"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 12 The Last Supper and Farewell Discourses

12.2 Table Talk (Jn 13.21-16.33): 12.2.11 Speaking in Figures (Jn 16.25-33)


With this passage John brings the long section we have called Table Talk to an end. It began at ch13 v21, with Jesus' foretelling of Judas' betrayal. It ends here with the foretelling of another betrayal, this one by all the disciples, who according to Jesus are going to be scattered and leave Jesus on his own at the last. After this subsection, we continue with Jesus' prayer for his disciples, often called the High-Priestly Prayer.

In vv25 and 29 Jesus again uses the Greek word paroimia, which we discussed earlier, in commenting on Jn 10.6. This is a rare word in the New Testament, and also in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (with additions), but like the more familiar parabolē, it is used to translate or refer to the Hebrew word mašal. Mašal itself refers to a variety of kinds of figurative speech, including parables and proverbial language. In Jn 10.6 Jesus's point seems to be that, although he has used proverbial language (which should have been understandable because it was familiar to his hearers), they nevertheless did not understand what he was getting at.

Here on the other hand, the disciples complain that Jesus's figurative language is unclear to them and to others. They are glad to hear that he is going to speak with them openly, in plain speech, so that they can be sure they understand him. And vv26-28 are indeed very clear and straightforward. Jesus will no longer ask questions of the Father on behalf of the disciples (see the earlier discussion of 'ask' in this section; instead, because the Father loves them, they may ask on their own behalf. The Father loves them because they have both loved Jesus and trusted that he told the truth about coming from the Father. Jesus closes by saying explicitly again that he came into the world from the Father and will return to the Father from the world.

Why do the disciples react so strongly to these clarifications? It seems a bit late in the day for them to exclaim that they now trust that he came from the Father. Perhaps John, having so effectively in the past (for example in Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus) used the concept of fruitful misunderstanding, is applying a similar idea to the theme, so familiar in the Synoptic gospels, of the disciples' failure to understand Jesus' teachings. In any case the disciples now, after several years of following Jesus, really get that most basic point about Jesus, that he comes from the Father. However, Jesus' reaction, as it commonly is to the disciples' denseness, is exasperation, and a chilling prediction.

As we have seen, Jesus foretells the disciples' abandonment of him during the coming night. This betrayal would strike a jarring note in this section, which is otherwise aimed at the reassurance of the disciples, were it not that this foretelling introduces the ultimate reassurance. Even the disciples' abandonment of him will become part of his vindication:

[Y]ou will leave me all alone. Indeed I am not alone, because the Father is with me. 33I have said these things to you so that you may have peace in me. You have distress in the world but take courage! I have overcome the world.

This 'world' represents the creation as the realm of the Enemy, actively opposed to Jesus, rather than the whole created order, which God proclaims as good in Genesis (see the earlier discussion of this term in the comment to Jn 1.9). Jesus' victory over 'the world' then, not his betrayal by his disciples, is the note upon which the Table Talk section ends. It provides a fitting sense of reassurance to close this section off and take us into the prayer of Jn 17.

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