Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

199. Fellowship in the Father and the Son (John 14:15-24)

Jesus had spoken to the disciples about the New Covenant as a Love Feast, using for it the word agape which also describes the highest of the virtues-the love which he had shown in a thousand ways during his ministry and which he was to exemplify supremely in his sacrifice. In the next part of his discourse his thought moved rapidly and frequently from one meaning of agape to the other, and there was constant close relation of these ideas to a comparable meal of fellowship with which the Old Covenant had been inaugurated at Sinai (Ex.24 :11).

"If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." At Sinai, the people heard the words of the Book of the Covenant and declared: "All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient" (Ex.24 :7). With a repetition which could never be over-emphatic, the book of Deuteronomy sought to establish in the mind of every Israelite that the love of God and faithful observance of His commandments are inseparable (5 :10; 7 :9; 11 :1,22; 13 :3,4; 19:9; 30:16).

Now with an authority which would be blasphemous if he were not the Son of God, Jesus laid a like duty on his disciples. His words state very simply a principle of the highest value to all who belong to him. The secret of Christian obedience is the love of Christ. When a man really loves his Lord, obedience (or, the next best thing, earnest repentance after failure) is a relatively easy matter. With the love of Christ as the source and spring of his whole way of life, there is no longer any need for strongminded resolutions to forsake evil. Instead, intense wrestling of the soul gives place to a relaxed confidence in a beloved Lord who now readily commands allegiance. If a man really loves Christ, he does keep his commandments. So learning to love him becomes the highest duty. Directed to anyone but Jesus this is invariably difficult, for to know well any of one's fellows is to know well the mass of faults and weaknesses which belong to him. But the more a man can learn about Christ the more he must come to love him-this peerless, altogether lovely Son of God. So here is the best of all reasons for ceaseless devoted study of the gospels.

The converse of this fundamental proposition is also true, alas! If a man does not follow a way of life ordered by the principles of Christ's teaching, by that fact he declares how little he loves his Lord, no matter how pious his pretensions.

There can be little doubt that Jesus spoke this simple truth with primary reference to the "new commandment" which he had just given to his disciples, that they observe the Love Feast, the Agape. And experience has ever shown the truth of his words. No man who loves his Lord will neglect attendance at the Lord's Table.

Israel and the New Israel

Still drawing out the parallel with the Old Covenant, Jesus now spoke his first promise of the Holy Spirit. At Sinai there had been a corresponding promise: "Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee unto the place which I have prepared. ("I go to prepare a place for you"). Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak ("keep my commandments") then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries" (Ex. 23:20-22). In another respect also God's Holy Spirit was made a Helper to His people -when He "took of the spirit that was upon Moses, and gave it to the seventy elders", so that "when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more" (Num. 11:25RV), "Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them," commemorated Nehemiah and his Levites (Neh. 9:20). And in Isaiah's reminiscence of these experiences "the angel of his presence" and "his holy Spirit" are either closely associated or are actually equated (63:9-11).

The expression "another Comforter" clearly implies that the Holy Spirit was not the only Helper from God. The explanation is in 1 John2:l: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate (same word) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." And in a somewhat enigmatic passage in Romans 8 Paul sets the Holy Spirit's guidance and intercession alongside that of Christ himself (v.26,27).

The Comforter

There is a lot of argument amongst the commentators and language experts as to the precise meaning intended by the word Jesus used. By fairly general agreement "Comforter" is not really the right idea. "Advocate", in the legal sense—that is, counsel for the defence-has classical support but seems to belong to another world from these passages in John's gospel. Probably the rather general word: "Helper" comes as near as any to what was intended.

It is easy enough to understand many of the allusions to the Holy Spirit here and in the later Paraclete passages (14:26; 15:26; 16:13) as having reference to the remarkable powers with which members of the early church were endowed after Pentecost, but here the phrase: "that he may abide with you for ever" presents double difficulty. The Holy Spirit appears to be spoken of as a separate person (cp.v.26; 15:26; 16 :13; the orthodox dogma of the personality of the Holy Spirit has no other Biblical support apart from the pronouns in these places). Also, the abiding character of the Spirit's indwelling contrasts strangely with Paul's prophecy that the Spirit's gifts would be withdrawn (1 Cor. 13:8).

He—the Spirit

One explanation of the first difficulty would be that the pronoun "He" refers to the Father who sends the Spirit in response to the plea of His Son. But this runs into difficulties in verse 17 and also in 16 :13. More probably the masculine pronoun has to be used because the antecendent Greek word for "Comforter" is itself masculine. In this case either "he" or "it" would be a valid translation into English. Or, once again, there is allusion to the angel who cared for natural Israel in their wilderness journey.


The duration of Holy Spirit endowment presents a much more tricky question. In this sequence of "Comforter" promises in John's gospel, certain details seem to require restriction to the leaders of the first century ecclesia (e.g. 14:26: "he shall bring all things to your remembrance"); Paul was confident that the Spirit's gifts were only temporary; indeed those gifts could be transmitted to others by none but the Twelve (Ms 8 :14-19), so the second generation was bound to see their gradual disappearance; and all the available historical evidence from early Christian writers supports this conclusion.

Nevertheless here Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would "abide with you for ever" (v.16). There are three ways of coping with this problem.

One is to take the phrase very literally: "unto the age," as though meaning to the end of the Mosiac dispensation when the temple was destroyed in A.D.70. This is an uneasy solution since, with hardly an exception in the New Testament, "for ever" means just that, and not forty years.

Much more fitting is the suggestion which emphasizes the happy opinion in the early church that the Holy Spirit gifts were to be enjoyed as a foretaste of yet greater blessing: "the powers of the world to come" (Heb.6 :5), "the earnest of our inheritance" (Eph.4 :30). From this point of view, "abide with you for ever" could mean "abide with you now, and ultimately for ever in my kingdom."

The third alternative regards the charismatic powers of the Spirit as an interim phase of ecclesial development which has not necessarily meant complete inactivity of the Holy Spirit since the first century ended. Otherwise there are, it is pointed out, a big number of familiar New Testament texts which have either to be written off as no longer valid or else have to be given a somewhat indirect meaning with reference to the inspiration of Holy Scripture as the believer's only resource and guide in modern times. The subject is large and complex and, alas, often nebulous in its modern treatment.

There are evident weaknesses about all of these interpretations. Then, what of this?:

A different approach

The New Testament has plenty of clear indications of a first century expectation of an early return of the Lord. These are all inspired Scriptures, and therefore were correct when they were spoken or written. So also here.

In this discourse by Jesus there is the same expectation that the kingdom would be manifest within a human lifetime. In that case the Lord's promise that the Comforter will "abide with you for ever" was literally true when spoken. There would never be a time after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit (as experienced in the first century) was not with and in the believers. (The same explanation helps with Acts 2 :39; 1 Cor.13 :10; Lk.11:13).

But these inspired expectations were not fulfilled. For explanation why, see "Revelation" (H.A.W),p.259ff.

Help needed

Jesus foresaw the tremendous tensions which the preaching of the gospel would set up, especially in Jewry, after his ascension. So he promised the Holy Spirit as a guide in times of difficulty, as a mainstay of truth against the contentions of error: "The world (the Jewish world) cannot receive him, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him." That word "seeth" had reference, doubtless, to the remarkable works of the Holy Spirit in Jesus himself and in the early church. The unbelieving nation saw the miracles, but was blind to the truth which they so graciously and powerfully proclaimed. In this sense, but not in this sense only, the Holy Spirit was to continue the Lord's own witness. More especially, its guidance would empower frail untutored men to add their inspired witness concerning all aspects of truth which the life of the eccclesia or the preaching of the gospel might need. Remarkably enough, in the earliest days its direction was specially needed to testify against Jewish unbelief in Jesus as the Son of God, but before the apostle John passed off the scene its witness was needed also to confound the opposite "spirit of error" which taught, with increasing success, that "Jesus Christ is not come in the flesh" (1 Jn.4:1-6).

"Ye know him," Jesus continued, "for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." The tenses here are difficult. Perhaps Jesus meant: 'By contrast with my adversaries you are readily recognizing the Holy Spirit in my words and actions as I continue to abide with you; the same divine power shall be in you.'


In Israel the Firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance in order that, if any younger brother found himself in hard straits— an "orphan'—the Firstborn's duty of helping such with food and drink could be fulfilled.

It was to this that Jesus now referred: "I will not leave you orphans (13 :33): I come to you." For them absence need not mean deprivation. "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more: but ye see me." Clearly this "no more" was not to be taken absolutely. The world will assuredly see Jesus again. The Jewish world, which he had specially in mind, will one day "look on me they pierced, and shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son, a Firstborn" (Zech.12:10).

The Agape

It was a different vision of their Lord (from that of Zech. 12 :10) which he promised to them, his disciples: "But ye behold me: because I live, ye shall live also." His expansion of this thought (v.21,23) shows that he spoke of their spiritual contemplation of him in the Agape, which was to celebrate not only his death, but also his living power. "Ye shall live also," having already "passed from death unto life." (1 Jn. 3:14 -another allusion to the Agape. How could they think of themselves as orphans, bereft of food and comfort, when he had bequeathed to them such a token of continuing blessing?

"In that day (the day of their meeting together to remember their Lord) ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you." What more eloquent means of reassurance concerning these profound Shekinah truths than the simple remembrance of Christ in Bread and Wine as he had just appointed? "He that hath my commandments (13 :34), and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me (the Agape): and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." In all this there was implied comparison and contrast with the experience of the elders of Israel who, through the sacrifice offered by Moses, were given the privilege of beholding the Glory of the Lord and of eating peace-offerings in His Presence (Ex.24 :1-11). But high honour though this was, they could only worship "afar off." How different the close fellowship with both Father and Son made possible for these humble disciples who were now being taught to appreciate their high status in the heavenly family!

In doing so, Jesus carefully chose a different word to describe this "manifesting" of himself to them from that so frequently employed to describe an open and unmistakable personal appearance (as in 7 :4; 17:6; 21 :1,14).

Judas, probably the youngest of the apostles, fastened on this implied difference. Like the rest, and especially the other Judas (note the parenthesis in this verse), he was eager to see his Master openly proclaimed to the nation as the Messiah of Israel. What other kind ol "manifestation" could Jesus mean? He feared that his leader might be abandoning his Messianic intentions altogether.

Jesus explained carefully the more immediate relevance of his words regarding the Breaking of Bread: "If any man love me (the Agape), he will keep my word ("do this in remembrance of me"): and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him (at the Love Feast), and make our abode with him (in the new spiritual temple, where there are many abiding places; v.2; Ex.25 :8). He that loveth me not (by neglecting the Breaking of Bread) keepeth not my words (and my Father will not love him, and we will not come and make our abode with him; v.23); and this word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me (compare God's word to Moses: "I will be with thy mouth, and will teach what thou shalt say;" Ex.4 :12). "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethen, like unto thee, and I will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him;" (Dt. 18 :18).

Passages such as this are more than sufficient to allay misgivings regarding the notorious "omissions" in John's gospel. Many a devout reader has been more than a little puzzled, and even distressed, that so many of the highly important features of the Lord's ministry, detailed by the synoptic writers, should apparently go unmentioned in the fourth gospel. Yet it may be said with fair confidence that most of the supposed omissions are actually included by John, but in his own characteristic fashion. In this particular place the blessing and power of the Breaking of Bread is beautifully expounded for the reader through the Lord's own commentary, and with a fullness which the other gospels do not attempt.

Notes: Jn. 14:15-24

Love me. . .my commandments. Linked together iii 13 :34; 15 :10,12; 1 Jn.2 :7,8; 3 :23,24; 5 :2,3. In all these places, the Agape. (AV, RV reading equally valid).
The Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive. These ideas occur together in 1 Cor.2 :10.14.

The outstanding passages for study besides Jn. 14,15,16 are:

Lk. 11:13; Jn. 3:5-8; Rom.5:5; 8:1-27; 14:12; 15:13, 16, 30; 1 Cor. 2:11-16; 3:16; 6:11; 12:3, 13; 2 Cor. l:22; 3:3, 13, 14; Gal.5 :5, 16-18, 22, 25; Eph. l:19-21; 2:18,22; 3:16-20; 4:4,30; 5:18; 6 :18; Phil. 2:1; 3:3; Col. l:8,9; 1 Sam.10:10; 16:14; 19:9; 1 Kg. 18:46; Jud. 14:6; Ex. 31:3; 36:1. Also: Ps.119:12-18, 26, 27, 32-38; 51:6; 141:3,4; 143:10; Acts 16:14; Jas. l :5; 1 Thess. 3:12; Jude 24; Heb.13:21; 2 Thess. l :11; 3:3,5; Lk. 24:31,45; 1 Kgs.8:58; 17:9; Mt. 16:17; ls. 10:5,6.
To him. Necessarily personal.
Not Iscariot. This might well imply that the traitor Judas also was dissatisfied at having no manifestation to the world. Otherwise, in view of 13:20 this insertion is hardly necessary.

Not unto the world. A dramatic change, apparently, from 12:15.
My words, with allusion to Ex.24 :3.

We will come unto him. According to the Didache 10 :10, "Maranatha" (our Lord has come) was pronounced between the meal of fellowship (the Agape) and the sacramental Bread and Wine.

Our abode, with allusion to the Tabernacle; Ex.25 :8 etc.
No more. Examples of limited usage of this expression: Jn.14 :30RV; 21 :6;;Mk.l5 :5 RV; Acts 20 :25; 2 Sam. 2:28 LXX 2 Kgs.6 :23,24; 1 Sam. 7 :13. The first of these is specially disastrous for JW interpretation.

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