Text Study for John 14:23-29 (Part One)

The yard and garden season is in full swing in our particular climate zone. I will therefore not be as regular in posting text studies for the next few months as I spend more time with sun and rain, dirt and plants, seedtime and harvest. It’s one of my happy places these days.

In John 14:22, we read this text. “Judas (not Iscariot) says to [Jesus], ‘Lord, how is it that you intend to reveal yourself to us and not to the cosmos?’” (my translation). I don’t care for a lectionary reading that contains the answer but omits the question. At the very least, I would expand the reading to include verse 22. Not only does the rhetoric make sense with this addition, but it’s a really good question for followers of Jesus as we prepare to move from the festival weeks of Easter into the ongoing work of the Church after Pentecost.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Judas’ question is certainly in response to the promise Jesus makes to the disciples in John 14:21. “The one who has my commandments and keeps them – this one is the one who is loving me,” Jesus says, “but the one who is loving me will be loved by my Father, and I will love that one, and I will reveal myself to that one” (my translation). The word the Johannine author uses for “reveal” is worth some attention.

The Greek verb is “emphanizo,” a compound form of the verb “phaino.” The main verb means to manifest or show forth something. It can mean to become visible or to show oneself. The idea that Jesus reveals or manifests the Father and/or himself is a common notion in the Johannine account.

The verb is different from another word for “reveal,” namely “apokalupto.” That verb has the sense of uncovering something that is hidden. “Phaino” has more the sense of making visible that which was not visible. The compound verb in our text adds the preposition “in,” so that the making visible happens somehow “in” the one who is doing the seeing.

The TDNT article on the verb says that the Johannine account plays with the two possible ways of taking the verb. The verb can refer to a physical manifestation of the dead raised from their graves, as is the case in Matthew 27:53. Perhaps the non-Iscariot Judas hears Jesus using the verb in this way. Then his question would be something like, “How is it that only we will be able to see you in this physical way and others will not be able to do so?”

Jesus uses the verb in another sense – that he will be made manifest “in” the believer/disciple. “The self-revelation of Jesus takes place,” the TDNT scholars write, “when the Father and the Son take up residence in the believer” (page 7). Jesus promises that Jesus and the Father will come and “make a home” in the disciple/believer.

The word for “home” is related to the Johannine verb “remain,” used so often in the text. Jesus will reveal himself to the faithful disciple by making that disciples’ heart the “dwelling place” or “abiding place” for the Father and Jesus. And it is the Encourager, the Holy Spirit, who will come alongside the disciple to make that indwelling a reality.

“The role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John provides a unique presentation of who and why the Holy Spirit is,” Karoline Lewis writes in her commentary. I’m going to talk for now to my Lutheran colleagues, because for some of you talking about the Spirit is a regular thing. Rather that relegating the Spirit to one Sunday in the liturgical calendar, we have some opportunity here to spend more time knowing and appreciating the Spirit in our lives of faith.

“Lay the groundwork for Pentecost,” Lewis urges, “rather than putting the entirety of the Spirit into one Sunday, as if that were possible…In other words,” she continues, “start suggesting that there is life beyond Easter Sunday and that it has everything to do with the Spirit” (page 193). As Lewis notes, we tend to celebrate Easter as the end of something rather than the beginning of everything. We have the opportunity to build a stronger bridge between the Resurrection as event and Resurrection as the Christian mode of existence.

“All too often, the resurrection is preached as a culmination rather than an inauguration, the believer’s ultimate reality rather than the penultimate promise, especially for the Gospel of John.” Lewis argues, “A primary theological assumption throughout the Farewell Discourse is that there is more to being a child of God than being raised from the dead” (page 194).

She suggests that this preview of the Johannine Pentecost may get us out of our “resurrection ruts.” Easter can fall flat after the lilies fade and the trumpets are put back in their cases. Christ is risen, we say. That’s good for Jesus, we might think. But what about us? “Preach that there’s Christian life beyond a discovery of an empty tomb,” Lewis suggests. Help your listeners “imagine that resurrection is a matter of death and life, even life right here and now” (page 194).

If that is the direction one wants to take with the message this week, then I would recommend that the reading should cover John 14:15-31. In the added verses we get a fuller description of the presence of the Spirit in verse 17. And we get the lovely promise in verse 18 that Jesus, by means of that Spirit, will not abandon us as orphans. I understand that we get verses 15-21 in Year A on Easter 6, but I don’t think people will be bored by hearing the verses more than once every three years.

In a time when people feel abandoned in so many ways, it would be a shame not to at least read that verse out loud in our worship. “This specific assurance of not being abandoned, without a parent,” Lewis writes, “calls to mind the strong parental theme across the entirety of this Gospel, between Jesus and the Father, but also between the Father and those who believe” (page 193). In John 1:12, the author promises that those who receive Jesus will receive the power to become children of God. Jesus builds on that promise here.

It is so often the case that the smallest words can have a large impact. Such is the case with the Greek preposition “para.” The NRSV translates that preposition as “with,” and that’s not inaccurate. But the word has more of the sense of “alongside of.” A para-educator, for example, is one who works “alongside” the teacher in a classroom. I mention this because the preposition is used in the Johannine account to make a clear connection between the indwelling of the Father and the Son and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In John 14:23, Jesus promises that he and the Father will come to the one who loves Jesus and keep his word. The Father will love that one. Jesus promises that he and the Father will make their home “alongside” that one. The name that the Johannine author uses for the Spirit is the Paraclete. Perhaps you can see the “para” in that title. The Spirit, in the Johannine account, is the One who comes alongside us in the journey of faith. The Spirit is the living and manifest presence of the Father and Son in the heart of the believer/disciple.

The Spirit will teach the disciple everything the disciple needs to know. The Spirit will remind the disciple of all that Jesus told those first witnesses. And the Spirit is the gift of peace that Jesus leaves with the disciple even though the hearts of disciples are all riled up at the thought of Jesus’ departure.

References and Resources

Bultmann/Luehrmann, TDNT IX:7.

Lewis, Karoline M. John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.


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