VI. The Farewell Discourse (John 13:1–17:26)
VI. The Farewell Discourse (13:1–17:26)
A. The Last Supper, Foot Washing, and Jesus’s Betrayer (13:1-30)
13:1-2 Jesus’s hour had finally come; it was time for him to be glorified and depart from this world to the Father (13:1; see 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 16:32; 17:1). John tells us that Jesus loved his own—his disciples—to the end (13:1). He had spent three years with the Twelve—teaching them, leading them, praying for them, loving them. He had done everything for them that he had come to do. Yet one of the men, Judas Iscariot, was going to betray him. In intending to do this, he had opened the door for the devil to put a specific idea into [his] heart (13:2).
13:3-5 Knowing that he, the Son of God, had come from God and was going back to God, Jesus took a towel and a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet. Notice that Jesus understood his identity and where he’d come from. He himself is God, the Creator of the universe (see 1:1-3). He is the King of kings, having legions of angels standing poised to do his bidding (see 18:36). And yet, as the apostle Paul would write, Jesus “did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). He took that humble role to wash the dirty feet of those who should have been washing his, because he came to serve (see Mark 10:45). To this servanthood mindset, the Lord calls each one of us.
13:6-9 The Lord made it clear that though they didn’t understand what he was doing, later they would (13:7). However, Peter would have none of it: You will never wash my feet. But unless Jesus washed him, he could have no fellowship with him (13:8). “In that case,” Peter essentially said, “forget the foot wash. Give me a shower!” (13:9). With this statement, Peter revealed his heart. He was willing to do anything to show Jesus that he didn’t want to be disconnected from him.
13:10-11 Jesus assured Peter that if one has bathed, he only needs to wash his feet (13:10). In other words, if you’re already saved, you don’t need to be saved again. You just need to address the dirty areas in your life so that you can stay clean. To maintain fellowship with the Lord, we must regularly come to him in confession and repentance. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
All of Jesus’s disciples were completely clean except one (13:10). That one disciple was Judas (see 13:2). Jesus knew who would betray him (13:11). Nothing takes him by surprise.
13:12-17 After he had washed their feet (13:12), he exhorted his disciples to do the same. He should serve as their example. If he, their Lord and Teacher, washed their feet, then they should wash one another’s (that is, serve one another; see 1 Tim 5:10), because a servant is not greater than his master (13:14-16).
Our Lord Jesus is a model of servanthood, and one that we should follow. How does Jesus’s foot-washing command apply in our modern context? To put it simply, we are to serve people in the family of God—especially by helping them when things get dirty. Our service is most needed in the messiness of life where people are hurting and suffering.
13:18-19 I’m not speaking about all of you. Once again, the reader is reminded that Jesus knew which of his disciples was about to betray him, all in fulfillment of Scripture. Importantly, those he had chosen (13:18) is a reference to those chosen for service, not for salvation. The Scripture Jesus quotes is from Psalm 41:9. Just as David was betrayed, so also the Messiah—the Son of David—would be betrayed. Jesus wanted them to know that he knew the future and was in control. When everything happened just as he foretold, it would be further evidence of his divine identity (13:19).
13:20 Whoever receives anyone I send receives me, and the one who receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives the Son of God receives God the Father because the Son is the way to the Father (see 14:6). But Jesus added, “Whoever receives anyone I send receives me.” When we go into the world in the name of Jesus and proclaim his gospel and his teachings, we go as his and the Father’s authorized representatives.
13:21-30 Jesus became troubled, knowing what was about to occur. Then he prophesied: Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me (13:21). Thus, something that the readers of John’s Gospel have been told for some time (see 6:66-71; 12:4; 13:2) was finally revealed to the disciples. And they were in shock, looking at one another in bewilderment (13:22). Peter told John, the author of this Gospel and the one Jesus loved (see the introduction), to ask Jesus who this betrayer was (13:23-25). So Jesus told John that it was the disciple to whom he would give a piece of bread. Then he handed bread to Judas (13:26).
To offer food was a sign of friendship; therefore, Jesus was extending a final offer of grace and mercy to the one who was about to betray him. Judas took the bread, but he rejected the offer of friendship: Satan entered him (13:27). Yet Satan only entered him because Judas had invited him by rejecting Jesus and intending to betray him (see commentary on 13:1-2).
Essentially, Jesus told Judas, “What you’re planning to do—get it over with” (13:27). The other disciples were confused by the exchange, thinking that Jesus was telling Judas to make preparations for the Passover feast (12:28-29). They didn’t realize that Judas would not only betray their Master, but would do so that very night. So Judas left to carry out his evil deed (13:30).
B. Final Teaching (13:31-16:33)
13:31-32 With the betrayal set in motion, the events leading up to the crucifixion had begun. Now the Son of Man is glorified (13:31) refers to why Jesus had come into the world. He would offer himself as a substitutionary atonement and then be raised from the dead. The Son would glorify the Father, and the Father would glorify the Son (13:32); they would mutually advertise one another’s glory. Highlighting the greatness of God, in fact, is what Christians are called to as well. Everything we do—in thought, word, and deed—is to be done for the glory of God (see 1 Cor 10:31).
13:33-34 In a little while, Jesus would be gone and ascend to God the Father (13:33; see Acts 1:9). In light of this impending departure, he gave them a new command: Love one another (13:34). It was new because it related to what was about to happen within the family of God.
Biblical love is the decision to compassionately, responsibly, and righteously pursue the well-being of another person. It’s not the same as liking someone. To like someone or something is to express a feeling. By contrast, loving someone may or may not have feelings connected to it. Love is a decision to seek another’s best, regardless of your feelings.
13:35 Through loving one another, Jesus told them, everyone will know that you are my disciples. Notice that he didn’t say everyone would recognize his disciples by how much of the Bible they knew. Knowing the Bible is essential, but knowledge means nothing without love (see 1 Cor 13:1-3). A loveless Christian actually undermines the gospel. Why? Because, as John says elsewhere, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). How can people come to know the God who perfectly expresses love—both within the Trinity and to humanity—if his representatives don’t demonstrate love?
13:36-38 In response to Jesus’s comments about leaving them (13:33), Peter asked, Where are you going? When Jesus told him that he couldn’t follow (13:36), Peter decided to set him straight. The rest of the disciples might not be ready to follow, but Peter was confident that he was prepared: I will lay down my life for you (13:37). But that’s when Jesus poured cold water on this fiery disciple. He said, A rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times (13:38). Jesus wanted Peter to put his pride to death. He was talking a good game, but he wouldn’t be able to back it up with action (see 18:15-18, 25-27).
Too often we’re exactly like Peter. In our minds we envision ourselves as better disciples than we actually are. Pride will cause us to think too highly of ourselves and then fall flat on our faces.
14:1-2 Don’t let your heart be troubled. Jesus compassionately sought to calm his disciples’ fears over his impending departure. What words of comfort did he offer to give them confidence? First, he said, Believe in God; believe also in me (14:1). In other words, “Place your full trust in me, just as you trust in the Father. We are unified, sharing the same divine nature and the same divine purpose.” Second, he told them that they had heavenly real estate waiting on them: In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going away to prepare a place for you (14:2). According to Jewish wedding custom, the father would add rooms onto his house for his newly married son. Jesus wasn’t abandoning them but heading out to get their eternal home ready. When your time comes, have no fear. Heaven has been prepared for you.
14:3 Jesus promised them, I will come again and take you to myself. This return of which Jesus prophesied is what we call the rapture, the time when he will return to receive his saints and take them to heaven (see 1 Thess 4:16-17). This will happen prior to his return to earth to establish his millennial kingdom.
14:4-7 Jesus promised his disciples that they knew the way to where he was going (14:4). However, Thomas wasn’t so sure: How can we know the way? (14:5). It was as if he said, “You haven’t given us a map, Lord!” But Thomas had misunderstood. “The way” isn’t a path; it’s a person: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (14:6). The Lord Jesus Christ is the universal point of access to God. There is no other entrance into heaven. If you want to know the Father, you must come to him through his Son. Jesus assured Thomas that if he knew the Son, he knew the Father (14:7).
14:8-9 Then it was Philip’s turn to sound dissatisfied: Show us the Father, and that’s enough for us (14:8). Philip wanted to be like Moses, who got to catch a glimpse of God (see Exod 33:12–34:9). But he didn’t understand that fully revealing God the Father was exactly what Jesus had come to do. “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him” (1:18). Whereas Moses only saw a hint of the glory of the invisible God, Jesus said, The one who has seen me has seen the Father (14:9). Jesus Christ is God incarnate, the God-Man.
14:10-11 I am in the Father and the Father is in me (14:11). Jesus emphasized the unity of Father and Son. As he’d told the Jews previously, “I and the Father are one” (10:30). He is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
14:12 Jesus’s works confirmed his divine identity (see 10:11). But he affirmed to his followers, The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these. Now, obviously, he’s not saying that his followers will do every work that he did. We aren’t God and never will be. Rather, Jesus was talking about scope of impact. His travels were limited, as were the number of people who heard his voice. But in the years since, the church has carried his message to billions all over the world.
14:13-15 When we are rightly connected to the Father through the Son, more prayers in [Jesus’s] name get answered (14:13-14). How do we ensure that we are rightly connected to the Trinitarian God? Jesus provided the answer: If you love me, you will keep my commands (14:15). You can talk all day about your love for God. But, according to Jesus, obedience is the proof of love. If we truly love him, we will seek to obey him. Why? Because love is first and foremost a decision, not an emotion. Our relationship with him drives our desire to please him. God wants your obedience, but he wants it to be motivated by love—not law.
14:16-17 Where would the disciples look for help when Jesus was gone? Jesus told them: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. In Greek there are two words that could be used to mean “another.” One means “another of a different kind”; the other means “another of the same kind.” The latter is used here. The Holy Spirit is another Counselor, but one who shares in the divine nature. Therefore, God would still be with them in the person of God the Holy Spirit. The same sovereign love and power they enjoyed in Jesus, then, would be present in their lives.
As a “Counselor” or “Helper,” the Holy Spirit enables believers to pull off the will of God in their lives. He is “the Spirit of truth” because he only deals in truth (like Jesus; see 14:6); as God, he operates according to divine, holy standards. The world is unable to receive [the Holy Spirit] because it doesn’t . . . know him. The only way to know and receive the Spirit of God, in fact, is through knowing and receiving the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And when the Spirit comes, he remains with you forever—not merely alongside you, but in you (14:17).
Importantly, this promise wasn’t simply for those first disciples: it’s for everyone who calls on the name of Jesus. When you trust in Christ to take away your sins and give you eternal life, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you, ministering the presence of God to you.
14:18 Jesus comforted his disciples with the promise, I will not leave you as orphans. He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. And one day the Son will return to take his followers to the place prepared for them (see 14:2-4).
14:19-20 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will (14:19). Though he would be executed on a Roman cross, Jesus would rise bodily from the grave and show himself to his disciples (see 20:1-29). Because I live, you will live too (14:19). Jesus shares his resurrection life with his followers through the Holy Spirit, who connects us to the Trinitarian God: I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you (14:20).
14:21 Again, Jesus explained that love is the motivation for keeping his commands (see 14:15). If you want to know whether someone really loves Jesus, watch to see whether he does what Jesus said. When you are connected to the love of the Father and Son in obedience, Jesus promises to reveal more of himself to you.
If you listen to a radio station in your car, you know that the further you get from the broadcast station, the worse your reception of the signal gets. Many people have difficulty connecting with God because they’ve wandered too far away to pick up his signal. But if you come back home in obedience, relating to God through Christ in love, he will disclose more of himself to you.
14:22-25 Judas (not Iscariot) wanted to know why he promised to reveal himself to them but not to the world (14:22; see 14:21). But Jesus insisted that his love is available to all: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. And those willing to come to Jesus in love and obedience will find the Father and Son coming to make their home with them (14:23). It’s the one who doesn’t love Jesus or his words who will lose out on a relationship with him (14:24).
14:26 When Jesus returned to heaven, the Father would send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit to be with his disciples (see 14:16-17). Jesus said that the Spirit would come in [his] name because he would represent Jesus and testify about him (see 15:26). He also said that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and remind them of everything he told them. This applies to the first disciples because the Holy Spirit helped them to recall Jesus’s words, sharing them with others and recording them in the pages of Scripture (see 2 Pet 1:21). But the Spirit also helps believers today, enabling us to recall Scripture at the appropriate time and helping us to understand its meaning and its application to our lives, as he activates “the mind of Christ” in us (1 Cor 2:10-16).
14:27 Jesus promised, Peace I leave you. My peace I give to you. Please understand what Jesus is and is not promising here. He is not promising the absence of a storm. Anyone can be at peace when nothing is wrong. Rather, he promises peace in the midst of a storm. He’s talking about peace in the midst of tribulation—at a time when you shouldn’t have any peace. This, of course, doesn’t come from the world. It’s the peace of God, “which surpasses all understanding, [and guards] your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).
Next Jesus said, Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. In the coming hours, the disciples would have good reason to be troubled. Likewise, you will have experiences that prompt you to fear. But with a sovereign God ruling the world and “the peace of Christ” ruling in your heart (see Col 3:15), you can overcome trouble and fear.
14:28-29 Rather than being fearful, the disciples should have been filled with joy over the fact that Jesus was going to the Father (14:28). For Jesus loves the Father, and his imminent departure to be with him meant that his mission—the reason for which he’d come into the world—was almost complete. Jesus was explaining all these things to them in advance so that when the time of suffering arrived, they would believe that he was truly the Messiah, the Son of God (14:29).
14:30-31 The ruler of the world is coming (14:30). When Adam and Eve sinned, they gave up their role as king and queen, ruling creation on God’s behalf, and turned it over to Satan. Therefore, the devil is appropriately called “the ruler of this world,” “the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). He holds “the power of death” and keeps people in slavery by “the fear of death” (see Heb 2:14-15). But Satan had no power over Jesus (14:30) because Jesus is without sin. The Son of God became a man so that he might defeat the devil as a man and restore God’s kingdom rule. And this he would do through his love for the Father and his obedience to what the Father commanded (14:31).
15:1 Jesus frequently used agricultural imagery in his teaching. On this occasion he told his disciples, I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. But he didn’t pull this imagery out of thin air. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of Israel as the Lord’s vineyard. God expected his vineyard to bear fruit, but it produced nothing but worthless grapes (see Isa 5:1-7). In contrast, the Son of God came as the authentic vine, perfectly obeying the Father and revealing his will to the people.
15:2 Every branch in [Jesus] that does not produce fruit [the Father] removes. And every branch that produces fruit the Father prunes . . . so that it will produce more. “Every branch” refers to Christians because they are in Jesus. The vine (the Son) feeds the branches, and the gardener (the Father) tends the branches. God’s goal for every Christian is to increase in fruit bearing. We are to pro-gress from producing no fruit (15:2) to some fruit (15:2) to more fruit (15:2) to much fruit (15:5) to remaining fruit (15:16). Fruitfulness is a life of spiritual usefulness and productivity for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s the proof of true discipleship (15:8).
Fruit has three characteristics. First, it reflects the character of its tree. Apples come from apple trees; oranges grow on orange trees. The fruit in your life should reflect Christ—his attitudes and actions, his character and conduct. Second, fruit is visible. The presence of fruit lets you identify a tree’s kind and whether it’s healthy. An authentic follower of Christ is a visible follower of Christ, not a secret-agent saint. Third, fruit is always for the benefit of others. If you’re always serving yourself instead of others, your fruit is going to rot on the tree.
The Greek verb translated “removes” in this verse can also be rendered “takes away” or “lifts up.” The branches in a vineyard could become large and drag on the ground easily. So God the gardener “takes them away” from the ground by lifting them up. God will, therefore, seek to make you fruitful by lifting you up, encouraging you, and motivating you—for example, through his Word and through the people of God. Those who are fruitful God also prunes so that they bear more fruit. Sometimes God will bring challenges and trials into our lives to enable us to grow in our faith and cast off anything hindering full productivity.
15:3-5 The disciples were clean through the washing of Christ’s word (15:3; see Eph 5:26). This is how we stay clean too; nevertheless, we must remain in Jesus. A branch that’s disconnected from the vine is useless. So also we can’t produce fruit unless we remain in Jesus (15:4). The idea of “remaining” or “abiding” in Christ has to do with intimacy and relationship. Jesus Christ is our source, the only one who can provide the spiritual sustenance and vitality we need to be useful believers. Thus, we need to hang out with him. You can’t avoid Jesus all week and then show up on Sunday morning expecting growth. We only produce much fruit when we remain in him (15:5).
15:6 If someone chooses not to remain in Jesus, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. Such branches are gathered and burned. This is not a description of hell and cannot refer to loss of salvation since believers are eternally secure. We’ve already seen that everyone who comes to Jesus will never be cast out. If you could lose eternal life, then it wasn’t eternal to begin with (see commentary on 6:36-40). So instead, the burning is a reference to the consequences of a loss of both fellowship with God and rewards from him. If you disconnect from the vine for too long, don’t be surprised to find yourself experiencing divine discipline, getting burned, and seeing your spiritual life withering. Such a believer is useless to himself, God, and others. So, if you find such things happening to you, repent! “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (Jas 4:8).
15:7 To have Jesus’s words remain (or “abide”) in you requires more than merely reading or listening to them. You must internalize them. Another way to describe this is meditating on God’s Word, rolling it around in your mind to grasp what it means and how to apply it to your specific circumstances. We must chew and swallow Scripture, so to speak, so that it becomes part of us. When you do this, you can ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. In other words, prayers get answered when we maintain intimate fellowship with God through his Word. That’s because you’ll find your will aligning with his.
15:8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples. The more useful you become to the kingdom, the more glory God will receive and the more people will recognize you as a serious saint (rather than a casual Christian). The Lord wants followers, not mere fans.
15:9-10 Jesus told his disciples, Remain in my love (15:9). How do we do that? Jesus said, If you keep my commands you will remain in my love. Love for Jesus results in obedience. And obedience produces a deeper relationship with him. The Son wants us to enjoy the intimate kind of loving relationship that he enjoys with the Father (15:10).
15:11 Jesus’s goal in teaching his disciples things was that their joy would be complete. Joy is internal stability in spite of external circumstances because of the knowledge that God is in control. It is a settled assurance and quiet confidence in God’s sovereignty that results in the decision to praise him. Notice that Jesus offered them his own joy. So, if your joy container is empty, Jesus will let you borrow some of his.
15:12-14 Jesus repeated the command he gave them earlier (see 13:34): Love one another as I have loved you (15:12). Biblical love involves more than mere emotions and personal preferences. Love is the decision to compassionately, righteously, responsibly, and sacrificially seek the well-being of another. You can love people whom you may not necessarily like because love is not dependent on your feelings. That’s why Jesus can command you to “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44). It’s true that love may include feelings of affection, and such feelings may develop over time. But it’s not driven by them. Love is driven by sacrifice for the welfare of others. And the greatest expression of love is to lay down one’s life for . . . friends (15:13). That’s the kind of love Jesus modeled for us.
15:15 Jesus told his disciples that they were not mere servants to him. They were his friends. A master doesn’t reveal things to a servant, but friends do. Jesus had made known to his disciples everything he had heard from his Father.
15:16-17 When the Bible refers to God’s choice (or election) of people, it’s a choosing for service, not salvation. Jesus chose his disciples so that they would produce fruit that would be useful to his kingdom and reflect God’s character. He didn’t simply save them for heaven only; he appointed them to a mission on earth that would involve winning people to Christ and growing them in the faith (15:16)—a mission that involves keeping his commands, loving him, and loving one another (15:9-15). When that happens, the Father answers prayer (15:16).
15:18-21 The world system headed by Satan (see commentary on 12:31; 14:30-31) hates Jesus. Therefore, followers of Jesus who identify with his person and character will face hatred and opposition from the world (15:18-19). As servants of Christ, we should not expect to be treated better than he was. If they persecuted [him], they will also persecute you. But, similarly, if they kept [his] word, they will also keep the word spoken by his disciples (15:20). When you faithfully represent Jesus, the world will relate to you as it related to him.
15:22-25 The Son of God came personally into the world to reveal the Father, so those who rejected him have no excuse for their sin (15:22). The one who hates me, he told them, also hates my Father (15:23). That’s strong language, but there’s no way around it. People can’t talk about their love for God while simultaneously rejecting his Son. In spite of all Jesus’s words and works, many refused to believe in him, thus demonstrating their hatred for the Father and the Son (15:24). They fulfilled the Scripture spoken by David in Psalm 69:4: They hated me for no reason (15:25). As the wicked showed their disdain for King David, so they showed disdain for the Son of David.
15:26-27 Again Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Spirit of truth (15:26; see 14:16-17, 26). Jesus said that when the Spirit comes, he will testify about Jesus (15:26). Since the role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about the Son of God, the Spirit has a Christocentric ministry. He does not merely draw attention to himself; he draws attention to Jesus. Therefore, we should be wary of those who claim the Spirit’s involvement in a ministry that ignores Jesus. If the Spirit makes much of Jesus, then his disciples should too (15:27).
16:1-4 Jesus had told his disciples these things to keep [them] from stumbling (16:1)—that is, to keep them from abandoning the faith due to persecution. In the days to come, followers of Jesus would face being banned from the synagogues and put to death—often by those who would think they were serving God by doing so (16:2). However, such people haven’t known the Father or [Jesus] (16:3).
Jesus wanted them—and us—to be prepared. We should not be shocked when we experience some form of rejection or censure for our Christian beliefs and standards. This could come from family, friends, employers, customers, coworkers, the government—and the list goes on. As Paul told Timothy, “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). But the Holy Spirit is available to empower us in our time of need.
16:5-7 Jesus told them he was going away and sorrow had filled his disciples’ hearts (16:5-6). They had been with him for three years of ministry. They wanted to see him reign as King; they wanted to be with him. But he assured them that his departure was for their benefit. How could that be possible? Well, unless he left, the Counselor [would] not come (16:6-7)—that is, the Holy Spirit (see 14:16-17, 26; 15:26). The Father sent the Son into the world (see 3:17), and the Son would send the Spirit into the world (16:7). Thus, the Trinitarian God is at work, each Person carrying out the next phase of his kingdom program.
The coming of the Holy Spirit would benefit the disciples because his presence would not be physically limited (as Jesus’s was). He would dwell within each of them (14:17) and go with them wherever they traveled (see Eph 1:22, 23). If you have trusted Jesus Christ and received the Holy Spirit, you are never alone.
16:8-11 The role of the Holy Spirit would be to convict (that is, convince concerning the truth) the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8). People would be convicted about sin because of their failure to believe in Jesus for forgiveness and the gift of eternal life (16:9). They would be convicted about righteousness because Jesus would no longer be physically present (16:10). The resurrection and ascension are proof of the righteousness of Christ because he was crucified as one who was unrighteous. With Jesus gone, people would think that his righteous standard no longer applied, but the Spirit would demonstrate otherwise. Finally, the world would be convicted about judgment, because the ruler of this world—Satan—has been judged (16:11). Therefore, his followers (see 8:44) will also be judged. The death of Christ condemned and defeated Satan (see Col 2:15), and—like a condemned criminal—he is waiting for his coming execution (see Rev 20:2, 7-10).
16:12-13 Though Jesus yet had many things to tell his disciples, he knew they were unable to bear them (16:12). But when the Spirit of truth came, he would help them and guide [them] into all the truth. He would declare to them things that were yet to come (such as the prophecies in Revelation) (16:13). The Spirit would ensure that the apostles’ writings were true, guaranteeing that they wrote Scripture, the very words of God.
16:14-15 The Holy Spirit’s role is to glorify the Son, receiving the Son’s words and disclosing them to his followers (16:14). Once again we see the Trinity in action in that the Son took revelation from the Father and would declare it to his disciples through the Holy Spirit (16:15).
Though the Spirit provided the apostles with perfect revelation in order that they might write Scripture, this does not mean that we are excluded from his ministry. This text applies to us in two ways. First, we are recipients of the Scriptural revelation that the apostles received. Second, the Holy Spirit provides us with personal illumination, enabling us to understand Scripture and to see how it applies in the details of our lives. This work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is called “the anointing” (see 1 John 2:20, 27).
16:16-19 The time of Jesus’s crucifixion was drawing near. In a little while, the disciples would no longer see him because he would be dead and buried. But in another little while, they would see him again when he rose from the grave (16:16). However, the disciples weren’t getting it (16:17). They said quietly to one another, We don’t know what he’s talking about (16:18). Yet Jesus knew they were confused (16:19). They couldn’t hide anything from him. He knows your private conversations and thoughts, too.
Don’t be upset when you don’t understand what Jesus is doing in your life. After all, Jesus’s first disciples were confused, and they had Jesus right there with them! Choose to pursue him in the midst of your confusion.
16:20-22 Jesus foretold the great sorrow that they would soon experience at his crucifixion (while the world rejoiced), but he also foretold that their grief would turn to joy at his resurrection (16:20). To explain how they could go from mourning to elation in such a brief span of time, he gave them an illustration. A woman experiencing labor goes through great pain. But when her child is born, her suffering is forgotten and replaced by rejoicing (16:21). In the same way, the disciples’ pain would lead to joy. And, Jesus told them, No one will take away your joy from you (16:22). Why? Because it is rooted in the presence and work of Christ on the inside—not on the ever-changing circumstances of life (i.e., happiness).
16:23-24 Once again, Jesus told them, Anything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you (16:23; see 14:13-14; 15:16). No matter what sorrow you experience, remain in Jesus because God is still in the prayer-answering business when we love and seek to honor the Son. In fact, Jesus encouraged his disciples to take advantage of the opportunity to ask of him so that they might experience joy (16:24). There’s nothing like the joy that comes when the Creator of the universe answers your personal prayer. This joy does not depend on what happens; rather, it can be chosen based on our confidence in and commitment to God.
16:25 Jesus had been using figures of speech with them (e.g., the vine, 15:1-8; the woman in labor, 16:21). But in time, he would tell [them] plainly about the Father. There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.
16:26-28 On that day when the disciples would ask the Father in Jesus’s name, they would not need Jesus to ask on their behalf. Why? Because the Father himself loved them due to their relationship to his Son (16:26-27).
16:29-32 After this, the disciples affirmed their belief in Jesus. He had known and answered their private questions (see 16:16-19). They were certain that he was the Messiah who had come from God (16:30). However, Jesus knew them better than they knew themselves. He said, Do you now believe? Indeed, an hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered . . . and you will leave me alone (16:31-32). Translation: “You don’t believe as strongly as you think you do. Now, while all is quiet and safe, this is easy for you to say. But very soon you’re going to forget your fragile faith and run for your lives.”
Have you ever made a vow to God during a church service only to back away from it later—perhaps as quickly as when you left the church parking lot? It’s easy to boast about our faith; it’s harder to live it, as Peter would soon discover (18:15-18, 25-27). This is one of the reasons why God causes us to experience challenges. Through them, we come to see how brittle our faith is and how mighty our Savior is, and thus our faith is made a little stronger.
Though the disciples would abandon him, Jesus was not alone. His Father was with him (16:32). He was “sent” from the Father (3:17), is “in the Father” (14:11), and would return “to the Father” (14:28). The Son and the Father “are one” (10:30).
16:33 Jesus revealed all of these things to his disciples, not to fill them with fear, but so that they might have peace in him. Peace is not mere serenity and the absence of crisis. The peace that Jesus was talking about is something that only he can give, and it’s something that believers can experience in a crisis (see commentary on 14:27). In reality, you can’t know if you truly have peace until conflict strikes. A Christian’s peace is found in his or her connection to Jesus Christ based on his Word.
No matter what suffering you endure in this life, Jesus exhorts you to be courageous. How can we have courage to pursue God’s agenda in the midst of tribulation? Jesus gave us the answer: I have conquered the world. Regardless of how the world beats you down, you have reason to live with bold faith because Jesus is the sovereign King over the world. He has defeated sin, Satan, and death. If you’re a believer, your eternity is secure. And Jesus has the power to overrule your earthly circumstances. Knowing this truth and maintaining an intimate relationship with the Lord (in me) will radically change your perspective as you face whatever obstacles come your way. His peace gives you peace in the midst of life’s crises.
C. Jesus’s Prayer (17:1-26)
17:1 In chapters 13–16, John presents Jesus’s “Farewell Discourse,” the final teachings and exhortations he gave to his disciples in the upper room after the Passover supper. In chapter 17, John records the prayer Jesus spoke at the conclusion of their time together—just before his betrayal.
Jesus recognized that the hour had come for the Son and the Father to glorify each other (see 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1). The Father and Son love one another and desire to make much of one another before a watching world. Those who come to God through Jesus Christ are called to participate in this intra-Trinitarian love, bringing glory to God through our faith in and obedience to the Son.
17:2 As John has already made clear, everyone who believes in Jesus receives eternal life (see 3:16). The Father loves the Son so much that he desired to give this redeemed humanity to him as a gift. The Father gave the Son authority over all flesh and then gave us to him so that the King would have a people to rule.
17:3 In his prayer, Jesus gave a definition of eternal life. This is important because it does not merely refer to an existence that lasts forever. After all, everyone will live eternally, either in heaven or in hell. Eternal life, then, is not merely the continuation of life but the experience of God’s reality. This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ. To receive eternal life is to enter into the divine realm with the goal of experiencing an intimate relationship with God through Jesus, a relationship that will grow throughout eternity. It is the uninterrupted, deepening knowledge and experience of God. This is the purpose for which we were created.
17:4 Jesus glorified the Father on the earth by completing the work he gave him to accomplish. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (4:34). We bring glory to God in the same way—by pursuing his will for our lives. Do you consider doing the will of God to be as desirous and life-sustaining as eating?
17:5 Jesus prayed the Father would glorify him in [his] presence with that glory he had with the Father before the world existed. Notice that Jesus clearly affirmed his pre-existence. Before the incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, before the creation week even began, God the Son eternally existed in the glorious presence of God the Father. And to this glory he would soon return.
17:6-8 Jesus confessed that he had faithfully revealed the Father to his disciples, those who had kept [his] word (17:6). As a result, they believed that Jesus had been sent by God (17:7-8). He really was the Messiah, just as he claimed.
17:9-11 Next Jesus prayed, not . . . for the world, but for his disciples whom the Father had given him (17:9; see 17:2). Jesus was glorified in them because they had received everything he revealed to them (17:10). As Jesus prepared to leave the world, he prayed that the Father would protect his disciples by his name (17:11)—that is, by the Father’s name. In Scripture, names do not merely identify people but speak of their character. Therefore, Jesus was asking that God would protect them by keeping them connected to their holy and righteous Father. Specifically, he asked that God would grant that Jesus’s followers might be one, as the Father and Son are. In other words, he prayed for the unity of his disciples—that they’d be unified in love in the same way that the persons of the Godhead are unified in love.
17:12 While Jesus was with his disciples, he protected them. None of them was lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. God knew far in advance that Judas would betray the Messiah (see commentary on 13:18-19). Nevertheless, Judas’s rebellion could not thwart the divine plan. On the contrary, it facilitated it. Understand that even wickedness falls under the sovereignty of God—not because God prescribes it, but because he uses it. How much better would it be for you to fulfill God’s purposes through your obedience than through your rebellion?
17:13-16 Jesus spoke these things to his disciples so that they would have his joy completed in them (17:13). Notice that it’s his joy. To experience peace in the midst of suffering is for Jesus to share his joy with you, and this comes by means of confidence in his word (17:14). But when one receives God’s word through Jesus, one also receives the hatred of the world. The world hates the followers of Jesus because they are not of the world, just as [Jesus] is not (17:16). Yet Jesus does not pray that the Father would take them out of the world but that he would protect them from the evil one (17:15).
Christians must function in this world—in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, marketplaces, and civic arenas. Yet, we are not to adopt the world’s perspective or let it dictate our values. We must operate on earth from a heavenly perspective, God’s perspective. God’s Word is to determine our understanding of right and wrong. Though we are in the world, we must not be of it.
17:17 Then Jesus prayed, Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. To be sanctified is to be set apart for God’s purposes. This process happens through internalizing the eternal truth of God’s Word. Think of the Word like food. You can chew it all day, but unless you swallow it, you receive no health benefits from it. You internalize God’s Word, not by merely hearing or reading it, but by trusting and obeying it. Then its work of spiritual transformation is activated in your life (see 2 Cor 3:17-18).
17:18-19 Jesus was sending his disciples into the world (17:18)—that is, sending them on a mission. They would not be cloistered in a monastery but making their God-glorifying presence known in the culture. He said, I sanctify myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the truth (17:19). In other words, Jesus had set himself apart to God’s will so that he might enable his followers to do the same.
17:20 Not only did Jesus pray for the eleven disciples in front of him, but also for those who believe in [him] through their word. The disciples / apostles with him that night would proclaim the gospel through their preaching and through their Holy-Spirit-inspired writings, which would become the New Testament. Therefore, “those who believe in [him] through their word” includes all those who have trusted in Christ down through the ages. This means that Jesus was praying here for you and me.
17:21 He prayed that all believers would all be one—that is, experience unity. Legitimate unity is not uniformity or sameness. Rather, Jesus was talking about being unified in God and his purposes. That’s why he prayed, May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me.
A football team consists of different players filling different positions with different roles. But the entire team has one purpose: reaching the goal line. Their unity consists of pursuing that one goal according to the rules of the game. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people from every race, ethnicity, gender, and walk of life. But we have the common purpose of proclaiming the gospel and pursuing God’s kingdom agenda. Our effectiveness is determined by our unity. That’s why Satan works so hard at causing division among Christians and within churches. Unity in truth is critical to experiencing the presence and power of God (see Acts 2:1-2, 43-44; 4:24-31). Illegitimate disunity disconnects us from God and causes us to be ineffective in our lives and in our prayers (see 1 Pet 3:7).
17:22-23 When legitimate unity is present, God’s glory is manifested (17:22)—that is, he advertises himself to the world through us, so that even more people might come to know, love, and serve him. Our unity makes it possible for the world to know that God the Father loved and sent Jesus (17:23). Our involvement in the church is not trivial, then. We are caught up in something much bigger than us. We are called to serve the Lord in unity so that the love and glory of our Trinitarian God is visibly and powerfully manifested to a watching world.
17:24-26 Jesus concluded his prayer, acknowledging that the world had not known God. That’s why the Father sent the Son (17:25), and that’s why the Son came. Jesus Christ made the name of God known so that God’s intra-Trinitarian love might be known and experienced by the world (17:26).