Gospel of John: To Go, or to Stay?


What is the difference between the fruit you buy in a department store and the fruit you buy at the grocery store? 

Even when you look closely sometimes, they can seem exactly alike. It is not until you take a bite that you might realize they are different. The department store fruit can break a tooth. But the flesh of the grocery store fruit nourishes the body, and its seeds can make more fruit.

The department store fruit can sure look good, and boy does it last. But frankly, it is dead. It will never nourish or reproduce.

It is the living kind of fruit that the Lord Jesus is looking for in your life and mine.


“Let Us Go” . . . But They Stayed

At the end of chapter 14. Jesus invited his disciples to come walk with him. In fact, he sounded as though they were definitely going to leave right then.

Arise, [that] we might lead away, now.

Jesus to the disciples, John 14:31

So it seems odd that three more chapters of teaching (15 through 17) follow. There are a couple of ideas about how, and why, John’s gospel flows in this way.

  1. The walk to the Garden was three chapters’ worth of talking. It would have been challenging, of course, to hear everything Jesus was saying, as they walked, as they would have formed quite a large group, twelve men all together (if not a few more people, were there others in the house who opted to accompany them).

    But maybe they walked slowly, and side by side, as groups often do when strolling together. Perhaps it was late enough in the evening that the streets were not filled with people, and stalls, and carts, and animals, so there was relative quiet and space for them to receive Jesus’ teaching.
  1. Jesus’ announcement merely signaled the meal was over. My dad was Italian, and in our home, dinners lasted hours. We ate, we talked, we had a dessert, we talked some more, we had something to drink, more talking. And the conversation was always robust.

It was normal for someone to say, “Well, we should probably go,” and for my father to open another bottle of wine, or bring out a dessert, or some such thing. Meals in a Mediterranean home, even two thousand years ago, may very well have been like this. And often what is said is only tangentially connected with what is meant.

“Let us go,” might have been the signal for others to come clear the last of the dishes, and for Jesus to move into his more serious teaching.

  1. It is possible chapters 15-17 were added to the earlier version of John’s gospel—memories and teaching that John had given many times verbally, but had not yet included in his gospel. One of the many compelling aspects of John’s gospel is its layers. Chapter 14 promised power and permanence as Jesus’ disciples gave out Jesus’ message and teaching, that others might believe.

Chapter 15-17 has more of a pastoral feel to it, teaching meant to now strengthen and build up the faith of those who had come to believe in Jesus. Perhaps, over the years, as John taught on Jesus’ pastoring of them, he realized this was also an important part of the gospel for the growing Church to have in writing.

Historical Context

I just finished taking a course on the Gospel of John, taught from the perspective of the many puzzling conundrums it contains.

This is one of them!

One of the books for our course was called The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, written by Paul N. Anderson. In discussing these chapters, we took a look at the context of place, time, and people in 85-100 A.D., when the final form of John’s Gospel was published. The Church had been launched on the day of Pentecost, sometime around 30 A.D. Paul had been converted probably about three years later, and began teaching in Antioch ten years after that.

By around 48 A.D., Paul had begun his missionary journeys, Christianity had already spread through Samaria and the outlying areas, and increasing tension was developing between some of the Jewish religious leaders and those of Jewish faith who believed in the risen Jesus. By the early 60’s A.D., Paul had been transferred to Rome for trial, and some synagogues were ejecting those who espoused Christianity.

Finally, by the close of the first century, Many local assemblies of believers were experiencing painful persecution, from both antagonistic Jewish religious authorities, and also from the Roman presence, which insisted on emperor worship.

But there were also increasing pressures from within.

Those from the Jewish faith who embraced Jesus and his teachings had a much stronger foundation for understanding the truths Jesus spoke of. Those who came from other cultural and faith backgrounds however, (perhaps unwittingly) brought in ideas and concepts that undermined the truth.

  • Gnostic teachings (to be fair, there were both Jewish and Gentile Gnostics) tended to spiritualize everything, as well as turn the stories of scripture upside down.
  • Docetist teachings refused to accept Jesus as being truly human, as “God made flesh,” and consequently underplayed the cross of Christ, as well as the cross for the believer.

And to combat these concepts, the Church began to embrace a more authoritarian and controlling hierarchical governance, which fostered real friction. Those who sought to rule were now in conflict with the assemblies of believers who continued to follow the familial community of equality Jesus had demonstrated in washing his disciples’ feet.

When John’s gospel was published in final form, a layer was an added to his evangelistic call to believe. John’s pastoral teaching encouraged hurting believers to persevere in faith, connected deeply with the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Connected to Christ

However way we imagine the original scene of Jesus with his devoted followers, whether walking slowly to Gethsemane, or leaning back in the now cleared upper room, or in some other context, the teaching he gave next would become their sustaining power in the coming months and years.

Think about how much these men were trying to digest, as they listened to their rabbi. Jesus had turned their Passover totally upside down by washing their feet. Judas had left abruptly. Peter had learned he was going to deny the Master. Jesus had spoken of leaving them, of sending the Holy Spirit to be with them in a way they could hardly imagine.

I actually imagine them making their way to Gethsemane, and as they try to process all that Jesus has so far said, and done, they quietly look around at the country side, the moon and stars shedding enough light for them to walk by, as well as lamps glowing on rooftops, and flickering from windows.

Olive trees and vineyards dot the hills as they walk along, shepherds are watching over their flocks, as they gather them for the night. The night air carries the fragrance of new, green growth, of pungent, spicy incense from the temple, food having been cooked and bread baked. Comforting  aromas, that soothe.

Then Jesus starts to teach them again, this time using the grapevine as his illustration. ”I AM the true vine,” I hear him saying, his warm, powerful voice carrying to each of them. “And my Father is the vinedresser.

Israel was known throughout the Hebrew scriptures as the vine planted and tenderly cared for by God. But Israel failed to be the fruitful vine it had been intended to be. Now Jesus portrayed himself as the true vine.

Once again, Jesus had taken a familiar metaphor and added a completely new and unexpected twist. Where would he go with it?


[Grapevine | Image by Wolfgang Heubeck from Pixabay]

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