A Prayer of Encouragement

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19 ESV

From the surrounding context, it would appear that Jesus is praying this prayer audibly, and in the hearing of His disciples. His words are directed to His Heavenly Father but for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this conversation because it contains vital information concerning their relationship with God that should provide them with further encouragement to face what lies ahead.

He begins by stating, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). As John revealed in the opening chapter of his gospel, with His incarnation, Jesus made God known (John 1:18). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the glory of God on earth. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT) and “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Jesus manifested or made known the name of God by revealing the divine nature of God through His life and ministry. His miracles displayed the power and authority of God. His words were spoken on behalf of God. And His death on the cross would be the ultimate expression of the love of God. For the last three years, He had been providing His disciples with an earned theology degree on the nature of God. These were “the people” given to Him by God to instruct and prepare for their future roles in the ongoing redemptive plan. They belonged to God because He had chosen them and then given them to His Son to train up as the future ambassadors of the Gospel.

Jesus reveals that these men, whom God had given Him, had remained faithful. They were still with Him, in spite of all the disturbing news He had just shared with them. While they didn’t understand everything Jesus had said, they still believed He was sent from God. And they were still walking with Him even as the darkness around them seemed to grow increasingly more intense. Their continued presence was proof of their commitment. All that they had seen and heard over the last three years had left them convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.

“I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” – John 17:8 NLT

And Jesus audibly states that His prayer was on their behalf.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. – John 17:9 ESV

It seems doubtful that Jesus would have made this clarification for God’s benefit. The more likely explanation is that His words were aimed at His disciples. As they listened in on Jesus’ prayer to His Father, they would have realized He was speaking not only about them but to them. He wanted them to know that, because of their relationship with Him, they were no longer of this world but were united to God. They belonged to Him.

All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:10 NLT

The disciples were going to share in the unity that exists between Jesus and His Father. God had given them to Jesus and now Jesus was giving them back to God. He had prepared them and was now presenting them to His Father for use in His divine plan for redeeming a lost and dying world. Jesus was leaving but they would be staying. And He makes that point clear.

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. – John 17:11 ESV

This is a somewhat strange statement for Jesus to make because He was still standing in front of His disciples. But it reflects His attitude at that moment. His earthly ministry was over. He had one last task to perform and that was to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was fully committed to completing His God-given assignment and His mind was fixed on the glory that awaited Him. The author of Hebrews explains the motivation behind Jesus’ single-minded focus.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:2 NLT

But as Jesus makes clear, His disciples would remain behind. Yet He wanted them to know that while they would be in the world, they were not to be of the world.

“…they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” – John 17:14-15 ESV

Yes, He was leaving them behind, but He was not leaving them alone or on their own. He was asking His Father to protect them. Again, it seems unlikely that Jesus is attempting to remind God to take care of His own. But this prayer would have revealed to His disciples that their future was going to be marked by spiritual warfare. Yet they could rest assured that their Heavenly Father would be caring for them every step of the way. As Jesus prepared to leave, He was turning over the daily care of these men to God. He had faithfully and successfully protected them for the last three years.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

But now, in anticipation of His return to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, Jesus was placing His disciples in His Father’s all-powerful hands.

Verse 13 strongly suggests that Jesus was praying within the hearing of His disciples.

“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13 ESV

He spoke so that they could hear and, in due time, they would recall His words and be filled with joy in knowing that His prayer had been answered. They would experience the joy of seeing Jesus in His resurrected state. They would watch Him ascend into heaven and then, just days later, receive the promised Holy Spirit and know the joy of having indwelling presence of God to guide and protect them.

Once again, Jesus stresses that the disciples were no longer of this world. And, as He had told them earlier, they would be hated by the world just as He had been.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

This “in it, but not of it” relationship the disciples would have with the world was not going to be easy. Jesus had come into the world and been rejected by it, so the disciples could expect to experience the same fate. And Jesus makes it clear that their presence in this sin-filled and hateful world was part of the divine plan.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:18 ESV

Just as Jesus had been commissioned to bring God’s plan of redemption to stubborn and rebellious world, the disciples would received their marching orders from Jesus to carry on His work after He was gone.

“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And Jesus asks the Father to continue to provide these men with the one thing they will need to accomplish their mission: The truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17 ESV

To sanctify simply means to set apart for service. The disciples were going to need a constant and steady flow of truth. Up until this point, Jesus had been their sole source of truth. As He had told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). But now, they were going to receive truth directly from God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. They would experience the reality of what Jesus had foretold.

“When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:19-20 NLT

But for this to happen, Jesus was going to have to complete His assignment. The Spirit would not come until Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side. That’s why Jesus states, “And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart” (John 17:19 NET). His death was going to make possible their ongoing exposure to the truth of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Path to Glory

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:1-5 ESV

Chapter 17 contains what has come to be known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” This somewhat lofty designation is based on the role that the high priest of Israel played in mediating the spiritual needs of the people before God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies and offer sacrifices intended to atone for the sins of the people. And God had warned Aaron, Moses’ brother and the high priest of Israel, that he was prohibited from entering the Most Holy Place at any other time.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this theme as he compares the role of the high priest with that of Jesus.

But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. This is an illustration pointing to the present time. – Hebrews 9:7-9 ESV

During the days of the Exodus, when the Israelites were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, the  Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle was where the glory of God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. And this sacred place was off-limits to all, including the high priest, except on the Day of Atonement. Even then, the high priest could only enter into God’s presence after performing a series of ritual cleansings to purify himself from sin.

Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. – Leviticus 16:3-4 ESV

Aaron, performing his role as the high priest, was also required to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and a goat as a sin offering for the people. He would take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Then he would do the same thing with the blood of the goat, “sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:15-16 ESV). 

These elaborate and mandatory rituals were designed to illustrate the glory and the holiness of God and to stress the unrighteousness of the people. It was not without the sacrifice of blood that the people of God could enter into His presence. Their sinfulness separated them from Him. And there was no way for them to stand before God in their sinful state. So, as the author of Hebrews states, atoning blood was required.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

And according to Hebrews, Jesus had come to replace the old system with a new and better one.

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrew 9:11-12 NLT

So, when Jesus prayed this prayer, He was interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was acting as their high priest, mediating for them before God the Father. But in reality, Jesus would not be fully fulfilling His role as the high priest until He sacrificed His own blood on the cross as a payment for the sins of mankind.

Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:14 NLT

But this powerful prayer provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ heart and mind as He prepared to fulfill His Father’s redemptive plan. He had just told His disciples, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). And then John states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1 ESV). There is no break in the action. John doesn’t indicate that Jesus left the disciples and found a quiet place to be alone. He simply describes Jesus as lifting up His eyes and praying. One moment He had been talking to the disciples and then suddenly, He was talking to God. And John and the other disciples were allowed to eavesdrop on this intimate conversation between Jesus and His Heavenly Father.

Jesus had assured His disciples that they could take heart because He had overcome the world. His mission was as good as done. They could have complete confidence that what He had been sent to do, He would do. And Jesus expressed His complete commitment to fulfill His Father’s wishes by requesting that His glorification take place just as it had been planned.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” – John 17:1 ESV

Jesus is not just focusing His attention on His future resurrection and ascension. In other words, He’s not expressing His desire to get the crucifixion over with as quickly as possible so He can enjoy a restored relationship with the Father. For Jesus, the cross was a central part of the glorification process. By offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind, He would be faithfully fulfilling the will of His Father, performing the final act of obedience that would mark His life as pleasing to God.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV

Jesus knew that it was necessary for His death to proceed His glorification. The path to future glory passed through the shadow of the cross. It was just as He had told His disciples.

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. – John 12:23-24 NLT

His death would produce new life – not only for Himself but for all those who placed their faith in Him. His crucifixion would result in His own glorification but also that of His followers. The apostle Paul reminds us of this incredible reality.

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 BSB

Ultimately, Jesus was expressing His desire to bring glory to God. He knew that by sacrificing His life on the cross He would be expressing His Father’s love for mankind. The willingness of God to offer up His Son on behalf of sinful, undeserving humanity would end up glorifying Him by demonstrating His goodness and grace.

This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. – 1 John 4:9 BSB

Jesus was the means by which God would extend His offer of eternal life to sinful humanity. And Jesus knew that He had been given divine authority to extend this offer on behalf of His Father.

For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. – John 17:2-3 NLT

Everything that Jesus had done and said up until this point had brought glory to His Heavenly Father. He had done nothing of His own initiative or for His own glory.

“I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me.” – John 8:50 NLT

He had come to earth in order to point people to God. The sole purpose behind His incarnation had been to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). There were no other means by which sinful men and women could find access to and a restored relationship with God.

Jesus indicates that He had done all He had been commissioned to do.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 ESV

His miracles and messages had all been in keeping with His Father’s will. And now, it was time to complete His mission and return to His Father’s side.

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:5 ESV

Again, Jesus knew full well that the path to His glorification led through the cross. He would have to be “lifted up” before He could be raised up to His former place of glory at His Father’s side. The apostle Paul describes well this path of humility and suffering that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ glorification.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Do You Now Believe?

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:25-33 ESV

Jesus continues to stress the radical change that is about to take place in the lives of the disciples. While their current circumstances and the news of His pending death have left them distressed, Jesus wants them to know that will improve – dramatically.

But He admits that His words have been veiled in secrecy and symbolic language, such as His analogy of the woman in childbirth. He had used this naturally occurring process in an attempt to explain the spiritually-based transformation that awaited them. Yet, despite His efforts to inform and encourage them, they remained just as confused and perplexed as ever. All His talk about a woman giving birth and her sorrow being turned to joy had escaped them. They had more questions for Him than ever but were afraid to ask them.

So, Jesus makes them a promise.

The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. – John 16:25 ESV

He brings up the issue of time again. Having already used the phrase “a little while” seven different times to emphasize the imminent nature of His death and resurrection, Jesus now assures them “the hour” (hōra) is near at hand. The end is closer than they realize and it will bring about a series of unexpected and unprecedented changes.

This is not the first time Jesus has used this term. John recorded a number of instances where Jesus spoke of this future hour or moment in time. The first instance was at the wedding in Cana when Jesus had stated to His mother:

“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour [hōra] has not yet come.” – John 2:4 ESV

Later on, in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus had informed her:

“Woman, believe me, the hour [hōra] is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” – John 4:21 ESV

“…the hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:23 ESV

In one of His confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus brought up this matter again.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. – John 5:25 ESV

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour [hōra] is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice…” – John 5:28 ESV

The religious leaders had not been impressed by Jesus’ claims, but instead, they had become angered by His apparent arrogance and boastful assertions. Rather than acknowledge Him as their Messiah, they had sought to arrest Him.

So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 7:30 ESV

In another encounter with these men, Jesus had claimed to be the light of the world, and their response had been the same. They had wanted to arrest Him so that they might silence Him. But their plans were foiled because His time had not yet come.

These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 8:20 ESV

Sometime later, after Jesus had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He had told His disciples, “The hour [hōra] has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23 ESV). And Jesus would inform His disciples that this “hour” or time was the sole reason behind His incarnation. It was why He had come to earth in the first place.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour [hōra]’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour [hōra]. – John 12:27 ESV

In the very next chapter, John points out that, even before His final Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus “knew that his hour [hōra] had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1 ESV). And He later told them, “I have said these things to you, that when their hour [hōra] comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:4 ESV).

The very moment to which Jesus had been referring was closer than ever. The climax to His earthly ministry and the focal point of His entire incarnation was right around the corner, and it was going to result in unfathomable changes in the lives of His disciples. His death was going to set into motion a chain of unprecedented events that would have truly life-altering implications for His followers.

Jesus tells them that the long-expected “hour” was going to bring about “that day” – another point in time when they would experience remarkable changes in their relationship with Him and with His Heavenly Father.

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” – John 16:26-27 ESV

With this statement, Jesus is informing His disciples that, because of their relationship with Him, they will have direct access to the Father. They will be able to go to God, in the name of Jesus, and receive answers to their prayers. Their love for Jesus will ensure the Father’s love for them and guarantee their access into His presence and His answers to their petitions. It would be just as He had told His disciples:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:6-7 NLT

The whole purpose behind His coming had been to provide sinners with a means of experiencing a restored relationship with God. Their sinful state had left them separated from God and with no means to remedy the problem. But Jesus had come to make atonement for their sins by offering His sinless life as the sacrificial substitute or payment for their sin debt.

And the hour was fast approaching when Jesus would fulfill His God-ordained assignment to serve as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). He would faithfully accomplish the will of His Father and offer His life as the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And when He had done what He had come to do, Jesus would be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven.

“I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” – John 16:28 ESV

It was all part of the Father’s plan. He had come to die, but HIs death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And upon His return to heaven, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit. In time, every single facet of God’s redemptive plan would be unveiled and revealed to be a vital aspect of the long-awaited “hour” Jesus had told them about. The cross would not be the end, but it would only be the beginning. It would set in motion a series of momentous, earth-shattering events that would radically transform the disciples and revolutionize the world.

But in the meantime, the disciples reveal their eagerness to understand what Jesus is saying, but their words make it clear that they remain just as ignorant as ever.

“Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.” – John 16:30 NLT

They meant well, but their words reveal the insufficiency of their understanding. They were sincere when they stated their belief that Jesus had come from God, but they had no real concept of what that meant. They clearly did not understand the part about Him returning to God. It seems that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to meet the criteria they had established for the Messiah by setting up His Kingdom on earth. They believed Him to be the Son of God who had been sent by God, and they were still hoping He would establish Himself as the King of Israel and re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus bursts their bubble and brings them back down to earth.

“Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” – John 16:31-32 NLT

This revelation must have been a blow to their egos and served as a final wake-up call, putting to bed once and for all any lingering expectations they might have about an earthly kingdom. Jesus let them know that their self-proclaimed belief in Him would turn into fear and result in their abandoning Him.

But, once again, Jesus lets them know that these things are to be expected. They were all part of “the hour” that was fast approaching. Jesus knew these things would happen because they were all part of His Father’s plan. He wasn’t shocked, disappointed, or surprised. And He wanted His disciples to know that their desertion of Him would not be the end. He would die, but He would soon be back. They would desert Him, but they would eventually return. And they could take heart because His mission was as good as done. The will of His Father would be done and the victory would be theirs to share.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sorrow Turned to Joy

19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:19-24 ESV

Seven times in just four verses, John records Jesus using the phrase, “a little while.” It is the Greek word mikron, and it refers to a small or brief space of time. Jesus basically told His disciples that it would not be much longer before He would be gone. But then He followed up that bit of bad news by assuring them that, in no time at all, they would see Him again. Rather than finding Jesus’ words encouraging, the disciples became further confused and increasingly anxious. They had no idea what He was talking about. He seemed to be speaking in riddles that left them with more questions than answers. And, while Jesus had so much more He wanted to share with them, He knew they lacked the mental and emotional bandwidth to handle it.

Jesus, always alert and aware of what was going on in His disciples’ hearts, heard them discussing among themselves.

“What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” – John 16:18 ESV

They were afraid to admit their ignorance to Jesus, so they polled one another, hoping that one of them might have a clue as to what He was talking about. But Jesus, knowing that they were dying for an explanation, graciously answered the question they were too scared to ask.

Their confusion revolved around that little Greek word, mikron. They wanted to know just how long “a little while” was going to be. In other words, they were focused on the length of time, rather than on the events themselves and their subsequent outcome. How long would it be before they could no longer see Jesus? How much time did they have left? And then, how long would they have to wait before they could see Him again?

These men were stuck on an earthly plane, unable to see behind the veil and incapable of understanding the spiritual dimension of the moment. Jesus had already told them all that was going to take place in Jerusalem, but they had failed to grasp the significance of His words.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:18-19 ESV

Just two days before the Passover Festival was to begin, Jesus had reiterated the details concerning His fate to His disciples.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

And later, on the Mount of Olives, just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus would add another new twist to the pending proceedings.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:31-32 ESV

Jesus had spoken to them about His death and resurrection, but the news appears to have gone in one ear and out the other. It had never fully registered with them. In fact, Matthew provides powerful proof that the disciples had failed to comprehend what Jesus had told them. It seems that immediately after Jesus had announced He would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised on the third day, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

And the text reveals that these two brothers were standing right next to their mother when she made this request on their behalf. They were hoping for positions of power and prominence in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be the Messiah and were fully expecting Him to rule as the King of Israel from David’s throne in Jerusalem. Nothing of what Jesus had said to them about His death and resurrection had sunk in. And now, as He revealed to them that time was running out and His death was at hand, they were still unable to get their minds around the epic nature of what was happening around them.

And Jesus breaks the news to them that things were going to get worse before they got better.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. – John 16:20 NLT

The unbelieving world, comprised of the Jewish religious leaders and all those former followers of Jesus who had turned their backs on Him, would rejoice over His death. But all those who believed Him to be the Messiah would weep and mourn because His death would be proof that they had been wrong. Their hopes would be dashed. Their eager anticipation that their Savior had come would die alongside Jesus as He hung on the cross.

But Jesus gives them the good news: “You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:21 NLT). Their sorrow will be real, but it will also be brief. It will only last “a little while.” Just when everything appears dark and grim, something remarkable will take place. And the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. 

“…the Son of Man…will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:19 NLT

Just three days after being placed in a grave and written off as a failure and a fraud, Jesus will appear to His disciples. They will see Him again. And while the period of time is significant, it pales in comparison to the reality of the resurrection. For the disciples, those three days will feel like an eternity. They will be days filled with fear, sorrow, confusion, and a growing sense of despair. All will look lost. The future will appear bleak. But then, the impossible will take place. And their sorrow will be turned into joy. They will discover the truth of the psalm written by King David.

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5 NLT

Jesus doesn’t diminish the reality of their sorrow and suffering. Instead, He puts it into perspective by comparing it to a woman in labor. In the midst of giving birth, she suffers very real and intense pain. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. And while her labor may seem to last an eternity, it will all be over in “a little while.” And all the suffering will turn to overwhelming joy because it has resulted in the birth of a child.

“…her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.” – John 16:21 NLT

And Jesus lets His disciples know that what they are experiencing is natural and normal, and to be expected. But like the birth of a child, their suffering and sorrow will be turned into joy and celebration when they see the miracle of “new birth” that God will bring about through the resurrection of His Son.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” – John 16:22 NLT

Not only will they witness the supernatural transformation of Jesus from death to life, but they will also experience a spectacular alteration in their relationship with God. Things will be radically different. With Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples will find themselves experiencing an intimacy with God the Father that they have never known before. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will be able to communicate directly with God. And Jesus informs them that even the nature of their questions will change.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” – John 16:23 ESV

Up until this point, the disciples had aimed all kinds of questions at Jesus. And most of their inquiries had to do with points of clarification and explanation. They rarely, if ever, petitioned Jesus for anything. Unless you include the request made by the mother of James and John. Jesus seems to be saying that the very nature of their questions is going to change. They will be less self-focused and motivated by ignorance. With the Spirit’s assistance, their questions will fall in line with God’s will and guarantee His gracious answer.

The disciples had been great at asking questions like, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4 ESV). They asked questions because they were looking for answers. But Jesus wants them to know that, in the future, their questions will become less focused on receiving information and more desirous of asking for God’s will to be done. The Holy Spirit will provide them with all the insight and information they will need. So, they won’t have to focus their questions on things they need to know. Instead, they can ask God for things that will further their task of making Him known.

And Jesus points out the key difference between their current line of questioning and how they will ask in the future.

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24 ESV

They will ask in His name. This means that they will ask according to the very character and nature of Jesus as the Son of God. They will make requests of God in the same way that Jesus did, in keeping with the will of God. And John wrote of this Christlike attitude of petitioning the Father in a later letter he penned.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

All of their questions will be answered. All their requests will be in keeping with God’s will and guaranteed to come to fruition. And all their sorrow will be turned to joy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Give God Time

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” John 16:12-18 ESV

Verse 12 almost sounds as if Jesus is feeling pressed for time. He has so much He wants to tell His disciples, but with His death just hours away, He won’t be able to. Yet, that is not what John is trying to convey. Jesus is not running out of time. His disciples have run out of capacity. They can’t handle any more information because their brains and emotions are on overload.

For three years, Jesus had been revealing Himself to His disciples. By means of His messages and miracles, He had displayed His glory “as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). Everything He had said and done had been intended to reveal His identity as the Son of God and to help bolster the disciples’ belief in Him. But even though His death was imminent, Jesus wanted them to know that His self-revelation was not coming to an end. There was so much more they needed to know about Him, but they were not yet ready to receive it.

That led Jesus to return to His discussion of the Holy Spirit. His own death and eventual departure would pave the way for the Spirit’s coming. And Jesus assures them that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 ESV). Jesus does not promise His disciples that the Spirit will give them an encyclopedic knowledge of all things. He lets them know that, with the Spirit’s divine assistance, they will know the truth about the Son and the Father. All their questions regarding the Kingdom of God will be answered. Their confusion about Jesus’ identity will be cleared up. Because the Spirit will pick up where Jesus left off, revealing the glory of the Son “by telling you whatever he receives from me” (John 16:14 NLT).

One of the primary roles of the Spirit of God is to reveal the truth concerning the Son of God. Because it is only through the Son that we can know the Father. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the indwelling Spirit of God makes it possible for believers to grasp the deep truths concerning the will and the ways of God, including the redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.”

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NLT

And Jesus attempts to comfort His disillusioned and dispirited disciples with the same reassuring news concerning the Spirit.

“All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:15 NLT

All the while Jesus had been with them, He had been speaking the words of God. Every word He had spoken to them had come directly from the Father.

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.– John 7:12-16 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” – John 12:49 NLT

“…remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT

Ultimately, Jesus had come to reveal God to mankind. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). His incarnation had been intended to make the unseen God seeable and knowable.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

The author of Hebrews states that, in His incarnation, Jesus revealed the very glory and character of God. But when His work was done, He returned to His Father’s side.

…in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews 1:2-3 NLT

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that when He returned to heaven, He would be sending them special assistance in the form of the Holy Spirit. And, as He had told them earlier, the Spirit would not just be with them, He would take up residence within them (John 14:17). And in Jesus’ absence, the Holy Spirit will take over the role as the revealer of all truth. He will provide the disciples with divine insight into everything, including the deep thoughts of God. For the first time, they will be able to discern the truth behind all that Jesus had said during His time with them. They will recall His miracles and messages and, for the first time, comprehend the deep truths they contained. And, as a result, their faith in Him will increase all the more.

Sadly, these words of comfort went over the heads of the disciples. They were still struggling to take in all that Jesus was telling them. And His words continued to leave them confused and conflicted. And the somewhat cryptic manner in which Jesus spoke didn’t make things any easier for them.

“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.” – John 16:16 NLT

This statement would have sounded like a riddle to them. Was He leaving and then returning? Was He really going away? Had all the talk about His death been some kind of metaphor or analogy?

John had been there that evening, so he knew from personal experience just how perplexed the disciples had been by Jesus’ words. And he records exactly what they were thinking at that moment.

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.” – John 16:17-18 NLT

“We don’t understand!” That just about sums it up. They were literally and figuratively “in the dark.” They were most likely standing somewhere outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. They were tired and confused. Their minds were reeling from the tsunami of information Jesus had dumped on them over the last few hours. Their hearts were heavy as they thought about the possibility of their friend dying. And to make matters worse, with His death, all their hopes that He was their long-awaited Messiah would disappear.

None of this was what they had expected. Their concept of the Messiah had not included His suffering and death. The triumphal entry had been the highlight of their time with Jesus. The shouts of the crowds, the victory parade, the pomp and circumstance surrounding Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem had raised their hopes to an all-new high. In those glorious moments, they had assumed that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth. But in no time, their hopes had been turned to despair. Their joy had given way to sorrow. And there they stood, in the darkness of night in the company of the Light of the world, wondering what had happened to their hopes and dreams. But little did they know that their gloom would soon be replaced by gladness. Their confusion would be replaced by a Spirit-inspired clarity and confidence. Their sorrow would be transformed into unspeakable joy. And their fear would give way to unshakeable faith.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:1-11 ESV

It must have pained Jesus greatly to watch His disciples struggle as they tried to take in all He was telling them. He knew their hearts were troubled and their minds were reeling from all that He had shared with them. Jesus was fully aware that little of what He had told them made sense to them. His announcement that one of them would betray Him had stunned them. His repeated mentions of His coming death had left them depressed and disillusioned. And His warning that, in His absence, the Jewish religious leaders would turn their attention and anger on them, must have petrified them. It had all been more than they could handle. But Jesus assured them that He had told them these things for a reason: “so that you won’t abandon your faith” (John 16:1 NLT).

It’s difficult to comprehend exactly what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. The Greek word is skandalizō and it has a variety of meanings. It is a verb that typically refers to someone’s reaction to an unexpected event or circumstance. It is often translated as “offended.” If a person accidently stumbles over a rock or other unseen impediment, they they may react with anger, frustration, or resentment. Their response may even result in sin.

Jesus knew that the events of the next few days were going to be difficult for His disciples. And He did not want them to be taken by surprise. So, He was going out of His way to bring them up to speed on what to expect. Even so, there was a good chance that they might respond in anger and resentment, regretting their decision to have followed Jesus in the first place. One of the other meanings of the Greek word skandalizō is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey.” This seems to be the very thing Jesus is trying to prevent.

And once again, in an effort to remove any possibility of surprise, Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to them once He is gone.

“For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” – John 16:2 NLT

With Jesus out of the way, the Jewish religious leaders will simply refocus their hatred onto His disciples. Remember, these men had been willing to murder Lazarus, just because he had been raised from the dead by Jesus. So, the disciples were going to find themselves facing the full brunt of the irrational and unrelenting anger of the Sanhedrin. It would begin with their excommunication from their local synagogues. They would be ostracized as heretics and prevented from gathering with other Jews as they had done since they were little boys. But Jesus warns them that their persecution will not end with their physical removal from the synagogues. They will likely suffer the same fate as their Lord and Master.

Jesus pulls no punches. He is brutally honest with His disciples about what they can expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Their continued relationship with Him would cost them. These men were going to become outcasts and social pariahs, even facing death at the hands of their fellow Jews. And “the world” – the unbelieving and unrepentant Jewish population out of which they had been called – will think they are doing God a favor by killing the followers of Jesus. This is exactly the attitude that Paul had before He came to faith in Christ. In his former life as a Pharisee, he had persecuted the followers of “the Way,” rounding up Christians and putting them in prison – all out of His zeal for God. His own testimony provides insight into the mindset Jesus is trying to describe.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

And Jesus informs His disciples that this intense hatred will not be motivated by love for God, but will stem from their ignorance of Him. The Jews will think they are doing God a favor but, in reality, they will be opposing the very will of God. Like their ancestors, they will end up resisting the sovereign will of God by putting to death those who have been by God with His message of repentance and salvation.

You can almost hear the disciples asking, “Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” They had to have been shell-shocked by these last-minute revelations from Jesus. And He answers their unspoken question by telling them, “I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer” (John 16:4 NLT). As long as Jesus was physically with the disciples, there was no need for them to know this information. His main focus over the last three years with them was to reveal His identity to them. He had spent all His time manifesting His glory to them through His miracles and messages, so that they might believe Him to be the Son of God.

Now, it was time for Him to manifest His glory one final time. The hour had come for Him to fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many. He was about to lay down His life for the sheep. And when His work was done, He would be restored to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and glorified by His Father by returning to His rightful place at His side in heaven.

But the disciples are filled with sorrow. Nothing they have heard Jesus say has left them with any sense of hope. And He is fully aware of their inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, He reminds them of His earlier promise concerning the coming Holy Spirit.

“…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” – John 16:7 ESV

Once again, the words of Jesus must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion, wondering how He could possibly think His death could be to their advantage. But what they didn’t yet realize was that His leaving would make possible the Holy Spirit’s coming. And as Jesus had told them earlier, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:17 NLT). They were going to experience a new and profoundly different relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The Holy Spirit of God would take up residence within them, providing them with the permanent manifestation of God’s power and presence. And while they couldn’t fully comprehend that news, they would soon discover just how life-transforming and world-changing the Spirit’s coming would be.

And Jesus provided them with a brief synopsis of the Holy Spirit’s coming ministry.

“…when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. – John 16:9-11 NLT

When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the followers of Jesus, He will empower them in such a way that their lives will end up convicting the world of sin. Their very lives will become evidence of the truth. They will be lights shining in a dark world, reflecting the glory of God as they share the good news concerning salvation by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone. These men were going to become God’s messengers, preaching the truth that a right standing with God is only available through a relationship with His Son. By preaching the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the disciples would force the world to make a decision. They would have to choose belief over unbelief. With His death and resurrection, Jesus would make a restored relationship with God available, but it would require belief in Him. And the disciples were going to become the main purveyors of that redemptive message. Through the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit, they would become ambassadors for Jesus, taking His message of salvation to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Despised by the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27 ESV

From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus faced opposition. It began immediately after His baptism when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus, who had just received the blessing of His Heavenly Father, found Himself in a face-to-face confrontation with the prince of this world.

God had just pronounced Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but Satan saw Jesus as a powerful enemy who had to be distracted from His God-given mission or be destroyed. Satan attempted to disqualify Jesus by offering Him tempting alternatives to the will of God. He proffered a range of attractive options that were designed to distract Jesus from His ministry objective and render Him useless to God. But Jesus did not take the bait. As the author of Hebrews states, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). 

But while Jesus had won the battle over Satan in the wilderness, the war was far from over. Satan simply shifted his tactics. Almost immediately, the enemy implemented a new and less direct strategy that utilized guerrilla warfare tactics. He called upon all the weapons at his disposal to wage war against God and His Son. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah and had been sent by God to free humanity from their life of bondage under his merciless rule. This was, as Paul made clear, a spiritual battle of epic proportions.

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

But that does not mean that the battle remained invisible and relegated to the spiritual realm. This spiritual conflict quickly spilled over into the natural world as the enemy put into play those human agents who were under his control. The gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus faced human opposition to His ministry. And His most formidable and vehement foes proved to be the religious leaders of Israel. It is no coincidence that Jesus labeled these men as the sons of Satan.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

These men were revered by the common people as icons of righteousness and virtue. Yet, Jesus saw through their pious-looking facades and recognized them for what they were: deceptive hypocrites who stood opposed to His mission because they were enemies of God. Jesus exposed them for what they were.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from GodAnyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 8:42, 47 NLT

They may have fooled the people, but Jesus was fully aware of their true identity and intentions.

“You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him.” – John 8:52 NLT

And His exposure of them only enraged them further. The more they saw of Jesus, the more angry they became. His messages and miracles failed to impress or persuade them. Ironically, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and under the influence of Satan. And their growing revulsion to Jesus turned into an obsession to kill Him. They would stop at nothing to see to it that this madman from Nazareth was put to death.

Now, just hours from that perverted wish becoming a reality, Jesus informs His disciples that they could expect more of the same. As if all He has told them so far had not been enough, Jesus reveals that their relationship with Him has put a target on their backs. They were guilty by association, and they would find themselves hated for His sake. And while Jesus refers to the world as the source of that hatred, He is speaking of the same Jewish religious leaders who would orchestrate His death. And these men were representatives of the nation of Israel at large. That is why John opened his gospel account with the statement: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).

Throughout this passage, Jesus uses the pronoun, “they.”

“…they will also persecute you…” – John 15:20 ESV

“…all these things they will do to you on account of my name.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:23 ESV

“…they have seen and hated both me and my Father. – John 15:24 ESV

Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus reveals the identity of these individuals.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies. – Psalm 69:4 ESV

The “world” to which Jesus was referring was the nation of Israel. His own people hated Him without cause, and they were out to destroy Him. So, He wanted His disciples to know that they would suffer the same treatment because of His name.

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

The battle that had been raging since the beginning had always been about the identity of Jesus. That is what He means by “my name.” Jesus was the Son of God and everything He had done from the day of His baptism until that very moment had been intended to reveal His identity as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the disciples, because they would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus in His absence, would find themselves facing the same level of animosity and opposition.

And because Jesus would later command them be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), they would face even greater opposition as Satan turned the entire world order against them. The disciples would eventually take the Gospel to the non-Jewish world and discover that the enemies of God were made up of Jews and Gentiles. While they would find those eager to hear and accept the message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they would also encounter fierce opposition. It is believed that all of the disciples eventually died as martyrs, after having faithfully spread the good news concerning Jesus to the world.

But as the disciples stood in the darkness of the garden, listening to these foreboding words from Jesus, they must have been filled with fear and trepidation. Jesus had just told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). This must have brought to mind an earlier warning He had given them.

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” – Luke 21:12-13 NLT

What Jesus was describing was unsettling and disturbing. It must have filled His poor disciples with despair and disillusionment. But Jesus wanted them to know that their relationship with Him had dramatically altered their lives for eternity. Nothing would ever be the same. Just three years ago, they had each been minding their own business, when an unknown and unimpressive Rabbi from Nazareth made their acquaintance. And their lives would never be the same. Little did they know at the time, that in choosing to follow Jesus they were leaving the world behind. Yes, they would still live in it, but they would no longer be part of it. By becoming friends with Jesus they had become enemies of the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

The Jewish religious leaders would turn their hatred for Jesus onto the disciples and any others who chose to follow Him. And as this small group of men and women grew in number and spread their influence from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth, Satan would throw everything in his arsenal against them. But little would he know that he was fighting a losing cause. The victory had been won. With Jesus’ death on the cross, He would bring an end to Satan’s vice-like grip on humanity. Jesus would conquer sin and death, bringing salvation to all those who would accept it.

And, anticipating His disciples’ sense of fear and foreboding, Jesus reminds them once again that they will not be alone.

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15:26-27 NLT

They were going to face intense opposition, but they would do so in the power of God. The world would hate them, but the love of God for them would protect them and flow from them. They would pick up the mantel of ministry given to them by Jesus and proclaim His name with boldness and joy – even in the face of persecution and the threat of death.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Greater Love

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:12-17 ESV

It’s rather odd to hear Jesus speaking about love when you consider the fact that He is just hours from His own death. And for the disciples, all His talk about dying and leaving them behind must have sounded like a strange way to show His love. Yet, for these men and all who would come to faith through their future ministry, the cross would become the greatest expression of love.

Just a short time earlier, in the upper room after Judas had departed, Jesus had disclosed to His remaining disciples a new commandment.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

Notice the point of qualification that Jesus adds: They were to love one another, “just as” He has loved them. Jesus made this statement just hours before He would hang on a cruel Roman cross as the payment for their sin debt. He was going to follow through on His earlier promise concerning His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 NLT

And it would not be until Jesus had died, resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, that the disciples fully grasped the full import of what Jesus meant about loving as He had loved them. In a later letter, John would disclose His Spirit-enabled understanding of Jesus’ incredible expression of selfless, sacrificial love.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:14-16 NLT

The sacrifice Jesus was about to make on the cross was totally motivated by love, and not just His own. The death of Jesus was going to be a priceless expression of God’s love for mankind. This is exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

The apostle Paul was blown away by this reality and saw the death of Jesus as ongoing evidence of the Father’s love for him.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

God had loved Paul in the midst of his sinfulness. He didn’t require Paul to get his spiritual act together. It was while Paul was still firmly entrenched in his rebellion and sin that God sent His Son to die in Paul’s place. And the same thing is true for each and every follower of Christ. Paul makes that point clear later on in his letter to the believers in Rome.

…he [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all… – Romans 8:32 NLT

And Paul would encourage the believers in Ephesus to use the selfless love of God as a model for their own lives.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB

According to Jesus, the greatest expression of love was someone willingly sacrificing their life for the sake of another.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

The disciples were not ye able to grasp the full significance of this statement. But in time, they would come to understand and appreciate what Jesus had meant. They would stand by and watch their friend and mentor die a gruesome death on a cross. They would weep and mourn as His life slowly and painfully ebbed away. They would see His broken and beaten body removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And in the days following this hope-shattering event, they would gather together in sorrow and self-pity, as they tried to wrap their minds around what had just happened. But then they would receive the shocking and mind-blowing news: “he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV). The would discover the tomb to be empty, Jesus to be alive, and their lives to be forever changed.

But on the other side of the cross, Jesus called His confused and concerned disciples to love one another. He referred to them as His friends, further indicating His love for them. He did not view them as servants or slaves, but as close friends to whom He was sharing the most intimate details concerning His life. Rather than leaving them in the dark, Jesus was disclosing the content of His private conversations with His Father.

“…all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15:15 ESV

They were the recipients of privileged information, passed down from God through His one and only Son. And Jesus makes it clear that the time they had spent with Him had been divinely ordained.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” – John 15:16 ESV

He had chosen them. But as Jesus will disclose in His high priestly prayer, God had been the guiding hand behind His selection of these men.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

While each of them had chosen to follow Jesus on their own accord, they were actually operating according to the sovereign will of God. Their selection by Jesus had been preordained by God and He had great things in store for them. The events of the last three years would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in the days ahead. Their greatest days were ahead of them because Jesus loved them and was going to lay down His life for them. That selfless, sacrifical act of love would make possible the fulfillment of the promise He had made to them.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing in Me, the works that I do, also he will do. And he will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 BSB

They didn’t realize it at the moment, but they were going to bear much fruit, just as Jesus had told them.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

But their fruitfulness would be accompanied by access to God. The imagery of the vine and the branches comes into play here. God, as the vinedresser, would fulfill His will through the Vine, producing lasting fruit through the branches. This interdependency between the Father, Son, and the Son’s faithful followers, would result in a harvest of lasting fruit. And the disciples will experience the joy of desiring to do the will of the Father. Like Jesus, they will learn to say, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). Their desires will change. Their requests of God will become less selfish and more selfless. And Jesus assures them that His words are meant to produce in them a love for one another. But it will be His actions, not His words, that make that kind of selfless, sacrificial love possible. His death, as the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful mankind, will provide the power they need to keep His commands, love one another, bear fruit, and do greater things.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Promise of Fruitfulness

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:6-11 ESV

So, what does Jesus mean when He says that those who do not abide in Him will be taken away, thrown out, and left to whither, then collected and burned? Whatever He is trying to say, it doesn’t sound good. And these enigmatic verses have caused generations of believers to speculate and debate over their exact meaning. The sad result is that the church has ended up placing far more emphasis on what it might mean to not abide rather than finding comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ call to remain in Him.

This entire passage is about fruitfulness. And Jesus establishes that fact from the onset.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 16:2 ESV

His message to His disciples is that He fully expects them to bear fruit because they are in a relationship with Him. They share a special bond with Him that is intended to result in fruitfulness. But the key to their fruitfulness will be their continued relationship with Him. To leave Him would be disastrous. It would sever the tie to the vine and result in a life of unfruitfulness. It would destroy any sense of purpose for their lives. And Jesus’ mention of the branch that fails to abide is meant to sound absurd and ridiculous. No branch would ever choose to remove itself from the vine. To do so would be to go against its very purpose for being.

This passage recalls an earlier conversation between Jesus and His disciples. In His lengthy discourse on the bread of life, Jesus mentioned that “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV). This rather cryptic and confusing statement from Jesus resulted in many of His followers leaving Him. And He turned to His disciples and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded:

Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:67-68 ESV

Yes, the words of Jesus had been difficult to understand. His talk of eating His body and drinking His blood had sounded strange to the disciples. But they believed in Him. He was the Holy One of God, and to walk away from Him would make even less sense than some of the things He said. So, they were sticking with Jesus.

Notice that Jesus had told the crowds that day that if they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would remain in Him and He would remain in them. Jesus used the very same word that is found John 15:4.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

For all who partake of Jesus’ body and blood, by believing in His sacrificial death on their behalf, they will experience a permanent and irrevocable bond with Him. And that bond will make possible a life filled with fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity. This message from Jesus was meant to be a source of encouragement to the disciples. In the dark days ahead, they were to recall these words from Jesus and find hope.

But sadly, the church has tended to turn the act of abiding into a work. We have made it a mandatory requirement for experiencing fruitfulness. In other words, if we don’t abide, we don’t bear fruit. Which tends to convey the idea that any fruitfulness in our lives is completely up to us. But that is not what Jesus is saying. In fact, He is conveying jus the opposite message. He told His disciples, “you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NLT). In other words, it is the relationship that results in fruit, not the act of abiding. No branch can produce any fruit on its own. And at the same time, no branch has to work at remaining attached to the vine. It is a natural relationship that requires no effort on the part of the branch.

Yet, when we find our lives spiritually fruitless, we tend to question what we might be doing wrong. We begin to wonder what it is that we need to do to get the spiritual juices flowing so that we might be more productive and fruitful. And rather than abiding in the relationship we have, we begin to act as if the fruit production is all up to us. But what does Jesus say?

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 NLT

No branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. And no Christian can live a life of spiritual abundance apart from His relationship with Jesus. The key to fruitfulness is recognizing our dependence and complete reliance upon Jesus. That is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

Don’t miss what Jesus said in verse 5: “Those who remain in me, and I in them.” That is exactly what He said in John 6:54: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” The remaining or abiding to which Jesus refers is not an act of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit. It takes place through belief, not effort. That is the point Paul made to the believers in Ephesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

Our fruitfulness is not a result of our strenuous efforts to abide. It is the byproduct of believing that our sanctification or fruitfulness is entirely up to Jesus, just as our salvation was. The entire point of this passage is to remind us that it is our relationship with Jesus that matters most. There is no hope of salvation apart from Him. There is no chance of living a life of fruitfulness except through our relationship with Him. He does it all. And like a branch, the degree of our fruitfulness is entirely up to the vine and the vinedresser. The less productive branch will receive special attention from the vinedresser, resulting in pruning and careful cultivating so that the end result will be increasing fruitfulness. That is what means when He says, “he [God] prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:2 NLT).

The goal is fruitfulness. And Jesus is assuring His disciples that they will be fruitful because their God is faithful.

So, what about the branches that bear no fruit? It would seem that these branches were never truly attached to the Vine. They had no lasting relationship with the Vine and, therefore, no hope of producing fruit. Like the people in the crowd who heard Jesus declare Himself to be the bread of life, they walked away from the very source of life and fruitfulness.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. – John 6:66 ESV

They had been curious but not committed. They appeared to be branches but lacked a true relationship with the Vine. And Jesus had clearly communicated the non-negotiable requirement for a life of fruitfulness.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. – John 6:53 ESV

Belief in who He was and what He had come to do was the key to having a true relationship with Him. Following after Jesus without having faith in Jesus will never produce fruit. Claiming to be a branch is not the same as abiding in the Vine. And all those so-called branches will one day find themselves judged. And the basis for their judgment will be their fruitlessness. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to the fate of these false branches.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

They will brag about their fruit, but it will be the wrong kind. They will boast in their knowledge of the Lord, but He will declare that He doesn’t even know them. And these false branches will be “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6 ESV). But for those branches that remain attached to the Vine, Jesus has some outstanding news.

“…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:7 ESV

They will have access to power like they have never known before. But because of their relationship to the Vine, their desires will be the same as the Vine. They will want what Jesus wants and ask for those things that Jesus desires. And Jesus clarifies exactly what they will ask for.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

Faithful branches desire nothing more than fruitfulness. They long to fulfill the wishes of the Vinedresser and act as willing agents in carrying out the work of the Vine. And Jesus describes all of this as nothing less and nothing more than abiding in His love. The very act of the branch remaining in the Vine is a beautiful picture of the love of the Father flowing through the Son into the branch and out into the world. And Jesus assured His disciples that His words were meant to encourage them.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Future Full of Fruitfulness

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5 ESV

Jesus and His disciples have now departed the upper room where they had eaten the Passover meal together. He is resolute in His determination to keep the providentially preordained rendezvous with the cross and death prepared for Him by His Heavenly Father. But the 11 disciples who remain, are still trying to get their heads around all that Jesus has been revealing to them. And even as they make their way into the night, He continues to expand their understanding and prepare them for what lies ahead.

This passage, which is part of Jesus’ ongoing farewell discourse, provides one of the most powerful descriptions of what it means to experience eternal life with God through the Son. Jesus borrows from the familiar imagery of the vineyard to create an extended metaphor designed to convey the non-negotiable dependency His followers must have in Him. As a result of His death, burial, and resurrection, these men will no longer be independently minded followers, but they will become totally reliant extensions of God’s glory as expressed through His Son.

Over a period of three years, these men had expressed their allegiance to Jesus by choosing to follow Him and sacrifice all else on behalf of Him. They had given up their careers, left their families, exposed themselves to ridicule, gone hungry, suffered life-threatening storms at sea, traveled countless miles, and listened to more lessons than they could even remember. They were dedicated men who loved Jesus greatly. On several occasions, they had even expressed their willingness to lay down their lives for Him. But Jesus knew that the key to their continued faithfulness and fruitfulness would be through His death and resurrection. The very thing they feared the most would be the one thing that would transform their lives and transcend all their expectations of greatness and glory.

So much of what Jesus has told His disciples has escaped them. And His continued discussions regarding His death had left them frightened and frustrated. They couldn’t understand why He had to die. They couldn’t bear the thought that He was going to leave them. But Jesus had told them that His death would prove to be life-giving and fruit-bearing.

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.” – John 12:23-26 NLT

Extending this earlier discussion of death, life, and fruitfulness, Jesus declares, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1 ESV). This will be the last of His “I am” statements and, with it, Jesus conveys to His disciples that everything is about to change, including their relationship with Him.

The imagery of the vine would have been very familiar to the disciples, not just because they lived in an agrarian culture where vines were ubiquitous, but because the vine was a symbol of Israel’s relationship with God. Every time they passed by the temple in Jerusalem, they would have seen the golden vine that adorned its walls. But according to the prophets, the nation of Israel, planted by God to produce abundant fruit, ended up producing wild grapes.

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes. – Isaiah 5:1-2 ESV

And Isaiah made it painfully clear that this lovingly planted vine that produced less-than-quality fruit represented the people of God.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
    but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
    but behold, an outcry! – Isaiah 5:7 ESV

Now, Jesus was declaring Himself to be the vine. In doing so, He was letting His disciples know that He had replaced Israel as the sole source of fruitfulness. He would be the fulfillment of all that Israel should have been. His life would yield abundant fruit and bring glory to God. Israel had failed to remain faithful. They had refused to keep their preferred status as God’s chosen people and chose instead to worship false gods. And the prophet Jeremiah declared to them God’s displeasure.

But I was the one who planted you,
    choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best.
    How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine? – Jeremiah 2:21 NLT

But with this final “I am” statement, Jesus lets His disciples know that He is the true vine. He has been faithful and fully obedient to the will of God, the vinedresser. He was “planted” by God with a purpose in mind: to bear much fruit. And Jesus, by sacrificing His life, would fulfill that purpose by producing a “plentiful harvest of new lives” (John 12:24 NLT).

And the most amazing aspect of Jesus’ fruit-bearing ministry is the vital role His disciples will play. They will become the branches through which His life-giving, fruit-bearing ministry will flow. But it will require constant abiding on their part. The key to their role in producing fruit will be in their dependence upon the vine. And Jesus utilizes the imagery of the vinedresser or gardener tending His vines to convey exactly what He means.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [the vinedresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 15:2 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to what Jesus means in these verses. Is stating that a fruitless branch is taken away, is He describing a believer’s loss of salvation? This idea would stand in direct opposition to the clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding the believer’s assurance of salvation. Jesus goes on to describe these fruitless branches as worthless and destined for destruction.

Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” – John 15:6 NLT

Again, is Jesus suggesting that believers who fail to produce fruit will be removed from their relationship with Him and turned over to eternal judgment? That seems highly unlikely, based on His own admission to His Father that He had not “lost” any of those the Father had given Him.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

It is important to remember that Jesus is addressing the 11 disciples who have chosen to remain with Him. They are walking with Him as He makes His way across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsamane. These men represent all those who have placed their faith and hope in Jesus. But Jesus is revealing that the real key to their future fruitfulness and faithfulness will be the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. As a result of His coming death, resurrection, and ascension, they will find themselves the recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will permanantly attach them to the vine, allowing them to play a vital role in the fruit-bearing plans of God.

The emphasis in this passage in on fruitfulness, not fruitlessness. It is on the vinedresser’s purpose to reap a harvest of fruit through the vine and its branches. Jesus was not threatening His disciples with a loss of salvation. He was simply conveying that their future relationship with Him would be all about fruit-bearing. To not bear fruit would be illogical and unacceptable. The very fact that He describes God as the vinedresser who “prunes” the branches so they can bear even more fruit reinforces His point.

He calls His disciples to remain or abide in Him.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” – John 15:4 NLT

This had immediate application, as the disciples faced the uncertainty of the circumstances surrounding them. Jesus knew that the next few hours were going to be trying and He was calling them to remain faithful, continuing to believe in who He was. In a sense, they were about to be pruned, as God cut away all their preconceived notions regarding the Messiah. In just a matter of hours, all their lofty hopes and aspirations that Jesus would establish His Kingdom on earth would be shattered. But Jesus pleads with them to remain.

From the other gospel accounts, we know that the disciples would end up deserting Jesus. When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, they would flee into the night. But there is a sense in which they remained. They stayed nearby. They stayed together. There maintained a feint flicker of hope as they faced an unknown and uncertain future.

But Jesus was assuring them that their days of fruitfulness were not over. He would still use them to do great things. But the primary lesson they were going to learn from it all was their total reliance upon Jesus for all things. They could produce no fruit apart from Him. And their lives after His return to heaven would be marked by complete dependence upon Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson