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The Farewell Discourse in John and the Coming of the Holy Spirit

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Farewell Discourse in John and the Coming of the Holy Spirit

Religion
3 mins
July 6, 2021

Last year, we had a considerably long discussion on How We Got Our Views on the Holy Spirit. I was raised as a Pentecostal. This means that the emphasis is on the Gifts of the Spirit in all their manifestations. Much of the time, I had read the Scriptures wrongly and tried to insert my beliefs into the text of Scripture. That is dangerous. 

In the classes we conducted with Pastor Asafa, we approached the Doctrine of the Trinity but only as regards the Holy Spirit. We talked about what the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament means by the word Spirit. And we talked about the role of the Spirit in Paul, Acts, and the Gospels. 

The Farewell Discourse

But, in my own reading, I keep coming back to Jesus’ Farewell Discourse as recorded in the Gospel According to John, chapters 13-17. That passage in the Gospel of John is in many ways the most significant for understanding how the Spirit became part of the Trinity in later years.  The passage occurs in the longest speech of Jesus in the New Testament, the “Farewell Discourse.” 

This is an amazing speech that most people do not realize is so remarkable, even simply as a speech.  As you may know, in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells a lot of parables (Mark 4 tells us it is the only way he taught the crowds). He also has a significant number of “one-liners.” For example, “Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath, therefore the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” or “If a blind man leads a blind man, both of them will fall into a pit.” In these three Gospels, he does not actually give long connected speeches so much as occasionally long speeches that veer from one topic to another in quick order, most famously in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; not found in any of the other Gospels, though Luke has a number of the sayings scattered throughout his).

Jesus' Silence about Himself in the Synoptics

We should also pay attention that in these various teachings in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus doesn't say very much about himself or his mission or even his identity. Rather, he spends almost the whole time talking about God and the coming Kingdom of God and how to behave properly according to this coming Kingdom. There's a lot about ethics and how his followers should conduct themselves. In other words, Jesus is not the focus of his own teaching.

But the Gospel According to John is different. There are no parables in John's Gospel and that seems strange. Parables are Jesus go to form when he's teaching others but there is not one single parable in all of John's gospel. Sure, there are a lot of examples and symbols but none of those short stories focusing on simple everyday events which he used to illustrate more profound spiritual teachings. And there are many memorable lines but not those one-liners that he used in the Synoptic Gospels. Instead, in John's Gospel, there are developed speeches that center on the important themes. Look at Jesus discussion with Nicodemus in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. He talks about the light of the world in chapter 8 and the Good Shepherd in chapter 10.

John and Jesus' Explanations of Himself

All of these our extended discourses and many of them are devoted to explaining the significance of the amazing things that he has done, to show how his miraculous deeds actually reveal who he is. In the Synoptics, Jesus almost never talks about himself but, in John, bat is almost all he talks about: who he is, where he comes from, the purpose of his coming, and where he is going next. In John, Jesus repeatedly discuss is of how he is one with the father and how he reveals the father because he has come from the father in order to reveal the heavenly truths, so that anyone who believes in him and in his words will have a new and eternal life. Those teachings are not to be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

As Professor Bart Ehrman writes: “His miracles in John are meant to demonstrate that he really is who he says he is, and his teachings are meant to explain that his miracles demonstrate that he really is who he says he is.  And so he feeds the multitude with only a few loaves to show that he himself is “the Bread of Life,” the one who provides eternal sustenance; he heals a man born blind in order to show that he himself is the “Light of the World,” the one who can bring enlightenment so people will see the truth; he raises a dead man back to life in order to show that he himself is “the resurrection and the life” and that anyone who believes in him “will never die.”

“Even when he doesn’t do miracles in John, when he talks it often involves lengthy discourses on his identity and how he is the one who brings salvation (ch. 3, ch. 4).”

The Long Speech

But far and away the longest speech of Jesus is the last one to his followers and it comes just before his arrest. It is the famous Farewell Discourse. Jesus has had the Last Supper with his disciples. Although an interesting note is that, in John, this is not a Passover meal as it is in the synoptic gospels. In John, the Passover meal will be eaten the next evening, after Jesus is dead. So instead of instituting the Lord’s Supper, as in the Synoptics, in John Jesus does something else that is also highly significant. In John, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and then explains to them why he has done so.

Then comes the long speech. It begins in chapter 13 and continues through all of chapter 14 and, just when we think we have reached the end of it in chapter 14, it continues into chapter 15. And then it goes through chapter 16, as well. Then Jesus keeps talking in chapter 17, except that now he is not talking to his disciples but he is praying to God so that his disciples can overhear him restating an re-emphasizing some of the salient points out his discourse.

In the Gospel According to John, Jesus talks almost nonstop and uninterrupted for five full chapters. Even atheists have referred to it as one of the most remarkable speeches in all of history and/or literature. A number of topics are covered and one of the most important is his discussion on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that when he fulfills his mission and leaves the earth, the Holy Spirit will come in his place. That passage is key to understanding how the doctrine of the Trinity develops. The notion of one God in three persons is almost always based on this passage.

That is not to say that John subscribes to any doctrine or even idea of a Trinity. It is simply that this passage was used later on to support the development of that doctrine.


This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.

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