John 14:1 –“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
It’s been a very trying day for the disciples of Christ. They came to the Passover expecting a time of celebration, but things took an unexpected turn. First, Jesus washed their feet and gave them a strong lesson in serving others. Then Jesus revealed that one of them would betray him. He once again asserts that the time of his death is very near; he is going away and they cannot follow him.
In response, Peter rashly declares that he will follow Jesus until death. But Jesus tells him it would not be so – Peter would deny him three times before sunrise.
It’s no wonder that at the end of chapter 13 we find the disciples very troubled in heart.
In chapters 14-16 we find Jesus having a heart-to-heart talk with his disciples before his suffering and death. These chapters are often referred to as the ‘farewell discourse’ to the disciples; they are also sometimes called the ‘heart’ of the gospel of John. Some of the most tender words Jesus ever spoke are found in these passages. They have been comforting and encouraging believers ever since they were spoken. I am sure you will find them comforting too.
However, there are also passages in these chapters that are difficult to understand and hard to explain. We will look at these on a case-by-case basis as they arise within the text. In the meantime, let’s check in on the eleven.
In general, there appear to be three main things bothering the disciples:
- They were troubled at the prospect of losing the bodily presence and leadership of Jesus. The disciples, who had left all to follow Christ, were shortly to see him heaped with reproaches, beaten beyond belief and crucified as a criminal. All of the hopes/dreams they had about the kingdom of the Messiah were going to be destroyed.
- They feared that with the loss of Jesus they would also lose the spiritual influence he had been upon their lives. If his light departed from the world, how would they cope with the darkness?
- They were facing the prospect of troubles and persecutions which were likely to fall upon them after Jesus’ departure; they could not help feeling deserted and exposed.
So Jesus begins to comfort his disciples by instructing them not to be troubled in heart. He does not want them to feel unsettled or cast down. They should not be anxious or perplexed. Jesus wants them to be brave and courageous and not give in to fear. They don’t know it yet, but they are victorious through Christ!
The basis for their courage is faith or belief in both Jesus and his Father. The disciples are to place their confidence in Father God and in Jesus as the mediator between God and man. They could expect the utmost support from God, which would come through Jesus Christ. Jesus was able to take care of all their concerns, both physical and spiritual. For this reason, they could confidently commit themselves to Jesus.
John 14:2 – “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
One of the main causes of anxiety for the disciples was the loss of the bodily presence of Jesus. So he comforts them by explaining that he will not be permanently separated from them. He is going to return to the glory that was his before the world began but that place has room for all of Christ’s followers. If this was not the case, Jesus would have told them. He would never have allowed them to trust in a vain hope concerning their spiritual/eternal lives.
So how did Jesus ‘prepare’ a place for us? The book of Hebrews points out that Jesus is our high priest.
Hebrews 3:1 –Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
Under the old covenant, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat (located on the Ark of the Covenant). This blood made atonement for the sins of the Israelites for one year. It had to be repeated over and over, because the blood of animals cannot fully cleanse from sin.
Under the terms of the new covenant Jesus is our high priest. He was about to shed his own blood, providing the only truly perfect, lasting atonement for sin. Once he did that, he went into heaven and presented his own blood before the Father on our account.
By so doing, he ‘prepared’ a place/room for us by removing all the obstacles that prevented us from entering heaven. This was exemplified when the temple veil (which prevented anyone from entering the presence of God) between the Holy place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. Now, Jesus continuously sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us at all times.
We could also think of it this way: Jesus was a forerunner – a messenger sent to give notice of the approach of others. He went before us into the presence of the Father, to make atonement for us, that we might be able to enter the presence of God.
Interestingly, this concept was introduced back in the wilderness wandering:
Numbers 10:33 –And they departed from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.
The Ark of the Covenant was synonymous with the presence of God. In the book of Numbers we find that the presence of God went before Israel, to search out or provide a place of rest for them.
In the same way, Jesus has gone before us into the presence of God to atone for our sin and prepare an eternal resting place for us. The writer of Hebrews confirms this for us:
Hebrews 6:20 –Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
So the disciples should not fret at being deprived of the bodily presence of Christ; he is not abandoning them, he is going to do what is necessary for them to join him in heaven.
John 14:3 – “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
‘If’ is an unfortunate translation in our English Bible because it seems to indicate uncertainty. It infers that Jesus may or may not go to prepare a place for his followers. In reality, that is the exact opposite of the assurance that Jesus wants to convey.
It is 100% certain that Jesus is going to go away, 100% certain that he will prepare a place for his followers and 100% certain that he will come again to gather them to himself. Therefore, a better translation would be ‘after I have gone to prepare a place for you’ or ‘when I have gone to prepare a place for you’.
This verse contains another difficulty as well. When Jesus ‘takes us to himself’, does that occur at the same time as he ‘comes again’, or is there a span of time between those two events?
The way you answer that question will in part be determined by your interpretation of the phrase ‘I will come again’. Scholars disagree on what Jesus meant by that phrase. Here are some of the various interpretations:
- He was referring to his resurrection.
- He was referring to the death of each individual believer.
- He was referring to the presence of the Lord’s Spirit in the church.
- He was referring to his second coming at the end of the age.
Although each interpretation has its interesting points, the most common understanding is that Jesus is making a reference to his second coming, as detailed in I Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 – For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
So regardless of whether we die before he returns or whether we are alive when he comes, we can take comfort knowing that Jesus will be returning to gather us to himself, and we will remain with him forever!
John 14:4 – “And you know the way to where I am going.”
Jesus has just reassured the disciples that his death is not destruction or annihilation, but simply a passage back to the Father. In fact, he told them time after time that he was going to die, rise again and ascend to heaven (Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22, Luke 18:31-33, etc). There could be no doubt that they knew where he was going.
Likewise, they knew the way to heaven – having faith in Jesus, obeying his commands, imitating his example and following him in general (Mark 8:34). This was their assignment for the time between the resurrection of Christ and his return to gather them to himself.
Our assignment in this life is the same – we are to glorify God, spread the gospel message and disciple people. This road is marked with both joy and suffering. But in the end, disciples of every generation will wind up in the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
John 14:5 – Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
And now we hear from Thomas – the pessimist; the disciple dominated by ‘common sense’. He seems incapable of understanding anything outside the realm of his current experience. His mind was sluggish and dim regarding these matters and he openly admits that he does not understand what Jesus is telling him.
But as we have already noted, Jesus had indeed told them numerous times what was shortly going to transpire. So what is the problem?
The eleven heard Jesus speak of his death, and this fact registered in a dark seldom used part of their brain, but the thought never made it to the forefront of their thinking/understanding and it certainly had not yet reached their hearts.
What kept this truth from taking real root in their understanding? It was probably their preconceived ideas about the Messiah. For example, they believed the Messiah was going to come to earth, immediately establish his kingdom, and bring Israel into a golden age of power and wealth. That thought was so ingrained in their thinking, they interpreted everything else in light of that fact. So when thoughts of a suffering savior came into their minds, they rejected/dismissed them as impossible.
Thomas still believed Jesus was speaking of going to some earthly place which is why he insisted he did not know where Jesus was going or how to get there.
But if Thomas (or any of the others) had laid aside their own opinions and simply been willing to receive the truth in faith just as Jesus spoke it, they would have had no difficulty at all believing that Jesus was going to die a humiliating, painful death and then be resurrected on the third day.
Jesus goes on to tell them that the way into the eternal kingdom of heaven is through himself:
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is the way – This means that people can only obtain access to God by obeying the instructions/commands of Jesus (Hebrews 5:9), imitating his example (I Peter 2:21-22) and depending on the merits of his shed blood (I John 1:7). Jesus is not just A way to God, he is the ONLY way. He is the highway spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 35:8 -And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for others: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
(Notice that anyone who desires to follow the highway of holiness in Christ will be able to do so; they will not ‘err’ in the way.)
Jesus is the truth – Truth is the opposite of all falsehood and error; Jesus is the source or fountainhead of all truth. While other false religions are full of deceit and lies, the doctrines of Jesus are true. They alone will lead mankind into heaven and the presence of Father God.
Jesus is also the true fulfillment of all the shadows and pictures of God presented in the Old Testament. Those pictures pointed to the truth that was now revealed in Christ.
Jesus is the life – Jesus himself is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Only through his shed blood can we die to sin and be alive in the presence of God (Romans 6:11).
No one comes to the Father except through me – God has appointed Jesus as the Messiah and mediator of the new covenant (I Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 9:15). God has ordained that all blessings shall descend into this world through him. There is NO other conduit for man to reach out to God, except through Jesus Christ.
Father God has appointed Jesus to dispense whatever we may need for our peace, pardon and salvation.
Acts 5:31 –Him [Jesus] has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
It is only through faith in Christ that we can stand in the presence of God, have our prayers answered and eventually enter into the kingdom of heaven. Faith in Christ will lead us to the Father’s house, where Jesus is going.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
The disciples were very troubled when they considered the imminent death of Jesus. One of the things that troubled them was the prospect of facing a life of trouble and persecution without the presence of the Savior.
We too walk through times of hardship, trouble and persecution. We all experience difficult times in life when it seems like we walk alone. But that is not the case! Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He has blessed us with his indwelling Holy Spirit who has come to comfort, teach, guide and sustain us through every trial of life.
So even when things are rough, be encouraged. Holy Spirit is right there with you, to help you navigate through the storms of life.
Let me offer you some relief:
Are you worried about making it through the pearly gates and into heaven? Are you concerned that you might not be good enough to get there? Well let me set the record straight – you are NOT (nor will you ever be) good enough to enter heaven on your own merits!
Only Jesus can prepare the way for you to get into heaven. And that preparation is determined by his mercy and grace, not your works. So don’t worry. Fully commit to Christ today and earnestly follow him. If you do, you can be sure you will be with him in eternity.
Let me offer you some strength:
There was a point when the disciples had difficulty accepting Jesus as the suffering Savior. This was due to their preconceived notions, which had been taught to them since birth. These ideas hindered them from accepting the truth by faith. It caused them to be troubled because their expectations did not match up with what was happening.
Are there concepts which you and I have been taught from an early age that are hindering us from a fuller Christian walk? For instance, were you taught that God does not heal people today, or that communion can only be administered by a priest, or that Jesus no longer baptizes people with Holy Spirit and fire?
As we continue looking through the gospel of John, we are likely to find things that Jesus says should be happening in our lives, but we don’t see them in action. In these cases, can we be strong enough to admit that the problem is ours, not God’s? Can we lay aside things we have been taught, if they are different than the truth of the word of God? You might want to spend some time this week considering this scenario, so you can be ready when we examine these passages.