John (Part 51): Going (ch 13-14)
Although the command to love one another was not only because Jesus was going away, Jesus does link it to his going in this passage. It flows well from his insistence in verses 31 and 32 of shared glory with God. There we hear Jesus express the he-in-God and God-in-him characteristic of true relationship. Jesus is eager that his disciples also find that relationship of love with each other since the whole community of God with each other is a unity of relationship—a multiple-in-one reflection of God himself in his three in one.
But it is right in the middle of this emphasis that Jesus tells them, in verse 33, that he is going away. And he begins that thought by calling them “little children,” an endearing term, because, even though he’s going to his great struggle now, he knows they will be facing a struggle as well. And he sympathizes with their struggle, trying to ease the blow in the comfort of his words. It is the mother hen care he spoke of in Matthew 23:37, as his heart poured out to Jerusalem, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Just so, does he say in our passage, “Little children, I am with you only a little while longer.”
I think we should feel the intimacy of this moment to keep ourselves from too macro an approach. It is easy for us who know the course of history to scan the years and see in Jesus’s comment that, yes, he was there on earth for a short time, and he would leave, spending thousands of years away before he returns. But that is not the thought here. They are there together that night. The betrayer has left the room to go betray. The guard would be on their way soon. Jesus would be taken to be crucified. In the immediacy of this situation, Jesus feels the door of his intimate time with his disciples closing, and so he cries out, “My dear, still not mature—not fully understanding, little children, I have but an hour or two at most left with you!” In that thought, Jesus looks ahead—not to the centuries to come—but to the immediate fear that they will experience. “You will look for Me,” he told them. Why? Because in the years to come they’d wish, “Oh, only if Jesus were here, but [sigh] he’s not, so let’s go on”? No, I don’t think that’s the case (or it’s not the only idea), although many commentaries seem to suggest this. Rather, I think, Jesus sees them in their fear scatter. Guards would come. They would arrest Jesus. The guards would also seem to want to round up his followers too, but they would run (Mark 14:50-52). Where do they go? They hide. This is the moment they had feared. The full government force of the Jews was attacking. I’m sure many hurried over the mountain away from Jerusalem, perhaps back to Bethany where they had been staying all week. The adrenalin rush probably woke them up from their sleepy state in the Garden while Jesus was praying, but that adrenalin rush would be replaced by worry and perhaps weariness would again overtake them, causing them to sleep, waiting until the next day to gather together and find out what happened to Jesus.
But finding out would not necessarily be such an easy matter. We see these events of arrest, Sanhedrin trial, before Pilate, and then on to Calvary as front and center. But did the rest of Jerusalem see it? The arrest and trial happened in the middle of the night. People were sleeping. Jesus came before Pilate at the crack of dawn. So, even as they left Pilate to go to Golgotha, the city was only beginning to wake and move about. And what were they waking to? This was Preparation Day. This was the day when the hundreds of thousands of animals would be slaughtered. This is the day in this little city when the population, that had swelled to maybe about three million people, would fill the temple and fill the streets all around getting their lambs ready for roasting and eating that evening! Imagine then as these scattered disciples awoke to this day. Perhaps they talked. Perhaps they came to some kind of consensus at being disappointed in themselves for having left their Lord. They had all made claims of standing with Jesus no matter what (Mark 14:31), but none of them had. They probably made their way back to Jerusalem, perhaps ready now in their minds to find him and stand with him. But as they crossed the Kidron valley, they were met by those vast, overwhelming crowds, the millions who, just as these disciples did, wanted to get to the temple. How could they find some word as to what happened to Jesus the night before? Perhaps it took them hours just to fight their way into the temple. Maybe it took hours more just to find someone who knew what had happened—someone who told them, “He was tried! He was brought to Pilate! They wanted to crucify him!” Could they have found word by noon? Possibly. But at noon Jesus had already been on the cross three hours. If they did finally hear of where he was crucified, and if they did try to find him then, it would probably have been close to the end of Jesus’s time on the cross before they could have ever reached him. But, of course, that is all conjecture. It is just as likely they spent the entire day looking for him through the crowds of people at the temple, never receiving word until the sacrifices had ended and people had returned home to eat the Passover—after Jesus was already lying in the tomb. And so it is this looking for him, at least as a starting step in our understanding, to which Jesus referred when saying, “You will look for Me” in verse 33.
I said, “as a starting step in our understanding,” because there does seem to be more here. Though looking for him, where he was going, they could not follow (Jn 13:33). If looking for him physically were the only concern, why couldn’t they follow? Surely they could have traced his steps to Calvary. Did Jesus mean that they could not follow him in death—just yet? Jesus prefaced the statement by saying, “Just as I told the Jews.” Back in John 8:21, Jesus told the Jews, “I’m going away; you will look for Me, and you will die in your sin. Where I’m going, you cannot come.” All the same elements are in that statement except, of course, that he did not tell the disciples that they would die in their sin. And, while the Pharisees and priests at times did search for Jesus physically (Jn 7:11, 32), the conclusion to that search would not necessarily lead them to dying in sin.
I believe Jesus is referencing himself as the Messiah. The Jews were certainly looking for the Messiah. And so too were the disciples as they shrugged off their fear of the night before and set out in resolve to find him. The difference was that the Pharisees sought the Messiah for their own selfish purpose. They rejected Jesus as Messiah because they didn’t believe Jesus would work within their system to lead and lift their nation to supreme national eminence. And so in rejecting Jesus as Messiah, they would die in their sins. The disciples set out to find Jesus, but with a faithful heart recognizing him as the Messiah from God to bring them to God. Yet Jesus tells them they cannot follow—that is, they cannot follow him yet (13:36). He must first go ahead of them to prepare the way. He must die, so that in him they can die to their broken Adamic relationship and only then realize new covenant life by being born to him.
Now after dissecting it, we can bring this passage back together full of meaning. His going (told them in verse 33) would bring about the Zion glory (mentioned in 31-32) that would lead to the New Covenant ruled by the one new command: love one another (34-35).
It is interesting and important to note how Jesus ends verse 35. He tells the disciples (and us) that people will know we are Christians by how we love each other. He doesn’t say we will know by the particular doctrinal statement we subscribe to. I’m, of course, not saying that doctrine is unimportant. But the intricacies of our doctrinal differences are not how the world should understand our Christianity. Our love for each other ought to be the defining image.
As we read the last part of chapter 13, we find that Peter doesn’t yet get it. Jesus had just told them he was going away. Peter was stunned. “Without us?” he wondered. Where, Peter wonders, would Jesus go? Perhaps Peter was thinking that Jesus was going into hiding. Or maybe Jesus was going to confront the Jews and thought it too dangerous for Peter and the others to come along. But no, Peter thought. He would follow Jesus no matter the danger. And so he told him, “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? I will lay down my life for You!” (13:37). He had resolve.
Was Jesus disappointed in Peter? We often think of brash Peter, speaking before thinking. Was this one of those times that Jesus just shakes his head in frustration at the misunderstanding of his disciples? I’m not sure it is. We clearly see in this upper room discussion that Jesus didn’t expect them to understand several things. Back when he was washing their feet, he specifically said, “What I’m doing you don’t understand now, but afterward you will know” (13:7). They were not yet fully knowing because they did not yet have the Spirit within them. He had just told them that they couldn’t follow yet because Jesus still had to prepare the way (13:36). Later that evening, he would tell them that the Spirit would guide them into all truth (16:12-13). They didn’t understand at that point; they couldn’t understand at that point. They were not yet in righteous covenant relationship with God as they would be once Jesus had fulfilled his mission. In fact, Peter’s failure to understand and his coming failure in his denial emphasize that without God—without that covenant relationship—mere personal resolve would never succeed. That’s the picture of Israel all those years. Paul told us that the Law was intended to drive these people to God, to make them realize that they could not be righteous by their own resolve. Peter, at this point, pictures Israel, trying to be righteous through their own efforts. But it would fail—that very night would not end before that resolve was challenged and found wanting.
I’m sure Peter thought Jesus must surely be wrong about this. I’m sure Peter stirred up his own heart’s conviction and resolve even more at Jesus’s words. But Jesus knew he would fail as he knew all the disciples would fail—would turn and flee. And the world would seem dark. They would find Jesus betrayed, captured, tried, convicted, and executed. All their hope for relationship with God and new life that Jesus had promised would seem to have been shattered. Was Jesus wrong? Was God’s plan thwarted?
Jesus then addresses them all and tells them, “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” We notice first that he is indeed addressing them all. He had spoken to Peter alone in the last verse of chapter 13 (singular “you”). But in verse 1 of chapter 14, Jesus uses the plural you to address the group. The Greek reads, “Let not be troubled of you the heart.” It is interesting that the “you” is plural but “heart” is singular. I think Jesus’s point here is not to simply comfort them individually in their personal struggles to understand. He is emphasizing their unity, their oneness, that as yet they don’t even realize. The Spirit that would come to live within them would more than knit them together. He would make them one—each of them veritably within each other. That is the picture of unity that we see throughout Scripture because it images God’s Trinitarian unity. From Adam and Eve taken apart from one another to be put back together in marriage—and not only in marriage relationship, but in the picture of their sexual relationship. God made the act of sex to picture the one within the other. In the image of communion—the Lord’s supper—we eat, take into ourselves, the bread as the flesh of Christ and drink the wine as the blood of Christ, imaging the internal union. And that’s why sex sin is an abomination; it is an image of who God is that cannot be violated. That’s why Paul says if you treat the eating together in Jesus’s name in an unworthy manner you eat and drink condemnation on yourselves. It violates the image of God. Just so does Jesus here call them severally into unity of heart, and that heart must not be troubled—it must remain in faithfulness.
In the Greek, the statement to believe in God and believe in Jesus is constructed for emphasis. Placing two similar phrasings immediately next to each other gives emphasis. Also, emphasis is given to the first word of the sentence as well as the last. The Greek reads, “Believe in God and in me believe.” Thus, the pairing of “in God” and “in me” emphasizes the same faith in one as the other. Further, the verb “believe” here is not a call to come to belief from unbelief, but rather an urge to continue believing. Jesus is telling them not to lose hope. No matter the dark circumstances that will seem to overwhelm, they should continue believing in God and continue believing in what Jesus had told them.
Surely residing with God will be like living in a mansion, but that is not the idea Jesus is conveying in verse 2. The noun here is not even really simply rooms or dwelling places. We reside (verb) in a residence (noun). But we could also say that that residence is the place of our residing (also noun). That’s the kind of implication from this word. Jesus is saying that there are many residings with God. In other words, this is part of his urging them not to be troubled and not to lose hope. Jesus knows that when he is arrested and crucified, it may seem as if everything he had told them has come to nothing. He had said that he would be the way to take them to God. They may think the crucifixion has stopped his plans, and that he alone, then, in his death goes to God. But Jesus is saying, no. This is the plan. His death will not result in abandonment for them. There are places—many places—of residing with God. All those of faith will be included and will be brought to God.
We cannot lose this context as we move into verse 3. Jesus repeats that he is going away, and that he is doing so to prepare a place for them. Preparing for them to be with God is his death. That is the going away. But, he says, even though I go—even though I die to prepare your way to God—I will come back. Stop there for a moment in your reading of the verse. If going away is going to die, what should we suppose coming back is? It should not catapult our thinking out thousands of years to his second coming. He said if I go away—die—I will come back—LIVE again! Jesus is speaking of his resurrection. He is not dying without hope. He is preparing the way through his death, and then he will return—rise up again—and by his rising, receive them to himself. He does so “so that where I am you may be also.” Where is he? He’s not talking about heaven. Where he is, as we’ve discussed in the chapters leading up to this point, is in full covenant relationship (life) with God. If he goes away (dies), it is the preparation for them when he returns (resurrects to life) so that they may be where he is (in covenant relationship with God). This is the gospel message Jesus is explaining!—not a future promise of physical location in heaven. This is the comfort that he is promising his disciples.
We can read this whole section in the following way. “(background thought: God’s purpose has always been for everlasting love relationship. I had told you that I came from the Father and would go back to the Father, but I also told you that I would bring you to God (6:40). However, all this betrayal discussion and my coming death will make it seem to you as if my mission were aborted.) But don’t let your heart be troubled! Continue to trust in God—in his purpose—and in me continue to trust—in my promise. I don’t go to God alone in failure. Those who trust will all reside with him. And if I go to prepare the way (to die), I will return (rise up again), completing my mission, and therefore able to receive you in resurrection of your spirit, so that where I am (which is in perfect covenant relationship with God), there you may be as well.”