Pentecost • John 14:23–31 • May 15, 2016
By Andrew Bartelt
We find ourselves at the third great festival day (LSB 489), having celebrated the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord. Our text takes us to the night he was betrayed, as Jesus anticipates what we now remember as having happened. He is preparing his disciples—and us—for resurrection life after his resurrection and ascension, even as we wait for him to come again.
Our Pentecost pericope brings us into the middle of the first chapter of the Farewell Discourse (Jn 14, 15–16, 17). John 14:13–31 includes the second of the five Holy Spirit/Paraclete sections (14:15–21, 14:25–27, 15:26–27, 16:7–11, 16:12–14), which should be considered together, as they circle around (in Johannine style) to reinforce Jesus’s promise. One might also anticipate the fulfillment of the promise, first in John 20:21–22, and then, of course, in the great day of Pentecost, when the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh signaled the arrival of the new age (Acts 2:16 with the citation from Joel).
In John 14, Jesus responds to questions posed by the disciples with revelatory responses: “I am the Way” (14:5–7); and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:8-14). This is followed by the first reference to the Paraclete—“another one”—also sent by the Father and who is the “spirit of truth” (the one who testifies to the truth of him who is the way, the truth, and the life).
That the Paraclete in this discourse is “another one” confirms that Jesus himself is the first Paraclete (1 Jn 2:1), the atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός) for our sins and those of the whole world. He brings identity through “abiding in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν, cf Jn 15:4) that results in doing his will (“keep my commandments,” 1 Jn 2:3, Jn 14:23, cf. Jn 15:5).
John 14:23 begins as a response to the question by Judas (not Iscariot!) in v. 22, which echoes the suggestions of the brothers in 7:2–5. Jesus’s answer there helps us understand the context here: the right time had not yet come for the full revelation. First the disciples have to understand, and then they will become witness of these things to all the world. But now Jesus’s time is at hand.
Verses 25–27 are the heart of this passage as related to the Holy Spirit and his coming. Here the focus is on teaching, and that is a key role of the Paraclete (cf 16:12– 14). At some point, the translation of Paraclete (“call alongside” or “one called alongside to help”) probably needs to be addressed, but any translation will highlight only one aspect of Jesus’s promise of the Spirit. Advocate over-emphasizes the forensic role. Comforter is likely the least helpful, especially in our parlance. Isaiah 40:1 offers a biblical sense of comfort, but there, too, this is so much more than sentiment or just being there. John 17:6–7 presents an activity not particularly comforting.
Encourager or intercessor represents other aspects. From an OT perspective, the idea of a successor may be helpful, as the one who “carries on the work,” such as Joshua to Moses, or Elisha to Elijah. The Spirit also comes upon the judges and prophets to give them power and wisdom to carry out the mission (cf Acts 2).
The role of the Paraclete includes all of the above in some way.
But key in the thought progression of John’s Gospel is that the disciples do not—and cannot—understand until after (1) the resurrection, and (2) they receive the Holy Spirit. They struggle both with the identify of Jesus as the word made flesh, sent by the Father yet one with the Father, and with the mission and purpose of Jesus, revealed in the cross and followed by the resurrection. In this sense, the Paraclete is the “second teacher” who will come after Jesus who is the first teacher and actually lead them to understand both the person and the work of Christ (as the third article follows the second, because we “cannot by our own reason and strength . . .”). The teaching is not quantitative in a sense of more and new things but qualitative in the sense of finally and fully understanding what Jesus has been teaching them all along.
Thus comes a true and lasting peace (shalom, v. 27), not as the world understands peace, and not as the world gives peace (“not as the world gives” works both ways).
Finally, vv. 28–31 conclude with an exhortation to show love for Jesus by recognizing that he knows what he is doing and that his plan conforms to the Father’s will. Though argued and explained in Trinitarian discussions, the fact that the “Father is greater than I” likely reflects the dictum that no “messenger is greater than the one who sent him” (13:16).
Though a minor issue, the final exhortation to leave is troubling only to those who want to see the whole discourse as a composite work revealed through a clumsy redactional seam. Nor is it necessary to assume that chapter 15 continues “on the way,” perhaps as they passed a vineyard (but see 18:1). Rather, at this point Jesus introduced the fact that they needed to leave. And then he kept speaking to them.
As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, going to the cross and then, after the resurrection, to his Father, he promises that he will not leave them alone. The first fulfillment is in John 20:21–22, when Jesus gives them the Spirit, along with the peace (14:27), grounded in the authority to forgive sins. The partial but growing understanding of Peter and John (20:9) and of Mary (20:10–17), is now complete (the lights come on!), and it is ultimately expressed by the most unlikely of them: Thomas who became a witness a week later but confessed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28). Now that the disciples understood, it was time for the Spirit to be poured out on all flesh.
Thus Pentecost is the next stage in the great story of God’s salvation through Israel and in Christ, and even to us who carry on the story as the fulfilled Israel into all the world.
We, too, have the Spirit at our side to lead us into all truth, which is the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, and to carry out the mission of Jesus after he has returned to the Father (like Joshua and Elisha). His power is necessary—not along to help us with our will but to get into our heads and hearts the will of the Father through the Son.
Thus the sermon could pivot on the two themes: Now that resurrection life has been given and proclaimed, the Spirit causes us to understand Jesus and to carry out his mission. We get it, and we get on with it. And we are not left alone or on our own. Our hearts are not troubled, and we are not afraid.