John 15 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Jesus Speaks of Conflict with the World and of the Paraclete

Jesus' love for his disciples (15:1-17) is now contrasted with the world's hatred of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus has confronted his opponents repeatedly with the fact that their rejection of him reveals their alienation from God. Now Jesus says that their alienation will lead them to reject his disciples as well.Jesus Explains the Source of the World's Hatred of His Disciples (15:18-25) Jesus relates what he has experienced to what the disciples will now experience (vv. 18-20). The rejection of Jesus by his opponents has been based in their alienation from God. Jesus now refers to them as the world, since the world is that which is in rebellion against God. The disciples would face rejection by Gentiles as well (cf. Tacitus Annals 15.44; Suetonius Nero 16), but at the moment Jesus has Jewish opposition in mind (16:2). Since the disciples are members of Christ like branches are members of a vine, they receive what he receives--both the sunshine and rain of the love of the Father and the storms of the hatred of those who are in rebellion against the Father.

The disciples are included in the world's hatred of Jesus because, like him, they are not of this world (v. 19; cf. 8:23; Neyrey 1988). They are Jesus' friends (philoi, 15:14-15), and thus they are not loved (ephilei) by the world. Jesus has chosen them (exelexamen) and appointed that they to go bear fruit (15:16), and this commission was based on a more fundamental act that he now refers to as choosing them (exelexamen) out of the world. They have been transferred to Jesus' kingdom, which is not of this world (18:36). The world's hatred of them, therefore, is an encouragement to the disciples since it is due to the difference Jesus has made within them. This does not mean the world has no hatred for others besides Christians. Nor does it mean that someone who is hated by the world is necessarily being true to God. But Jesus does say that those who are his disciples are quite distinct from all that is in rebellion against God and should not be surprised when opposition arises.Jesus refers his disciples back to his saying, "No servant is greater than his master" (v. 20; cf. 13:16). Earlier Jesus was referring to his example of humility in washing their feet. Now this saying applies to his humility in undergoing persecution by the world, even to the point of death. Here we see the incredible humility of the master, who is Lord of all. If humility is appropriate for a slave, how much more for a slave of such a master. Jesus concentrates on two items of comparison in particular--persecution and obedience to his teaching. While Jesus' statement if they obeyed my teaching could refer to those who did in fact do so, the present context is focused on rejection (vv. 20, 21), so the idea is probably more like "they will follow your teaching as little as they have followed mine" (NEB). Thus, the disciples are rejected not only because they are not of this world, but also because they are proclaiming a message (cf. v. 27). The present text shows the disciples in the role of prophets, meeting the prophets' fate. As the Lord told Ezekiel, "The house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate" (Ezek 3:7). There has been plenty of such hardness within the church as well.

Jesus summarizes his point thus far by saying, They will treat you this way because of my name (v. 21). His name refers to his identity and his character as it is made manifest (see comment on 1:12). But Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Father, so he concludes that the reason they reject him is their ignorance of the One who sent me. Here is the core problem (cf. 5:37-38; 7:28; 8:19, 47, 55), which introduces the main point of the rest of this section (vv. 22-25). Jesus has been speaking of the connection between the treatment he has experienced and that of his disciples. Now he focuses on his own ministry and its relation to the Father.

His central assertion is that this ignorance of the Father is culpable because of the witness he has borne in word and deed. He has spoken to them the words of the Father himself (14:10-11) and shown them the deeds of the Father (5:19, 30), deeds unlike anyone else's (v. 24). If he had not spoken and acted thus they would not be guilty of sin (vv. 22, 24). The text says literally, "they would not have sin" (hamartia). Hamartia can refer to guilt, but here the reference is more likely to sin itself. For in John's Gospel sin is understood as lack of faith in Jesus, that is, hatred of him and his Father (Michaels 1989:276). The opponents do not think they hate God, but such is the case given their hatred of Jesus (vv. 23-24). "This hatred is the human `no' to the divine `yes' expressed in the mission of his Son" (Ridderbos 1997:525).

The disciples are actually experiencing the deep-seated rebellion of sinful humanity against the Father himself. The conflict they experience is a part of something much bigger than themselves. Sometimes Christians today say they are being persecuted for the sake of God, when in fact they are being rejected merely because they are obnoxious. But many Christians are indeed undergoing the most horrid persecution and suffering for the Name. Jesus' words of encouragement here speak directly to his disciples in such situations. He gives them the larger perspective, helping them understand that what they are going through is part of the world's rejection of the Father and the Son.

Such suffering is not outside God's providential care. It corresponds to a pattern found in Scripture, which is what fulfill means here (v. 25). The rejection of Jesus and his disciples is found in the very law to which those rejecting them claim to be loyal, thus further demonstrating their culpability. The passage cited, They hated me without reason, is probably either Psalm 35:19 or 69:4. The latter may be more likely because it is referred to so often in the New Testament, being quoted or directly alluded to seventeen times in all. In either case the innocent psalmist is complaining to God about his persecutors. So Jesus is not just using a convenient proof text but making connection with an important type. He is using Scripture to assure his disciples that they should not be surprised by what he is experiencing nor by what they themselves will experience. God is in control.

Thus Jesus is giving the disciples two grounds for assurance, himself and the Scriptures. They should look to him for his example and for what he has said to them. They also gain confidence through what they find in the Old Testament, understood in relation to Jesus (v. 25). The Scriptures in general, and the Gospels in particular, continue to play such a role in the lives of faithful disciples today.Jesus Says the Paraclete and the Disciples Will Bear Witness to Him (15:26-27) From his own witness and that of Scripture Jesus now returns to the witness of the Paraclete and his disciples. The witness of the Paraclete and the disciples stands in marked contrast to the rejection by the world, confirming the fact that Jesus and those associated with him are not of this world. Referring to the Paraclete as the Spirit of truth (v. 26) provides yet another contrast with the world, which has rejected Jesus out of error.

Jesus says he will send the Paraclete from the Father (v. 26), thus affirming both that the Paraclete is associated in a primary way with the Father and that the Son is involved in his historical mission (14:26; 16:7). Then Jesus refers to the Paraclete as the one who goes out from the Father (v. 26). The meaning of this line has been the source of enormous controversy right down to today. Many Western Christians would say the going out is another way of referring to the historical mission of the Paraclete. The Eastern church, on the other hand, sees this as referring to the eternal relations within the Godhead: this procession of the Spirit is not into history; it is the coming forth of the Spirit from the Father from all eternity. The Son is God begotten, the Spirit is God proceeding, and the Father is the one source of both.

The Father as the one ultimate source of all is true to the thought of this Gospel and the rest of Scripture, but it is doubtful that this verse is dealing in its primary sense with the eternal relations between the Father and the Spirit. The word used for from (para) does not denote source in this sense. Indeed, the line in the Nicene Creed referring to the eternal relations is "I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from (ek) the Father." The Greek fathers who refer to the eternal procession use ek and even change para to ek when referring to verse 26 in this connection (Westcott 1908:2:213). Furthermore, the language in our verse (para) is used elsewhere in John to describe Jesus' coming forth from the Father on his mission within history, though with a different verb (16:27; 17:8). Thus, the going out probably also refers to the historical mission of the Spirit. Jesus repeats the thought in this way to emphasize that the Spirit is from the Father--that is, like Jesus himself, he is not of this world.

The Paraclete is going to testify about Jesus (v. 26). Because he is being sent to the disciples--whom I will send to you--it would seem his testimony is to the disciples, who in turn will testify before the world. Further details about the Paraclete's testimony will be given shortly (16:8-15), but first the testimony of the disciples themselves is introduced.

The disciples were chosen out of the world (v. 19) and are now said to be witnesses because they have been with Jesus from the beginning (v. 27), referring to the beginning of his ministry. This implies Jesus is speaking primarily to the eleven in these chapters. They have been along for the whole trip so they can tell the whole story (cf. Acts 1:21-22). Because the Gospel is not just an abstract message but an account of what God himself has done and said as he was incarnate, history matters enormously and the role of eyewitnesses is crucial. "The New Testament is . . . neither a collection of thoughtful essays nor an attempt to construct a system of ethics. It bears witness to a unique history, and it discovers the truth in the history. . . . The fourth Gospel persuades and entices the reader to venture a judgement upon the history" (Hoskyns and Davey 1947:181). The Gospel of John is itself a primary example of the witness referred to in verse 27. The eyewitness testimony is now available through the New Testament, which is foundational and is the criterion of all claims to bear witness to Christ.

These two verses, then, introduce the offense which the disciples are to wage in the face of the world's hatred and persecution, with the disciples' giving voice to the Paraclete's witness against the world (Brown 1970:698).Jesus Refers Directly to the Jewish Persecution of His Disciples (16:1-4) The general description of conflict (15:18-27) is now spelled out more specifically, beginning with the topic of persecution. Jesus warns that expulsion from the synagogue and even death awaits the disciples (16:2; cf. Mt 10:17, 21 par. Mk 13:9, 12 par. Lk 21:12, 16). Such martyrdom began with Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and continued on a local basis (Acts 12:1-2; 14:5, 19; 18:12; 22:4; 26:10; 2 Cor 11:23-25; Rev 2:13; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 20.200; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 95.4, 133.6; Martyrdom of Polycarp 13.1). The expulsion from the synagogue also occurred on a local basis and then more widely late in the first century (see comment on 9:22).

Jesus' opponents are about to put him to death for the sake of what they believe to be God's truth and honor. The same fate awaits his followers, since the one who kills his disciples will think he is offering a service to God (v. 2). The word service (latreia) refers to religious service. A later Jewish text says, "if a man sheds the blood of the wicked it is as though he had offered a sacrifice" (Midrash Rabbah on Num 21:3; cf. b. Sanhedrin 9:6). Such a view is quite understandable among those who believe they have received the revelation of the truth, which includes most, if not all, the major religions. Such killing is against the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament, but this has not stopped such activity in the name of Christ.

The opponents' zeal is itself commendable (cf. Rom 10:2), but because it is directed against Jesus and his followers, it simply bears further witness to their alienation from God. That is, Jesus and John agree with their Jewish opponents that God has revealed himself--there is revealed truth to live and die for, truth that distinguishes those who are of God and those who are against him. But they disagree about the locus of this truth. Jesus says they are doing these things because they have not known the Father or me (v. 3; cf. 15:21, 23). So the knowledge of the Father and the Son, which is the very source of the disciples' joy and peace, is also the cause of their troubles in the world.

Jesus tells them about these troubles ahead of time so they will not go astray (v. 1; cf. 13:19). This verb (skandalizo) does not refer to making a mistake but to something preventing one's progress, in this case a falling away (Stahlin 1971:345). Earlier, when the disciples had grumbled over a hard saying, Jesus used this same word when he said, "Does this offend you?" (6:61). The teaching did offend them, and "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (6:66). Such a falling away is what Jesus wants to prevent by warning them of persecution. When the hard times come they should stick with him, just as these eleven did when the hard sayings hit them (6:67-68). These are the ones who have received Jesus' words, and they are to remember these words (16:4) so they do not fall away.

Disciples today also need to receive deeply the teachings of Christ and his apostles in order to be ready for times of persecution or temptation. Jesus here provides an example of pastoral care. It is part of the pastor's duty to ensure that God's people receive such preparation so they will continue on the pilgrim way and not fall away or otherwise get blocked along the way.Jesus Explains the Twofold Work of the Paraclete in More Detail (16:4-15) Jesus now comes to his final teaching about the Paraclete. Jesus' departure, the talk of which has caused the disciples so much distress, is necessary in order that the Paraclete might come (vv. 4b-7). When the Paraclete does come he will continue the work of revelation begun in Jesus, both his judgment of the world (vv. 8-11) and the revelation of God to the disciples (vv. 12-15).

Jesus has been speaking of his departure, the persecution the disciples will soon meet and the coming of the Paraclete. These topics were not part of his teaching from the beginning because he was still with them (v. 4). His revelation has unfolded as was appropriate at the various stages of his ministry. Now that he is about to depart to the Father he is preparing them for what comes next, both the blessing and the danger.

He upbraids them for not asking where he is going (v. 5). This is puzzling because Peter had already done exactly that (13:36) and Thomas also had expressed ignorance of where Jesus was going (14:5). This could be a seam in the garment of the Gospel (see comment on 14:31; Brown 1970:710). If this is not a seam, then there must be some distinction between Peter's question and what Jesus is referring to here. Perhaps Peter's earlier question was not really a serious one, since he was immediately distracted from it and did not follow up on it (Morris 1971:695-96). Or perhaps the clue is in the present tense--none of them asks him. They had asked earlier, but now they are grieving instead of asking (v. 6; Barrett 1978:485). Perhaps Jesus is saying that they lack trust, that they are grieving when they should be taking into account where he is going (Calvin 1959:115).

Whatever the solution, the main point as it now stands is the disciples' focus on themselves rather than on Jesus. Earlier Jesus had said it is a blessing for him to return to the Father (14:28). Now he adds that it is also for their good that he is going away, for then he will send the Paraclete (v. 7). The Spirit is already present (see comment on 16:25), but Jesus cannot send the Spirit in his role as Paraclete until he himself has returned to the Father. Why is this? Earlier John had explained that the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus "had not yet been glorified" (7:39). Jesus' glorification is his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, and these provide both the climax of his revelation and a testimony to the truth of his life and teaching. The role of the Spirit is to interpret and bear witness to Jesus and his revelation of the Father (vv. 12-15). So until Jesus has completed his revelation, the Spirit is not able to do his job, for he does not have the full revelation to work with.

Thus it is better for the disciples that Jesus go, because this will be the completion of his own work on their behalf (and on behalf of the whole world) and because he will then send the Paraclete, who will lead them into all that Jesus has revealed. But more is involved since this work of the Paraclete is not simply intellectual. The Paraclete is the Spirit of God, and union with God is accomplished by being born of the Spirit (3:5). Thus, the Spirit will deepen their knowledge of the Father through the Son in the sense of both understanding and relationship. Through the Spirit the disciples will share in the very life of God that they have seen in Jesus. Their intimacy with Jesus himself will be far deeper than before. This union with God is accomplished by Jesus' glorification, and thus the glorification must take place before the sending of the Paraclete.

The coming of the Paraclete is not some automatic, impersonal response. He is personally sent by Jesus, and he is sent not to the world but to the disciples (v. 7; 14:17). Before explaining further what the Paraclete will do for the disciples, Jesus describes the effect that the Paraclete's presence among and within the disciples will have on the world (vv. 8-11). When the Paraclete comes to the disciples he will convict the world (v. 8). In the New Testament this word (elencho) means "to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance" (Büchsel 1964:474). The emphasis can be on either exposing (cf. 3:20) or condemning and convicting (cf. 8:46). As we will see, the exposure of the the truth about the world is clearly in view in our present passage. Whether Jesus is also saying that the world will be convicted by this revelation is not clear, though certainly some within the world will be convicted since the disciples' witness will be received by at least some (17:20).

There are three parts to the exposure of the world's errors (v. 8). First, the world is wrong about sin because it does not believe in Jesus (v. 9). Here, as throughout this section (15:18--16:15), the Jewish opponents are understood as representing the world. The opponents had condemned Jesus as a sinner, which is both explicitly stated (9:16, 24) and implicit in all their accusations. But they are really the ones who are guilty before God, because the work of God is to believe in the one whom he sent (6:29) and rejecting Jesus is the most basic sin (1:11; 3:19; 5:45-47; 8:24; 15:22).

Second, the world is wrong about righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father (v. 10). The word righteousness (dikaiosyne) probably includes its sense of "justice." His opponents did not judge with right judgment (7:24), and this is seen especially in their condemnation of Jesus for his claim to be God's Son (19:7). Jesus' return to the Father will expose their justice as unjust. Jesus adds, "And you will no longer see me" (paraphrased in the NIV), which reinforces it is to the disciples advantage that Jesus go to the Father (v. 7).

Third, the world is wrong about judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned (v. 11). The opponents had condemned Jesus, but the Paraclete will reveal that it was the evil one who was judged and condemned at Jesus' glorification. This judgment in turn condemns the world itself (12:31), since they have the devil for a father (8:44).

Each of these terms--sin, righteousness (or "justice") and judgment--were quite familiar to the Jewish opponents. But now they are redefined around Jesus: "Sin is rejecting Jesus; justice is what God has done for Jesus; judgment is what Jesus has accomplished already by his death" (Michaels 1989:283). The conflict with the Jewish opponents is therefore put in perspective. These opponents represent the world itself, that which is in rebellion against God. The conflict reflected in this rebellion is here seen in cosmic terms, with the Son of God and the prince of this world as the leading actors, each desiring the allegiance of the world. The main characteristics of each actor in the drama are here revealed: the world consists of all who fail to believe in Jesus, Jesus is known as the just or righteous one (cf. 1 Jn 2:1), and the devil is judged. Thus the Paraclete will reveal the verdict of the trial that has been in session throughout the Gospel.

The Paraclete exposes these realities to the disciples and to the world itself through the disciples (15:26-27). This witness will be through oral and written proclamation, of which this Gospel is itself a supreme example. But the primary witness will be in the quality of life that the Paraclete produces within the community as the new birth brings them into union with God. First (cf. v. 9), faith in Jesus brings a new freedom from sin (8:32-36; 1 Jn 1:5--2:2; 3:4-10), though not sinlessness apart from the cleansing of Jesus' blood (1 Jn 1:7-10). Second (cf. v. 10), they are able to live the pattern of righteousness and justice that was present in Jesus because they have his Spirit, which he sent to them after his return to the Father. The world may not see Jesus, but the disciples continue to be close to him (16:19). Third (cf. v. 11), the defeat of the evil one by Jesus is now evident in the lives of his disciples, who also overcome the evil one (1 Jn 2:13-14; 5:4).

More generally speaking, it is primarily the community's life together that witnesses to Jesus and, by the same token, exposes and condemns the world, in particular by their love (13:35) and unity (17:21). Such love and unity reveal that they are sharing in God's own life, and, consequently, their rejection and persecution show that the opponents are acting against God. The very judgment that Jesus brought into the world continues through his disciples and elicits the same hatred (7:7).

Jesus has been speaking to them of matters that were not appropriate to share earlier because the time was not right (vv. 4-5). Now he says there are still more things he has to say to them, but they are not yet ready to hear them (v. 12). Their grief makes it hard enough for them to follow what Jesus is saying. But on a deeper level, until the Spirit comes and they receive the new birth they will not be able to understand Jesus or the things of his otherworldly kingdom (3:3; 18:36; cf. 1 Cor 2:10-16). Jesus himself is passing on to them all that he has received from the Father (15:15), but they are not yet able to grasp it.

So the Paraclete will take over as their teacher and will enable them to grasp the richness of the revelation of Jesus. Jesus said earlier that the Paraclete will teach the disciples "all things" by reminding them of "everything I have said to you" (14:26). Now he develops this thought further when he says the Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth (v. 13). Such guidance by God's Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament (Ps 24:5 LXX; 142:10 LXX; Is 43:14 LXX) and is also associated with God's Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon 9:11; 10:10, 17). But although the Spirit guides (hodegeo), it is Jesus who is the way (hodos) itself, indeed, the truth itself (14:6). So the Spirit will focus on the Son and will not speak on his own but will speak only what he hears (v. 13). The Son has done exactly the same with respect to the Father (3:32-34; 7:16-18; 8:26-29, 40; 12:47-50; 14:10; 15:15). The Son has revealed the Father, and now the Spirit will reveal the Father by revealing the Son.

When Jesus says all truth he does not appear to be referring to truth in all areas of knowledge, though indeed all truth is God's truth (see comment on 14:46). Rather, the Spirit is going to guide them into all the truth in Jesus, for he is going to glorify Jesus by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (v. 14). The reference is to insight regarding the historical ministry of Jesus (cf. 2:22; 12:16; 13:7; Brown 1970:714) and to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and of his revelation of the Father. For all that belongs to the Father is mine (v. 15), and "everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you" (15:15). Jesus' knowledge of the Father is complete (cf. also 5:20; 17:10), and he has held back nothing from his disciples.

But the disciples cannot grasp much of this at this point, both because the ultimate revelation has not yet occurred, namely the crucifixion and resurrection and ascension, and because they have not yet entered into the divine life, the eternal life, through the new birth by the Spirit. But when the revelation is complete and when they do receive the Paraclete, he will guide them into all the truth that is in Jesus, which means all the truth of the Father. As always in this Gospel, the Father is the ultimate source and focus (v. 15). The Spirit will focus on the Son, who is focusing on the Father. Jesus' staggering claim to have complete knowledge of God is the foundation for the Christian claim that Jesus is the unique and only way to the Father. But how are we mere mortals to appropriate such knowledge of God? Jesus provides the way by sending the Spirit of God. The "all" of Jesus' revelation is matched by the "all" of the Paraclete's instruction, an instruction that is not merely cerebral, but that involves a sharing of the very life of God.

The passage's focus on Jesus helps us understand what Jesus means when he says the Paraclete will tell you what is yet to come (v. 13). This is often taken as a promise that the Paraclete will give the disciples predictions of the future, presumably at least what will take place in and through the church. Such prediction is indeed a divine activity (for example, Is 42:9; 44:7; 46:10; 48:14; see comment on Jn 13:19), but it is probably not what is referred to here since the idea of prediction does not fit this passage. The expression what is yet to come is paralleled in the next two verses by the phrase what is mine, suggesting the future events have to do with Jesus. The reference would be to the glorification--the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension--which still lies in the future at this point. This complex of events forms the climax of Jesus' revelation and thus will play a central role in the Paraclete's instruction of the disciples; he will glorify Jesus (v. 14) in large measure by declaring to them the truth revealed in Jesus' glorification.

So Jesus' promise is not of new revelation but of insight into the one revelation found in him. Throughout the history of the church, leaders within the church as well as groups on the fringes of Christianity have appealed to this passage to justify new teachings. Any such new teaching must, however, be true to the revelation received in Jesus. The flower will continue to unfold, but it must be the same flower--the genetic code must be the same. The Scriptures, including the apostolic witness of the New Testament, has been the touchstone for this continuity throughout the life of the church. Indeed, the present passage speaks primarily of that apostolic witness, since Jesus is promising this work of the Paraclete to those who have been with him from the beginning (15:27), whom the Paraclete can remind of what Jesus has done and said (14:26). The idea of further revelation to others besides the eleven is not here addressed (cf. Carson 1991:542).

Previous commentary:
Jesus Calls the Disciples to Remain in Him, the True Vine

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