Chapter 15 marks a new development in the ‘Upper Room Ministry’. At the end of chapter 14 the Lord has said, “Arise, let us go hence.” Up to this point the ministry has been inside, in the upper room. The Lord and the disciples are now moving outside towards “the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples” Jn.18.1. Henceforth the ministry of chapters 15 and 16 would be outside, together with the prayer of God’s Son in John chapter 17.
However, it was not only the location which had changed; the whole emphasis of the ministry changed as well. In chapters 13 and 14 the ministry is devotional and emphasising the relationship which the believer has with the Lord and in particular with the Father. Indeed, this relationship with the Father is one of the defining doctrines of the whole ‘Upper Room Ministry’, with fifty-two references to the Father in forty-five verses. See for example Jn.14.7-14, where there are no less than eleven references to the “Father”. In chapters 15 and 16 the ministry becomes didactic, emphasising the believer’s responsibility in a variety of spheres, including to the Lord, 15.1-11; to one another, 15.12-17; and to the world, 15.18-16.6.
Another interesting change is on the direction of the work undertaken. Chapters 13 and 14 focus on the ministry which is undertaken for us, for example the beautiful picture of the advocacy of Christ in the feet-washing incident in 13.4-17 (as well as giving an example of humility for His “servant[s]” to follow, 13.16,17). In addition He intimates that “I go to prepare a place for you” 14.2, and that in the meantime He and the Father are going to make their “abode” in the believer, 14.23. In chapters 15 and 16 the emphasis is now on our work for Him. We have to “bear fruit” Godward, 15.4; “love one another” saint-ward, 15.12,17; “bear witness” world-ward, 15.27 and in “the little while” of the Lord’s current absence be guided “into all truth” by the ministry of the “Spirit of truth” 16.7-33.
OUTLINE OF JOHN CHAPTER 15
The chapter has three sections:
The Vine and the Branches: the believer as a “branch”.
The subject is “abiding” (eleven times): the link is to Christ as the “Vine”
The Issues of Union with Christ: the believer as a “friend” v.14.
The subject is “love” (four times plus five times in vv.9,10): the link is to “one another” vv.12,17
The Cost of Discipleship: the believer as a “witness”.
The subject is “hating” (eight times): the link is to the “world” vv.18,19
There is a lovely development of truth evident in this outline. It all begins with a proper relationship to Christ. This automatically issues in a proper relationship with “one another”. It is only on this basis that the witness to the “world” will be effective. If the first two are not seen and experienced in their proper perspective, it is highly unlikely that the communication of Divine truth as a witness to the world will produce any “fruit”. The chapter is really a whole, going on to 16.6 and concluding with the two “that”s (hina = ‘in order that’) in 16.1,4, as the issue of the teaching of chapter 15. At no time in this whole section, 15.1-16.6, is there any thought of mere profession: reality is assumed and teaching given to ensure fruitfulness and indeed further fruitfulness in the life of the believer; but more of this anon.
THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES – vv.1-11
Again there are three subsections:
The True Vine and the Husbandman
The Variety of Branches
The Fruitless Branch – v.2a
The Fruitful Branch – vv.2b-5
The Withered Branch – v.6
Answered Prayer – v.7
Assured Glory – v.8
Abiding Love – vv.9,10
Abundant Joy – v.11
It should be remembered, as indicated above, that there is no thought of mere profession, neither in this paragraph nor in the larger immediate context. The Lord Jesus is addressing His disciples. He is not speaking of initial salvation or of the question of the reality of their spiritual life. These are assumed. The subject is fruit bearing through abiding as the necessary basis of it. The idea of “abiding” occurs eleven times: in vv.4 (three times),5,6,7 (twice),9 (as “continue”),10 (twice),11 (as “remain”). The subject of “fruit” occurs six times in vv.1-11: in vv.2 (three times),4,5,8, and twice also in v.16. There is no doubt therefore as to the burden of the teaching. The fruit is seen to increase, provided abiding is experienced. There is development from “fruit” v.2, “more fruit” v.2, “much fruit” vv.5,8, to “fruit [that] remain[s]” v.16, which is surely the apex of Christian experience. What a pity to live as a believer and to find at the end that there is no “fruit” at the judgment seat, as a result of the failure to abide in the Vine: to see that there was only wood, hay or stubble and the fire engulfing all, and loss of reward to be suffered as a result of being a “withered” branch.
It is essential to understand the meaning of “abiding” for a true exposition of this section. Abiding has in it the idea of unbroken communion with Christ resulting in an uninterrupted flow of life from the Vine to the branches, from Christ to His own. The branch has no life in itself. A vital relationship has to be maintained with Christ as the source of life if fruit bearing is to be experienced.
The True Vine and the Husbandman – v.1
The Image Used
The image of the vine was a well-known picture of the nation of Israel. It recurs in many of the Old Testament books including the Psalms, Isaiah (chapter 5); Jeremiah (chapter 2); Ezekiel (chapters 15 and 19) and Hosea (chapter 10). Perhaps one of the most well-known is in Ps.80.8-16: “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast Thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance.”
The nation had been brought as a vine out of Egypt and planted in Canaan. Alas it had been wasted, devoured and burned with fire in spite of every opportunity for fruitfulness with branches like the cedars. Asaph is pleading for Divine restoration. Israel was not a “true vine”!
It might be worth noting in passing that there are three trees associated with the nation of Israel. The vine is a picture of Israel spiritually, in the past and in particular with the requirement for fruitfulness. The fig tree is a picture of Israel nationally or politically in the present. (There are three references to this in the ministry of the Lord Jesus: in connection with prophecy, Matt.24.32-36; miracle, Mk.11.12-14,20-23; and parable, Lk.13.6-10.) The olive tree is a picture of Israel dispensationally, to come into a place of blessing in the future, Rom.11.25.
The Image Realised
The Lord Jesus is now applying the figure of the vine to Himself. There is, however, an important addition: “I am the true vine” or ‘I am the vine, the true’, in contrast to the sad history of the nation. This of course is one of the great “I am” statements of the Lord, which, like four of the others, is repeated for emphasis, in this case in v.5. The references are as follows, with the superscript R indicating those which are repeated:
“I am the bread of lifeR” 6.35; “the living bread which came down from heaven” 6.51
“I am the light of the worldR” 8.12; 9.5
“I am the doorR” 10.7,9
“I am the good shepherdR” 10.11,14
“I am the resurrection, and the life” 11.25
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” 14.6
“I am the true vineR” 15.1; “the vine” 15.5
“I am the Son of God” 10.36 – the only direct reference in John but implied indirectly elsewhere e.g. 19.7 (compare Matt.27.43 for the only other direct reference).
The title “I am” is, of course, an affirmation of essential Deity. It is found in other parts of John’s Gospel, for example, 8.24,28,58 and 18.5, where eternality and absolute Divine power are demonstrated respectively. In the latter case those who came to arrest Christ are found prostrate on their faces (not on their backs!) before Him in involuntary worship at the affirmation of His essential Deity.
The fact that He is “true” is also affirmed elsewhere in John’s Gospel (see 18.37,38) as well as in other passages of the New Testament. In the writings of John He is:
The Truth — Jn.14.6 – to believe as the way to the Father
The true Light — Jn.1.9 – for illumination to give guidance in the pathway
The true Bread — Jn.6.32 – to feast upon providing sustenance
The true Vine — Jn.15.1 – in Whom we abide to give fruitfulness and joy
The true Witness — Rev.3.14 – to Whom we listen as the basis of restoration
The true God — 1Jn.5.20 – for adoration as the object of worship
The important picture in the context is that of “the true vine”. God had looked for fruit from the nation set in a privileged position, namely “justice” and “righteousness” Isa.5.1-7, but instead there was “oppression” and “a cry”; they only “brought forth wild grapes”. What God failed to find in the nation He found in Christ.
The Husbandman or Vinedresser
Fruitfulness requires tender care. The Vinedresser in this case is none other than the Father. Paul acted as a father to the Thessalonian believers, 1Thess.2.11, and to the Corinthian saints, 1Cor.4.15, both of which are excellent examples for God’s people today. The possessive adjective used by the Saviour is interesting: “My Father”; not ‘our Father’. “His relation was unoriginated and essential, ours by grace and regeneration”1.
1. Vine, W. E. “New Testament Word Pictures”. Thomas Nelson, 2015.
The Variety of Branches – vv.2-6
There is a variety of branches mentioned in the narrative. Each of them will be looked at in turn.
The Fruitless Branch – v.2a
The Identity of the Branch
There have been three possibilities suggested as to the identity of this branch. Some have suggested that this is a mere professor and give Judas as an example. This cannot be the case, for several reasons:
Firstly, “every branch” is taken away. The fact that there are still professors in the church is indubitable. A Biblical case is the church at Laodicea where it is possible that there was not one true believer and the risen Lord was outside the door. In addition, in the world the tares and the wheat grow together, Matt.13.24-30: they can only be distinguished at the time of fruit bearing. Secondly, the branch is said to be “in Me” vv.2,4 (twice),5,6. Once we are in Christ we are in Him forever. Thirdly, the subject of the passage is fruit-bearing, not spiritual life, as indicated earlier.
Another suggestion is that this is a believer taken away in death. While there is no doubt this sometimes happens, as was the case at Corinth as detailed in 1Cor.11.30, it certainly does not happen to every believer who fails to bear fruit.
The Activity of the Husbandman
What then is the true identity of this branch? It refers to a genuine believer whose life for the moment has become fruitless. At one time fruit was evident but now that same believer “beareth not fruit”. This is when the activity of the husbandman or the vinedresser comes into play: “He taketh away”. The verb is used 120 times in the New Testament and means to bear away, carry off, lift up from the ground, for example, in Jn.8.59 (“took up stones”), in Mk.16.18 (“take up serpents”), and in Acts 20.9 (“taken up dead”). This is the idea here: the branches had become ‘earth-trailers’ and needed to be lifted up and cleaned. To allow blossoms to germinate and bear fruit the husbandman lifts up the branches and puts them on sticks or stones. It is possible we were once active but are now trailing the earth. The call of business (contrast Lk.2.49), the desire for education, the passion for sport or pleasure (Jms.5.5; contrast Heb.11.25) or the pull of possessions (compare Mk.10.22) may have caused spiritual poverty. If the branch is left trailing the earth, the energy for fruit bearing is diverted to the soil and no fruit results!
The Fruitful Branch – vv.2b-5
God desires that there will be “fruit” v.2, “more fruit” v.2, “much fruit” v.8, and fruit that remains, v.16, that is, He desires continual spiritual progress, Heb.6.1. This is effected on a twofold basis:
Cleansing – vv.2b,3
Cleansing in these verses is also twofold. Firstly it is initial and comprehensive: “ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you” v.3. This is the same idea as intimated by the Lord in Jn.13.10,11, where the word “washed” of v.10 means ‘bathed all over’. It also concurs with the effect of “the word of truth” in Eph.1.13 and Jms.1.18 (compare also 1Pet.1.23). The “washing of regeneration” has been experienced, Titus 3.5.
Secondly cleansing is continual: “He purgeth it” with a view to bearing “more fruit”. This parallels the word “wash” of Jn.13.10, where cleansing is required on a continuing basis. This cleansing of filth and impurity (removing what would interfere with growth and production of fruit) is brought about by the application of the Word to the life of the believer (reading, studying, meditating). This keeps him clean, and though it takes time and involves much effort, it is necessary.
Communion – vv.4,5
The exhortation to communion is given in the imperative which opens v.4: “Abide in Me”. It has a lovely corollary if truly implemented, “and I in you”. This is an echo of the truth stated in Jn.14.23. The fact of being indwelt by Divine Persons is not something we can easily conceive but the affirmation surely gives a sense of dignity and honour to the believer.
The necessity for abiding is illustrated in v.4b: “the branch cannot bear fruit of itself”. Without the vital link to the vine, affirmed as a necessity in v.4c (“except it abide in the vine”) there can be no possibility of fruit. However, there is the possibility of “much fruit” v.5, based on the continual abiding, but with an added caution: “without Me ye can do nothing”.
The Withered Branch – v.6
In this case there is not only the absence of fruit but the caution of severe action. Again there is some disagreement as to the nature of the withered branch but the overall context must again decide that a true believer is in view, albeit with a sad end.
The Reason for the Withering – v.6a
The reason is categorically stated: a failure to abide in the vine. Note however that the branch has been “in Me” (hence the reality is established) though no longer abiding. The withering happens simultaneously with the cessation of vital communion with Christ. “It is not future … but an inevitable accompaniment of the separation”2. However, it does have future consequences.
2. Westcott, B. F. “The Gospel according to St John”. James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1958.
The Persons Who Gather – v.6b
It should be noted that the vinedresser is not doing the gathering: “men gather them”. The “branch” is no longer effective and is therefore classified “as a branch”. So long as the failure to abide persists, the husbandman cannot provide the necessary care for fruit bearing. The character of the vine wood is useless except for fruit bearing: “… Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? … it is cast into the fire for fuel” Ezek.15.3,4.
The Sad End - v.6c
The sad conclusion is that the believer, if he stops bearing fruit, is ineffective: no value to the world or the assembly; to use the language of 1Cor.9.27 he becomes a “castaway [‘rejected’ J.N.D.]”. There is no further purpose for his existence: “a lamp not shining in the darkness cannot be neutral; it becomes a positive nuisance”3. Public testimony is gone, spiritual vitality is diminished, leading to service which cannot stand the test of fire: “… if any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss” 1Cor.3.15. We cannot depend on our own resources to discharge our ministry.
3. Rogers, E.W. Notes of Oral Ministry, around 1970s.
The Fruit – vv.7-11
The first six verses can be summarised in the imperative words of v.4: “Abide in Me”, while vv.7-11 can be summarised in the words of v.7: “If ye abide in Me”. The result in this case is a lovely variety of fruit. The result of abiding makes the sacrifice well worthwhile. There are four blossoms:
Answered Prayer – v.7
By abiding in Christ and having Christ’s words (plural) abiding in us, our petitions would effectively be echoes of Christ’s words. We would be controlled by Him in our asking and therefore assured of an appropriate response. It is an amazing declaration but again echoes earlier and later affirmations in the ‘Upper Room Ministry’. Earlier the Lord had said, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it” Jn.14.13,14. Later He will say, “And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled” Jn.16.23,24, R.V. See also v.16 in chapter 15.
Assured Glory – v.8
There is glory to the Father as a result of our bearing much fruit. The fruit can take a variety of forms, for example, spiritual conduct, evidencing the fruit of the Spirit, Gal.5.22,23; worthiness in the believer’s walk, Eph.4.1 etc.; the blessings of salvation seen in new converts, Acts chapters 2 to 4, particularly Acts 2.41; 4.4. All such fruit results in glory being brought to the Father, for example, in the last case with more hearts to love Him, more lips to praise Him and more feet to walk in His ways. There is also a cognate result in the life of the believer in confirmation of true discipleship (in the phrase “be My disciples”, “be” means ‘become’) and a continuation of growth and therefore of more fruit.
Abiding Love – vv.9,10
Its Nature – v.9
It is the reciprocated love of Deity: “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you”. This love is not to be judged by the luxury of feeling but by the desire to please the Lord. It is an act of the will. Neither has it to be spasmodic: “continue ye in My love”.
Its Assurance – v.10
Abiding in Christ’s love requires the keeping of His commandments. He has shown the example; we are to follow Him: “even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love”. The order is important: commandments come before love! Often today the order is reversed with the emphasis being on the demonstration of love rather than the requirement to adhere closely to the commandments. The clear teaching is that keeping His commandments will result in an assured awareness of abiding in His love.
Abundant Joy – v.11
The Lord wants us to share in His joy. He wants those who abide in Him to have something belonging to Him, namely His joy, abiding (“remain” means ‘abide’) in us. He has already focussed on “My peace” Jn.14.27, and “My love” Jn.15.9,10, and now He speaks of “My joy” Jn.15.11; 17.13. Each of these is seen in Gal.5.22: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …” The joy of the Lord becomes here the joy of the believer and it is progressive: “may be fulfilled” R.V. Thus the joy is not only to be “full” but progressively so, in that it permeates the continuing development of spiritual life. Joy here is linked to love and peace, both of which require sacrifice; there is no joy where there is no sacrifice. In Joel 1.12 “joy is withered away from the sons of men”. What is the reason? It is given in Joel 1.9: “The meat [‘meal’] offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn”: no sacrifice; no joy. As examples of where there is sacrifice linked with joy see Heb.1.9; Jn.16.20-24; Jms.1.2.
THE ISSUES OF UNION WITH CHRIST – vv.12-17
In this paragraph there is an outworking of the abiding exhorted in the first paragraph. This is enacted in the atmosphere of “love” mentioned four times: in vv.12 (twice),13,17; in addition to the five references in vv.9,10. Indeed the commandment to love encapsulates the paragraph with almost the same appeal in both vv.12,17 with the main difference being the emphasis in v.12 on the character of the love: “as I have loved you”. In other words our love has to be after the pattern of Christ’s love, which is expanded in vv.13-16. This takes the character of our love a stage higher than that found in the Old Testament, where the command is to “love thy neighbour as thyself” Lev.19.18. The bar is now raised and the example clearly set before us.
The responsibility now shifts from our relation to Christ to our relation with “one another” vv.12,17. To give credence and a lever to this command the believer is seen as a friend, (not as a servant), as chosen and ordained, in all cases linked to Christ.
There are four sections in this paragraph:
v.12 — The Commandment to Love One Another
v.13 — The True Nature of Love
vv.14-16 — The People Whom Christ Loves
v.17 — The Commandment to Love One Another
The Commandment to Love One Another – v.12
The Lord Jesus has just spoken in this section about things that are His: “My love” vv.9,10, “My commandments” v.10, and “My joy” v.11. He is now particularising on “My commandment” which He has previously intimated as “a new commandment” Jn.13.34. He wants the disciples to be in no doubt: it is His settled focus; it has become a special property of Christ’s and is now being committed to them for their obedience. They have to “love one another”. It is of course a doctrine developed in detail later in the New Testament. Its character is here affirmed: “as I have loved you” and been amply demonstrated already in the upper room in chapter 13. Perhaps the Lord is gently drawing their attention to their failure to take the sacrificial place on that occasion.
The True Nature of Love – v.13
Having commanded the disciples to love one another, the Lord intimates the true sacrificial nature of love. It may involve the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends. In Rom.5.8 we are told of the extent of God’s love: “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In the latter case the object of God’s love is “sinners”, whereas in the former the life is being laid down for “friends”. The extent of Divine love is immeasurable: the “world” Jn.3.16; the “church” Eph.5.25; and “me” Gal.2.20. The standard is high: “as I have loved you”!
The People Whom Christ Loves – vv.14-16
In this paragraph four different classes of believers are delineated as the objects of Christ’s love: friends, servants (not seen as such here), chosen and ordained.
“Friends … not servants” – vv.14,15
They are called “friends” for two reasons. In the first place they implement Christ’s command, v.14. Indeed this is a condition for being called friends. It would be totally inappropriate for one of Christ’s friends not to do what He says, “whatsoever I command you”. This is beautifully illustrated in the case of Abraham in Jms.2.21-24. Abraham had been asked to offer up “Isaac his son upon the altar” v.21. His obedience was immediate and comprehensive and hence “he was called the Friend of God” v.23; see also Isa.41.8.
In the second place friends receive Christ’s communication, v.15. He lets them into His innermost secrets. He says, “all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you”. We might wonder when the Lord heard from the Father. “We’re not left in any doubt ‘… The Lord God hath given Me the tongue of the learned [‘instructed’ J.N.D.], that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned [‘instructed’ J.N.D.; ‘they that are taught’ R.V.; ‘disciples’ R.V. margin]. The Lord God hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back’ Isa.50.4,5. Again He said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ Matt.4.4. Thus we are left in no doubt as to the source of the words. Daily communion with the Father resulted in daily communications from the Father which were then in turn ‘given’ to His own. We could well learn the lesson … ‘Lord speak to me that I may speak …’”4
4. Banks, W.M. “The Prayer of God’s Son in John 17” in “The Glory of Prayer”. Assembly Testimony Publication, 2011.
These communications received from the Father were “made known” to His disciples. Because of this knowledge the Lord says, “I call you not servants [doulos]; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth”. Not that we are not servants of the Master in the sense of carrying out the work assigned to us, v.20, but we are more: we are His friends, permitted to hear the innermost secrets from the intercommunion of Divine Persons. In this context we are informed inter alia in relation to His going, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the new relationship with the Father and the coming again of the Lord Jesus for His own. Servants do not have this privilege: it is reserved for friends! The closeness of the relationship is further emphasised in the ninefold references to “ye” and “you” in vv.15,16.
The Chosen – v.16a
The fact of Divine choice is very beautifully emphasised in the ‘Upper Room Ministry’. The disciples were chosen by Christ: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you”; its origin lies with Him, not them. It is a further assurance of Christ’s love. What an honour to be one of His chosen. There was no accident: “I know whom I have chosen” Jn.13.18. “The reference is to the historic fact of the calling”5 Lk.6.13; Acts 1.2; see also Jn.6.70. “The power of the office of the apostles lay for them in the fact that it was not self-chosen”6.
5. Westcott, B.F., ibid.
While the sovereign choice of Christ is here focussed on the apostolate, the principle surely holds good for all of God’s people. We did not take the initiative; it was a sovereign act of Divine grace that chose us: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” Eph.1.4,5. Leckie has a lovely summary of these verses: “God is seen to be moving for His own glory and the satisfaction of His own heart. In verse 4 He would have a people before (katenopion) Him in love; in verse 5 He would have a people to (eis) Himself as sons. Election as taught in verse 4 has to do with a sovereign God, is connected with the past and is related to persons; predestination as taught in verse 5 has to do with the Father’s good pleasure, is connected with the future and is related to a position marked out for persons (see also Romans 8.29) … The election of this unique day is individual as is also the sonship.”7
7. Leckie, A. “Ephesians” in “What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd., 1983.
The Ordained – v.16b-d
The idea in the word “ordained” is that of being assigned a special position with specific privileges and duties. This is exemplified in the case of the Lord Jesus in Heb.1.2 as the “appointed heir of all things”; of Abraham in Rom.4.17 as “a father of many nations” and of Paul in 2Tim.1.11 as “a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles”. The duties delineated in the verse before us are indicated by the threefold repetition of “that”:
Responsible Activity – v.16b: “… that ye should go and bring forth fruit”
The exhortation to go parallels the command in Matt.28.19, “Go ye therefore …” There, as here, they were to bear fruit, which exemplifies the subject of the earlier verses of the chapter. It would not be inappropriate to see the fruit here as similar to that of Matthew chapter 28, namely making disciples, moulding them by teaching and marking them by baptism. It would be done in physical separation from their Master but supported by the necessary intercession indicated in v.16d below.
Effective Activity – v.16c: “… that your fruit should remain”
The Lord always desires that the service undertaken by His “ordained” disciples will yield permanent fruit. Perhaps the reason for much backsliding is the lack of effective and demanding Biblically-orientated and doctrinally-based gospel preaching and ministry. However, it is good to remember that the apostolic band was effective in its activity, leading to the establishment of the dispensational Church and local churches, which, of course, have “remain[ed]” to the present day, Eph.2.20-22!
Dependent Activity (dependent on the Father) – v.16d: “… that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My Name, He may give it you”.
The subject of prayer already referred to in v.7 is now presented with a different emphasis. The prayer of v.7 was essentially “regarded as the echo of Christ’s words. Here it is regarded as flowing from the new connection (‘ask of the Father’) realised in the revelation of the Son (‘in My Name’)”8. It is interesting to compare this aspect of prayer with that of Jn.14.13,14, where the Lord fulfils the request: “I will do it”; while here the Father is the One Who gives the answer (compare also Jn.16.23).
8. Westcott, B.F., ibid.
The Commandment to Love One Another – v.17
The paragraph ends as it began: those who are friends (not servants), chosen and ordained, must keep on loving one another. The command is repeated but the standard is omitted (“as I have loved you”): it seems to be assumed that the love of Christ has been amply demonstrated in the verses in between and there is therefore no further need for the character of that love to be emphasised.
THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP – vv.18-27
The subject now turns to the believer as a “servant [doulos: ‘slave’ or ‘bondservant’]” v.20, responsible to witness in relation to the world. Not surprisingly the subject of “hatred”, referred to eight times, comes to the fore: in vv.18 (three times),19,23 (twice),24,25. The love among the believing community, indicated in the previous paragraph, is surely a necessary lever for effective witness in the light of the hatred of the world.
There are three sections in the paragraph:
vv.18-21 The Basis of the World’s Hatred of the Believer
vv.22-25 The Basis of the World’s Hatred of Christ
vv.26,27 The Power to Overcome the World’s Hatred
The Basis of the World’s Hatred of the Believer – vv.18-21
There are three reasons given in this section for the world’s hatred of the believer. The first and fundamental reason is the believer’s link with Christ. It hated Him (the idea is with a persistent hatred) in fulfilment of Ps.69.4, so will hate the believer who is linked to Him, v.18.
A second reason is the believer’s distinctiveness from the world. The word for “world” here is kosmos, indicative of the world system in opposition to God. It is used five times in v.19. The world loves its own. They do not present any challenge to the world’s secular, humanistic and relativistic way of thinking. The believer is altogether different. His thinking and acting are based on absolutes. The Bible is his authoritative source. He is “not of the world” as to spiritual standing and presents a challenge to the world’s lifestyle. In general holiness is not a consideration in the world’s thinking but is fundamental to one who has been “chosen … out of the world” as to sovereign electing grace, to be distinct from it. The link with the world is referenced four times in the prayer of God’s Son in chapter 17 and presents important lessons.
There are governing principles lying on the surface of the prayer in relation to these references. The development is as follows. His own are seen as being:
“out of the world” v.6,
“in the world” v.11,
“not of the world” vv.14,16,
“sent … into the world” v.18,
as to electing provision
as to physical location
as to spiritual condition
as to evangelical mission
The above order is altogether important. Those who are involved in evangelistic activity must be manifestly different from the world. We do not become ‘like them to win them’. It is the very opposite: our distinctiveness is our strength. A casual approach is not in keeping with the message we proclaim. The world’s methods are not ours! We must not compromise with a value system based on worldly thinking: we are not to console by our life but to condemn by our unworldliness. Hatred by the world is, therefore, not surprising.
A third and final reason in this section for the world’s hatred is the believer’s subjection to the Master: “… the servant is not greater than his lord” v.20. As the Lord indicates, this principle has already been stated in 13.16 (see also Matt.10.28). However, there it was in the form of a gentle rebuke: the Lord was giving them an example which in the context should have been unnecessary, for they should have done what He did! Here, however, it is in the form of encouragement or perhaps caution. Note that in contrast to what was said in v.15 (“I call you not servants [slaves]”), the Lord here assumes that they are servants! The description is introduced here to illustrate, by association with the Master, the reason for the world’s hatred. In v.15 the subject was that of the intimacy of Divine communication, which of course is given to “friends”.
“The servant [slave] is not greater than his lord” in three particulars:
Firstly, v.20b – in the opposition encountered: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”.
Secondly, v.20c – in the response to Divine communication: “if they have kept My saying [logos], they will keep yours also”. It is not clear whether this is said in irony: “if they have kept My word [which they did not!], they will keep yours also [which they will not!]”. In this case it would be a warning to the disciples not to expect a spectacular response to their preaching. On the other hand there were some who did respond to the word of Christ (the disciples themselves are a good example) and perhaps there is encouragement with reservation.
Thirdly, v.21 – in ignorance of the commission given: “they know not Him that sent Me”, so they will not know the “Lord” Who sent them. The reception they gave Him would be similar to the reception they will give them!
The Basis of the World’s Hatred of Christ – vv.22-25
There is an interesting parallelism in vv.22,23 and 24:
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also” vv.22,23.
“If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father” v.24.
Thus in vv.22,23 there is an emphasis on the words of Christ, while in v.24 the emphasis is on the works of Christ. The fact of the nation’s sin is emphasised in both cases. They refused to accept His words as a communication from the Father Who had sent Him, and refused the evidential value of His works as a demonstration of His Sonship. The very purpose of the signs was to prove “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” Jn.20.31. The result, however, was hatred in both cases; not only of the Lord Himself but the Father Who had sent Him. They were, however, without excuse.
There is a parallel with the same order (words and works) in Jn.14.10,11. In addition, the parallel extends to the link with the Father in both cases. The rejection and hatred were thus even more severe and the sin more extreme. There was really no cause for the hatred. However, it came as no surprise to the Saviour. It had already been foretold in the Law: “… they hated Me without a cause” v.25, quoting Ps.35.19. The fulfilment of Scripture was of course evidence that all was moving under the overall direction of God to implement His plan of redemption. He was in control!
The Power to Overcome the World’s Hatred – vv.26,27
The section and the chapter conclude with a word of encouragement, not only for those who experience the hatred of the world, but those who require necessary help in bearing fruit. The Saviour is going to send a “Comforter”: One sent alongside to help. It is interesting that here He is sent by the Lord (as also in Jn.16.7), whereas in Jn.14.26 He is sent by the Father, albeit in the Lord’s name. In this latter reference it is in the context of the Lord’s going back to the Father. In the former case the context is one of hatred because of an intimate link with the Lord, so He is going to ensure that adequate help is available. It was fulfilled at Pentecost, Acts chapter 2.
There are three things indicated in relation to the Comforter:
Firstly, the significance of His name: He is called “the Spirit of truth” (see also Jn.14.17; 16.13; 1Jn.4.6). The Spirit is going to testify (witness) of Christ and as “the Spirit of truth” we can be assured that that testimony is reliable and authoritative.
Secondly, the eternality of His Person: “which proceedeth from [para = ‘the side of’] the Father”. The proceeding is seen to be a present and continuing reality, indicative of the Deity of the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, the purpose of His ministry: “He shall testify of Me”. His ministry will be to vindicate, exalt and glorify (see Jn.16.14) the Person of Christ, in contradistinction to the attitude of the world as seen in the earlier verses.
In addition to the witness of the Spirit there will be a parallel ministry borne by His own, v.27: “ye also shall bear witness [‘testify’]”. There is thus a twofold witness, with the believer having the honour and dignity of paralleling the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5.32). Those who had been with Christ from the beginning of His public ministry (compare 1Jn.1.1) were able to effectively witness to their Lord, having both heard His words and seen His works.
The chapter thus closes with an affirmative from the Saviour: “ye also shall bear witness [of Me]”. He was confident that a proper relationship with Himself, based on “abiding”, and a proper relationship with one another, based on “loving”, would result in the ability to witness with respect to Him effectively and with power in spite of the world’s hatred.