What Does the “Upper Room Discourse” in John 14 Teach Us About Jesus, His Apostles, and the Holy Spirit?

This study begins a review of vital theological and spiritual lessons Jesus taught His apostles the night of His arrest. It refers to the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost as well as to His future ministry.

Christ now turns from His private conversation with Peter, and seeks to encourage all Eleven. [Ryrie aptly summarizes the Lord’s words of hope in this chapter (New Testament Study Bible, 190)]. By exhorting them to trust not only in God the Father but also in Him (namely, God the Son), Jesus aims to calm their hearts which the announcement of His departure had troubled (v. 1). He reveals the purpose for His “exit”: to prepare a heavenly dwelling for each one of them (v. 2). After completing this “building project,” Jesus promises that He will then return and take believers back to His Father’s house with Him (v. 3; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18)). [Alva McClain provides a short, reasoned discussion about why this promise and transfer refer to the Rapture of the Church, and not to the believer’s death (The Greatness of the Kingdom, 374).]

Jesus asserts that the apostles know two facts about this departure: (1) His destination; and (2) How to get there [v. 4]. Like Peter earlier (see v. 36), Thomas professes (for himself and for the others, “we”) ignorance of Christ’s destination; in addition, he claims that they do not know how to get there (“the way”) [v. 5]. [Thomas contradicts Jesus’ assertion that they know these facts. Obviously, they know more than they think they know; however, that understanding has not yet sunk into their hearts.] Christ plainly reveals three truths about Himself that then lead Him to proclaim that He is the only way to the presence of the Father. First, He is the “new and living way” by whose blood they can confidently enter the Holiest (cf. Heb. 10:19-20); second, He is God’s character incarnate (the truth); and third, He is the Origin and Giver of spiritual life to all believers (the life) [v. 6]. Apparently, Thomas has not yet acquired an intimate spiritual understanding of Jesus’ identity; the Lord’s words (“If you had known Me”) assert as much. Consequently, neither does Thomas seem to have a close relationship with God the Father. Jesus, however, now states that Thomas is no longer ignorant, for the apostle has seen God in the Person of His Son (v. 7).

Intrigued by the concept of seeing God, Philip now chimes in and asks Jesus to give them a vision of the Father (v. 8). Christ expresses amazement that this young man, despite having lived with Him for over three years, also still lacks intimate spiritual understanding of Who He is. The apostle does not yet recognize that seeing Jesus is the same as seeing the Father (v. 9). [Christ is the exact representation (“express image”) of God’s Person (Heb. 1:3); we understand the Father and the Son to be separate Persons (subsistences [hypostases], yet to be of the same divine substance or essence.] Jesus first questions him if he believes in the shared existence of the Father and the Son (v. 10a). Then He tells him that He speaks the Father’s words, and that the indwelling Father performs miracles through Him (v. 10b). One may come to believe Jesus in either of two ways: take Him at His word when He claims oneness with the Father, or recognize His deity through His “works” (v. 11).

Christ promises to grant His faithful disciples the ability to perform works greater (in “extent and effect”) than He has done (v. 12; Ryrie 191). [What does His going to the Father have to do with their being able to do greater works than He? When Christ ascends to the Father as the resurrected Lord, He will send the Spirit from the Father. Through the Spirit’s convicting and regenerating ministries, the Church will witness the salvation of millions of souls.] He also promises to accomplish objectives only when His disciples’ prayer requests correspond to the Father’s will (“in My name”), since only these achievements will glorify God (vv. 13-14). [God is pleased to use the prayers of His children in the accomplishment of His sovereign plan; however, He will not affect changes that run counter to His will and purposes.]

The Lord asserts that the Eleven can manifest their love for Him by keeping His commandments (v. 15). [The verb indicates either an imperative (a command) for the disciples to keep His commandments (NKJV), or a statement of the fact (indicative) that they will keep them (NASB). That is, if they want to prove their love for Him, they must obey Him and do what He says. On the other hand, the verse may mean that the apostles will show their love for Him by their obedience to His word. To what commandments does Jesus refer? Love as Christ loved them is certainly one.] Contingent upon the apostles’ obedience to these commandments, He will ask the Father to send the Spirit to them as “another Helper” (parakletos, “one called alongside to help,” Comforter, Encourager) [v. 16a]. [Certainly we should understand the word commanding them to love one another as an absolute directive the Lord wants all believers of all time to obey. However, we must also recognize that the command ordering the Eleven to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit descends from Heaven pertains expressly to them (see Luke 24:49.] The Spirit Whom Jesus promises will remain (“abide”) with them forever (v. 16b). Verse 17 shows the absolute dichotomy between the world’s and the apostles’ relationship to the Spirit:

The Spirit of God The World The Apostles
Characterized by truth Cannot receive the Spirit-Spiritual Inability Know the Spirit- Implies Knowledge of the truth
Another Helper Does not “see” the Spirit–No spiritual perception Dwells with them (present tense)
Abides with Apostles Forever–Eternality Does not know the Spirit-Does not know the truth-Receives no help from Him Will Inhabit them (future event–eternal duration implied)
Will not abide with Him forever

Jesus promises to come to the disciples and not abandon them as orphans (v. 18). [However, He does not specify which coming He is referring to. Is it (1) post-Resurrection appearances; (2) Pentecost (as the Spirit of Christ); or (3) the Rapture of the Church.] The Crucifixion—the last time the world will “see” Christ physically—looms one day away (“a little while longer”); the Resurrection—the next time the disciples will see Jesus alive after the Crucifixion—points forward to the promise of their own resurrection (v. 19). However, since Christ speaks of “that day” when they see Him as the time they will understand the intimacy of their relationship with both the Father and the Son as well as sense His indwelling presence, He may be referring to Pentecost (v. 20). [What other time can it be said that Jesus will be “in you” (the disciples)]? Jesus declares that true disciples will keep His commandments, thereby proving their love for Him; those who obey Him will, in turn, not only experience God’s love but also receive further revelation of Christ (v. 21). [Does the Lord “flesh” out this revelation to His disciples, or is it a purely spiritual matter?]

At this point, Judas, the son of James—this is Lebbaeus Thaddeus (see Matthew 10:3)—desires to know what makes the disciples so privileged over the rest of the world of men that they should witness revelation of Christ (v. 22). [His is the only interruption in Christ’s “Upper Room Discourse” until the disciples discuss among themselves the meaning of Jesus’ enigmatic “A little while” statement (16:17-18). One more break—a short profession of faith—also occurs later (17:29-30).] A third time in this context, Jesus reiterates the link between loving Him and obedience to His word (v. 23a; cf. 14:15, 21); both the Father and the Son manifest their love for the obedient family member (that is, the disciple) by making “Our home with him” (v. 23b). [Whether the expression means that God will actually come and live inside the individual, or that He will merely maintain a close personal fellowship with him without personal “indwelling,” Jesus does not explicitly state here.]

On the other hand, those who do not love Jesus (specifically, the world) show their hatred for Him by not obeying His message (v. 24a). In such cases, the disciples hear the Father’s word, not His (v. 24b). [Given the context, this latter statement is difficult to decipher. Jesus changes the pronoun from third person singular (“He who does not love me”)—a reference to an unbeliever—to second person plural (“the word which you hear”)—a reference to the disciples—, and unites the two groups with the conjunction “and.” What difference exists between Jesus’ word and the Father’s? Is the Father’s message one of judgment, and Jesus’ a word of grace?]

Christ draws a contrast (“But”) between His present word to His disciples (v. 25) and the teaching ministry of the Helper, the Holy Spirit (v. 26). [For the rest of their lives, the One “whom the Father will send in My name” will cause the apostles to remember Jesus’ instruction, and He will teach them what it all means. This is not a blanket promise to all believers of all time.] To keep the apostles from succumbing to fear and troubling thoughts, Jesus gives them His supernatural “peace” (v. 27; cf. Phil. 4:6-7). [Unlike the world’s peace, which it bases on the uncertainty of the human condition in this life, God’s peace is the calmness of spirit in the midst of the trials of life, a serenity that results from the assurance of salvation in this life, but more blessedly, from the hope of a glorious eternity.] Their love for Jesus should cause the apostles to rejoice, not grieve, for He is returning to One “greater than I” (v. 28). [In His current humiliation, Jesus had voluntarily waived His divine prerogatives; therefore, He considered Himself as the Servant of Yahweh]. He foretells this future event—namely, His home-going—that when it does happen, His men may continue to adhere firmly to their belief in Him as God (v. 29). Since Satan (“the ruler of this world”) will soon come (v. 30)—the devil had already entered Judas, so he will be accompanying the multitude that will arrest Jesus—Christ, in loving obedience to His Father, decides to leave the Upper Room and go to the Garden of His Passion (v. 31).

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