John 14:13-14, continued
Last week, we began a study on the references to prayer in the Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:31-16:33). The first such references are the twin sayings of 14:13-14. There are two aspects of these sayings which need to be examined further: (1) the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son), and (2) the precise meaning and significance of prayer “in Jesus’ name”.
Before embarking on a study of these aspects, it is worth surveying the basic outline and focus of these sayings, as they fit a basic pattern. Similar sayings occur elsewhere in the Last Discourse; we shall examine these in turn, but let us begin by citing them here (alongside the dual-saying in 14:13-14):
“any(thing) that you would request in my name, this I will do…
if you would request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it)” [14:13-14]
“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he shall give to you” (15:16)
“any(thing) that you would request (of) the Father in my name, he will give (it) to you” (16:23)
(cf. also 14:26)
There are two formal components to these sayings: (a) the promise that the request made by Jesus’ disciples will be answered, and (b) that the request is made “in Jesus’ name”. Each of these components is attested elsewhere in the Gospel Tradition, and in themselves are not unique to the Gospel of John; it is the specific combination that is distinctive of the sayings in the Last Discourse.
The first component (a)—the promise of answered prayer—is found in simple form in 15:7 and 16:24:
- “whatever you would wish (for), request (it) and it shall come to be (so) for you” (15:7)
- “(make a) request, and you will receive” (16:24)
There is a Synoptic parallel for the latter, which has an extremely simple, proverbial character, typical of many of Jesus’ sayings:
“(make a) request, and it will be given to you…
every(one mak)ing a request receives (it)” (Matt 7:7-8, par Lk 11:9-10)
There is also a general similarity to the longer Johannine form (15:7) in Matt 21:22 (cf. also Mark 11:24):
“and all (thing)s, whatever you would request in speaking out toward (God) [i.e. in prayer], (if you are) trusting, you will receive.”
In Matt 18:19, there is a different saying which also relates to the Johannine sayings (above):
“if two of you should give voice together [i.e., speak in agreement] upon earth about any deed, that which they would request, it will come to be (so) for them (from) alongside my Father in the heavens.”
The second component (b) of the saying-form (noted above) also has Synoptic parallels. Note, in particular, the saying in Matt 18:20, and its conjunction with the earlier prayer-saying in v. 19:
“For (the place in) which two or three have been brought together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.”
There are other references to Jesus’ disciples speaking and acting “in his name” —Mk 9:37-39 par; Matt 7:22; Lk 6:22; cf. also Mk 13:6 par, and the commissioning-traditions in Lk 24:47; Matt 28:19; [Mk 16:17]. In the Gospel of John, outside of the Last Discourse, the emphasis is on Jesus (the Son) acting in the name of the Father; however, cf. the confessional statements in 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31 which record the principal early Christian (and Johannine) understanding of trust in Jesus defined as being “in his name”.
Turning again to the twin sayings in Jn 14:13-14, there is an interesting point of difference when compared with the sayings in 15:16 and 16:23. In Jn 14:13-14, prayer is apparently being made to Jesus, and it is he who acts in response to the request; by contrast, in the other two sayings, prayer is directed to the Father, who is the one answering. This seeming inconsistency has troubled commentators at times, and doubtless explains why some manuscripts of 14:13 specify “the Father” as the one to whom the request should be made. However, the interchangeability of roles is of fundamental importance to the Johannine theology, with its unique emphasis on the relationship between Father and Son—especially the key theme that the Son (Jesus) follows the example (and instruction) of his Father, in all that he says and does. Put another way, as the Son, Jesus possesses the same authority and divine/creative power that belongs to the Father; thus, he is able to fill the Father’s role, for example, as the one who hears and responds to prayer.
The same interchangeability is seen in the passages of the Last Discourse that refer to the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete; these will be discussed in an upcoming study. Moreover, this tendency is not limited to the Johannine tradition, but, instead, reflects the early Christology, as it developed among the first generation(s) of believers. As a simple example, the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), as a divine title, could be applied equally to God the Father (YHWH) and to Jesus; we see evidence of this all throughout the New Testament. Similarly, in the Pauline letters, the (Holy) Spirit can be called the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of [Jesus] Christ”, interchangeably; this is very much like the situation in the Johannine writings, and can be seen elsewhere in the New Testament as well.
The context of 14:13-14, in which Jesus (the Son) is the one who hears and answers prayer, implies the exaltation of Jesus, and his place alongside God the Father in heaven. And, indeed, it is the departure of the Son, back to the Father, that is the central theme of the discourse-segment of 14:1-14 (cf. the previous study). From his place at the “right hand” of God, the Son acts in the Father’s place, with His authority. In certain lines of early Christian tradition, we find the specific idea of Jesus making intercession for believers to the Father (e.g., Rom 8:34; Heb 9:24; 1 John 2:1). This relates to the motif of Jesus as a high priest (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), and assumes his place in heaven, i.e., the heavenly sanctuary, in the presence of God Himself. In any case, the prayer saying in Jn 14:26 alludes to intercession, and includes the role of both Father and Son in responding to believers’ prayer.
In next week’s study, we will look in detail at the second main aspect noted above—that is, the precise meaning and significance of the prayer-request being made in Jesus’ name.