Through the Bible in a Year: John 13-15

This Week’s Readings

Monday, July 2: John 13-15
Tuesday, June 26: John 16-18
Wednesday, June 27: John 19-21
Thursday, June 28: Psalms 42-45; Proverbs 15
Friday, June 29: Psalms 46-49; Proverbs 16

Next week we will begin Isaiah. I gave us 3 weeks to work on that 66-chapter book.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Intro Comment on John 13-15

Today we have three very famous chapters of the Bible. Chapter 13 has the story of Jesus’ washing the apostles feet. Chapter 14 is where Jesus talks about going to prepare a place for us, so that we can be where he is. Chapter 15 is the vine and branches chapter ("I am the Vine; you are the branches").

It got me to thinking that if we were to memorize one verse or a story for each chapter of the apostolic writings, then we would have an excellent overview of all the New Covenant books that the church accepts as inspired.

For example, verse 1 would be a great memory verse for John 1. Lots of people have it memorized already, and they often include John 1:14 with it. In John 2, you could simply remember that the story of the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned the water to wine, occurred there. John 3 is the born again chapter, containing the talk with Nicodemus, and of course it also has John 3:16 which even many non-Christians have memorized.

And so on.

John 13:1-20

Jesus washes the apostles feet, and he says that he did this as an example for them. He says they will be blessed if they follow his example.

Jesus did a lot of work to show the apostles another way, a way in which the greatest among us would be servants. It is very easy to lose that mindset and begin to take seats of honor and titles of honor. In fact, let’s harken back to a previous Gospel and discuss titles. It seems as though in the church today we have completely forgotten that Jesus ever said anything about titles.

Do not be called rabbi, for only one is your guide, Christ, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father, for only one is your Father, he who is in heaven.
Nor be called teacher, for only one is your teacher, Christ.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
~ Matt. 23:8-12

What’s embarrassing is how often we who are not Roman Catholics have used this verse (rightly) against the Roman Catholic practice of addressing their clergy as "Father." However, we completely ignore this passage when it comes to our use of "Pastor Jones" or "Reverend Wilson." (Those names are made up; no actual people are intended.)

This does not mean that you cannot call your dad "father." The passage is entirely about religious leaders who love "to be called by men ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’" It’s about taking religious titles to honor yourself, or even about accepting religious titles from others who want to honor you. "Don’t be called teacher," Jesus said. That is not the usual word for a teacher in the New Covenant writings. The word Jesus uses means guide or leader.

To refer to someone as being a shepherd or a teacher is one thing. To give them a title is what Jesus is talking about. I’m supposed to be just Paul, one of the brothers, even if I’m a shepherd or a teacher. I can’t be set apart by a title like "Pastor Pavao," while others wind up with "lower-ranking" titles like "Brother Frank" or "Deacon Smith."

I’m not a pastor, by the way, though I teach a lot in my church and occasionally others. I was just using that as an example.

There is a difference between knowing who the elders are in your local church and giving them a title of honor. The apostles’ writings give numerous examples of the former, and Jesus strictly forbad the latter.

But I guess we’ve forgotten.

John 13:20: Those Whom God Has Sent

We tend to think, "I just listen to the Bible."

Well, that’s a bad idea. According to Jesus here in verse 20, the way to receive him and his Father is to receive the ones that Jesus sends. I believe in this verse Jesus is primarily referring to the future ministry of the apostles. He is sending them out with the Gospel, just as his Father sent him to earth with the Word of Life, and those who do not receive the apostles don’t receive Jesus, either.

We can find ourselves in the same position.

Today, that’s really tough. We can receive the apostles by receiving the apostles’ writings, which are what the "New Testament" consists of. (I suppose you’ve noticed that I don’t like to call their writings "the New Testament.") While not all books of the "New Testament" were written by apostles, the early churches understood them all to have at least been approved by apostles. (Peter approved the Gospel of Mark, and Paul approved Luke’s Gospel, for example.)

However, what about others? In the late first and early second century, that was easier, too. The apostles appointed leaders in the churches, and the churches were confident that the majority of those leaders were preserving the truth, passing it on to the church as they had received it from the apostles, changing nothing.

Today, though, the argument of ancient churches that they can show a lineage of bishops back to the apostles means nothing. The "telephone game" doesn’t work across 2,000 years. The likelihood that the faith got passed on unchanged from one leader to the next across 20 centuries is slim indeed. We need more than just a roll of bishops back to the beginning.

Jesus has spent a lot of John telling us that if the Word of God is in us, we will recognize the words of God when they come. His sheep know his voice. When we hear the words of God, we must receive the messenger as well as the words!

Years ago, a pastor came to visit the Christian community of which I am a part. In one sense, he loved what he saw. He wrote, "In stark contrast to the petty backbiting and self-centeredness that characterizes so much of the church today, this gathering of Christians is a living testimony of what the church should be; a harmonious body of believers loving and laying down their lives for one another."

But did he receive the messengers that had produced this fruit? Not at all. He labeled the head elder of our community a wolf, and since I was the main writer on our web site, he labeled me a wolf as well. Why? Because he disagreed with one or two things that we had said, one of his main issues being the interpretation of a parable!!!

John 13:21-33

The reason the apostles didn’t understand what Jesus said to Judas was because his statement about passing the morsel of bread was whispered to John. None of the other apostles, including Judas, heard it.

When I was told I had leukemia last year, I took a moment to make sure that I really believed the verse that says, "All things work together for good for those that love God and who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). After that, I treated the news of leukemia as a great blessing. People have even tried to correct me when I called it good or an adventure rather than a trial.

In verses 31-33 we see Jesus filled with glee and praise as the end comes upon him. He was going to be crucified, one of the worst deaths imaginable (much worse than leukemia). Later, he would sweat tears of blood in the garden getting himself geared up for what he was about to go through. At this point, however, Jesus knows to trust his Father, and he rejoices.

For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2).

John 13:34-35: Love and Evangelism

Jesus says that everyone will know we are his disciples if we love one another.

It is good to love others. James even says that true and undefiled religion includes helping the orphans and widows in their distress. However, our best testimony to the world is not our love for those outside the faith but for each other.

Our example of getting along and taking care of each other is, according to Jesus, the ultimate testimony of the truth of the Gospel (see also Jn. 17:20-23).

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:10)

John 14:1-3: Mansions in Heaven?

The King James Version uses the word mansion in verse 2, but that is not accurate. There are many "mansions" in Jesus’ Father’s "house"? Does that even make sense?

The word the KJV translates mansion is only used one other time in Scripture. It’s in this chapter, in verse 23. There it says that if anyone keeps Jesus’ words, then he and his Father will come make their "abode" with him. In other words, in verse 23, the Greek word mone is applied to us. We are the home.

Most modern translations render mone as "dwelling places."

What place is Jesus’ preparing for us? What house is the Father’s house?

  • " … in the house of God, which is the church of the living God" (1 Tim. 3:15).
  • "Christ [was faithful] as a Son over his own house, whose house we are, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope until the end" (Heb. 3:6).
  • "You also, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5)

The house that Jesus is preparing for the Father—and for us—is us. Not only can the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit take up residence inside of us, but spiritually, we can create dwelling places for one another. We can have one another in our hearts.

I believe this is the primary meaning of John 14:1-3. It’s entirely possible that Jesus is also talking about the eternal kingdom, but I highly suspect that even then, God’s house will still be us, and we will still bethe dwelling places that Jesus has prepared.

John 14:6

In verse 6, Jesus tells us that he is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Those are rich statements, worth meditating upon. Beyond that, though, he also tells us that the is the only route to the Father. That is questioned a lot today, even in the church, but it’s what Jesus said.

Back when we went through Romans, I mentioned in Romans 2 that I thought it was possible for Gentiles to be excused at the judgment by their conscience because they lived a life obedient to their conscience. I felt free to say that, despite the fact that I know about John 14:6, for two reasons:

  • Romans 2:14-15 states this is true, pretty plainly. I don’t like to play the game of saying, "Yeah, I know Paul said that, but he knew it was impossible when he said it." I don’t think Paul or God talk like that.
  • According to Peter, Jesus preached to "spirits in prison" and "the dead" after his death and before his resurrection (1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6). I am presuming (along with most Christians) that these were righteous people who were awaiting the crucifixion of Christ so that they could be partakers of the great gift of the New Covenant and receive the Spirit of God and be equipped for immortality. Why would the modern righteous, who have not heard the Gospel, not be given the same opportunity?

John 14:7-14

We read back in 1:18 that the Word, after he became flesh, "exegeted" (interpreted, explained) the Father to us. The Son reveals the Father for they share the same nature. The Son is the Father’s Word and Thought.

John 14:15

If you love Jesus, you will keep his commandments.

The mark of loving Jesus is not saying that you love him. It is keeping his commandments. The person, John says in his letter, who says he knows God and doesn’t keep his commandments is a liar (1 Jn. 2:3-4).

John tends to be very straightforward.

John 14:16-31

Here is the very heart of the New Covenant again. This is what Jesus came to do. He came to bring us the Holy Spirit, who is called the Comforter here.

The Greek word for Comforter is one that even non-Greek-speaking Christians have been familiar with for centuries. It is parakletos, and it is usually written as Paraclete in English. The word can mean not only Comforter, but Exhorter, Encourager, and even One Who Pleads. It has such a wide usage in the apostles’ writings that I like to translate the verb form of parakletos (parakaleo) as "to use words in any manner to persuade someone to do something."

This is a great passage not necessarily to memorize, but certainly to be familiar with. It is better, yes better, for Jesus to have gone to sit at God’s right hand because this allows him to live in all of us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus had a singular body that could only be in one place at one time. Now he has a corporate body that can be all over the world, controlled by the head of the body, the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father.

John 14:28

We’re a little scared nowadays to repeat Jesus’ words that the Father is greater than he is. That’s because somewhere around the beginning of the fifth century, someone wrote a creed called the Athanasian Creed (not written by Athanasius, despite the name), which says that in the Trinity "none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another."

It appears that we put more stock in a creed written by an unknown person, the official creed of no church at all, over the words of Jesus. That’s kind of scary.

It also says that "we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person (of the Trinity) by himself to be God and Lord, despite the fact that 1 Corinthians 8:6 says "for us there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ." With this the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed—one or the other of which is considered authoritative by almost every church of almost every denomination, Protestant or Catholic—agree.

We explain John 14:28 by saying that Jesus meant that the Father was greater than he was only while he was on earth. The problem is that if that’s what Jesus meant, then he was a very bad communicator—either that or the apostles were—because every comment about John 14:28 before about A.D. 350 takes Jesus’ statement as applying eternally:

The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as he himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I” [John 14:28] … Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as he who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another. (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 9, c. A.D. 210)

I have several more quotes on John 14:28 from the second century to the early fourth century at Is the Nicene Creed Heretical? (And far more in my book, In the Beginning Was the Logos.)

John 15:1-9

A very famous and very important passage. I want to highlight verse 5: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (v. 5, NASB).

It’s crucial that we believe this and learn how to abide in him.

The easiest, simplest way to abide in him is going to sound like a surprise to most Protestants: Simply remain in the body of Christ.

We tend to spiritualize everything, and I most certainly emphasize walking in the Spirit of God, but the church is Jesus living in his people on earth. It is his body, and if we are in his body, then we are remaining in him.

The Scriptures say some amazing things about the church. We grow up into Christ together, speaking the truth in love to one another, each part doing its share (Eph. 4:11-16). Attending a meeting and listening to one gifted (or not so gifted) person is not what we are called to. We are called to be together in such a way that we "may all prophesy one by one" (1 Cor. 14:31).

It seems unquestionable to me that the person living in what Eph. 4:11-16 describes is abiding in Christ, no matter how he feels.

There is a book called Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, which makes the powerful point that if we belong to Christ, then we are in Christ whether we feel like it or not. It’s not about feelings; it’s about what Christ has done for us, and we should believe and walk in it (cf. Rom. 6:11). Hudson Taylor was powerfully effective as an evangelist in China, but he says that the last five years of his ministry, after he knew this principle, were more fruitful than the first thirty.

John 15:10-17

Jesus calls us friends. If it is a great honor to be known as children of God (1 Jn. 3:2), it is just as great an honor to be known as friends of Jesus. This offer is made to those who obey Jesus commandments, not just to those who believe nice things about him or can pass a theology test on the atonement.

The commandment Jesus emphasizes, because with the love of God it is the greatest commandment, is that we love one another. By this everyone will know that we are his disciples.

John 15:18-25

Christianity is not a popularity contest. In fact, if you are too popular it is a very bad sign ("Woe to you when all men speak well of you"—Luke 6:26).

John 15:26-27

It is not just the Holy Spirit that bears witness to Jesus. The apostles would bear witness to Jesus because they had been with him from the beginning. This is why, when they had to replace Judas, they looked for someone who had also been with them from the beginning (Acts 1:21-22).

Today we picture the Bible as the authority in the church, and it does have authority. It must be obeyed, as long as we are obeying God’s interpretation of it and not our own. (We must not be like the Pharisees—John 5:39-40.) It is inspired (God-breathed), and it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, the purpose of which is to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

To the early churches, however, the primary authority was the apostles. God had sent the Gospel to the earth through Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ had sent the apostles. Thus, we are exhorted not to fight for the writings once for all delivered to the church, but for the faith once for all delivered to the church (Jude 3). That is also why they collected the 27 books that they collected, which we call the New Testament. These are the ones that the churches believed were approved by the apostles. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s accurate enough. Something very close to our 27 books were settled on by the early second century.)

The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. … Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. (Clement of Rome, 1 Clement 42, A.D. 96)

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.3309 For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:1:1, c. A.D. 185)

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