John 14:1-15

Farewell Discourses

The Farewell Discourse – Part 1

The text would adopt the form of a Farewell Discourse, a literary form common in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the secular literature of the time. Written after the death of the protagonist, a Farewell Discourse sought to be so composed as to summarise, interpret and apply to present circumstances the meaning and impact of the protagonist’s life and death. Its setting was a gathering of the protagonist’s friends and family, and it put into the mouth of the protagonist a variety of reminiscences, promises and advice.

In some ways, this Gospel’s Farewell Discourse also followed the precedent set by the Book of Deuteronomy, a book compiled centuries after the death of Moses, and written as though spoken by Moses; its true purpose was to interpret the message of Moses for the author’s contemporaries. 

The Farewell Discourse was the Beloved Disciple’s attempt to summarise for his contemporaries the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Prefacing the Final Discourse

Before his death, the historical Jesus was limited to a particular place and a particular time. The disciples could relate to him only as they could relate to any human person. They could share something of their inner worlds; they could reach out to each other in love. But there were limits to how much they could know each other, to how close they could draw to each other, and to the times they could simply be with each other.

Jesus’ resurrection opened up totally different and deeper ways of their being in relationship. Jesus was no longer present as one constricted by issues of space and time. Yet the disciples’ historical relationship with the risen Jesus was coloured significantly by their unique acquaintance with him. Their personal experience enabled them to understand and to interpret their immeasurably deeper but mysterious relationships with him as the Risen One.

The narrative addressed the challenge of interpreting the presence and action of the Risen Christ to the later community of disciples for whom it was written. The Beloved Disciple, who had intimately known the historical Jesus, and who, by the time he wrote the Gospel, had many years of mystical experience of the Risen Jesus, was in the ideal position to rise to the challenge.

To achieve his purpose the Disciple interwove two scenarios. He set up the Farewell Discourses, sometimes as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, sometimes as a monologue addressed to the disciples. The Jesus who spoke did so as both the historical Jesus and the Risen One. The setting was the shared meal with the historical disciples; the content was the message of the Risen Lord to disciples of all times.

Scholars discuss whether what would follow were originally two (or more) separate, but similar, versions of the same material. Whatever about that, the final editor judged it opportune to present it as one single Discourse.

It would not follow a consistent logic, but would posit and then revisit similar themes in a kind of circular, or spiral, trajectory, as had been the practice in earlier discourses in the Gospel.

John 14:1-15     Oneness with God

The language of the narrative moved into the plural. It was generalizing. What would follow would be theological reflection, with a few brief interludes of dialogue to maintain the flow.

Do not let your hearts be disturbed.  
Entrust yourselves to God
and entrust yourselves to me.

Significant change was brewing; but Jesus’ message was one of challenge and reassurance in the face of the apparent triumph of death. Since Jesus was the one who revealed the heart of the otherwise unknowable God, the disciples’ experience of Jesus, and the trust that it enabled, were the source, also, of their readiness to trust God. (In the language of the Gospel, belief was not mere assent to facts but response in trust to a person.)

2 Where my Father lives, there are numerous places to stay.

Having set the climate of trust, Jesus spoke of God as his Father – not only his Father, but through and in him, also of the disciples. In speaking of places to stay, Jesus was not thinking of place but of something more general where God could be encountered as “at home”. The inner world of Jesus was the inner world also of the Father. Having stayed/dwelt with Jesus, and come to know and be at home with him, the disciples had already experienced something of the places to stay where the Father lives.

… I would have told you if there were not –
for I am going to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you,
then I shall come again in order to take you with me,
so that you may be where I am.

Only by the death of the space-and-time-bound historical Jesus (his going away) could humanity come to share in his new way of being as the Risen One. Through coming into this new kind of relationship with Jesus (I will take you with me), disciples, together with him as the Risen One, would be drawn into his new relationship to the Father where the Father lives.

Though the redemption and salvation of humanity were the initiative of the Father, Jesus’ acceptance of his mission was not undertaken purely out of deference to the Father’s will. With the Father, he, too, so loved humanity that his overriding desire was to take to himself all those who would let him do so (his disciples). He dearly wanted them to be with him – where I am.

The intensity of the personal love of both the Father and of Jesus for those who believe them is almost beyond belief.

There was no way that the original disciples would have been able even to imagine what Jesus was talking about. Though he had promised to raise on the last day those who ate his flesh and drank his blood [6.39-40], and had reassured Martha and Mary that your brother will rise again [11.23], in their minds resurrection spoke of the universal restoration of Israel, which would not occur until the last day. They did not imagine individual resurrection, and their concept of eternal life would have been necessarily undefined and vague. For them, death would have meant absolute rupture of intercommunion, even if only for the indefinite interim before the last day.

Jesus wished to reassure them and to challenge them to believe. The change that would soon disrupt the world of the disciples would not mean that they would lose that intimate closeness with him or with the Father. The threatening death of Jesus would open up possibilities of even deeper appreciation of the world of Jesus, and of the Father. They would know his love at a depth they had never before anticipated, and enter into a relationship richer than the one they already enjoyed: I will take you with me, so that you may be where I am.

What the disciples of Jesus, before his resurrection, had no way of understanding, the disciples in the community of the Beloved Disciple were quite familiar with. They had lived sixty years of life without the physical presence of Jesus. The Beloved Disciple constructed the Discourse to assist their deeper appreciation of their present relationship with Jesus and the Father.

4 And you know the way to where I am going.”

The way to the Father was the way with which they were already familiar: the way of believing, of entrusting themselves to Jesus’ love, and, as they remained ever close to him, of being transformed by his love. 

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  
How can we know the way?”

The misunderstanding put on the lips of Thomas provided the opportunity for the Beloved Disciple to clarify and develop the theological theme.

Jesus – The Way

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life ...

In claiming to be the way, Jesus took to himself the prerogative previously given to the Law: 

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD [Psalm 119:1].

Humanity’s destiny is not some static goal or state to be achieved – a preconceived construct. Rather, it is essentially dynamic. It is life always happening, constantly being lived. It is more a “how” than a “what”. As a goal, it is not distinct from the way. It cannot be achieved by violence; it cannot be imposed, even by God. The way, as lived by Jesus, is the way of love and mutual respect. To live to the full is to love to the full. Such loving necessarily implies integrity and truth. Other agendas, conscious or unconscious, undermine the truth of love.

Through their sharing in the way of living of the risen Jesus by their free, consistent and deliberate loving interactions, disciples would live into their constantly dynamic eternal destiny. The way – loving in truth and integrity – would itself be the goal: eternal life. In this, Jesus is the exemplar, the one who empowers and the constant companion. Disciples know where he is going; and they know the way.

… No one comes to the Father except through me. 

The Gospel’s statement was absolute. The Gospel has been quite insistent that Jesus is the revelation of the Father. God cannot be known in truth, except as revealed by Jesus. Words used of God are always and necessarily analogical. Whatever their dictionary meanings, their existential sense will be drawn from people’s personal experience. Jesus did not rely simply on words or reasoning to reveal his Father. He did so by his life, and would do so most fully by his death. Particularly through his death, he would show to the world the meaning, the extent, the possibilities and sheer power of loving. There is no other way to know the Father existentially than by adopting the way of Jesus – the way of committed, dedicated, unflinching and non-violent love. Only by loving as Jesus did, only through him, can people know existentially the deepest truth of God and find life as they do so.

Missionary Activity

Over the centuries, a fundamentalist understanding of Jesus’ statement, that “no one comes to the Father except through me”, became the motivation for much of the Church’s aggressive (and sometimes insensitive) missionary activity.

The Gospel would soon make clear, however, that after Jesus’ return to the Father, another Paraclete would continue the work of Jesus [14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15]. The issue would be understood as more complex than the absolute statement might suggest. The Disciple was referring to the knowledge of God “as Father”. For him, God as Father could be known only as revealed in the humanity of Jesus; and his statement about “no one” was clearly addressed to his readers (and not necessarily to be extended beyond them).

In today’s world, totally unimaginable to the Beloved Disciple, how is the statement to be understood? The issue has become a much contested area of theological reflection, and the last word has not been said. As the Church evolves across a constantly changing history, it relies ever more firmly on the Spirit of Jesus to lead it to understand and to apply the Scripture’s truth.

The Church’s teaching clearly states today that people who have no knowledge of Jesus, or who have never been baptised, are not thereby deprived of the possibility of eternity with God. That does not mean, however, that their destiny is not the product, somehow, of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.

And, yet, disciples who have known in their lives the effect of living with and in Jesus know the need to share their experience with those who have not known him. What is non-negotiable is that they seek to do so with sensitive respect, illumined by love and wisdom, knowing that their own comprehension of truth is incomplete and always a work in progress.

Jesus – Revelation of the Father

7 If you know me, then you know the Father.  
From now on, you know him and you see him.”

The comment summed up what had been said before and clearly restated the core message of the Gospel; indeed, it reiterated what the Prologue had proclaimed: we beheld his glory, his glory as only son of his Father, full of gracious love and truth [1:14].

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father; that is enough.”
9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip,
and you do not know me?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  
How can you ask, ‘Show us the Father?’
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?

As he had done regularly before in his narrative, the Beloved Disciple used Philip’s misunderstanding to underline the message he was teaching: I am in the Father and the Father is in me. God’s world, where God lives, is Jesus’ world because each “dwells within” the other, each inhabits the other’s space. 

Going, Coming, Being – Dwellings, Journeys, Ways

Human imagination is inadequate to express the mystery of God. The deceptively spare language of the Gospel cries out for reflective contemplation: mystery is depthed in silence. Yet, there is need, too, to talk about it.

As contemporary readers reflect on their own experience, language is stretched. Is Jesus present? or absent? Has he gone? or Has he come? Are the “dwelling places”, where the Father is host, the depths of believers’ own personalities? or elsewhere?

Disciples do not experience the historical Jesus. But they do encounter the risen Jesus. “Where” is irrelevant. The “place” seems more inwards than outwards; more “simply being” than “being somewhere”; “dwelling” in each other, rather than dwelling in some “dwelling place”. The change is qualitative, not even a journey inwards as much as a change in awareness of what is. Jesus had expressed it: “… where I am, you may be also”.

For the disciple, the experience is a present experience that strains towards more; that is open-ended and includes the future also. The feeling is more of absence and yearning than of presence; but the act of faith trustingly and confidently proclaims presence, not absence.

Through their relationship with Jesus, believers simultaneously encounter the Father: “… I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Jesus is, indeed, the “way”: he is the one through and in whom they relate to the Father, since he is “in the Father and the Father is in” him. As revelation of the Father, he is the “truth”, the ultimate source of all reality, and of all “life”.

… The words I say, I do not speak them from myself.  
The Father who dwells in me is the one who does things.
11 Trust me that I am in the Father and the Father in me.  
If not, trust the things done.

The language moved from the singular to the plural, and discourse returned to a theme it had examined before: the things Jesus did. What Jesus did, the way Jesus lived and the love-energy that motivated his every activity could only be what they were because Jesus drew life from the Father: the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father [6:57]. If Jesus’ message seemed beyond the possible, the disciples were to draw reassurance from the inimitable example of Jesus.

For the Beloved Disciple’s readers, who had not known Jesus personally, their own experience – the work of the risen Christ in them (nourished by their staying close to Jesus) – would serve to testify to the truth of what Jesus was saying.

Greater Works

12 Seriously, I tell you, those who trust me will do the things that I do.  
They will do greater things,
for I am going to the Father.

The things that Jesus had done so far (in the narrative timeline of the discourse), and the love that motivated and energised them, were still incomplete, unfinished. Jesus had yet to die and to rise from death: I am going to the Father. His death would be his greatest work of love, his deepest alignment with the heart of the Father and his greatest service for the life of the world. His return as the formerly crucified innocent victim to bring peace and forgiveness to the world was yet to happen.

The disciples, living and working after Jesus’ death and resurrection, would be empowered by that supreme love of Jesus: they would do things, through the power of the crucified and risen Christ, greater than those that the not-yet crucified and risen Jesus had so far done: they would witness to the risen Jesus and to God revealed through that resurrection.

Prayer Heard

13 I shall do whatever you ask for in my name,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 If you ask for anything in my name, I shall do it.”

The content of what asking in Jesus’ name would involve would become clear in what would soon follow, when the Disciple would detail Jesus’ prayer to his Father [chapter 17].

The text would return to the theme of the disciples’ requests on a further three occasions in the Discourse [15:7; 15:16; 16:23-24]. On two of those occasions Jesus would urge disciples to ask, not only himself, but also the Father; he would insist that their asking the Father be done in his name; on the third, he clarified that the granting of their requests would be conditioned on Jesus’ abiding in them and his words abiding in them [15:7].

To the extent that the disciples remained close to Jesus (that they lived in my name and under his influence), their desires, all that they would ask for, would coincide with what Jesus desired. Their vision, their values and their hopes would increasingly identify with his. Whatever they asked, Jesus would do, through and with them.

Through the disciples’ embracing and living the vision, the hopes and the love of Jesus, the heart of Jesus would be revealed, in practical terms, to the world. Since the whole thrust of Jesus’ life centred on his revealing to the world the grace and truth of his Father, the Father’s heart could be recognised in the heart of Jesus: the Father would be glorified in the Son.

The Way of Love

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

So far in the Gospel, Jesus had given only one formal command: I give you a new commandment, Love each other.  Just as I loved you, you must love each other[13:34]. (A little later in the discourse, Jesus would add: Those who love me will keep my word [verse 23], apparently understanding commandments and word to mean basically the same thing.) Effectively, Jesus was saying: “If you love me, you will love those whom I love”. Perhaps, the word commandment would serve simply to emphasise the importance and urgency of taking seriously everything he said. To do that, they would need empowerment. 

Commandments and Inner Necessity

Commandments and love do not sit easily together – love is, essentially, a personal and free decision. Yet, “commandment” was an accurate word for the Beloved Disciple to use to describe the inner experience of every disciple.

The hopes and desires of Jesus regarding disciples’ behaviour are not arbitrary whims on his part. They are the expression of Jesus’ insight into the truth of reality. 

Disciples become aware of the practical implications of the truth of their reality through the medium of conscience. The Risen Jesus, whether acting directly on them or through the “other Advocate”, the “Spirit of truth”, works from within. It is through their enlightened consciences that disciples experience and interpret the vision, the hopes and desires of the Risen Jesus. 

Whenever conscience guides behaviour, its guidance is experienced as requirement. The truth that it interprets carries an inner sense of necessity and obligation. Though their choices remain free, not to act according to conscience sits uneasily, indeed, conflicts with people’s sense of personal integrity

The Beloved Disciple read the wishes of Jesus, whom he loved, as non-negotiable. For him, as for everyone who loves Jesus, they carry the sense of commands.

Next >> John 14:16-24