The Word in the Wings
From the study: "Lord, where are you going?"
By: KAYA PRASAD
At the end of John 13, Jesus and the twelve are reclined at dinner. Judas has just left into the night, the others assuming Jesus is sending him on an errand of preparation for the Passover festival. Jesus continues speaking to his disciples about what is about to happen, warning them that he is about to leave them–but leaving them with “a new commandment, that you love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus has already told them, “Where I am going, you cannot come,” something he has said before “to the Jews” and now says even to his closest students (John 13:33).
As they converse during dinner, the disciples are trying to understand what Jesus is telling them, but Jesus doesn’t exactly clear things up with simple answers to their questions. Instead, he often returns his own questions, challenging the disciples’ assumptions in order to lead them to deeper understanding of his purpose in departing. Along with repetition of verbs describing “going” and departing, a recurring theme throughout this dialogue is the nature of Jesus’s relationship with God the Father. Jesus uses descriptions of this relationship to help the disciples understand where he is going.
John 13:36 Simon Peter said to him,
“Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going,
you are not now able to follow me,
but later you will follow.”
37 Peter said to him,
“Lord, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
38 Jesus answered,
“Will you lay down your life for me?
Very truly I say to you,
The rooster won’t even sound until you’ve disowned me three times.”
14:1 Don’t let your hearts be disturbed;
give credence to God,
and give credence to me.
2 In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places.
3 If there weren’t,
would I ever say to you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I am coming again and will take you to myself,
so that where I am,
you might be also.
4 And where I am going,
you know the way.”
Peter is the first to express the collective consternation over Jesus’s announcement that he is departing from them (see John 13:33). In answer, Jesus repeats what he has said already–that he is going alone, and his disciples will be left behind for the time being (John 13:34, 36). Jesus doesn’t directly answer Peter’s inquiry as to his destination, but he does elaborate to assure Peter that eventually they will be reunited with Jesus.
Apparently unsatisfied, Peter asks another question: why later? Why not now? As if to defend the suggestion that he should be allowed to follow Jesus now, Peter asserts his loyalty. Jesus, rather than answering the question, refutes the assertion that justifies it, warning Peter that his actions in the next several hours will demonstrate the exact opposite of loyalty to Jesus.
Despite this warning that fiercely held commitments will soon be overturned, Jesus offers words of comfort in the form of appealing to the disciples to trust–to “believe in God” and “believe also in me” (John 14:1, NRSV). The parallelism of these two clauses constitutes a comparison between Jesus and God; Jesus claims to be trustworthy on the same level as God. As much as God’s past faithfulness should bring assurance of promises for the future, Jesus’s promises should also be taken as reliable.
Jesus offers specific assurance for the promise that the disciples will one day follow him where he is now going, and he offers it by way of his own trustworthiness. Jesus has said he will prepare a place, and since Jesus is trustworthy, such a place must exist. Though this still isn’t phrased as a direct answer to Peter’s initial question (“Where are you going?”), Jesus is offering here two new pieces of information: he is departing with the purpose of preparing a place for the disciples to join him, and a place that can accommodate them is “my Father’s house” (John 14:1). Jesus further adds that the disciples have the knowledge required to get to this place.
In answer to Peter’s concerns, Jesus has said that Peter has other things to worry about, but he has also said that trusting Jesus as they trust God should help them endure Jesus’s departure until a later time when they can join him.
5 Thomas said to him,
“Lord, we don’t know where you’re going;
how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father if not through me.
7 If you have known me,
you also know my Father.
and from now on you have known him
and have seen him.
But in Thomas’s mind, Jesus still hasn’t given them enough information. How can the disciples identify the road to take if they don’t know the destination? Jesus hasn’t given them so much as a cardinal direction to orient them geographically.
Indeed, geographic direction is not what they need, and Jesus shifts the framework of the conversation by identifying himself as “the way” (John 14:5). Now it may become clear to the reader, since the disciples are sitting and talking with Jesus, that they “know the way” (John 14:4) in the sense that they know Jesus. Knowing the way is a matter of relationship, not of information. Specifically, relationship with Jesus is the means to relationship with the Father, and Jesus assures the disciples that they have established this relationship.
As with his response to Peter, Jesus answers Thomas’s question by pointing to his relationship with God. Once again, a pair of parallel clauses links Jesus and the Father: “If you have known me, you also know my Father” (John 14:7). The conditional statement effectively equates knowledge of Jesus with knowledge of the Father. Jesus’s own presence constitutes a revelation of God the Father.
8 Philip said to him,
“Show us the Father,
and it will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus said to him,
“Have I been with you so much time
and you do not know me, Philip?
The one who has seen me has seen the father;
how can you say,
‘Show us the father?’
10 Do you not believe
that I am in the father
and the father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak according to myself,
but since the father abides in me, he does his works.
11 Believe in me
because I am in the father
and the father is in me;
but if not,
believe because of these works.
12 Very truly I say to you, the one who believes in me–
the works that I do,
they will do likewise,
and they will do greater than these,
because I am going to the father.”
Philip’s assertion is ironic since Jesus has just informed them that he shows them the Father in himself. If seeing the Father were “enough” for Philip (John 14:8)–and if he understood what Jesus has just said–then he should already be satisfied, yet Phillip asks Jesus to reveal the Father as if this hasn’t already been accomplished.
As with Peter, Jesus answers Philip’s assertion with a question. The rhetorical effect of Jesus’s question is to suggest that if Philip has understood the full implications of the preceding dialogue, the only explanation for his request is that Philip does not actually know Jesus. Seeing that Philip does not yet understand, Jesus explains further the nature of his own relationship with God.
Twice Jesus states that he and the Father are mutually in-dwelling. They are so closely inseparable that they are, as suggested by the parallelism in John 14:1 and 14:7, essentially one being (Mackie & Collins). As evidence, Jesus points to the “works” (John 14:10) the disciples have seen him do over the course of his ministry. Jesus wants the disciples to take him at his word when he says that he and the Father are one, but he also indicates that his actions should reflect the will of God and God’s perfect commitment to goodness, not merely the will of a human who acts for their own gain.
It is important to Jesus that the disciples understand the nature of his relationship with God because, as he said earlier in response to Thomas, Jesus’s closeness with the Father is the means for the disciples to relate to the Father. This is the answer to their urgent questions about how to be reunited with Jesus after he departs: by trusting Jesus and acting as he acts, they will align their wills with the will of God the Father, just as Jesus has done. By acting in goodness and love, they will be united with God as Jesus is.
Jesus’s final line in verse 12 appears to be the most direct answer to Peter’s original question. It almost seems like the dialogue could have skipped from the first line to the last: “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him…’I am going to the Father.’”
But Jesus draws out the disciples’ questions and takes the time to explain where he is going by way of describing the nature of his relationship with God. This is how the disciples may come to understand that they can join Jesus where he is going, as he has promised, and more than that, that the place he is going is the very place their people Israel has so long yearned to be: secure in close relationship with God.
Even so, Jesus may have generated more questions than he answered even by the end of the dialogue. The disciples now have language for articulating the nature of Jesus’s relationship to God and the implications of their relationship with Jesus, but it remains to be seen just how this will play out in the concrete events of human history.
Biblical quotations are mine except where otherwise marked.
“Jesus’ Identity in John’s Gospel,” in the podcast series God by Tim Mackie and John Collins (The Bible Project 2018).
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