Session 8: John 15, 16 & 17
Hard Times: Trouble and persecution are coming, "Take heart! I have overcome the world."
- Play: Session 8 Video
The seventh and final “I am” of John's Gospel is “I am the vine.” In the Old Testament the vine was often a symbol of Israel, especially when Israel was a disappointment to God (Ps 80, Isa 5). Now at long last, acting as the representative of the whole nation, Jesus is the “vine” that will completely fulfill the will of God (see Heb 10:5-10). In fact, the previous verse in John has just said, “I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (Jn 14:31).
A giant golden vine adorned the front of the Temple in Jesus' day. It is possible that Jesus and the disciples are walking past the Temple as he speaks these words, since he has just said, “Come now, let us leave” (Jn 14:31). That vine would be a great visual aid for this lesson. At the same time, it is also possible that the teaching and prayer of John 15-17 are still in the Upper Room, and that they do not actually leave until 18:1.
Here are the major lessons of the Vine and the branches:
Jesus—and no one else—is the true vine.
Believers are the branches through which the vine bears fruit.
Branches must remain connected to the vine to be fruitful.
Branches that do not bear fruit are cut off and thrown into the fire.
Branches that do bear fruit are pruned by God to be even more fruitful.
Jesus calls his disciples friends. Like the Good Shepherd (10:15) Jesus is prepared to lay down his life for them. Furthermore, since they are his friends and not his slaves (v. 15), Jesus lets them know his business. (Side note: Whenever someone does not let others know what is going on, he is not treating them like friends . . . and he should not be surprised if they feel untrusted and excluded.)
Another important lesson for Jesus to teach before he leaves is about the upcoming persecution that the apostles will face. Since the world of darkness hates Jesus (the Light), the world will hate his followers also. By having this hatred, it proves that they also hate the Father (v. 23).
To help them face this kind of opposition, Jesus promises to send the Advocate as their helper and source of truth (v. 26). The Advocate “goes out from the Father,” and this statement will become the basis of a great controversy in church history. The Nicene Creed of the 4th century said the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but as amended in the 6th century it said the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque in Latin). This addition has been vigorously rejected by the Eastern Orthodox church, especially since a Catholic pope officially endorsed it in 1014. The East/West schism of the church since 1054 holds the filioque clause as a major issue. (See articles on “Nicene Creed” and “Filioque” in Wikipedia or other sources.)
Hard times are coming, and Jesus wants his disciples to be prepared. Peter will stumble this very night, but all will have to face continuing opposition. The Jews who do not become believers will throw them out of the synagogues. (This was likely a very real problem for Jewish believers A.D. 95, as John writes his Gospel.) Jesus did not give this warning earlier in his ministry because he was still with them to protect them. Now, however, he is leaving.
In his absence, the Advocate will come. The Spirit's job as to the world is to bring it under conviction (in legal terms, to put on the stand and bring out the whole truth) in three areas: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Each area represents both a problem and a solution. The world needs to be convicted about sin, and belief in Jesus is the only solution for sin; about righteousness, and Jesus is going to the Father to secure their righteousness in his sight; about judgment, and Satan—the prince enthroned by this world—is condemned.
The Spirit's job as to the disciples is to guide them into all truth. Like 14:26, this affirms the apostles' right to pen the New Testament and to be the standard of correct doctrine for the church. The Spirit of truth will speak what he hears from Jesus and will glorify Jesus. In Scripture the Spirit never wants the spotlight for himself.
Then Jesus addresses the fear and sorrow in his disciples' hearts. Yes, he will leave, but he will also come back. (Three times! He will see them in person after the resurrection; he will come to them as the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; he will come in glory at the end of the ages.) Just as a woman giving birth has pain and anguish followed by joy, so will the disciples have a time of grief followed by the triumphant joy of the resurrection.
And the disciples are moving into a new relationship with God. In Jesus' name they themselves can go directly to God. God loves them (instead of agapao this is a rare use of phileo with God, saying he not only chooses to love them—he actually likes them). The reason God likes/loves them is that they have loved and believed in Jesus.
The disciples are excited that Jesus is speaking plainly and they express their faith in him. He responds with words that can be punctuated three ways: (1) Do you now believe? (Don't be so sure . . .) (2) You believe at last! (Finally!) (3) You believe at last. (OK, true. However . . .).
In spite of their present enthusiasm, they will be scattered soon. In that dark hour they must remember these words: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” (See other uses of the Greek work for “take heart” in Ex 14:13; Zeph 3:16-17; Hag 2:4-5; Mt 9:2, 22; Mt 14:27; Mk 10:49). At every point of crisis the rally cry is, “Take heart!”
A bit of background: The activities of the Day of Atonement are described in Leviticus 16. The high priest would first sacrifice a young bull for his own forgiveness, and then sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people. Add to this the fact that Jesus is called our great high priest in the book of Hebrews. This helps to explain the significance of his “high priestly” prayer in John 17, where he prays first for himself and then for his disciples and all who will believe in the future.
In the typical Jewish posture of prayer, Jesus lifts his eyes (and likely his hands, as well) toward heaven. He speaks to his Father about glory (v. 1 & 5), authority (v. 2), and completing the work that had been given to him (v. 4 & 6-8). Ironically, his request, “Glorify me,” will be fulfilled at the cross.
One special note should be made in regard to verse three. There Jesus provides a description/definition of eternal life. “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (The word “know” means to have personal, intimate involvement with someone. It was even used in the O.T. account where Adam “knew” Eve and thus she conceived a child.)
The second major part of the prayer is an intercession for his disciples (v. 9-19). He is leaving this world, but the disciples are staying—and they need help! They need to be protected, not so much from the world as from the Evil One (see v. 15). So far, eleven of them are still safe, but “the one doomed to destruction” has already fallen prey to Satan (v. 12). (The NIV “doomed to destruction” is slanted a bit toward predestination. The text does not say whether it was God's choice or Judas's choice that has now put him in a “doomed” situation. It is translated more literally, “No one has been lost, except the son of ‘lostness'.”)
Jesus has given these disciples God's word (v. 14) and God's word is truth (v. 17). It is by this truth that they are sanctified (“made holy” or “set apart”), and with this truth they are sent into the world. Both Jesus and the disciples are sanctified (with the same word used of consecrating priests in Exod 28:41).
The third major part of the prayer is for all who will believe the apostolic message (v. 20). Jesus' prayer—if effect, his dying wish—is for the unity of all believers. This unity with one another is also in the Father and the Son, and by the testimony of this combined unity the world will believe (v. 21, 23). Tied to this unity is glory: the glory that the Father has given the Son and that the Son has given to his disciples (v. 22).
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