Jesus says farewell – Part One (John 14-17)

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at Jesus’ last words, recorded in John 14-17. It’s known as his ‘farewell speech’, given to his disciples just before he was arrested. It’s significant, because Jesus knew he didn’t have much time left. He wanted to prepare his disciples for what was coming: not only for the traumatic events of his crucifixion, but for life without him when he returned to the Father. He commissions them to carry on his work. He talks about the coming Holy Spirit who would provide them with the power to do so. And he finishes by praying for them – and not only for them, but for all who come to faith through their witness – for us.

So in a sense these are Jesus’ last words to us, the church. What he wants us to know, as his representatives on earth.

Trust Jesus as God’s authorised representative

And in this week’s passage (14:1-14), what Jesus first wants his disciples to do is not to worry when he is gone. To trust him. Specifically, to trust that he is God’s representative. What the disciples are worried about is Jesus’ statement in the previous chapter. After eating the Passover meal with them, he says this:

John 13:33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Understandably, the disciples are disturbed by this. Peter vows to follow him wherever he goes, even to death. But Jesus tells him that before the night is out he will disown him. Then Jesus decides that some reassurance is in order, and says this:

John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in me.”

Believe it or not, this is quite an astounding statement. Don’t worry, says Jesus. Instead, ‘trust in God; trust also in me.’ I’ll explain in a minute why this is so significant; but first, a bit of background.

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is presented as a kind of ‘second Moses’. Let me read you a few key verses:

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

That is, God’s old covenant came through Moses, God’s authorised representative. The new covenant has also come through an authorised representative, namely God’s own Son, Jesus. This comparison then continues in a very famous part of chapter 3:

John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Moses brought ‘life’ to the Israelites dying of snake bites in the desert; so too, God’s one and only Son brings life – eternal life – to everyone who looks to him.

In the middle section of John’s gospel, Jesus has various arguments with the Jewish leaders in which Moses features heavily. They say they follow Moses, as God’s authorised representative; and they deny Jesus’ claim to represent God in the same way that Moses did:

John 9:29 “We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

Throughout the gospel, then, we see John portraying Jesus as a second Moses. Greater than Moses, for sure, but fulfilling a similar role as God’s representative: bringing to Israel knowledge of God and his offer of salvation.

So when we get to this statement in chapter 14 – ‘you trust in God; trust also in me’ – it’s significant. Just after God brought Israel through the Red Sea and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army, Exodus records Israel’s response in nearly identical language:

Ex 14:31 (LXX) “…they trusted in God and also in Moses his servant.”

So by echoing these words – ‘you trust in God; trust also in me’ – J is again portrayed as a second Moses. As God’s authorised representative, or ‘agent’. As the one who is bringing in a new and greater covenant with his people; one which leads to eternal life.

It’s important to understand this parallel with Moses, as it sets the theme of Jesus’ entire farewell speech across four chapters of John (14-17). The theme of this speech is first and foremost his own role as God’s authorised representative. Just as Israel trusted (at least some of the time) in Moses as God’s representative, Jesus’ disciples both then and now are to trust in the even greater representative who has come.

But secondly – and significantly for us – the disciples will themselves take over that role when he departs. At the end of his speech, he prays this to his Father:

John 17:18 “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

Let’s keep these two guiding themes in mind as we look at the rest of the passage over the coming days: how Jesus is God’s representative, and how we are to follow his example.?

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