"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): 12.2.3 The Advocate (Jn 14.15-31)



GENERAL COMMENTS


Once again John uses the device of an interlocking question and its answer as part of the structure of a section of the much longer Farewell Discourse. Several important themes are combined here in Jesus' attempts to comfort and reassure his followers. First he stresses the necessity of his leaving: unless Jesus leaves there are things that cannot happen. But he will not leave them bereft; not only will Jesus himself come back, he and his Father will send 'another Advocate, to be with you always, the Spirit of truth'. This Advocate (or Intercessor - the word is not exclusively legal) can only be sent after Jesus departs. Another thread involves the disciples' love for Jesus: those who love him will keep his commandments, and because of that, the Father and the Son will both come to the disciples and indwell them. The question from the other Judas and Jesus' rather indirect answer, is used to emphasise this second thread.

The following verses (25-29) are less tightly organised than what precedes them, and are basically a series of statements designed to reassure the disciples: the Advocate will keep them on track by reminding them of what Jesus had said; Jesus is leaving his peace with them; he has told them beforehand of what is going to happen so that they will be able to put their trust in him.

In v30 Jesus mentions the ruler of the world, that is, Satan, for the first time since ch12. There he had spoken of the ruler being driven away when his (Jesus') hour was fulfilled. Here Jesus says that 'the ruler of the world is coming'. And because of that approach, Jesus no longer has much to say to the disciples.This would be alarming if we did not already know from ch12 that Satan will be driven out by what Jesus is about to do, and if it were not followed by Jesus' statement that he is acting in accordance with the Father's orders, to show his love for the Father. We now know that our obedience to what the Father and the Son command shows our love for them, and brings us and them into a close relationship. So Jesus's statement about what he is doing tells us about the closeness of Jesus' own loving relationship with the Father, which is reassuring in the face of Satan, who we know is hostile to Jesus and the Father.


 

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COMMENTS ON SPECIFIC VERSES


Jn 14.17 is the first of six verses in this section of the Gospel that refer to the evangelist's concept of "the world". In this verse the world is a realm which is closed to the influence of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. We are somewhere between the world as God's creation, into which the light of the world comes to save the world, and the world as a place hostile to God because Satan is its ruler. In vv19, 22, and 27 it is this fluid sense that the word seems to bear. In v30, it is definitely the world as hostile that is being invoked, because of the reference to Satan, the ruler of this world. In v31 we are once again in positive territory: 'world' here refers to the whole of the created order.

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I have chosen here and below to use gender-neutral language to refer to the Advocate (often known as the Paraclete), or Spirit, in this final discourse. I think it is preferrable to the attempt to assign a gender-specific pronoun on the basis of the grammatical gender of the nouns used for the Spirit. It seems to me that this effort is based on a profound misunderstanding of the way Greek and other inflected ancient languages use the grammatical gender of a noun, that is, we often assume that a noun's gender automatically or deliberately reflects the sex of the beings, whether human, animal, or spiritual, that it identifies. Knowing that παράκλητος (paracletos, 'advocate, intercessor') is a masculine noun does not really help us any more than knowing that πνεῦμα (pneuma, 'spirit') is a neuter one.

In any case assigning a sex to a bodiless spiritual being seems itself nearly impossible, except by analogy. In the case of Jesus and his Father, we have his own authority for such an analogy: Jesus uses the analogy of the relationship of a human father and son to explain his relationship with God. Indeed in this gospel Jesus and his Father are practically defined by that relationship. He is Son in relation to the Father and the Father is Father in relation to Jesus. Accepting this analogy and using the names 'Father' and 'Son' to refer to them, we can also refer to them both as 'he', while knowing that the Son was a man only in his earthly life and that 'God the Father' is a being who transcends all human categories, including those of sex and gender.

But we must refer to the Advocate, or Spirit, somehow and, as we cannot construct all sentences involving the Advocate so as to avoid the use of all pronouns, I have chosen gender-neutral pronouns to refer to them in large measure because there are no analogies comparable to that of the Father and the Son that involve them. But see the essay Talking about God for further discussion of the problem and my reasoning.

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Who is this other Judas? It seems likely that he is the same person that Luke refers to as Judas son of James in his two lists of the Twelve. The two other evangelists refer to him as Thaddeus, likely a Greek nickname: not only is 'Judas' a very common name but the other Judas, Judas Iscariot, had provided anyone else in Jesus' immediate circle with a good reason to want to be known by another name! Almost nothing is known about Judas son of James, and only John mentions him outside of lists. See the essay on the Twelve in the New Testament and the Early Church for further discussion of the Twelve.

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This represents an attempt to render into English an idiom for which there is no precise English equivalent. A word-for-word translation would be 'he has nothing in/on me': in Greek it is 'en emoi ouk echei ouden', using an emphatic double negative ('doesn't have nothing'). The sense seems to be more or less that Satan has nothing in common with Jesus.. The NRSV has translated it as "has no power over me" while the New International Version has used "has no hold over me". In the first part of v30 we have learned that the ruler of the world is coming and that therefore Jesus no longer has much to say to the disciples: those who have been paying attention to Jesus' teaching thus far at the Last Supper will understand what he is referring to here. The coming of Satan marks the beginning of the end, that is, Satan's coming sets in motion the events that culminate in Jesus' death. We learned this in ch13, when Satan put the idea of betraying Jesus in Judas Iscariot's heart and entered into Judas along with the piece of bread Jesus offered him. Thus Jesus will not have much more to say now to the disciples because with the coming of Satan (through the action of his willing partner Judas) events begin to move very quickly, too quickly for the serious teaching of this Passover meal. The final half verse, that Satan has no part in Jesus, fits in as part of the general reassurance this passage is intended to bring the disciples. It might appear that Satan was in some way in charge, since his coming triggered these important events, so Jesus reminds the disciples that Satan has no hold over him.

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In fact Jesus and the disciples do not get up and leave at this point; there are still 2 chapters of the Farewell Discourse to come, plus Jesus' prayer for his disciples in ch17. That fact has caused many commentators to mark this as a section that was incompletely or incompetently edited at some stage in the process of producing the gospel. They assume that the subsequent chapters were added later, without altering the end of ch14. I find this hard to accept. It seems more probable to me that the evangelist is either reporting an attempt by Jesus to leave the site of the meal and move outside, or imaginatively creating such an attempt as a storyteller. That seems to make more sense both in terms of reading the text as it has come down to us and in how the text might have been read over the intervening centuries.

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