Commentary on John 14 (Last Supper Discourse)

During the Last Supper, after Jesus tells the disciples that they will abandon him, he then gives hope to this scared and confused group. The first thing Jesus does is to reassure them that they must trust him just as they trust God. In heaven, Jesus will have rooms, or dwelling places, prepared for all his disciples. Jesus’ death and resurrection are what actually prepares heaven for his disciples. When Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the age, he will bring all of his disciples to their places in heaven.

Some of us have seen the verse translated as “In my Father’s house are many mansions” instead of “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Gerald L. Borchert, in , argues that this is a bad translation.

The Greek word monai was rendered in the Vulgate by the Latin mansiones, which came down through the Tyndale version to the KJV as ‘mansions.’ The use of the word ‘mansions’ here is unfortunate because it has become infused into popular Christian culture so that one can hear some Christians speaking about the fact that they have ‘a mansion just over the hilltop.’ Such a concept, unfortunately, supports the Western economic notion that following Jesus will lead to economic prosperity either in this life or in the life to come, especially if one must suffer in this life. But such a concept fails for several reasons. First, God does not promise economic prosperity. Second, the idea is a typical Semitic word picture describing a relationship of God with the people of God like the picture of heaven in Revelation 21–22. Third, and most importantly, monai does not mean a castle-like home anymore than mansiones in the Vulgate is to be interpreted in that manner. The word is derived from the Greek verb menein, ‘to remain,’ and monai means ‘dwelling’ or ‘abiding’ places. So if the monai are in God’s house, the NIV’s ‘rooms,’ or perhaps ‘apartments’ or ‘flats,’ would be much closer to the meaning of the text here.

Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to where he is going, but Thomas disagrees with Jesus and asks where it is that Jesus is going. The disciples are still struggling to understand Jesus’ mission. Jesus answers Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, explains what Jesus means:

Jesus is the way to God, precisely because he is the truth of God and the life of God. Jesus is the truth, because he embodies the supreme revelation of God—he himself ‘narrates’ God (1:18), says and does exclusively what the Father gives him to say and do (5:19ff; 8:29), indeed he is properly called ‘God’ (1:1, 18; 20:28). He is God’s gracious self-disclosure, his ‘Word’, made flesh (1:14). Jesus is the life (1:4), the one who has ‘life in himself’ (5:26), ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11:25), ‘the true God and eternal life’ (1 Jn. 5:20). Only because he is the truth and the life can Jesus be the way for others to come to God, the way for his disciples to attain the many dwelling-places in the Father’s house (vv. 2–3), and therefore the answer to Thomas’ question (v. 5).

Jesus is here making a very exclusive claim about himself. Carson unpacks the implications for us:

In the framework of this Gospel, this exclusivism is directed in at least two directions. First, it is constrained by the salvation-historical consciousness of the Evangelist: i.e. now that Jesus has come as the culminating revelation of the Father, it is totally inadequate to claim that one knows God, on the basis of the antecedent revelation of bygone epochs, while disowning Jesus Christ. Indeed, the test of whether or not Jews in Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, really knew God through the revelation that had already been disclosed, lay in their response to the supreme revelation from the Father, Jesus Christ himself, to which the Scriptures, properly understood, invariably point (cf. notes on 5:39–46). Second, even if John’s language utilizes metaphors and images common amongst the religions of the Roman world and well attested in diaspora Judaism, he does not mean for a moment to suggest that Christianity is merely one more religion amongst many. They are ineffective in bringing people to the true God. No-one, Jesus insists, comes to the Father except through me. That is the necessary stance behind all fervent evangelism.

In verse 7, Jesus then adds that if his disciples have seen him, then they have seen God himself. Philip, still not understanding Jesus, asks Jesus to only show them God the Father, and that will be enough. In verses 9-11, Jesus reminds them that while he has been with them, he has only spoken and acted exactly as the Father has willed. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” There is a unity of Jesus and the Father which the disciples should have seen.

In verse 12, Jesus curiously asserts that whoever believes in him will do greater works than he has done, and the reason for this is because Jesus is going back to the Father. What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with his followers doing greater works than him? Carson explains:

In short, the works that the disciples perform after the resurrection are greater than those done by Jesus before his death insofar as the former belong to an age of clarity and power introduced by Jesus’ sacrifice and exaltation. Both Jesus’ words and his deeds were somewhat veiled during the days of his flesh; even his closest followers, as the foregoing verses make clear, grasped only part of what he was saying. But Jesus is about to return to his Father, he is about to be glorified, and in the wake of his glorification his followers will know and make known all that Jesus is and does, and their every deed and word will belong to the new eschatological age that will then have dawned. The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ Jesus performed during his ministry could not fully accomplish their true end until after Jesus had risen from the dead and been exalted. Only at that point could they be seen for what they were. By contrast, the works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit, after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is constrained by salvation-historical realities. In consequence many more converts will be gathered into the messianic community, the nascent church, than were drawn in during Jesus’ ministry (cf. 15:26–27; 17:20; 20:21, 29). The contrast itself, however, turns not on raw numbers but on the power and clarity that mushroom after the eschatological hinge has swung and the new day has dawned.

In verses 13-14, Jesus instructs his followers to ask for things in his name. This is how they will perform their “greater” works. It is not that they will perform works that are more extraordinary than those performed by Jesus (i.e., walking on water, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead). Instead, according to Gerald Borchert, the

meaning of the statement must therefore arise out of the context of the discussion involving the fact that Jesus is speaking of his departure to the Father, namely, his death and resurrection. If that is the case, then, the basis for the ‘greater’ is rooted in the expansive implications of Jesus’ mission in light of his ‘glorification’ (cf. 17:1–2). Jesus’ departure is in effect the work of the ‘Lamb of God’ in taking away the ‘sin of the world’ (1:29) or the fact that he is the ‘Savior of the World’ (4:42). Accordingly, his death and subsequent resurrection are to be seen as drawing all people to himself (12:32). But strategically this work would also require the work of those who believe because their task would be to communicate to the world the forgiveness of sins (20:23).

The Book of Acts is, indeed, a historical record of the incredible works performed by the early church during the first thirty or so years after Jesus ascended to heaven.

In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Does this literally mean that we can ask for anything and Jesus will do it? No, obviously not. Jesus only prayed for the will of his Father, so we are expected to only ask for what is in the will of Jesus (which is also in the will of the Father). Borchert writes,

Jesus lived in the will of the Father, and the Christian is duty bound to live in the will of Jesus. Appropriate praying/asking here, therefore, must follow the same model Jesus exemplified. Mere reciting of the name of Jesus must not be understood as a mantra of magical power that provides the petitioner with his heart’s desire. A ‘name’ in the Semitic context carries a special sense of the nature of the name bearer. Accordingly, from Adam and Eve through Abram/Abraham to Jacob/Israel and Joshua/Jesus, names are purposive designations of important realities. So to pray in the name of Jesus implies that in the praying one recognizes the nature of the name the praying person is using.

As we move to verses 25-26, Jesus promises the disciples that after he leaves, God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The role of the Holy Spirit is to bring to remembrance everything that Jesus said to his disciples. Some Christians today mistakenly think that this verse promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything they need to know about Christianity without them having to carefully study the Scriptures, or that the Holy Spirit will bring them new revelation from God. Given the context of these verses, however, this promise was directed toward the disciples who had spent three years with Jesus, and no one else. Carson writes,

One of the Spirit’s principal tasks, after Jesus is glorified, is to remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching and thus, in the new situation after the resurrection, to help them grasp its significance and thus to teach them what it meant. Indeed, the Evangelist himself draws attention to some things that were remembered and understood only after the resurrection (2:19–22; 12:16; cf. 20:9). Granted the prominence of this theme, the promise of v. 26 has in view the Spirit’s role to the first generation of disciples, not to all subsequent Christians. John’s purpose in including this theme and this verse is not to explain how readers at the end of the first century may be taught by the Spirit, but to explain to readers at the end of the first century how the first witnesses, the first disciples, came to an accurate and full understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s ministry in this respect was not to bring qualitatively new revelation, but to complete, to fill out, the revelation brought by Jesus himself.

Jesus then promises his disciples peace and again tells them not be troubled or afraid. In verse 28, Jesus says, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” The disciples should be rejoicing that Jesus is returning to the Father because the father is greater. Jesus claiming that the Father is greater than him raises interesting questions. Andreas Köstenberger address these questions in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible):

Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults often cite this passage to support their claim that Jesus was not divine. Of course, this is no new controversy. The early church had to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against Arians who claimed Jesus was less than God. The root issue is how to hold together the twin truths of Jesus’ equality with the Father and his subordination to the Father, which are taught not only in John’s Gospel but throughout the NT.

On the one hand, Jesus is identified as equal with God (1: 1, 18; 5: 16– 18; 10: 30; 20: 28). On the other hand, Jesus obeys and depends on the Father (4: 34; 5: 19– 30; 8: 29; 12: 48– 49). Error is introduced when one truth is accepted while the other is neglected. Arians (and their modern-day theological counterparts) accept that Jesus submits to the Father and thus reason (incorrectly!) that Jesus must not be God. Gnostics, another early heretical group, recognized the deity of Jesus while reasoning (again incorrectly) that Jesus could not be fully human.

In the present passage, Jesus’ statement, ‘the Father is greater than I,’ is not meant to indicate ontological inferiority on his part. Jesus stated earlier in John’s Gospel that he and the Father are one (that is, one entity, part of one Godhead; 10: 30). Rather than indicating that he is not God or a lesser god, Jesus stresses his subordination to the Father, which, as the NT makes clear, is not merely part of his incarnate ministry but rooted in his eternal sonship (cf. esp. 1 Cor 15: 28; see Beasley-Murray 1999, 262; contra Morris 1995, 584).

Jesus ends chapter fourteen with his assurance that he is voluntarily submitting to crucifixion because he loves God the Father. Even though the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is responsible for what is about to happen, Satan has no legal claim over Jesus. In other words, Jesus is not fulfilling some obligation to Satan. Jesus is simply following the wishes of his Father.