The fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel contains some lines spoken by Jesus that are widely known in today’s society—courtesy of the fact that they appear in many of the funeral services that are conducted each week. For people with a distant relationship with the Christian faith (as in, “I believe in God, but I don’t go to church”), this chapter is often the go-to when faced with the option of having a reading from the Bible in the funeral service of a recently-deceased relative.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2, in last week’s lectionary Gospel passage for the Fifth Sunday in Easter) often appears, as this is a comforting statement for people worrying about what the afterlife will be like. Or “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (14:18, in this week’s lectionary Gospel offering for the Sixth Sunday in Easter), as a further note of reassurance about what lies ahead.
Or, indeed, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (14:27, in the lectionary Gospel for the Sixth Sunday in Easter in Year C), as a comforting affirmation for mourners to hear at the time of parting. All quite appropriate and pastorally helpful.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday, however, contains more than this note of reassurance. It also offers one of the rare references, in this fourth Gospel, to the Holy Spirit, here identified as “another Advocate … the Spirit of truth” (14:16–17). The word translated by the NRSV as Advocate appears here, and at John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7—but nowhere else in this Gospel, nor indeed does it feature in any other canonical Gospel.
The word used is a Greek word that is capable of various English translations: Advocate, Counsellor, Helper, Comforter, or Friend; or it can simply be transliterated, as the New Jerusalem Bible does, as Paraclete. See my explorations of this word at
As well as this relatively rare Johannine reference to the Spirit, this Gospel passage has Jesus speak words that are characteristic of how the unknown author of the book of signs understands the relationship of Jesus, the Son, to the Father: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:20). These words express the mystical relationship of mutual in dwelling that characterises the way that this Gospel depicts the Father—Son relationship: I in him, you in me, I in you.
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father”, says Jesus, during an extended debate in Jerusalem (10:37–38), provoking the Jewish authorities to attempt to arrest him.
In the conflict that is reported throughout chapters 8–11, Jesus debates these Jewish authorities with quite some vehemence. At the end of his disputation, he makes a bold assertion: “The Father and I are one” (10:30). The mutual indwelling of Father and Son has merged into an essential unity of being, a complete coherence of identity—at least, in the words of the Jesus we encounter in this Gospel. (It is quite different in the Synoptic Gospels.)
Wayne Meeks (in his classic article, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism”, JBL 91 (1972) 44–72) notes that the claims made about Jesus in the fourth Gospel function as reinforcements of the sectarian identity of the community. As this community had come into existence because of the claims that it had made about Jesus, so the reinforcement of the life of the new community took place, to a large degree, through the strengthening and refining of its initial claim concerning Jesus. What is said about Jesus can also be said about his followers.
Claims made about Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) thus function as markers of the emerging self–identity of the new community, over against the inadequate understandings of Jesus which continue to be held in the old community (the synagogue), still under the sway of the Pharisees. See
Some time after the conflict that took place in Jerusalem, Jesus responds to a request from Philip to “show us the Father” (14:8), saying, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10–11).
This mutual indwelling is reaffirmed in the words that Jesus prays before his arrest: “you, Father are in me and I am in you” (17:21). In that prayer, he goes on to extend the scope of his mutual in dwelling; he dwells, not only in the Father, but also in his disciples, and they dwell in him. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me … [may they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (17:21–23).
The mutual indwelling of the Son with the disciples is developed particularly in the teachings that Jesus gives concerning the vine: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” (15:4–5).
The vine, of course, was a standard image for Israel (Ps 80:8–10; Jos 10:1) featuring in this way in assorted prophetic parables (Isa 5:1–7; Jer 2:21; 8:13; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:3–19; 18:10–14). In developing this parabolic image, Jesus applies it to his followers: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:5–7).
The sense of “abiding in” is a mysterious inner connection that binds followers to their master; but because that master has likewise been bound with the Father, the intimacy of connection between Father, Son, and disciples is clear. Thus, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:20), as we hear this coming Sunday. Those who are linked inextricably with the Son are linked through his intimate connection with the Father. Father, Son, and Disciples: the Johannine version of the trinity!
On my view of the way that this three-part unity is developed in John’s Gospel, see more detail at