Chapters 13 – 17 of John make up a five-chapter discourse by Jesus immediately before his arrest. It’s a powerful collection of instructions, examples, and prayers summarizing much of what the preceding chapters of the book are all about.
Jesus frequently alludes back to earlier sayings of his, and yet he also looks forward to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
As we considered several posts ago, Jesus moves from theme to theme and back again, tying his various points together in different ways and viewing the same material from different angles.
He doesn’t speak as a Westerner. This is no three-point sermon with an introduction and a conclusion. Rather, it’s more apt for us to see his discourse as the weaving of a tapestry or the painting of a portrait. The pieces all fit together to give us a lesson that’s larger than the sum of the parts.
Let’s consider some of the major themes of the discourse —
* Becoming a bondservant for others. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, including Judas, to demonstrate the humility and servant heart required of them. But he does this because he is King of the universe, not despite being King. He is showing that it’s the nature of God himself to serve others as a bondservant — that is, someone who voluntarily sells himself into the service of another, where he gives up power and submits to the authority of someone else for the sake of the Kingdom.
* Loving one another as Jesus loves, that is, as a creator of the universe willing to sell himself into bondage for the sake of the unlovable.
* Cleansing by the power of Jesus’ words. Although they’d yet to grasp much of what Jesus said, the disciples were made “clean” and became friends of Jesus because they listened to his words and strove to live them.
* Obeying Jesus’ commands. Jesus calls the disciples to obey his commands in no uncertain terms, but his commands are all relational. He calls the disciples to love one another, to abide in his words, to be united with each other, to be one with Jesus and God. Jesus says not a word about how to “do church” — how to conduct the assembly, how to spend church funds, how to appoint leaders — addressing only those commands that point to unity.
* Glorifying Jesus. To glorify God or Jesus is to see him as he truly is. God will glorify Jesus by his resurrection and ascension, demonstrating his victory over Satan and the other powers, but God also glorifies Jesus by manifesting his servanthood, his submission, and his crucifixion — because this also reveals the true character of God and how he defeats Satan. Satan is defeated by humility and submission. There could have been no crucifixion otherwise.
* Perseverance of the disciples. In an especially poignant series of passages, Jesus makes clear that God’s love for his disciples will not waiver and, indeed, God’s special protection for them will continue despite what is about to happen. He even predicts Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus, and yet he assures the disciples that God will not leave them even as they are deserting Jesus.
Of course, Jesus has the advantage of knowing that they will come to repent. John later records Jesus’ three-fold restoration of Peter, and we see all the disciples brought to a deeper, stronger faith as they encounter the resurrected Jesus.
And yet, if anyone of us were one of the disciples who’d deserted Jesus at his trial and whose faith was threatened by the crucifixion, we’d have felt surely that God had abandoned us just as we’d abandoned God. God’s grace is truly astonishing!
* To know Jesus is to know God. The gospel is all about God’s self-revelation through Jesus. Jesus shows us the true nature and character of God. If we don’t see God through Jesus, then we don’t know God.
* God can only be approached through Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus claims to be the exclusive path to God, and as a result, the Jewish people will be lost unless they accept Jesus, even though they’d been worshiping God for over two thousand years.
* Unity of purpose with God. God promises to answer the prayers of those who obey him, that is, those whose hearts are attuned to his will.
* The coming of the Spirit. Jesus speaks about the coming Spirit as much as any other topic. The Spirit had been promised by the prophets and John the Baptist. And so the coming of the Spirit with the Kingdom was expected. But Jesus explains that the Spirit will testify about Jesus. The Spirit who would be poured out from heaven would come on behalf of Jesus and the gospel.
Moreover, the Spirit would enable Jesus’ disciples to testify about Jesus. The Spirit would empower and lead the church in its evangelism.
* The Vine. The disciples of Jesus would become God’s true vine, rather than the physical descendants of Abraham, who are often described in the Old Testament as a vine. The Vine would consist of only those attached to and nourished by Jesus, through the Spirit. And God will trim the branches with discipline, removing the unfruitful branches and trimming the fruitful to make them even more fruitful.
* Hatred. Jesus does not promise the disciples an easy path, only the strength of the Spirit and the protection of God. They should expect hatred and persecution, because when you become like Jesus, you get treated as Jesus was and would be treated.
* Joy. Despite the hatred and persecution, life in the Vine would be joyous. Jesus earlier promised the abundant life and freedom. The blessings of being in Jesus would far exceed the burdens.
* Friendship. Indeed, the disciples would enter into a new relationship with the King of the universe — friendship. The disciples are not mere servants or students. As they receive the words of Jesus and submit to him, they are transformed into friends, having the relationship with God enjoyed by Abraham and Moses.
* Oneness. Finally, the disciples are called to become one with both Jesus and God — a unity comparable to that enjoyed by Jesus and God.
To grasp this, we have to get past the Nicene Creed and instead look at how their relationship is described in John. In John, Jesus is repeatedly described as receiving his authority from God, speaking only the words of God, and doing the works requested by God. He does this by his own choice, because his will is thoroughly matched to God’s — what God wants, Jesus also wants.
They share a mission, a purpose, a vision, and plan. Jesus obeys, not out of fear of hell or retribution, but because he finds joy in what God asks.
We can therefore be united with God and Jesus by also sharing in their mission, purpose, vision, and plan. Our prayers will be answered when our hearts are attuned to theirs. We will be filled with joy when we are passionate about God’s plan.
By the same process, we should become united with each other. After all, if we share a common mission, vision, purpose, and plan, we’ll find ourselves working alongside each other, doing the same things. Unity would become perfectly natural.
Rather than competing, we’d cooperate. When we work together enough, the barriers that divide us will evaporate.