Formations 05.03.2015: Divine Unity

John 14:1-14

A book miniature depiction of Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, Russia

A book miniature depiction of Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, Russia

As we approach Pentecost Sunday on May 24th, we will explore Jesus’ promises to his disciples about the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of Truth.” We will do this through the lens of Jesus’ teachings in John 14–16.

Although today’s passage does not explicitly mention the Holy Spirit, the church has long turned to these words as they wrestled with the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between the Father and the Son. As the Farewell Discourse unfolds, we will find deep reflection on the relationship between Jesus and the Father as well as how the Holy Spirit is related to both.

Jesus begins his Farewell Discourse with words of assurance. If his disciples have truly known him, he says, then they will also know the Father (v. 7), because he is in the Father and the Father is in him (v. 11). Therefore, whatever the disciples ask in Jesus’ name will be done so that the Father may be glorified.

Help participants grasp the deep intimacy that exists between Jesus and the Father and how they, as followers of Jesus, have a share in this divine unity.

Discussion

• How has the doctrine of the Trinity been communicated to you? Have teachers and preachers shown how it can make a difference in one’s spiritual walk? Have they given the impression it is an abstract concept with little practical relevance? Explain.
• Why might Jesus have spoken these words on the eve of his crucifixion?
• How does Jesus help us know the Father?

Reference Shelf

The Farewell Discourse

John’s account of Jesus’ last evening with the disciples is peculiar in that it does not report the giving of the bread and the wine. At the last supper Jesus, knowing that his death was imminent, washed his disciples’ feet. The foot-washing illustrates the meaning of his death for them and provides a lesson on how they are to relate to one another (13:1-20)

In the farewell discourses Jesus teaches the disciples about the meaning of his death as his return to the Father, the coming of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit), and the persecution they will experience. The original discourse concludes at the end of chapter 14—“rise, let us go hence” (14:31). The same themes are treated in the next two chapters. Then Jesus prays for himself, for the disciples, and for those who would believe as a result of their witness (17:1-26). He prays for the sanctity and unity of all who believe in his name.

R. Alan Culpepper, “John, Gospel and Letters of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 463.

The Way to the Father

Jesus assumes the disciples know the way to the Father’s house. After all they heard him say not only, “I am the door” (10:7, 9), but also “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (10:27-28). Thomas, however, puts the twofold question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (v. 5).

Jesus’ response is in terms of yet another “I am + predicate” saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). This saying has two parts, one positive (the first line), the other negative (the second line). The negative second line clarifies the focus of the positive first line. The issue is how one comes to the Father. The negative second line says that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. He is the one way (10:9; cf. Acts 4:12; 15:11; 1 Tim 2:5; Mk 8:38; Lk 12:8-9; Heb 9:15). The positive first line says this too. Jesus is the way; he functions as the avenue of access to the Father. The question about line one has to do with the function of “the truth and the life.” the “I am + predicate” sayings in John generally speak about Jesus’ role in salvation. As bread of life, he nourishes people; as the resurrection and life, he gives life; as the life, he gives life. To be given life is a part of the way to the Father. As the truth, Jesus reveals it (1:17) and bears witness to it (18:37). Knowing the truth is also part of the way to the Father. One might then paraphrase: “I am the way to the Father, that is, the revealer of truth and the giver of life.” ….

[John] 14:7-14…focuses on why Jesus is the way and some results of his going to the Father. This subunit follows the pattern of the first two. It begins with an assertion of Jesus. “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you do know him and have seen him” (v. 7; cf. 10:30; 5:17). Philip’s response follows: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (v. 8). Is this to be understood, after the analogy with Exodus 33:18…, as a request for a mystical vision of the Father (1:18; 3:13; 6:46; 1 John 4:12)? … Jesus’ reaction rules that option out. “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). This is true because of the union between Jesus and the Father (“I am in the Father and the Father [is] in me”). This union means that when Jesus speaks, it is the Father’s words that one hears; when Jesus acts, it is the Father’s works that one sees (vv. 10-11; cf. 5:19-20a, acts; 12:50, words). The revelatory role belongs to the incarnate Jesus whose works and words are those of the Father.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 212–13 .

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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