 than He (verse 28). Having died on the cross of Calvary, and having been raised from the dead, it is from heaven that our Lord can be of the greatest help and comfort to His disciples. He can, and will, be their Intercessor with the Father. And, from heaven, the Father and the Son will be glorified, as they accomplish great things through the disciples.
Our Lord’s words are the basis for men’s faith and comfort. Jesus is telling His disciples all these things, not because they will immediately understand them and find comfort in them, but because they will remember that He told them all these things before they took place. Our Lord’s words to His disciples here are actually prophecy. When His prophetic words are fulfilled, the faith of the disciples will be greatly strengthened. If the things He promised in the near future are fulfilled, then surely His promises about heaven are sure and certain as well. There is little time left for Jesus to say more, because Satan is drawing near in the person of Judas Iscariot and the religious leaders, who are seeking to arrest Him. But in what He is doing, Jesus is Himself obeying the command He has been given by the Father. In doing this, the world will know (if not now, in the future) that He loves the Father.
Jesus now says to His disciples, “Get up, let us go from here.” Jesus does not wish to stay too long in any one place. Is Judas leading the Jewish authorities to this Upper Room at this very moment? It could be. Jesus may therefore have directed His disciples to leave that place, so that they can continue their conversation elsewhere—somewhere Judas cannot find them until it is His “time.” Once again, Jesus is in full control of the situation. He will not be arrested or put to death until it is “His time.”
It is not in this present world, not in things that we presently see, that we find hope and comfort. It is in those things that are unseen. This is the “hope” we find throughout the New Testament:
18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but also we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, inwardly groan as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. 28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 Because those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those God predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:18-30).
11 For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore, I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 so that after we have taken off our earthly house we will not be found naked. 4 For indeed we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 4:11–5:10).
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. 4 By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, reverently constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was awaiting the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. 12 So in fact children were fathered by one man—and this one as good as dead—like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore. 13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:1-16).35
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
For us, it is not what we “see” with our natural eyes that gives us this hope, but it is what God has said. It is God’s Word which is the basis for our hope, even as it was for the saints of old. I am constantly reminded of how materialistic I am, how attached I am to what I can see and touch and use (like cars and computers and tools). Our text reminds us of where “home” really is, and this is where our heart should be; this is where our treasure should be laid up. This should be where we desire to be. Most of all, let us remember that “home” is where our Savior is and why we should desire to be there, with Him:
The supreme hope of the church has always been the return of Jesus Christ. But in contemplating that happy prospect, we must never lose sight of the fact that the goal is to be with Christ. It is true that the second advent promises an end to history as we know it, and constitutes a guarantee that moral chaos and human rebellion shall not ultimately prevail. It is true that we are thereby reassured that history is neither out of control nor meaningless. But one must not neglect the greatest source of comfort of all: the prospect of being with Christ. Small wonder Jesus places such emphasis on the personal implications of his return. The consummation itself would be an empty triumph if Jesus were not there.36
May our Lord’s absence produce greater intimacy with Him, and greater works to His glory. May His absence cause our hearts to grow fonder and cause us to be a little “homesick” for heaven. Is heaven your home? It can be only if you have trusted in Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.” It is through Him alone that we can “come home to the Father.” It is by His death, burial, and resurrection that a way has been made, a way to have our sins forgiven, a way to enter into heaven as our home. I pray that you have embraced the words of our text, and even more so, that you have embraced Jesus as your Savior and your hope.
24 We know, of course, that God is omnipresent, and thus in one sense, we can never say that God is absent (see Psalm 139:7-12; John 1:48). But somehow we must say that God drew near to men in a special way in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).
26 Carson writes, “Despite the clarity of Jesus’ claim, the apostles cannot accept it at face value. Steeped in Jewish heritage in which monotheism played so strong a part, they could scarcely conceive of a trinitarian monotheism like that which Christians came in time to confess. They were still maintaining a fundamental chasm between Jesus and the Father. Sad to tell, some of Jesus’ most bitter opponents discerned what Jesus was claiming more swiftly than did his apostles. We seek to stone you, they said, ‘for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’ (10:33). But at this late date, Philip can still ask, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’ (14:8).” D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 33.
27 One might argue with this conclusion, based upon John 1:14-18, but I would contend that these verses describe how the disciples perceived Jesus after His death, resurrection, and ascension. They did not fully realize who He was until after He was glorified.
30 The New King James Version reads, “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” There is a longer reading of verse 4, which is reflected in the King James Versions, but the sense of either reading is the same, so I will not pursue this matter here.
31 “We do not read simply that what he speaks is true, but that he himself is the truth. He is the truth incarnate, just as he is love incarnate and holiness incarnate; for he is the Word incarnate. ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (1:14).” D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 28.
33 The argument here is based upon the particular word John employs, which is translated “another.” In many places this particular word means “another of the same kind.” There are those who think this may be pressing the word too far, at least as John employs it.
35 Steve Novakovich, a friend and member of our church made this observation, which I pass along to you for your edification: The disciples wanted to believe what they saw. In our text, Jesus urges His disciples to believe what they could not see. The writer to the Hebrews urges us to believe in spite of what we do see, based upon what God has said. I like that.
Related Topics: Christology