John 15:16; 16:23-26
“If you would remain in me, and my words remain in you, then request what ever you would wish (for), and it will come to be (so) for you.” (v. 7)
“…(that) you should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that what ever you would request (from) the Father in my name, He would give (it) to you.” (v. 16)
In the previous study, we saw how the “words” that remain in believers are to be understood in the context of two key themes central to the Last Discourse: (1) Love as the bond (and binding commandment) for believers, and (2) the presence of the Spirit. The first of these is emphasized especially in the exposition portion of this section (vv. 9-15), but the presence of the Spirit is very much in view as well. Much the same may be said regarding the “fruit” that remains (v. 16).
The motif of fruit (karpo/$), of course, follows upon the Vine illustration of verses 1-3ff. This imagery is also central to the use of the key verb me/nw, since the vine image effectively illustrates the theological significance of the verb. The principle involved is two-fold: (1) if the branches (believers) remain in the vine (Jesus), they will bear fruit; yet, at the same time, (2) if they do not bear fruit, then they will be ‘cut off’ and will no longer remain in the vine. This seems to create a paradox: on the one hand, bearing fruit depends on remaining in the vine, but, on the other hand, remaining in the vine depends on bearing fruit.
What does the fruit signify, and what does it mean for Jesus’ disciples to “bear fruit” (v. 8)? Here, we must keep in mind the two central themes of the Discourse: Love and the Spirit. Based on the immediate context of the exposition in vv. 9-12ff, we may fairly interpret “bearing fruit” as manifesting the divine Love. We do this by fulfilling the “love command” —that is, demonstrating true and abiding love towards fellow believers, in accordance with the teaching and example of Jesus (13:1, 12-15, 34-35, etc). It is especially the sacrificial aspect of this love that is emphasized in the Last Discourse, set as the Discourse is in the narrative context of Jesus’ impending death (cf. verse 13, and the saying in 12:24). One should be willing to offer one’s own life for another believer.
When we turn to the theme of the Spirit, one is immediately reminded of Paul’s famous reference to the “fruit of the Spirit” (o( karpo\$ tou= pneu/mato$) in Galatians 5:22ff. There is a strong ethical/moral aspect to this teaching, and, elsewhere in the Pauline letters, the idiom of “fruit” certainly relates to the idea of righteous or upright behavior and “good works” (cf. Rom 6:21-22; 7:4-5; Phil 1:11; Col 1:10; also Eph 5:9). For believers in Christ, this “fruit” is in direct contrast to the sinful passions at work in the “flesh” (Gal 5:16-21).
However valid this Pauline association between “fruit” and the Spirit may be, the Johannine emphasis is rather different. The focus is not ethical, but Christological. The Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son) in and among believers; and it is through him that we are also united with God the Father and experience His presence. Thus, from this standpoint, “bearing fruit” must be understood in terms of communicating the Spirit to others—that is, to other believers (i.e., those who will become believers).
For the first disciples, the Spirit was communicated through the personal presence of Jesus after his resurrection (20:22); however, with Jesus’ departure to the Father, this now occurs through the work of the Spirit in the ministry of his disciples (believers). This involves proclaiming and exemplifying the Gospel message regarding the person and work of Jesus, summarized, within the Johannine idiom, as fulfilling the two-fold duty of trust and love (1 Jn 3:23-24). Love is the uniting bond, and the Spirit is the uniting presence—and both of these, manifest in the life and action of believers, are communicated to others. This basic understanding informs the entire Last Discourse, but is especially prominent in the later portions (cf. below), and in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 (esp. the closing verses 20-26).
The missionary aspect is emphasized by the wording here in verse 16, serving to introduce the principal declaration:
“…I gathered you out and set you (so) that you should go away and bear fruit…”
The verb rendered conventionally as “go away”, u(pa/gw, literally means “lead (oneself) under”, i.e. make oneself hidden, going out of sight. The primary significance in the more generalized usage is of leaving the immediate vicinity and going away. The implication is that there is a mission field, away from where we currently are, however near or far that may be, and that other chosen ones (those belonging to God) are to be found there, waiting to become believers (cf. 4:35-38).
The other references to prayer in the Last Discourse are found in the final division (16:4b-28). It may be worth summarizing again the basic structure of the entire Discourse-complex:
- 13:31-38—Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
- 14:1-31—Discourse/division 1—Jesus’ departure
- 15:1-16:4a—Discourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
- 16:4b-28—Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
- 16:29-33—Conclusion to the Discourse
The third division is parallel to the first, and deals primarily with the theme of Jesus’ departure to the Father. This departure, and the related idea of the disciples seeing Jesus again, can be understood at the level of the historical tradition in two ways: (1) Jesus’ death and post-resurrection appearance, or (2) his ‘ascension’ to the Father and future return. However, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology, the paradigm is properly understood in terms of the giving of the Spirit. It is only after receiving the Spirit that the disciples truly see (that is, know and experience) Jesus—the presence and life-giving power of his person. Following his death and resurrection, Jesus ‘ascends’ (i.e., departs) back to his Father (20:17), and then returns to his disciples (vv. 19-23)—an appearance that culminates with Jesus giving them the Spirit.
Indeed, it is the promise of the Spirit (the one “called alongside,” para/klhto$) that is the focus of the first part of this Discourse-division (vv. 4b-15), and the references to Jesus’ departure and return (vv. 16-24) must be understood in this light. The context of the Spirit (cf. above) also informs the statements regarding prayer in vv. 23-26. As in the case of 15:7-17, the section is bracketed by two parallel statements:
“And, in that day, you will not ask anything (from) me. Amen, amen, I say to you, (that) whatever you would request (from) the Father in my name, He will give (it) to you.” (v. 23)
“In that day you will request in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask (it of) the Father about you” (v. 26)
Both of these statements refer to “that day” (“in that day,” e)n e)kei/nh| th=| h(me/ra|), an expression that relates to “the hour” (w%ra) that is to come (v. 25). This term w%ra (“hour”), in the theological context of the Johannine narrative, signifies the entire compass of Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Return to the Father. From this standpoint, “that day” is the moment when Jesus appears again to his disciples and gives the Spirit to them. This “day” motif was introduced in the first portion of the Gospel narrative (1:19-51), which is divided into four successive ‘days’ (note the repeated use of the expression “upon the morrow” [th=| e)pau/rion], i.e., ‘on the next day,’ in vv. 29, 35, 43). Each ‘day’ involves a chain of witness, attesting to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God. On the first ‘day’ (1:19-28), John the Baptist denies this identity for himself; on the second ‘day’ (1:29-34) he affirms it of Jesus (in the context of Jesus’ baptism); on the third ‘day’ (1:35-42) the Baptist’s witness leads to the first disciples following Jesus; and, finally, on the fourth ‘day’ (1:43-51) these disciples (the first believers) give this witness to others.
The nature of this witness changes with the coming of the Spirit. Now, believers can truly see Jesus (the Son of God), through his abiding presence in the Spirit. It also changes how believers relate to God the Father. Jesus explains this here in vv. 23-26, as he tells his disciples of the ramifications of what will happen on “that day”. The difference is two-fold, reflected in the statements of vv. 23 and 26:
- V. 23: They will no longer need to ask questions of Jesus (vb e)rwta/w), regarding who he is, his relationship to the Father, etc. The reason for this is that Jesus will be present with them (and united with them) through the Spirit, and they will suddenly have a new (and far deeper) awareness of things.
- V. 26: Jesus will no longer have to ask of the Father on their behalf, i.e., interceding for them in their (prayer) requests (vb ai)te/w), etc. Again, the reason for this is the presence of the Spirit. Being united with the Son (Jesus) means that believers are also united with the Father, and so are able to communicate with Him directly.
The last point is made clear by the explanation in verse 27: “for the Father Him(self) considers you dear [vb. file/w] (to Him)”. The use of the verb file/w (par. with a)gapa/w) is another way of referring to the bond of love (a)ga/ph) that unites believers with Father and Son. In this dynamic, the requests made by believers to the Father will be answered. This is stated as a promise, as in all of these prayer-statements that occur in the Last Discourse. The contrast between this and the current situation (before “that day” occurs) is explained in verse 25:
“until now you (have) not requested anything in my name—request (it)! and you will receive (it), (so) that your joy may be fulfilled”
They have not yet made their requests “in Jesus’ name” since they have not yet been united with him through the Spirit. Clearly, this is far more significant than simply including the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as part of one’s prayers (though early Christians certainly did adopt this practice); the emphasis in the Gospel of John is fundamentally theological and Christological: to be “in his name” means to be united with him through the Spirit, and through the bond of love. The early Christian baptism ritual alludes to this very dynamic, at the traditional level. Authors such as Paul gave to the ritual symbolism a deeper theological meaning, in reference to our union with Christ through the Spirit (Rom 6:3-4 [cp. 8:11ff]; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; 4:6); and the Johannine Tradition certainly did the same.
As a way of bringing to close our study of prayer in the Last Discourse, it is necessary to address several key points. However, since this requires more than a cursory treatment, and space is needed to draw together all of the strands, this analysis will be saved for next week’s study.