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The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (2)

J Gibson, Derby

Purpose

The Saviour’s love for His own, even on the verge of such immense personal suffering, prompted this teaching (Jn 13.1), which was primarily intended to prepare them for His departure (Jn 13.1,33; 14.25; 16.4,5). He predicted future events so that when they occurred their evaluation of Him would be increased (e.g. Judas’ betrayal, Jn 13.18-19), their faith nurtured (e.g. His departure, Jn 14.28-29), and they would not be discouraged (e.g. persecution, Jn 16.1). Since the great hallmark of Christianity is love, the Lord Jesus, through His personal example of washing their feet, indelibly etched on their consciences the importance of humbly serving one another (Jn 13). Realizing the human tendency, in times of flux and peril, to be overcome with fear, He comforted their troubled hearts and promised them peace (Jn 14). Since He had both chosen, and ordained them "that (they) should go and bring forth fruit" (Jn 15.16), He unfolded the secrets of spiritual fruitfulness (Jn 15). Chapter 16 develops certain themes previously touched upon in the address, such as the inevitability of persecution (vv.1-6), the Holy Spirit’s ministry (vv.7-15), and Christ’s promised resurrection and return (vv.16-21). All of this instruction however, in itself, could not sustain the believer, and so the Saviour went on to pray for them (Jn 17).

People

Judas had departed. Now, the Lord Jesus spoke to the remaining eleven genuine disciples, not as Israelites, but as His apostles and representatives of the church. Many contrasts exist between New Testament Christians and Old Testament saints. Sadly, failure to grasp the difference between Israel and the church has led to confusion, and thrown into disarray the understanding of Scripture. Consider some differences between Israel and the church that bear on the teaching of this discourse.

First, Christians have a new relationship with God that no other group throughout history has had, nor in the future will have. Regarding the Son, they are "his own" (Jn 13.1); He calls them His "Little children" (Jn 13.33), and they actually abide in Him (Jn 15.4-6), while He, in conjunction with the Father, abides in them (Jn 14.23). Christ is in the believer, and the believer is in Christ. Old Testament saints believed in God (Jn 14.1) and were commanded to love Him wholeheartedly (Deut 6.5), but the church directs its faith to Christ (Jn 14.12), loves Christ (Jn 14.15), and is loved by Him (Jn 13.1). Again, the ultimate role model for New Testament believers is not Old Testament heroes, but the Saviour Himself (Jn 13.15). Saints of all ages may have prayed, but prayer is now directed to the Father in the Son’s name (Jn 14.12-14; 15.7,16; 16.23,24,26). "Since the new ground of prayer provides access to the limitless resources of Him who is infinite, the new appeal which conditions this measureless possibility is important to the last degree, and well it becomes the earnest Christian to enter intelligently and fully into these unbounded provisions."1

The Holy Spirit temporarily came upon Old Testament saints to strengthen for God’s service (e.g. Judg 13.25) but could just as quickly depart from them because of personal failure (Ps 51.11). Now, however, the Spirit permanently indwells each believer, in order to guide "into [the measureless field of] all truth" (Jn 16.13) and to reveal Christ (Jn 15.26; 16.13,14) and the future (Jn 16.13). "By this procedure [the Christian] may make uninterrupted and measureless progress in the knowledge of the truth of God."2

Second, New Testament believers have a new hope. Whereas Israel eagerly awaited a glorious manifestation of Messiah, Christians anticipate being forever with the Lord at His coming (Jn 14.3). Israel’s blessings had an earthly emphasis, being centred in the Promised Land, but the heavenly nature of church saints is taught by the fact that they are not of this world (Jn 17.14) but instead chosen out of it (Jn 15.19). They are destined eternally to share in and enjoy Christ’s glory (Jn 17.24).

Third, the church knows a new unity. Israel’s tribes may have been united by the same family blood, which often resulted in sibling rivalry, but Christian unity is so unique that it is comparable to the essential unity of Father and Son (Jn 17.11, 21-23). The Lord’s Prayer for such unity was answered at Pentecost when we were "all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12.13). In light of this closeness to other believers, the Saviour commanded His disciples to love one another in the same self-sacrificing manner that He loved them (Jn 13.33-35; 15.12). This stretches far beyond the legal command, "…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev 19.18), and should promote service for one another (Jn 13.12-17).

Fourth, a new code was to govern them. Whereas law was the final touch-stone for Israel’s behaviour, for the church it is rather Christ’s own words, both here (Jn 13.17; 14.15,21,23) and in the New Testament epistles, given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, they enjoyed a new revelation. Old Testament law forbade men from looking upon God, but in the Lord Jesus Christ they enjoy a unique revelation: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn 14.9). They also, as the Saviour’s friends, were privy to His plans and the Father’s words (Jn 15.14,15).

It is no surprise, that such a body of people, while being fruitful for God (Jn 15.4-6), and experiencing perennial and supernatural joy (Jn 15.11; 16.22; 17.13) and peace (Jn 14.1,27), receive a hostile response from a world that hates both God and His Christ (Jn 15.18; 16.2). To be continued.

1 Chafer LS. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993) 5:161.
2 Chafer LS. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993) 5:156.

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