[May 18, 2014] This is the fifth Sunday of Easter and today the text comes from the long discourse that Jesus gave in the Gospel according to John at the Last Supper on the night of his arrest. It takes the place of the Eucharistic meal of the Passover Seder which is narrated in the other three gospels but absent from this one (as the baptism of Jesus is also missing, though narrated in the others). This gospel takes us to the interior, to the meaning of things, plunging the hidden depths rather than the forms shimmering at the surface.
Just as there was a cleansing at the first Passover narrated in this gospel, in 2:13-25, when Jesus drove out the sellers of oxen and sheep and doves and the moneychangers with the words, “Take these things away from here; do not make my Father’s House a house of merchandise,” so at the last Passover (in John’s gospel there are three Passovers, the second being at the time of chapter 6, the centerpiece of the gospel) Jesus begins by the cleansing ritual of washing his disciples’ feet in chapter 13.
The Father’s House in chapter 2 is of course the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 69:9 is remembered by the disciples, “The zeal of your House shall devour me.” But this House or Temple is only a symbol of the actual House of the Father: Jesus says, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John tells us, “He spoke of the Temple of his body.”
The Father’s House is mentioned again in 14:2 when Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many abodes.” In chapter 14 we are entering the Holy Place of the Temple. Before the priests enter the doors of the Temple, they cleanse themselves in a great bronze laver that stands before the portals. At the Last Supper, after the cleansing of the foot-washing takes place and Judas (the betrayer) leaves their presence (though not the denier, Peter), Jesus leads them through the portals of the Father’s House. He says, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe into God, believe also into me.” In some sense we are about to enter into God by entering into Jesus through believing.
This is when Jesus says, “In my Father’s House are many abodes; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you,” a place, that is, an abode, in my Father’s House. To enter the Father’s House is to enter into the Father by entering into Jesus. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” In that day refers to the day when Jesus comes to them in the resurrection. On that day the Spirit of reality will come, and the One—namely himself—who before the cross “abides with you” after the cross will be the One who “shall be in you” (14:17-20).
So let us back up. The Father’s House is not “heaven” or the afterlife or anything like that. It is Jesus himself, in his body, which will be destroyed in death and which he himself will raise up in resurrection. Jesus is the Father’s House. There is a deeply embedded tradition of interpretation which reads “my Father’s house” as referring to the place of “mansions in the sky.” William Tyndale’s 1534 translation reads, “In my fathers housse are many mansions,” though the word “mansion” at the time did not mean what it does today. It comes from the Old French where it simply means “a dwelling place.” The Old French word comes from the Latin word, mansiōnem, which is the accusative of mansio, which means “an abiding, or abode.” This derives from the Latin word mansus, which is the past participle of manēre, which means “to remain, or dwell.” It is a cognate of the Greek word which Jesus actually used (or which John used when translating Jesus), menein, which means “to stay, to remain, or to abide.” So please put it to rest that Jesus was ever speaking of actual mansions, that is, large stately houses or manor houses. This perverse idea is childish and not worthy to be entertained.
Still, the notion that “my Father’s house” refers to where we will live in the afterlife (or the resurrection) comes from the mistaken understanding that when Jesus speaks of his coming back (say in 14:3 where he says, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to myself, so that where I am you also may be”) he is referring to his Second Advent. If his coming refers to his coming in glory, then his going away must refer to his session in heaven at the right hand of the Father. This interpretation is common. However, it completely distorts the sense of Jesus’ words and ruins the meaning of John’s gospel. In fact, Jesus is talking about his going away in death and his coming again in resurrection. When he comes to them on the evening of his resurrection and breathes into them the Holy Spirit (the Comforter; see 20:22), it is after he has ascended to the Father (see 20:17). The ascension in John’s gospel does not take place after forty days, as it does in Luke 24:51 (see Acts 1:3), but on Easter Sunday after he appeared to Mary of Magdala. (There are, thus, two ascensions: one on Easter Sunday and one forty days later; the first time he ascends and remains but continues to manifest himself to his disciples in resurrection appearances, the second time is his sitting at the Father’s right hand, his “coronation” if you will, when he ceases to manifest himself in resurrection appearances, apart from the occasional exception. Likewise, the Spirit comes in two different ways, depending on the kind of ascension her coming follows.)
When we understand that Jesus is going away in death and resurrection, thereby going to the Father, and then comes again to his disciples in resurrection when he gives to them the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), then the discourse of Jesus makes sense in the context of the entire gospel. He comes to us as the giver of eternal life (indeed, as this life itself), when he is abiding with us, but he does not abide in us (and thereby we in him) until his resurrection when he imparts himself “as” the Holy Spirit. From then on he is with us forever. Thus fidelity to Jesus in the other gospels becomes believing into him in John’s gospel.
After the cleansing of the foot-washing, the first image Jesus gives us is of himself as the Father’s House in chapter 14. The next image is of himself as the vine in chapter 15. The third image is of himself as a newborn child in chapter 16. Each looks ahead to the transformation he is about to undergo as he passes through death into resurrection. The discourse concludes with the prayer in chapter 17. If we maintain the image of the Temple with the laver before the portal of the sanctuary, then in this discourse we enter the Holy Place with its furnishings. Associated with the Holy of Holies, the innermost room where the high priest brings the blood of atonement once a year, is the altar of incense before the veil, where the priest offers his prayer (it was as he was doing so that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah in Luke 1:11). The Holy of Holies, where is the Ark of the Covenant covered by the mercy-seat on which the cherubim with their wings cover the glory of the Shekinah, is what follows chapter 17, when Jesus enters into his glory, when in fact, he is glorified by the Father with the Father’s glory—when indeed his humanity is glorified “with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (17:5) in resurrection.
(When on Easter morning he ascended in his human body to the Father, this was when he presented the “completion” of his humanity to the Father—the fulfillment of his obedience on the cross, the fullest extent of his love. This corresponds to the high priest presenting the atoning blood to YHWH on the Day of Atonement, splattering it on the mercy seat between the cherubim above the symbols of the Covenant. Metaphorically, Jesus presented his poured out blood to the Father. On the basis of this he could then breathe the Holy Spirit into his believers.)
Like the gospel itself, which is arranged in a chiastic cruciform, the last supper (chapters 13—17) has a cruciform. At the foot of the “cross” we enter through the foot-washing. The horizontal beam has the three images of House, Vine and Newborn, with the Vine (the Tree of Life, if you will) at the center where the post and beam cross. We then ascend vertically through the concluding prayer. The central motif of the vine is that he, as life (the uncreated, eternal life of God), abides in us and we in him.
Now let us return to our text in chapter 14. It does not begin at verse 1. We have to catch the immediate context at the end of chapter 13. “Little children,” Jesus says to his disciples, after Judas has left them, “I am still with you a little while, you will seek me, and even as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ now I say to you also” (13:33). He is leaving in a short time to go someplace by himself; his disciples cannot come with him. If I am correct, he is referring to his coming death by crucifixion and going to the Father in the immediate aftermath.
But Peter does not understand. He says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replies, “Where I go you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later” (13:36). If Jesus is undergoing something unique by his death, then we cannot follow. However, what he procures by his death, the glory that he receives from the Father, he will give to us. If he is going to the Father, if he is—humanly—entering into his Father’s glory, then his disciples will follow him later. This is in fact what he has come to do. Not only is his humanity glorified with the glory that he as the Son shares with the Father eternally but, by believing into him and becoming one with him by the Holy Spirit, our humanity too is glorified—beginning now and moving from “glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) to become what he is. “For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Nevertheless, Peter and the others are not reassured by Jesus’ promise that they can follow him later. It disturbs them that he is leaving without them. So Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe into God, believe also into me” (14:1). He means this quite literally. He is entering into God, that is, his humanity is entering into divinity. Do not misunderstand: his humanity is divine, being the human nature of his divine Person, but when he became incarnate (when the Word became flesh), his human nature did not share the “properties” (or perfections) of his divine nature. He “emptied” himself as Paul says in Philippians 2:7. His divine nature participates in his human nature but his human nature is simply his human nature, “emptied” of its divine glory. But where he is going, bringing his humanity (as it were) to the Father through the obedience of his death, is going to cause the total “intercommunication of the properties” of his humanity and divinity so that his human nature will share all the properties of his divine nature and his divine nature (shared by the Father and the Holy Spirit) will now acquire all the properties of his divinized (glorified) human nature. So, in view of that day, three days hence, “believe into God, believe also into me.”
For, “in my Father’s House are many abodes” (14:2). In me (Jesus) there is enough room for you to abide. There are many abiding places. This is without any doubt the beginning of his teaching when he goes on to say, you will “abide in me.” You will abide in me because I go to prepare an abiding place for you (a way for you to abide) in me. When you abide in me, you are in my Father’s House, God’s Temple. “Believe me,” he tells the woman of Samaria, “an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). We will worship the Father in spirit and truth when we enter and abide in the Father’s House, that is, when we believe into him and abide there.
“If it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” Here Jesus speaks again of going away, as he spoke in 13:33 and 36. He prepares a place in himself for us by dying and raising himself up and presenting his new humanity to the Father.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (14:3). He comes again to them on Easter Day, after his ascension to the Father. By the time he meets them—his siblings (20:17)—in the evening, when they are behind closed doors (20:19), he has already ascended to the Father. “Peace be to you,” he says, showing them his hands and his side. They rejoiced at seeing him, knowing it was him. “Peace be to you,” he repeats. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” “And when he said this, he breathed into them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:19-22). As he is now with the Father, so they, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, are where he is. That is, they are already participating in his glory, even though it is hidden from them (for he sends them into the world as he himself was sent—emptied of any outward glory). The glory that is already theirs is something that they can only know spiritually (in their spirits, by an unmediated perception in the present, without the means of the senses or the thoughts or feelings of the psyche).
Paul says, “Having been made right [with God] by fidelity, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus, through whom also we have obtained access by the fidelity into this grace in which we stand and boast because of the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2; it is grammatically ambiguous whether the fidelity is Christ’s or ours). In John 14:3 Jesus says even more than this: “that where I am you also may be.” Indeed, when I am where I am, you will be in me, abiding in me.
Where he is going is to the Father. “And where I am going you know the way” (14:4). This follows up on what he said to Peter in 13:36, “Where I go you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me later.” When you follow me later, you will know the way to where I am going. In fact, you already know the way.
“Thomas says to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Of course, the disciples have no idea what he is talking about. He is speaking of his coming death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. But they still think he is means he is “going away” as when someone travels.
So Jesus says to him, “I am the way and the reality and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” He is going to the Father, his way, through death and resurrection—really through his way of death with respect to the Father. But for them, indeed, for everyone else, from now on, he himself is “the way” to the Father. He is the true way to the Father, indeed, he is the true way to life, eternal life. He is the divine life, the life of the Father, which we have in him. He is thus the way itself to this life. The conjunction “and” also has the sense of “even,” so that each word amplifies the previous one: “I am the way, even the truth, even the life.” And all of this is another way of speaking of coming to the Father, who is the source of life. To “come” to the Father, to be with Jesus where he is, is to have eternal life, the uncreated life of God, and to share that life with the Son in relation to the Father.
The word “truth” does not have a doctrinal (mental) sense. The word alētheia also means truthfulness, honesty, authenticity and genuineness. But it also has the sense of reality in contrast to what is merely perceived or thought, or an illusion or delusion. When something is real it exists in actuality, apart from anyone’s perception of it. Jesus is saying that he himself—as the way to the Father—is the reality of coming to the Father. In him we are actually with the Father, before him as Jesus is. More than that, as the Son abides in the Father (and the Father in him) so he is this reality to us. In him we abide in the Father and he in us. Jesus is this. The life that Jesus is, the eternal uncreated life of God, is the communal life of the Trinity, that fellowship or communio personarum, the perichōrēsis or circumincession of divine Persons in their co-inherence.
When Jesus says, “I am,” he is speaking of his Person, his divine Person as the Son of the Father. This is always the case in John’s gospel when Jesus says “I am” whether or not those words, egō eimi, are followed by a predicate (as they are in this case). When we understand the exclusivity of the words, “no one comes to the Father except through me,” we need to keep that in mind. He is not necessarily limiting “me” to his historical existence. However, when he says “me” he is speaking of who he revealed himself to be. Please understand this: who he revealed himself to be is the union (without confusion or change yet without separation or division) of divinity and creation in his co-inhering Person (a Person that exists only in the dynamism of interpersonal communion), and the reality of this through the obscuration of the human soul. In other words, Jesus’ historical existence was the medium of the revelation, and inseparable from that which it reveals, but the reality that it reveals is ubiquitous and eternal, not bound by his historical existence (to the point that if his historical existence were only a myth, which is not the case, the revelation would still be what it is, though it would not have taken place). In other words, though historically it is the case, the revelation of Jesus Christ (“no one comes to the Father except through me”) does not have to be limited to the Christian religion (or even the historical Jesus). We can be open-minded about how God works on worlds other than our own.
When Jesus says that he (his own Person, his “I am”) is the only way to the Father, he means first of all that we only know the Father by his own relationship to the Father as the Son; but he also means that no one can share his relationship to the Father that he has by being (and abiding) in him. In other words, he alone has this relationship to the Father. The relationship between the Father and the Son is unique. He is however inviting us into it, to share it, by entering and abiding in him.
He means more than this, however. Not only are we to abide in the Son, but the Father and the Son abide in each other. What each of them is is in the other. All that each is, the other is, without division. The properties of divinity are shared in communion in such a way that the three divine Persons, not just their common nature, each dwell in the other. They are not therefore separate Persons, as if Christians believe in three gods. The concept of “person” here is not that of an individual. It is relational, but unlike for us, it is not individual. (Nor does it refer to personality in the psychological sense.)
“If you had known me,” Jesus says, “you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him” (14:7). He is speaking of revelation now. To know Jesus means that who he is is revealed to your spirit. It does not mean that you have formed certain concepts about Jesus. No concept is adequate. It is rather an unmediated consciousness of his divine-human reality in his Person, his personal presence. If you have caught this, then you know the Father. If you really see Jesus, not with your eyes or your mind, but with your spirit, then see the Father in him and in relation their mutual relation.
“Philip says to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how is it that you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (14:8-9). When Jesus said to them (not to us necessarily), “You know [the Father] and have seen him,” in verse 7, he means that they know him even though they do not know that they know him. Jesus is telling Philip now that Philip does know Jesus, it is just that his understanding has not caught up to his knowing. “I can’t believe that you have been with me so long and still do not know me. If you know me, and you do, then you know the Father. If you have ‘seen’ me, and you have, then you have ‘seen’ the Father.”
This does not mean that there is no difference between the Father and the Son, as Jehovah Witnesses naïvely think we believe. The difference is in their Persons, not their common and undivided nature. Yet that difference is what makes one visible through the other. That difference is their relationship to each other, yet that relationship is what unites them. Moreover, not only are they face-to-face as Persons, “I and You,” each to the other, but each Person dwells (abides) in the other so that they are inseparable. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (14:10). “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:11). We call this co-inherence. It is this phenomenon (if we can provisionally call it that) that is what is also going on when he is in us and we are in him. It is not necessarily comprehensible, yet as a “property” of God it is inherent in the nature of the reality created by God and that is the expression of the divine Word.
We are still speaking of Two, not Three, considering only the Father and the Son. The Father is the origin, the Son is the expression, word and image of the origin, but originally each is in the other, and eternally each continue to be in the other. Yet it is the Spirit who is the life and breath that makes this happen. The three are inseparable at every instance (if one could speak that way of what is eternal): “distinct” yet each dwelling in the other without division.
“The words that I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father who abides in me does his works. [At least] believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me … because of the works themselves” (14:10-11). Nothing that the Son does is independent of the Father. It is always the Father in him who is acting. This is mutual. The Father does nothing apart from the Son who in each of the Father’s acts is the expression of that act.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes into me, the works which I do he [or she] shall do also; and greater than these he [or she] shall do because I am going to the Father” (14:12). We return now to the point that he is about to go to the Father. When he goes to the Father, something is going to happen, not just to him but for them, for them because of what happens to him. After he breathes into them the Holy Spirit on Easter Day, they will be in the world as he was in the world (1 John 2:6), and the works which he did shall they do, only they will do even greater.
The works might be miraculous signs. Perhaps. But more probably Jesus is referring to the primary work that he did, which was to reveal himself (who he is) by word and deed. It is our work to reveal the reality of Jesus (who he is) through word and deed, not to people’s physical eyes, not merely to their psyches (their mind and emotions), but to their spirit—which is why the word “reveal” is appropriate. This is actually not a work we can do at all. It is a supernatural or divine work, the work of the Holy Spirit, though we are the instrumental means that God uses. If Jesus’s works are entirely the outcome of “the Father who abides in me” doing the works, this is no less true of us. Our “greater works” will only be the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, abiding in us, doing the works through and with us.
“Whatever you ask in my Name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my Name, I will do it” (14:13-14). Jesus says this in connection to the above thought. When the Son does what we ask in his Name, it is so that the Father may be glorified, not in us, but in the Son. It is by the co-inherence of the Son in us as we abide in him—the Son doing his works in us—that causes the Father to be glorified in the Son. It is for this sake that we are to ask the Son for anything. Obviously this is not a blanket promise that would make Christ a slave to our desires. Rather, to ask in his Name is to ask according to his own interests and desires. A Name is more than a proper noun that refers to someone. It represents the essence of who someone is. In the case of Jesus, it represents the revelation of who he is. Therefore, to ask “in his Name” is to ask from this place of knowing him, and to ask according to that revelation. In other words, it is to ask from the place of abiding in him and he in us, and therefore it is to ask him for what he wants to give us. “Ask me in my Name for that which will cause the Father to glorify the Son in you.”
How does the Father glorify the Son? By resurrection, whereby the Son—in his humanity—shares the Father’s glory, the glory of the divine nature, which the Son—in his divinity—already shares. How then does the Father glorify the Son in us? By our sharing with the Son his glory, that is, by our being glorified in the Son—by grace alone. How does this take place? By the coming of the Son in resurrection, the Son who has ascended to the Father, who comes no longer just to be with us but to abide in us. By the Son abiding in us, we are glorified with his glory (little by little).