November 15: John 15:16 (2)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and I set you…”
kai\ e&qhka u(ma=$

The first part of verse 16, discussed in the previous note, deals with the idea of Jesus having chosen his disciples. The verb used to express this was e)kle/gomai (“gather out”). The next phrase describes the subsequent action by Jesus, using the common verb ti/qhmi (“set, put, place”). Often this verb is used in the ordinary, concrete sense of putting a physical object in a particular place—11:34; 19:19, 41-42; 20:2, 13-15, cf. also 2:10.

However, in the Gospel of John, ti/qhmi can also carry a deeper meaning, as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary and idiom. I discussed the relevant references in the previous note on verse 13; they all relate to the idea of Jesus’ sacrificial death—using the specific idiom of “setting (down) one’s soul” (i.e., laying down one’s life). This sacrificial action is done for the sake of (lit. “over,” u(pe/r) another person. This is how the verb is used in 10:11-18 (vv. 11, 15, 17-18), and also in 13:37-38 and 15:13. In the latter two references, it applies to the willingness of believers (disciples) to lay down their life for others, following the example of Jesus himself.

Here in verse 16, the specific meaning of ti/qhmi seems to be different; however, the aforementioned usage strongly suggests that the specific theological significance in those references applies here as well. On the surface, the verb in v. 16 is being used in the more general figurative sense of placing a person in a position of leadership, service, etc (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 12:28). The statement by Jesus, “I set you”, refers to the historical tradition of the call of the (Twelve) disciples (Mark 3:13-19 par), whereby Jesus appointed these specific twelve men to be in a special position, as his close associates and missionary representatives. As I discussed in the previous note, the Synoptic/Markan account uses a sequence of three verbs, the first two of which are:

    • proskale/w (“call toward”)—Jesus calls the disciples to him
    • poie/w (“make, do”)—he made (the) twelve of them to be his special representatives

The verb ti/qhmi here in v. 16 corresponds to poie/w in Mk 3:14. However, in the Johannine context of the Last Discourse, Jesus’ address is not limited to the Twelve, but is given to all of his true disciples; cp. 6:67-71, which represents the Johannine version of the tradition in Mk 3:13-14ff par. Indeed, the Last Discourse (and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17) has in view not only Jesus’ disciples, during the time of earthly ministry, but all true believers.

In the theological context of the Last Discourse, the willingness to lay down one’s life (“set down [vb ti/qhmi] one’s soul”), in obedience to Jesus’ example of sacrificial love, is a distinguishing mark of the true disciple. This is established at the beginning of the Last Discourse (13:34-35), and continues as a theme throughout. It is especially prominent in the exposition of the Vine-illustration (vv. 9-14), as we have seen. Thus, when Jesus says here that he “set” them as his chosen disciples, he has in mind that they will fulfill the duties (e)ntolai/) of the (true) disciple. As for these duties, there are essentially, and fundamentally, two: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”); and (2) to demonstrate love to fellow believers, according to the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”). The latter assumes a willingness to “set” down one’s life for the sake of others.