John 14:16-24


John 14:16-17     First Promise of the Spirit

16 I shall ask the Father
and he will give you another Paraclete
so that he might be with you forever –

The backdrop of Jesus’ imminent departure still coloured the discourse. Soon, Jesus would no longer be physically with the disciples to give them the encouragement and support they needed. Instead, he would give them another Paraclete to assist them.

The Greek word used in the text, and here translated as Paraclete, was a word with multiple meanings that no one English word covers. Its first meaning is “one who answers the call to come close”; but, depending on the context, it can convey one or all of the following meanings: exhorting, encouraging, comforting or acting/pleading on behalf of another. Often enough, while emphasising one meaning, it contains the other meanings as well.

This Paraclete had not been mentioned previously, so Jesus proceeded to indicate just who and what the Paraclete was.

Spirit of Truth

17 - the Spirit of truth
which the world cannot accept
because it neither sees nor knows him.  
You know him because he dwells with you and will be within you.

The initial information about the Paraclete was meagre: the Paraclete was

  • spirit,
  • spirit of truth,
  • given by the Father,
  • unseen, unknown and not accepted by the world,
  • known by the disciples,
  • and abiding with and in them.

In the context, the world that cannot receive the Spirit of truth does not mean people in general. It refers to the illusory and negatively destructive attitudes and structures that are found in all cultures and societies. (There is, also, much that is good and positive to be found in human communities – in the world.)

The Paraclete – I

Until the moment of Jesus’ death, the life and truth and love of God had been revealed to the world and “become flesh” in the world through the historical space-and-time-bound Jesus.

The Beloved Disciple, reflecting on his long experience, had no doubt that God’s life and truth and love were still powerfully present and operating within the Christian community. But they were experienced differently. They were no longer incarnate in the historical Jesus. It was as though Jesus were acting through a kind of second self – which he referred to as “another Paraclete”– or simply as “the Spirit of truth”.

The term “Spirit” had been used earlier in the Gospel with little further explanation. The word had a rich background in the Hebrew Scriptures, where it originally referred to “breath” or “wind”. It carried connotations both of intimacy and life, as well as of non-visible, but extraordinary, power.

At creation, “a wind from God swept over the waters” [Genesis 1:2]. The “breath” of God, made the difference between the inert clay of creation and the human person, Adam [Genesis 2:7]. (In the Hebrew language, “wind”, “breath” and “spirit” translate the one word). The Spirit motivated and inspired prophets to reveal the mind and intentions of God. 

It was “the Spirit” that had descended on Jesus at the beginning of his ministry [1:32], and that had energised and guided him during his life.

Jesus called the Paraclete “the Spirit of truth”. The Prologue had already described Jesus as being “full of grace and truth”. The same truth that had been brought to the world by the historical Christ would continue to be brought to the world through the medium of the “Spirit of truth”.

The disciples in the community of the Beloved Disciple were more familiar with the Paraclete than were Jesus’ disciples before his death and resurrection.

The Gospel had referred to another Paraclete, assuming that Jesus was the first Paraclete. Like Jesus, the Paraclete was concerned with truth, known to the disciples, not received by the world, and abiding with and in them. The Paraclete would carry on the role of the departing Jesus.

John 14:18-24     Disciples in the Unity of Father and Son

18I shall not leave you orphans; I am coming to you.

Jesus would come to the community through the Paraclete. They would not be abandoned as orphans. It was not clear whether Jesus intended to assure the disciples that God would still be their Father, even though Jesus had departed, or whether Jesus saw them as his children. (Earlier in the discourse, Jesus had addressed them as little children [13:33].)

19 In a short while the world will no longer see me.  
You, however, will see me because I am alive
and you will be alive.

With his approaching death, Jesus would no longer be present physically in the world. The disciples would see him alive and risen; then he would be gone.

Earlier in the narrative, when teaching of his presence in the Eucharist, Jesus had said: Just as ... I am alive because of the Father, so too those who eat me will live because of me [6.57].

20 On that day you will know that I am in the Father
and you in me
and I in you.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples would know – spiritually but really – the wonderful mutual presence 

  • of Jesus and the Father, 
  • and of the disciples and Jesus, 
  • and, in and through Jesus, the presence of the disciples also to the Father. 

On that day referred to the new time, after the resurrection, when history would no longer be the same: the era of salvation and of judgment, when all disciples will live with the new life of Jesus.

Jesus’ message applied more to the continuing community of disciples than to the disciples who were physically with Jesus during his historical life.

This would be the first of many times that the Discourse would describe Jesus’ relationship to the disciples as being in them. The Beloved Disciple was searching for words or images that might capture in some way the immediacy, the intimacy and the energising power of the risen Jesus.

21 Whoever have my commandments and keep them,
those are the ones who love me.  
And those who love me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love them and reveal myself to them.

The text went beyond Jesus’ own relationship to the Father to address the disciples’ relationship to the Father: the Father would love them.

22 Judas, not the Iscariot, asked him,
“Lord, what would have to happen
so that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”

The other Gospels made no mention of this Judas (Jesus’ band of regular disciples was not restricted to the Twelve). His question sought further illumination on Jesus’ promise to reveal himself to the disciples. Judas seemed to be thinking in terms of some striking, visible appearance of Jesus.

23 Jesus said in reply, “If people love me, they will treasure my word;

In an earlier statement, Jesus had said that those who have his commandments were those who loved him [verse 21]. Now he made the point that those who loved him were those who treasure his word. The practical expression of a person’s love for Jesus would inevitably respect what was important to Jesus. He had already indicated what he valued deeply by the one explicit commandment that he had given: disciples were to love one another. The two activities, love for Jesus and love for each other, were, in practice, inseparable.

… and the Father will love them.
We shall come to them and make our dwelling-place in them. 

The Discourse had begun with Jesus’ reassurance that where my Father lives, there are numerous places to stay [verses 2-3]. Now Jesus assured his disciples that he would soon reveal himself to them by making his dwelling-place in them. However imagined, the question was the indescribable reality of mutual presence; a mystical presence personally experienced as they would keep his word, do his works and love each other. 

Not only would Jesus make his dwelling-place in them; the Father, who loved them, would also dwell within them. The disciple-experience would open into intimacy with the Father, the source of Jesus’ life, and, through and with Jesus, the source of disciples’ lives as well. Inevitably, such intimate love would open outwards to embrace others within the community and beyond.

It is obvious from the broader context that to keep Jesus’ word, to have his commandments and to love him, to be loved by the Father and to share the same dwelling-place with Jesus and the Father were all pointing to the same reality. They all spoke of a beautifully loving and intimate mutuality of presence and respect – experienced and lived within the Christian community. Such is the reality of discipleship.

Commandments and Unconditional Love

Jesus was not claiming that the Father’s love for those who keep Jesus’ word was conditional on their doing so; the Father’s love for everyone is unconditional. The Father loves even those who do not love Jesus. However, people are able to love Jesus and keep his word precisely because they are empowered to do so by God’s prior love for them (whether they realize it or not).

God’s love, however, while offered to all, respects human freedom; God’s love is never violent or invasive. God “comes” only to those who are open to receive the gift of his presence and “makes his home” only with those who welcome him.

24 Those who do not love me, do not hold on to my words;

The message was reinforced by contrast with its opposite.

and the word you have heard is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

By taking seriously all that Jesus said, did and was, the disciples touched into the source of it all: the Father’s heart. The Prologue had stated: the only-begotten God, near to the Father’s heart, has made him known [1.18].


Next >> John 14:25-31