John 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Jesus Introduces Major Themes of His Farewell Discourse

Jesus now begins what is commonly called his "farewell discourse" (13:31--17:26). This section follows a literary form common in the ancient world, not least within Judaism (Brown 1970:598; Talbert 1992:200). There are numerous examples of a great man or woman giving a final speech to those who are close to him or her: for example, Jacob (Gen 47:29--49:33), Moses (Deut; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 4.309-26), Joshua (Josh 23--24), Samuel (1 Sam 12), David (1 Chron 28--29), Tobit (Tobit 14:3-11), Noah (Jubilees 10), Abraham (Jubilees 20--22), Rebecca (Jubilees 35), Isaac (Jubilees 36), Enoch (1 Enoch 91), Ezra (2 Esdras 14:28-36), Baruch (2 Apocalypse of Baruch 77) and the twelve sons of Jacob (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs). These accounts, though diverse, have several common elements (Brown 1970:598-601; Talbert 1992:200-202). The great man or woman tells of his or her impending death and in some cases offers comfort in the face of the grief this announcement produces. He or she predicts what will come in the future, including, in different cases, evil or God's care. This is in keeping with the belief that one about to die is given prophetic powers (cf. Josephus Jewish Wars 7.353; Plato Apology 39C; cf. Talbert 1992:200-201). These farewell discourses also contain instruction on how those left behind should behave, and at times the discourses conclude with a prayer for those left behind.

Although Jesus' farewell discourse fits this pattern, there is the notable exception that the one who is about to leave will continue to be present through the Spirit and will return at the end of the age (cf. Brown 1970:582; Carson 1991:480). Indeed, the way Jesus speaks in this section transcends time, for he speaks in oracular style and often as if the glorification has already taken place. "He is really speaking from heaven; although those who hear him are his disciples, his words are directed to Christians of all times" (Brown 1970:582).

The keynote of these chapters is assurance and comfort in the face of two difficulties coming upon the disciples, Jesus' death and their own persecution. He prepares them for his death and the coming of the Spirit, now called the Paraclete. He speaks of the opposition between the world and them as his disciples, and he prepares them for hardships to come (cf. Tolmie 1995:228-29). He does this by showing them that this opposition comes from their union with himself.

In the course of offering assurance and comfort, Jesus develops various themes that have been introduced earlier in his ministry, including in particular glory, mutual indwelling and love. His main point is the experience of life in God the disciples have and will continue to have. The relation between the Father and the Son, which has been revealed in the first twelve chapters, is now "declared to be realized in the disciples" (Dodd 1953:397). The relations between the Father, the Son and the Spirit are described in more detail here than anywhere else in the Bible. In these chapters, therefore, is the most profound teaching on God and discipleship in the Bible--the life of believers described in relation to the persons of the Godhead.

The teaching in these chapters is expressed in typical Johannine terms, distinct from the language in the Synoptic Gospels. Yet many of the specific topics included here reflect those discussed in the Synoptics at various points. C. H. Dodd has summarized these as (1) precepts, warnings and promises for the disciples, (2) predictions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and (3) eschatological predictions (1953:390-91). Two items found in the Synoptics, however, are missing from these themes in John, namely, the discussion of signs of the end and detailed ethical instructions (Dodd 1953:391). Instead of rehearsing Jesus' predictions of the end, John concentrates on the coming of the Paraclete. This is part of his emphasis on realized eschatology, the notion that, although there will be a future return of the Lord, already he is present through his Spirit. Likewise, instead of giving Jesus' ethical instructions, John focuses on their substance, which is the love command. Thus, John is touching on some of the themes found in the Synoptics, but he emphasizes different aspects. The same is true for this Gospel's more obvious difference from the Synoptics--the omission of the institution of the Eucharist. The account of the footwashing along with the teaching in chapter 6 provide profound reflections on the significance of the Eucharist without ever describing the institution itself.

In these chapters there is much repetition and an interweaving of themes, which is a characteristic of Hellenistic style. "We shall not repeat the same thing precisely--for that, to be sure, would weary the hearer and not elaborate the idea--but with changes" (Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.42.54, an anonymous treatise from c. 86-82 B.C.; cf. Talbert 1992:202). Instead of simply discussing a particular idea in a linear-sequential fashion, the thought is developed in a more poetic way through repetition. Accordingly, the section can be outlined in a number of ways, though three main parts are fairly clear. The first part (13:31--14:31) focuses on Jesus' departure and discusses the disciples' relation to Jesus and their conflict with the world. The second part (15:1--16:33) develops these same themes, moving from the relationship of Jesus to the disciples, using the figure of the vine and the branches (15:1-17), to the conflict between the disciples and the world (15:18--16:15), and on to a promise to the disciples of joy in the future after the sorrow of this time of separation (16:16-33). In the third major part Jesus prays to his Father (17:1-26). Throughout, the overall theme is the Father's presence with the disciples and the Son's and Spirit's roles in mediating his presence.

The first major section of the farewell discourse (13:31--14:31) is characterized by a series of questions by various disciples and Jesus' responses. An initial statement by Jesus gets the sequence started: he speaks of glorification (vv. 31-32), his departure (v. 33) and love (vv. 34-35). These themes are developed in the rest of the farewell discourse in reverse order, thereby forming a chiastic structure, moving from love (15:1--16:4a), to departure (16:4b-33), to glorification (17:1-26; cf. Westcott 1908:2:159; Michaels 1989:253). While there are other important themes in these chapters as well and all the themes are quite interwoven, generally speaking these five verses contain the major themes of the entire farewell discourse.

Judas' departure, like the coming of the Greeks (12:20-23), signals to Jesus that a new stage of the glorification has been reached. The betrayal has begun, and so now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him (13:31). Glorification can refer to either the giving of praise or the manifestation of that which is worthy of praise. When Jesus says now he is referring to the manifestation of God now taking place rather than the praise it will bring forth in the future.

What is this manifestation? In general the glory of God refers to his "own essential worth, greatness, power, majesty, everything in him which calls forth man's adoring reverence" (Caird 1969:269). This glory has been manifested throughout Jesus' ministry, but now it comes to a climax on the cross (cf. 12:23-33). For the chief characteristic of God revealed in Jesus is his love, a self-sacrificial love. Thus, God is glorified in him through his death, "for in the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theatre, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world" (Calvin 1959:68).

The Son of Man is the one to be glorified (v. 31), that is, the Messiah from heaven who brings God's life and judgment, especially through the cross (see comments on 3:13-14 and 5:27). The cross is itself the revelation of divine glory and the way for Jesus to share the divine life with his followers. It is also the way for God to glorify the Son in himself (v. 32), which he will do at once as Jesus returns to his presence (17:5). Just as Jesus' keynote address focused on the relation between the Father and the Son (5:19-27), so also his farewell discourse begins from that same fundamental point. This relationship is central to this Gospel.

Jesus next addresses the immediate impact of the cross on the disciples: My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come (v. 33). By calling them children (using the diminutive form teknia, "little children," which the NIV tries to capture by adding my) he is putting them in a relation to himself that is analogous to his relation to the Father (cf. 14:20; 17:21, 23; cf. Westcott 1908:2:161). This term would be in keeping with the Passover meal setting since "small groups that banded together to eat the paschal meal had to pattern themselves on family life, and one of the group had to act as a father explaining to his children the significance of what was being done" (Brown 1970:611).

This term of endearment expresses his love for them and is a poignant introduction to his announcement that his departure is imminent. The term a little longer (eti mikron) is imprecise (cf. 7:33), so they could not be sure how soon this separation would take place, but given the announcement of the betrayal they might suspect that it would be very soon. Jesus seems to refer not just to the time of separation between his death and resurrection, but also to the time thereafter. For he says they will look for him, which they did not do after his death, but which they did do after the resurrection. Just as the first disciples sought him out (1:38), so will they continue to seek for him after his departure. Part of the purpose of the farewell discourse is to tell them of the new ways in which they will find him in the future.

The departure had been a theme in the controversy with the Jewish opponents (7:34; 8:21), as Jesus reminds the disciples. While it is impossible for either group to follow Jesus where he is going, there is a big difference between the groups' relationships to Jesus. For the opponents are alienated from God and can never follow Jesus into the Father's presence as long as they remain in that condition. The disciples, on the other hand, have been cleansed (v. 10). They are little children who will indeed follow Jesus later (v. 36). As the following chapters will make clear, they first need to receive the Spirit, the Paraclete, to share in the Father's life and love and to accomplish his works, as Jesus himself has done.

The crux of this new quality of life with God is found in the love command: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (vv. 34-35). On one level, there is nothing new about the command to love. While there are different understandings of love, the love command, or ideal, is already known widely in Judaism (for example, Lev 19:18; Rule of the Community 3.13; m. 'Abot 1:12) and the Greco-Roman world (for example, Pliny Natural History 2.17.18; Marcus Aurelius Meditations 7.13, 22; Porphery To Mark 35; cf. Klassen 1992:382-84). But on another level, this love is new in that it is in keeping with Jesus' own love for them. The love of God has now been mediated in a radically new way, through the incarnation. And the possibility of sharing in that divine love now becomes possible in a manner and to a degree unlike anything up to this point. The disciples are called to enter into the relation of love that exists between the Father and the Son (10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10; cf. Barrett 1978:452). This love also is not new; it has existed from all eternity. But it has not been manifested or made available until the incarnation. Such love is the fruit of the disciples' union with Jesus and, in Jesus, with the Father (cf. chap. 15). The disciple, therefore, is one who is characterized by love, which is the laying down of life. The disciple, like the Master, reveals the Father.

This love command focuses on relations within the new community rather than toward outsiders, a focus that has led many to view John as a narrow sectarian with no concern for outsiders. Such a view, however, misses the larger picture. John is quite clear that this divine love, in which the disciples are to share, is for the whole world (3:16; 4:42; 17:9). Indeed, their love for one another is part of God's missionary strategy, for such love is an essential part of the unity they are to share with one another and with God; it is by this oneness of the disciples in the Father and the Son that the world will believe that the Father sent the Son (17:21). Jesus' attention here in the farewell discourse, as well as John's attention in his epistles, is on the crucial stage of promoting the love between disciples. The community is to continue to manifest God as Jesus has done, thereby shining as a light that continues to bring salvation and condemnation (cf. chaps. 15--16). Without this love their message of what God has done in Christ would be hollow.

John was known in the ancient church for his concern for love. Jerome tells of John in his extreme old age saying, whenever he was carried into the assembly, "Little children, love one another."

When his disciples got tired of this, they asked, "Master, why do you always say this?"

"It is the Lord's command. If this alone be done, it is enough" (Jerome Commentary on Galatians at Gal 6:10).

The story of John and the conversion, fall and restoration of a brigand (Clement of Alexandria Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? 42 par. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.23.5-19) is another beautiful story that illustrates the love revealed in this Gospel. For when John finds this fallen Christian he entreats him to repent, saying, "If it must be, I will willingly suffer your death, as the Lord suffered for us; for your life, I will give my own."

In the earliest centuries of the church divine love was indeed the hallmark of the community of Jesus (for example Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians 4.1; Justin Martyr 1 Apology 1.16; Minucius Felix Octavius 9). Tertullian reports that the pagans said of the Christians, "See, they say, how they love one another . . . how they are ready even to die for one another" (Apology 39). E. R. Dodds (not to be confused with C. H. Dodd), himself not a Christian (Dodds 1965:5), thinks that the genuine love and unity among Christians was "a major cause, perhaps the strongest single cause, of the spread of Christianity" (Dodds 1965:138). "Love of one's neighbour is not an exclusively Christian virtue, but in our period [from the second century A.D. to Constantine, early in the third century] the Christians appear to have practised it much more effectively than any other group" (Dodds 1965:136-37).

Such cohesiveness is part of what made Christianity attractive to Constantine, for he saw that it would help unify the empire. Before Constantine, when one became a Christian there was no question but that a death to self was involved in being a Christian. But this changed after Constantine, and so it is not surprising to find Chrysostom, preaching in the fourth and early fifth century, chastising his congregation for their lack of love. In contrast to the earlier age, he now must say, "There is nothing else that causes the Greeks [that is, the non-Christians] to stumble, except that there is no love. . . . We, we are the cause of their remaining in their error. Their own doctrines they have long condemned, and in like manner they admire ours, but they are hindered by our mode of life" (In John 72.5). In parts of the world today the church continues to be the greatest obstacle to people's coming to believe that the Son has come into the world, sent from the Father.

The love that Jesus is speaking of is not simply a feeling. One cannot really command a feeling. It is willing and doing the best for the other person (1 Jn 3:11-18). Since God's will alone is that which is truly good in any situation, love acts in obedience to God's will, under the guidance of the Spirit. Jesus has revealed such a life--only doing what he sees the Father doing and only speaking what he hears from the Father. The same pattern is to be true of the disciple, because "whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 Jn 2:6). Feelings of compassion and concern will be present as the disciple more and more perfectly shares in God's own love for those around him or her, but such feelings are not the source nor the evidence for this love that Jesus demands of his followers (cf. 15:1-17).

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Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

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Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial and Speaks of His Own Departure

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