John 14 - The way, and the truth, and the life

Erkki Koskenniemi
Reija Becks

The following chapters include the famous farewell speach given by Jesus. It actually begins in John 13:31 and continues to the end of John 17. In antiquity, the last words of great men attracted special attention, so what Jesus now says is of special importance. The speach has been edited in some way, because e.g. between the chapters 14 and 15, there clearly seems to be a joint. That is why some scholars have tried to rearrange some chapters and sections later on. No consensus has of course been reached, for in such cases the scholar’s chances of succeeding are so limited that the wisest thing to do is to drop the issue.

The way to the Father 14:1-14

Without a clear link to what he said earlier, Jesus goes on to talk about how he is going to the Father and how he will also prepare a place for his own with the Father.

From the first chapter, there is a strong emphasis in the Gospel of John on the pre-existence of Jesus, i.e. that Jesus existed even before he was born into the world. The time has now come for the Lord to return to his glory. His mission – to prepare a place for his own with the Father – is now coming to an end. Jesus’s words about how his own will enter into the heavenly dwelling places involve two outlooks, one within the other. The first one, emphasized more by the Synoptics, is the return of Christ to the last judgment. This outlook appears also in John (14:3, cf. also 11:24).

However, what is more prominent in John’s Gospel is the so-called present eschatology: when a person encounters Christ and believes in him, that person has passed from death to life and has escaped the judgment. This fact stands out in what Jesus says as well as in the questions asked by the disciples. The questions that Thomas and Philip ask both relate to the same issue. Thomas does not know the way to the Father’s glory, and Philip wants to see the Father.

Jesus’s answers signpost the way to the Father: the knowledge of Jesus is the way and, moreover, the only way to the Father. Anyone who has come to know Jesus, has come to know the Father. So, the Father and the Son are one: the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.

There is already an anticipation of the coming missionary work in Jesus’s promise that God’s miracles will be multiplied in the actions of those who are his own.

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit 14:15-31

The important point at the end of chapter 14 is the promise that the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit as their Helper. The term ‘Helper’, in Greek parakletos, has many meanings. Scholars have sought to figure out its origin in the history of religions by studying texts from various religions. An analogous being appears in Jewish literature, and also among the Qumran Jews, and later in the Mandaean texts. The study of these texts has not, however, been very helpful. The term is old, but the subject is new.

Anyway, the Holy Spirit is the Advocate (cf. Job 33:23), the Intercessor (1 John 2:1), the Comforter and the Helper (especially in the section we are now discussing) for the Christians. As we learn from the current section, the Holy Spirit was, above all, sent to help the Christians after Jesus was no longer physically among them. Soon Jesus was to go away, but through the Helper, those who belong to him may still see him. Unlike the “people of the world”, Jesus’s followers understand that the Father is in his Son, the Son is in the Father, Jesus is in his own, and his own are in Jesus – this takes us to lofty theological heights. The world does not know the Helper, nor will it ever know him.

Another dominant feature in this section, appearing on several occasions, concern the believers’ obedience to keeping the words of their Teacher. If we love Jesus, it is to be seen in our concrete actions. We desire to obey the Lord’s will that he has shown to us. There is a very strong emphasis on this in all of John’s writings by (see e.g. 1 John 2:7-11). Our love to the Lord is not a mere concept, but it means that we really act on his words. We cannot love Jesus and, at the same time, disregard his word.

In the last verses of this chapter, darkness begins to fall over the glory. The hour is at hand, Jesus is about to be crucified. The Son’s obedience to the Father’s will is shown in the fact that Jesus is himself true to the words, which he just declared. Love to the Father is measured in concrete actions, and so the Lord sets off to the way of the cross.