John 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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

Having heard all the profound things that Jesus has just said, Peter zeros in on that which is clearest and most disturbing, Jesus' coming departure. He asks Jesus, Where are you going (v. 36), presumably so he will be able to follow him. Jesus will answer Peter's question, but first he focuses on a point he has already made, namely, Peter's inability to follow him. This inability is due in part to Peter's own unreadiness, as his coming denial exhibits. But Peter is also unable because the way has not yet been opened through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus encourages Peter by saying that this inability is temporary and that he will follow later. This promise will be fulfilled after Peter's death, but it will also be fulfilled after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit (for example, 12:26; 14:23; 17:24), as will be developed in the next section.

Peter continues to protest, wanting to know why he cannot follow now (v. 37). As he did at the footwashing, Peter again evidences his love for Jesus along with his lack of humility in accepting Jesus' word. His response comes more from his own self will than from true discipleship that acts in accordance with the will of the Father. Thus, it is an imperfect love. Possibly, he is even clinging to Jesus, trying to prevent him from departing in accordance with the Father's will (Ridderbos 1997:478).

He claims he would lay down his life for Jesus (v. 37). But he does not know his own heart, for Jesus says, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (v. 38). If Peter were to lay down his life for Jesus that night, it would be his own selfish act of martyrdom rather than an act of obedience to the Father. But in fact he is not really able to lay down his life for Jesus at this point. Despite his own estimate of his devotion, his love is still too selfish and he does not yet have the guidance of the Spirit. The Lord will bring him to a new stage of maturation after the resurrection, though even then there is evidence that yet further maturation is needed (see comments on 21:15-19).

The poor showing of Peter, Judas and the other disciples at this point can be an encouragement to us in our immaturity. The Lord is incredibly patient. Indeed, he is love, a will to all goodness in our own lives. But God alone is good, and we are not the ones to define goodness. So we should find in Judas's and Peter's experience a warning to be loyal to Jesus as he is rather than as we would like him to be. Only he can guide and correct our mistaken notions, as we see him doing in this Gospel repeatedly. We should be asking him to do so in our lives, receiving the guidance he has given to the church through the Spirit.

Jesus has been speaking directly to Peter, but now he broadens his focus to include the other disciples. Do not let your (plural) hearts be troubled (14:1). He has just revealed to Peter that his heart is not nearly as loyal as he thinks. Peter has it on the best authority that there is plenty that could justify his disturbed state! The prediction of Peter's denial would have shaken all of them. Peter did not always have the right answers, but his fierce loyalty to Jesus was very clear. If he is going to deny Jesus, what hope was there for the rest of them? Jesus' talk about departure and denial gave them much to be disturbed about.

Such disturbance, however, does not take into account all the relevant facts of the situation. First, while Jesus has made it clear that they cannot trust in their own loyalty to him, this is not a cause of despair but an invitation to true security. They can only find real hope and confidence by focusing on God rather than on themselves. So Jesus tells them to trust in God; trust also in me (v. 1). The form of the word trust (pisteuete, present tense) often has the nuance of continuing on in an activity or state, as it does here. They have had such faith, and now they are to continue in that faith. Although trust could be a simple statement of fact (see NIV note), the context suggests that Jesus is commanding them to trust. They are to stop letting their hearts be disturbed and hold firm their trust in God and in Jesus.

By claiming it is right to trust in himself as well as in God, Jesus continues to act and speak as one who is divine as well as human. In one sense, to believe in the Son is to believe in the Father (12:44; cf. Brown 1970:625). This puts Jesus in a unique and exclusive position (cf. 14:6).

The command to stop being disturbed requires that the disciples change their feelings. They are to do so not by focusing on their feelings, which would simply trap them in self-preoccupation, but by focusing on objective reality, namely, the Father and the Son. The disciples are to continue to hold on to their confidence in the Father and the Son despite all the feelings that will come as they see Jesus killed and as they are confronted with their own weakness. Despite all the evidence to the contrary in what is about to happen, God remains the loving, just, sovereign Father that Jesus has revealed, and Jesus remains his Son, beloved by God, and the disciples themselves remain loved by the Father. Their confidence is in God as revealed by Jesus, not in their circumstances nor in themselves. Only by being thus grounded in God do they have a stable center to focus on and to calm their hearts. By living from God's reality rather than their own feelings and the appearances of this world, they are engaging in the battle that Jesus himself is waging. Jesus' death is central to his victory over the world (16:33) and its ruler (12:31). By their faith the disciples also conquer the world (1 Jn 5:4). Thus, "Jesus' demand that they have faith in him is more than a request for a vote of confidence" (Brown 1970:624)!

Jesus has already provided them with an example of what he here commands. When his heart was "troubled" (a form of tarasso, the word used here in v. 1) he focused on the Father and the accomplishment of his will (12:27). Such remains the only source of peace and security. Given the presence of fear and worry in epidemic proportions among people, including Christians, the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples at this point is greatly needed today as well. Only a trust in the revelation of the beauty, goodness and power of the Father and the Son will bring healing. It is perfect love that drives out fear (1 Jn 4:18).

Second, if their troubled state fails to take God into account, it also does not reckon with the purpose of Jesus' departure: In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (vv. 2-3). Peter's question is now answered--Jesus is going to his Father's house. He is going there for their sake, in order that their relationship with him may continue. This revelation speaks directly to their concerns. If they can take hold of it in trust, their hearts will indeed no longer be troubled.

The language used here--Father's (God's) house and rooms (monai)--is used in many Jewish sources when speaking of heaven (for example, 1 Enoch 39:4-5; 2 Enoch 61:2; 2 Esdras 7:80, 101; Philo On Dreams 1.256; cf. Schnackenburg 1982:60-61). Jesus' main point is that he is going to God and will return for them; Jesus is talking about heaven and his second coming (cf. Brown 1970:626; Ridderbos 1997:490-92). This is one of the few places in this Gospel where Jesus speaks of the future hope (cf. especially 5:28-29).

The word room (mone) is related to the verb to stay (or to "remain," "abide"; meno), which is used forty times in this Gospel. It can be used of either a permanent dwelling place or a temporary stopping place (cf. Liddell, Scott and Jones 1940:1143). "Mansion," the older translation, has led to very unfortunate misunderstandings. At the time of William Tyndale and the King James Version "mansion" also, like mone, meant a dwelling place or stopping place. It could also be used of the physical dwelling place or of the manor house of a lord, but these seem to be secondary to the earlier uses as in the Greek. Now, however, we understand a mansion as being limited to a physical dwelling and having specific socioeconomic implications. This has contributed to very materialistic views of heaven, which are quite foreign to John's language. It is indeed an objective "place" but not in the material sense many have in mind. Perhaps the most helpful language we have at present to speak of such a reality is to refer to it as another "dimension." The exact relation between the present physical universe and the new heavens and new earth is unclear, but the idea that someone could reach heaven in a spaceship misunderstands the language of Scripture.

The phrase my Father's house (v. 2) was used earlier to refer to the temple in Jerusalem and Jesus' own body (2:16, 19-22). Therefore, the dwelling place of God is now to be identified with Jesus. Also of significance is the earlier saying, "The slave does not continue [or "dwell," ou menei] in the house [oikia, the same word used in 14:2] forever; the son continues [or "dwells," menei] forever" (8:35 RSV). "This special house or household where the son has a permanent dwelling place suggests a union with the Father reserved for Jesus the Son and for all those who are begotten as God's children by the Spirit that Jesus gives" (Brown 1970:627). The word mone itself suggests "the permanence, indestructibility and continuation of this union" (Hauck 1967b:580). So the dwelling places would refer to "possibilities for permanent union (mone/menein) with the Father in and through Jesus" (Brown 1970:627, following Schaefer 1933). The idea is "not mansions in the sky, but spiritual positions in Christ" (Gundry 1967:70; cf. Brown 1970:627). "His body is his Father's house; and wherever the glorified Jesus is, there is the Father" (Brown 1970:627). Therefore, he prepares a place for them by his death, resurrection and ascension, for these enable them to be united to him and, in him, with the Father; his going to the Father is itself part of the preparation of a place for them. Heaven is experienced even now through the believer's union with the Father and the Son and the Spirit. However, this present union with God that occurs as the Father, Son and Spirit abide in the believer only comes to its complete fulfillment at the second coming, when the believer is taken by Jesus to be where he is (v. 3). While the ultimate goal is the Father, this passage (and in fact the whole Gospel) is centered on Christ--it is his Father's house, and Jesus says he will come again to take them to be with me (v. 3; more literally, "I will take you to myself," pros emauton).

In saying there are many rooms (v. 2) Jesus lets the disciples know it is not only he who has a place in the Father's house, nor just Peter (cf. 13:36), for there is room for all of them and many more (cf. 17:20). He emphasizes the certainty of this fact by saying if it were not so, I would have told you (v. 2). He here speaks of the thoroughness of his revelation, for, as he will say shortly, "everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (15:15). He has not been stringing them along with his revelation of God's love, only to pull the carpet out from under them at the last minute. What is about to take place may look like this is what Jesus has done, but it is not. It is all part of the plan. Their greatest desire will be fulfilled, for they will be where Jesus is (v. 3).

After speaking of himself as the agent of their future access to the presence of God, he throws out a statement that steers them toward the next stage of his revelation: You know the way to the place where I am going (v. 4). This could be taken as a question: "Do you know the way to the place where I am going?" Whether or not he is asking a question, Jesus seems to be alluding to his earlier teaching about being the gate through whom the sheep "will come in and go out, and find pasture" (10:9; cf. Talbert 1992:204). If he is alluding to this, the disciples miss it. Indeed, all of Jesus' teaching in these chapters is mystifying to the disciples (cf. 16:25). But he is walking them through it so the Spirit will be able to unpack it for them later (14:26). This statement (or question) triggers the next question by a disciple, which leads Jesus to further develop the thoughts he has already expressed in very condensed fashion.

Previous commentary:
Jesus Introduces Major Themes of His Farewell Discourse

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