A hope to hold onto
Jesus' remedy for fear is to 'keep on believing in God, and keep on believing in me.' A Bible study on John 14: 1-6, by Paul Beasley-Murray
It was the night before he was to die. Judas Iscariot had left the table (John 13.27). Jesus knew that it was a matter of an hour or two before he would be arrested and put on trial. It was then that Jesus began to say farewell to his disciples.
Yet the disciples had only thoughts for themselves. Jesus had just spoken of betrayal. He had just foretold Peter’s denial (13.38).
‘What next?’ the disciples must have wondered.
This is the context in which Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14.1); “do not be worried and upset” (GNB). Telling a person not to be nervous and not to be anxious, does not normally help those who are ‘on the edge’, but here Jesus is the speaker.
Jesus’ remedy for fear is to “believe in God” and to “believe also in me”. To all intents and purposes Jesus was putting himself on the same level with God.
The grammar is significant. The underlying Greek contains a series of present imperatives: ‘Stop letting your hearts be troubled’, instead ‘Keep on believing in God, and keep on believing in me’. The disciples already were believers – but now Jesus calls them to continue to believe in God, and to continue to believe in him.
Jesus went on to present his disciples with a reason for believing: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you” (14.2). The AV speaks of ‘mansions’, a term which then denoted ‘a dwelling place’, whereas today it suggests a large house or even a stately pile. By contrast Luther’s rendering Wohnungen suggests in present day German a flat or an apartment, which is perhaps reflected in the NIV & ESV translation of ‘rooms’. Yet, the underlying Greek noun simply suggests a place to stay.
Jesus said he would “go to prepare a place” for his disciples. This had nothing to do with making beds and ensuring that everything was in order for future guests. Rather Jesus prepared a place for his disciples through his death, resurrection and ascension. Then in God’s good time, he said. “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (14.3). Here we have a clear promise of the Second Coming of Christ.
It is possible that Jesus was almost ‘baiting’ his disciples by adding: “You know the way to the place where I am going” (14.4). Not surprisingly Thomas, the loyal but undiscerning disciple (see 11.16) voices the incomprehension of the rest of the group: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14.5).
Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14.6). As Thomas’ question reveals, the emphasis is on Jesus being the way: he is “the true and living way”. This is confirmed by Jesus speaking of coming to the Father through him alone.
In today’s pluralistic world this has proved to be one of Jesus’ most controversial of statements. How dare Jesus make such a claim? What about Muhammad, Confucius and the Buddha? Are they not the way too? Are there not many paths to God? Those who would like a more inclusive expression of the Christian faith would much prefer Jesus to have referred to himself as ‘a way’. The reality is that Jesus is the one and only way to God. So what about those who have never heard of Jesus?
There are no easy answers. However, this verse does not address the ways in which Jesus brings people to the Father, but simply says that no one who ends up sharing God’s life will do so apart from Jesus.
Questions for discussion
The grieving process can take anywhere between two to five years, and in some cases even longer. In this context to what extent does the call of Jesus to “keep believing” have a particular relevance? In your own struggle with grief have there been occasions when you doubted God and his love?
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Heaven is as wide as the heart of God – in heaven there is room for all. Why is it that so many people fail to respond to God’s love? How can we more effectively share the good news of God’s love with friends and family?
What do you think heaven will be like? Some have envisaged themselves twanging on their harps along with the angels. According to the Koran, "For the god-fearing awaits a place of security, gardens and vineyards, and maidens with swelling breasts” (Sura 78.30-34). Jesus said: “Where I am, there you may be also”. To what extent is it enough for you that heaven is where Jesus is?
What else has struck you from studying this passage?
Paul Beasley-Murray was ordained in 1970. He was Minister of Altrincham Baptist Church (1973 to 1986), Principal of Spurgeon’s College (1986 to 1992) and Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford (1993 to 2014).
This study is based on Paul's latest book, There is Hope: Preaching at Funerals, which will be published by IVP in December. There is Hope offers ideas and examples for funeral sermons, along with practical advice and guidance for preaching at a funeral
Image | Jenna Ann | Creationswap
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.