November 16: John 15:16 (3)

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.”

“…(so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit”
i%na u(mei=$ u(pa/ghte kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte

In the previous note, we examined the idea that Jesus set (vb ti/qhmi) the disciples, whom he chose, in a special position (in relationship to him). Now, in the next clause, he expresses the purpose of this placement—the purpose being indicated by the governing particle i%na (“[so] that…”). The particle governs two phrases, represented by two verbs. Let us consider each of them.

1. u(pa/gw. This verb means “lead (oneself) under”, that is, hide oneself, go out of sight, disappear; often it is used in the more general sense of “go away”. It is a common verb, used primarily in narrative. While it occurs in all four Gospels, it is most frequent in the Gospel of John (32 times, out of 79 NT occurrences). It is another distinctive Johannine term; even though it can be used in the ordinary sense (of a person going away), e.g., 4:16; 6:21, etc., it tends to have special theological (and Christological) significance as well.

In particular, it is used in the specific context of the exaltation of Jesus—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the God the Father (in heaven). Specifically, the death of the Son (Jesus), and his return to the Father, represent dual-aspects of a departure-theme that runs through the Gospel, becoming most prominent in the Last Discourse, as the death of Jesus draws near. The verb u(pa/gw is used to express this idea of the Son’s departure. It features in the Sukkot Discourse-complex (7:33; 8:14, 21-22; and note the ironic foreshadowing in 7:3), before being reprised in the Last Supper scene (13:3). Its introduction at the beginning of the Last Supper narrative sets the stage for the theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), where it occurs repeatedly—13:33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16, and here in 15:16.

There are several other references where the verb carries an important, but somewhat different, nuance:

    • 3:8—where it is used of the invisible coming and going of the Spirit, and of the one who is born of the Spirit (i.e., the believer)
    • 6:67—it is used (indirectly) of disciples who had been following Jesus, but who now ceased (i.e., went away), thus demonstrating that they were not true disciples
    • 12:11—here it is used in the opposite sense, of people who “go away” to follow Jesus, trusting in him
    • 12:35—its proverbial use in connection with the light-darkness motif, has to do with whether a person can see (i.e. know) where he/she is going; the person who has the light, and who can see, is a true believer and disciple of Jesus

Based on this evidence, the theological usage of u(pa/gw in the Gospel can be summarized as two-fold:

    • It refers to the departure of Jesus (the Son), back to the Father, with the completion of his mission
    • It is used (in various ways) to characterize the activity and identity of the true disciple/believer

These two aspects help us to understand the significance of the verb here in v. 16, in the context of the Last Discourse. This significance is rooted in the principal idea of the disciple/believer as an appointed representative of Jesus, one who is sent forth (i.e., the fundamental meaning of the term a)po/stolo$ [apostle]) to continue his mission. The two aspects of u(pa/gw are thus thematically related here:

    • Jesus goes away, back to the Father, having completed his (part of the) mission
    • The disciples (believers) go forth, in Jesus’ name, to continue the mission

2. fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring”)—This verb is used here with the object karpo/$ (“fruit”), as it is throughout the Vine-passage (vv. 2, 4-5, 8); the same expression, “bear fruit”, is used in 12:24 (discussed in an earlier note). In prior notes, I have mentioned that this idiom is to be understood principally in terms of the mission of believers, insofar as they/we are following in the example of Jesus (and his mission). This line of interpretation is more clearly established here, with the strong (if allusive) connection of v. 16 to the historical tradition of the calling of the (Twelve) disciples. The Twelve were specifically chosen to represent Jesus, continuing (and extending) his mission over a wider geographic territory. The same idea applies to the addressees of the Last Discourse—which includes the Twelve (sans Judas), but also encompasses all those who are true disciples/believers.

And what is the mission for believers? From the Johannine standpoint, it is essentially equivalent to fulfilling the two great duties (e)ntolai/) Jesus has given to us: (1) keeping/guarding his word(s), and (2) showing love to one another, according to his example (of sacrificial love); these two duties are defined by the phrases “remain in my word” (8:31, cf. 15:7) and “remain in my love” (15:9-10)—which are aspects and components of the general command “remain in me” (15:4ff). The first duty, guarding the word(s) of Jesus entails the proclamation of the Gospel, since the “word” of Jesus is largely synonymous with the Gospel message. This is particularly so in the Johannine context, where the “word(s)” of Jesus (esp. the great Discourses) are centered on his identity as the Son of God, the heavenly/eternal Son sent to earth by God the Father, and all that this theological affirmation implies.

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