Below are my notes on the close of chapter 14 of John’s gospel. I hope you enjoy them, and that they bring you great hope as we look forward to one day seeing our Lord face to face.
14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
Joy in Christ by the Spirit
Here Jesus takes the teaching to another level. Not only do we find peace in Him, but He also is the source of our joy. And He is teaching the disciples here that if He doesn’t go away to the Father they will not have that joy. What must have been a very difficult, and even strange, thing to hear for the them, now makes sense to us. For we know that the Spirit of God brings us Christ’s peace, but also Christ’s joy.
If you loved Me
I almost missed this at first. I had studied this verse for two weeks and, of course, came up with a bunch of notes and thoughts on what Jesus is saying here. But a small comment from theologian F.F. Bruce got my mind turning about what Jesus says here “if you loved me.”
Bruce says, “The words ‘if you loved me’ in this context imply that love involves some insight into the heart and mind of the person loved and some sympathy with him in hope and purpose.”
The question arose in my mind, “how do I love?” Do I love Jesus because of the benefits He gives me only? Certainly this is a legitimate reason to love Him. But do I love Him because He loved me first? Do I reciprocate affection to Him because of His tenderness toward me, an unlovable sinner. Do I look within His heart and mind and feel affection for Him because of who He is, and not just what He has done for me? Now, the two ideas are closely drawn together – works being an expression of the heart.
But think further on this as I did. I have affection for other beautiful things, and other things or people in this world that I enjoy. My wife is a beautiful woman, and I enjoy spending time with her – but there are times when I peer inside her character and mind and I am warmed because of who she is (or more appropriately who God is making her), and at this realization there is an affection kindled in my heart toward her that cannot be explained only on the basis of what she has done for me. I recognize beauty and I love it.
So too should we recognize (in a much more profound way) the depths of the riches and wisdom of God, the beauty of His character, the grace and mercy and awesomeness of all that He is. This (especially in light of our own undeserving character) ought to kindle within us a love for Him for who He is. He is beautiful.
Trinitarian Roles (a sort of side note, if you will…)
The next thing I wanted to remark on in relation to this passage is something foundational, though only tangentially related to the passage, and that is the nature of the somewhat difficult saying by Christ, “the Father is greater than I.” Herman Ridderbos is right when he declares that Jesus isn’t primarily seeking to teach us about the Trinity here. So this is really a side note to the main discourse of what we’re focused on here. However, I also feel that Christians today trip over verses like this because we haven’t spent much time thinking about the Trinity so when we come to a verse like this it throws us for a loop.
We must understand the difference between roles and essence or ontology if we’re to understand the trinity. In the trinity there are three persons, yet all one essence (one God). Each member of the trinity has a different function, or role – that is why we can rightly say they are unique. The Spirit is not Christ Jesus and Jesus is not the Father, and so on. But within these roles there is a hierarchy. It is something we see throughout the New Testament – especially in the words of Christ Himself. Jesus is submissive to the Father, but this is not a subordination of his being/essence/ontology, rather, it is a submission to God in role. The Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son who send Him, and He speaks only what He hears, we are told. So in role the Spirit is obedient to the Son and the Father to speak to us what He has heard from them (so to speak).
Therefore, in no way is the Father “greater” in essence than the Son or the Spirit, but rather His role is hierarchically above the other two in the redemptive dispensation (as some theologians would say).
Perhaps the best way to think of this is in the picture of marriage. The man and the wife are both equal in worth and they are equal in substance/essence – that is they are made up of the same material (skin and bone and blood and water etc.). But, within marriage there are roles and the husband is said to be the head of the wife. The wife is told she must submit to the husband – this is a picture of Christ’s submission to the Father. Likewise, the husband and wife are said to be “one flesh” once married. This symbolizes the oneness we find in the trinity – yet, they are also distinct persons with their own roles.
Obviously any analogy breaks down, and ours breaks down here because we are sinful and do not mirror God in the way that perhaps we are meant to. But the image should be close enough to begin to understand the distinguishing difference between role and ontology/worth etc.
You Want Me to Go Away…
Now, the main thrust of this passage is not simply Trinitarian (or even mainly Trinitarian), but rather it is Jesus’ way of “extending their (the disciples) vision to a higher plane than what they have thus far been capable of, so that, when these things happen, they will not remain behind in despair and unbelief but be in a state of joy and expectancy” (Ridderbos).
So even though this verse gives us another insight into the amazing roles within the Trinity, it is likely not Jesus’ intention here to make a sort of Sunday School lesson for the disciples about the Trinity. Instead, He is driving at something different, specifically He is trying to get the disciples to understand something that would be seemingly impossible for them to understand at the time: it is better for them if He leaves.
Again, Ridderbos is helpful:
But in the process these words have all too often been abstracted from the line of thought pursued in the text, where Jesus is obviously not concerned to teach his disciples about the nature of his divine personhood or the distinction between his human and his divine nature – or to detract from the glory in which he participated as the Son of God (cf. 5:20f.). All that is at issue here is what is “more,” “greater,” or “more profitable,” (cf. 16:7) for the disciples: Jesus’ remaining with them on earth or his going away to the Father?
Based on everything we see here, to ask the question is to answer it. Jesus wants the disciples to know that it is to their advantage that he leaves and goes to the Father. And this is because He will be continuing His mission through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom they will be receiving.
This isn’t to say that it wasn’t an amazing blessing to be around Jesus, but when you aren’t filled with His Spirit that blessing doesn’t make as much sense. Let me explain that statement…In the gospels we have numerous accounts of the disciples not really getting what it was that Jesus was doing. They didn’t fully understand His plan. That changes at Pentecost. In short, in order to enjoy Jesus for all He is we need the Spirit. In order to work effectively in obedience to Him, we need His Spirit. We “can do nothing” on our own.
And so we see here that it is to our advantage that Jesus goes away. And this is perhaps why He uses the description “greater” when describing the Father. The work that He will do at the Father’s side is ushering in a “greater” work on earth – this accords with what He said earlier that we would do “greater” works than He had done on earth. The dispensation of the church age (if I may use those words without being misunderstood…) is one in which God is working an even greater work than He had ever done before. Even creation itself has not so fully and clearly revealed His character and heart as the millions upon millions of new creations He has worked in His people since the Son’s death, burial and resurrection.
Had Jesus never sent His Spirit, we would be left here on earth to struggle and fight against sin on our own – a losing battle with no internal confidence/guarantee of hope for the future.
Thus Jesus is here preparing to usher in a new age on earth – this is big big news. And it only makes sense if we understand that the entire purpose from our vantage point is God revealing Himself to us, using us to do His work in the new age (the church age, the end of the age, the new covenant age and so forth) that we really understand the significance of what Jesus is saying here and are then able to “rejoice” as He says we ought to. Jesus is aiming for us to know and understand the joy that we have in Him and His “great” work here on earth in and through us.
In a personal way, it is as if Jesus is saying, “In order for you to become who I made you to be, I must go away.” Redemption in this way, only begins at the cross, but continues with the carrying out of Christ’s work within His creatures. This work will be consummated at His coming again when all the heavens and earth will be renewed (Is. 66:22-23).
14:29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
Here we have one of the beautiful by-products of Jesus’ leaving, and one of the most confusing if taken out of context. He is saying that in order for them to believe He must go away. That’s the long and short of it. He is loading them up with a lot of truth now, so that when the Spirit comes He will remind them of everything He has said and then they will believe.
What this ought to tell us is that the Spirit Himself has a special role within the Godhead, namely to quicken people to life and lead them to understanding and belief.
We could see Jesus with our own eyes and behold the miracles, and hear His amazing teaching with our ears, yet without a working of God in our hearts there would be no movement toward God. Seeing is not believing unless that sight is from the heart!
Proof that He is God
One of the things I really appreciate about this verse was something Dr. Bruce Ware pointed out in a lecture on systematic theology, and that is that when Jesus says this, He is basically also claiming to be God. I have to admit that I didn’t really get that at first. But Ware pointed out that He is saying all of these things in advance so that later they’ll believe – in Him – and one of the things that God does in Isaiah 41-49 is show that because He can tell them the future, He is God.
So one of the characteristics of being God is that you know the future, and even ordain the future. That is one of the primary arguments God uses through Isaiah to show the people of Israel that their false idols aren’t really gods at all, they are simply wood. Can wood and gold and silver tell us the future? No. But God can, and here in John 14:29 Jesus is saying that when all of these events transpire in the future, they will know and believe that He is God.
14:30-31 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,  but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
The Close of One Age…the Beginning of Another
The first thing we need to note here is the words “no longer”, “for” and “is coming.” These words signal the end of one age and the beginning of a new age (as I’ve hinted out above). This is easy to miss because of the overwhelming nature of the context and content here, but its important, I think, to see that Satan’s “coming” is like a red flag that signals that a series of events is unfolding and that a new age of redemptive history is about to be ushered in.
If you recall, we saw the same thing in chapter 12 when the Gentiles came seeking Jesus (12:20-26) and this sort of set off Jesus to say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Here we see the same thing going on. The hour of the Son of Man’s glorification has come – keep this in the back of your mind as you see Jesus react to this series of events with His purposeful movement toward the cross. Note how He is the one who gets up from the table, He is the one who leads them to the Garden, He is the one who the whole time is in complete control. There is more going on here than just one man’s life; the entirety of world history is changing and will mark the time from his life and death onward as a new age in history – both redemptive and secular. Such is the import of the events about to transpire.
Ridderbos says of this passage, “It bears the eschatological stamp of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the domain of Satan, the power of darkness (cf. Luke 22:53).”
No Claim on Me
I was listening to a sermon on this section of Scripture by John Piper and he was 100% right on the money. He noted that what Jesus was saying here by remarking that “the ruler of this world” has “no claim on me” is that Jesus was completely sinless. Satan had no “claim” no “hook” (as Piper said) in Him. He had nothing to accuse Jesus of.
John MacArthur and D.A. Carson both agree with MacArthur noting that, “‘Satan has nothing in Me’ explains why the Devil could not hold Him in death. The phrase is a Hebrew idiom meaning that the Devil could make no legal claim against Jesus.”
Leon Morris explains it very simply, “It is sin that gives Satan his hold on people, but there is no sin in Jesus as there is in others.”
But Jesus doesn’t say this to declare that He is righteous and has fulfilled the law. No, He is saying it in the context of explaining why He must go to the cross. Therefore He is declaring boldly that He isn’t going to die because of sin, or the power of Satan. He isn’t under the control of Satan, rather, He is the one in control! ABSOLUTE control. Jesus is making His way sovereignly to the cross. And He wants the disciples (and us by extension) to fully and clearly understand that all that comes to pass does so because He has sovereignly ordained it.
In the next few hours there will be events that spoil the intimacy His followers have enjoyed with Him. It is going to shake them up – in a big way. They are going to be asking themselves all manner of difficult questions. But Jesus wants to ensure that one of the questions they do NOT ask themselves was whether or not He meant for this to happen.
Historical Side Note…
It occurred to me as I meditated on verse 30 that Christian thought has evolved over the ages on the role of the Devil in the atonement of Christ. Verse 30 specifically references that the Devil had no “claim” on Christ. Jesus seems to be saying that there was no sin in Him, as I just mentioned. But furthermore, there was nothing that Jesus owed the Devil. This really gave me comfort during the week as I meditated on the power and preeminence of the Lord.
During the medieval ages there were many who held to what is called the “ransom theory of atonement” in which Christ died to satisfy a sort of debt that mankind had to Satan. That He was paying a ransom of sorts to the ruler of this world, and that when Jesus died, that debt was cancelled.
The confusion might come from misunderstanding of Colossians two where we read the following:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV)
With the nature of our sin being framed in legal terminology in such close literary proximity to the explanation of Christ’s triumph at the cross, perhaps people were confused as to exactly whom this sin debt was owed. But the Bible doesn’t say here that we owed our debt of sin to Satan, rather the offense is framed first in relation to our relationship with God. Then, Paul refocuses on Christ’s work in verse 15 and speaks of His great triumph over the rulers – of which He disarmed at that time (an important verse for understanding the nature of Satan’s binding and the spread of the gospel in the church age).
Now it can only rightfully be said that we owed God a debt because it is God whom we sin against. Even though the minds of believers are held captive in a way by Satan, this isn’t to say that He owns humanity in anyway, nor does Christ owe Satan anything – for God by His very nature cannot be said to owe any creature anything since He already owns all things and controls all things. Rather, the sin debt we owe is to God. So, as the saying goes, Jesus saved us from Himself, for Himself, by Himself.
This “ransom” theory of atonement was made popular, as I understand it, by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), but St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) shattered this theory to pieces with his famous work (written while in exile in France) Cur Deus Homo (“why the God-man”) where He explained what have come to call the “Satisfaction” theory of the atonement. Anselm basically said that when we sin we offend God’s honor. Because God is greater than us, we have offended a greater being – in fact, because our God is eternal, our sin is eternally offensive. Thus the offense of the sin rises with the honor of the one to whom you have sinned against. Today we speak of “righteousness” rather than “honor”, and perhaps this is rightfully so. Now, because this sin is so grievous, only God could pay for it – man has no ability to pay for something that is eternal. However, Anselm pointed out that because the sin was committed by man, it was man that must pay for the sin. But how would this be? Enter the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus had to be fully God in order to pay for such an eternal offense, but He also had to be fully man, or the sin could not have been paid for because it wouldn’t have been legally viable (so to speak).
This position of Anselm’s because orthodoxy, and we still hold it to this day. The verse we’ve looked at above shows us why – it wasn’t Satan who held any ability to accuse Jesus of sin, Jesus was fully righteous (His righteousness would later be imputed to our account). Therefore, Jesus wasn’t going to the cross to pay Satan off, rather He went to the cross in obedience to the Father, and to that we now turn.
The Command of the Father
The verses above tell us that Jesus obeys the command of His Father – notice the roles here. Jesus is submissive to His Father as an obedient Son. This would be a real problem for us to understand if we had not already discussed how the roles within the Godhead work, and that’s why I brought it up earlier. Jesus is speaking of His humble submission to the role that He has within the trinity. He is submissive to the Father – and what a role model He is for us!
Just as He was submissive to the Father, so we too must obey His commands (John 14:15; Heb. 12:1-2)
Lastly, note why He says that He is submissive – because He wants the world to know that He loves God the Father!
What a contrast between the unbeliever who hates and is at war with God. Remember Jesus’ earlier teaching to Nicodemus:
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20-21, ESV)
See here in 3:21 where He had said that those who love God want the world to see “clearly” that their “works have been carried out in God.” Those who love God want everyone to know that they love God and that they don’t take credit for their works themselves – they have been carried out “in” God. That “in” is very important. It signals to us that what we do we do in the Spirit.
Christ did what He did because He loved God and it gave Him no greater joy than to proclaim loudly to the world that He loved God. That was His mission. That is our mission. To love God and to love others.
A Point of Transition
At this point Jesus tells the group that its time to get up and go. Presumably they’re leaving the upper room and traveling to the Garden of Gethsemane. MacArthur notes, “the phrase…signals an obvious transition in the narrative” and “While they walked, Jesus continued His teaching.” But it may not be as “obvious” as MacArthur thinks it is. Though I tend to agree with his conclusion, many reputable scholars say that there are several possible meanings for what Jesus is saying here. In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul lists four possibilities:
This statement would appear to indicate that Jesus and the disciples left the upper room, but it seems that chs. 15-17 take place still in the room. Several options are possible. (a) Jesus gave the signal but some time elapsed before they left the room. (b) They left at once, but Jesus continued His discourse on the way to Gethsemane. This would bring the prayer of ch. 17 into sharp contrast with the agony in the garden. (c) John has arranged his material topically rather than chronologically. (d) The statement of Jesus was a challenge to meet Satan rather than a signal to leave the room (that is, “up then, let us go to meet the foe”).
Whether or not Jesus is leaving the room is hard to say. It seems that from the perspective of this layman that He must be leaving and heading to the garden because of how the flow of the rest of the next two chapters go, but I am certainly open to correction on this point.
I appreciate the humility and God-centeredness of Leon Morris’ explanation:
Most of our trouble is caused by our natural inclination to expect the writer to arrange his material in accordance with out modern standards of logic and coherence. But John has his own standards, and he arranges his work to produce effects in his won way. All theories of dislocation and rearrangement come up against the difficulty that the final redactor must have seen the meaning of the words at the end of this chapter just as clearly as we do. Yet he retained (or created!) the present order. By far the simplest proceeding appears to be to take the narrative as it stands, and recognize a major division in the discourse at the end of this chapter.