Commentary on John 14:23-29
These verses are part of the so-called Farewell Discourse which goes John 14:1-17:26, and during which Jesus promises his disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate (parakletos) to be with them for ever (14:16).
The Spirit of truth (14:17) will in many ways be an actualization of Jesus’ presence. Jesus will come back to the community (14:18) and the community will see him (14:19) but this will be a revelation that only the group of believers will receive (14:22). Whereas the historical Jesus was seen by everybody, the spiritual presence of Jesus will only be experienced by those who love him and obey his commandments (14:23).
Love is the answer
It starts as a response to one of the disciples’ question about how it is that Jesus will reveal himself to them but no to the world. The answer is love: it is love that unlocks the secret of Jesus’ presence in the post-resurrection era. This love needs to be understood as attachment to Jesus’ group or to the person of Jesus.1 This attachment will produce obedience to Jesus’ teachings (“my word”) and when this happens then God the Father will love the believers.
Who is coming?
The love of God is shown in the coming of the Father and Jesus to dwell with the believers. The expression “to make our home with them” (monen) harkens back to 14:2 where Jesus had promised the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in God’s house where there are many “dwelling places” (monai). Traditionally, 14:1-4 has been interpreted as a reference to Jesus’ second coming but the almost absolute lack of references to the parousia in the gospel of John makes it very unlikely. Charles H. Talbert has alerted us to the fact that in John the Father’s house is a reference to the Jerusalem temple (2:16). Since for the evangelist Jesus is the new temple (2:19, 21), “in my Father’s house” is an alternative way of saying “in me,” or “in the Father,” or “in us.” (17:21). 2
The coming together of the Father and Jesus to dwell with the believers (14:23) and the coming back of Jesus to the community (14:28) seem to refer, at least in this context, to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate promised in this very chapter. These two comings (erchomai) are framing another coming, this time the coming of the Advocate, whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name. Therefore, I think that it is safe to assume that both the coming and the sending refer to the same reality: the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the community. When the Spirit comes then Jesus comes also as empowering presence. There is no need to wait for another coming. For John that is the “second” coming!
The hermeneutics of the Spirit
The role of the Holy Spirit is carefully delineated in verse 26. As will be seen in John 16:12-15, the Spirit will be engaged in the work of remembering and theological reformulation. It will remind the community of the things Jesus taught them, and it will teach them new things, in fact, all things as they pertain to the future of the believers. It will guide the believers into all the truth (16:12).
Taking into account that in 14:6 Jesus told the disciples that he was the truth, here it seems as if Jesus needs the hermeneutical mediation of the Holy Spirit in order to become that truth. This is an important point, for it places the responsibility of contextualizing the truth to new situations on an inspired, Spirit-filled community. Jesus is not, cannot be the truth unless this truth is incarnated in people who make an effort to interpret what such affirmation means for their context.
Two different kinds of Peace
The peace that Jesus gives contrasts sharply with the world’s peace. Even though this affirmation has been spiritualized by conservative and fundamentalist readings of John it is pretty obvious that in its present context this text has in mind the first century world and its understanding of peace as that of the Pax Romana. Therefore, we have here a profound critique of the social and political order of the day.
Who does what?
Finally, there are many connections in this passage in terms of who does what. It can be outlined in the following way:
- The Father sent Jesus and will come to dwell with the believers in the form of the Holy Spirit, sent to the community in Jesus’ name, thus proving God’s love for those who are attached to Jesus.
- The Son comes with the Father to make their home with the believers, speaking the words given by the Father and giving true peace to the community. This is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit, who will teach the community all things and will remind them of everything Jesus had said to them.
- In response to all this divine initiative, the community has to do only one thing: love Jesus, that is, to be attached to him and his group, for out of this love will spring the obedience, doing what the group values,3 which will unleash all of these blessings.
- In the last analysis, everything ends with God, as it should, for Jesus says that “the Father is greater than I” (14:28). This is an appropriate reminder (the work of the Holy Spirit?) to all of us who try to make our Christian experience normative for the rest of humanity. Everything leads to God. And even though this may make some people uncomfortable, from the perspective of John’s Jesus, God is even greater than him!
- When love is understood in this way, then “there may or may not be affection, but it is the inward feeling of attachment, along with the outward behavior bound up with such attachment, that love entails.” Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998), 87.
- Charles H. Talbert, Reading John. A literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Co, 2005), 211.
- Malina and Rohrbaugh, 87.