All that matters about heaven is that we will be with Jesus.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for John 13:31-14:6
Jesus opens His "farewell discourse" to His disciples with some of the most memorable and encouraging words in all the Bible. The terrible events that will happen the next day are a part of God's plan to make a way for people to dwell with God for eternity -- a way that requires the sacrifice of God's only Son. And Jesus makes it willingly because He loves us.
I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. (13:34)
Getting Started: Things to Think About
The Irrational Confidence Guy
In this week's passage, Peter is going to declare before everybody that he would follow Jesus to the death. As we all know, that doesn't age well.
But I think most of us have had at least one moment when we were irrationally confident in our ability to do something. If you're willing to admit it, what was it? I have a disturbing habit of being irrationally confident in DIY projects. As I've gotten older (translate: more wreckage in my wake), this has gotten better. But I still need a family member to step in from time to time with a "no, you don't".
How about you? When was the last time your mouth wrote a check you couldn't cash?
"You're Not Old Enough"
In this week's passage, Jesus is going to call the disciples His "little children", and then He's going tell them that they cannot come where He is going. That's supposed to put us in a certain headspace. We have all heard "you're not old enough" from somebody -- maybe a parent or an older sibling. If your group enjoys nostalgia, perhaps this would be a fun topic to discuss.
To make this simple, let's divide this into two categories:
times you know they're telling you this because they're watching out for you;
times they're just making you jealous.
(Certainly there can be quite a bit of overlap.) Remember those times and how you felt. When you got older, did you change the way you felt about that situation?
Age is a very politically-charged topic right now -- gender surgery, on-line privacy, medical privacy, etc. -- but that's always been the case -- the age of the draft, of driving, of drinking, of smoking, etc. Try to have this discussion without getting political (i.e., what's been your experience, not what do you think all experiences should be). I can remember several things my parents didn't allow me to do when I lived with them, and many (many) years later, I finally came to appreciate most of those decisions.
The disciples don't know what to make of what Jesus says. They think they should be able to go anywhere He goes. With the benefit of hindsight, today we can understand why Jesus said what He said.
What's Your "Bridge over Troubled Waters"?
Let me just scream my age with that reference. (And not to get too sidetracked, but what does that song even mean?) In this week's passage, Jesus tells us "do not let your heart be troubled". What are your go-to tactics to deal with a troubled heart? Obviously, we're going to talk about Jesus' recommendation in the course of our study, and I would say that it's likely that our current practices don't line up with Jesus' recommendation. That's okay! This part of the discussion needs to be judgment free. If our goal in Bible study is to think like Jesus, we first have to learn how Jesus thinks -- and also how it's different from the way we think.
If you were to use this idea, you would throw the question out for discussion, then you would tell your group that you want them to be prepared to compare their practices with Jesus'. How can we apply what Jesus said to the way we handle life currently?
Get into the study as quickly as you can. There is so much you could potentially cover this week...
This Week's Big Idea #1: The "Farewell Discourse"
John's approach to the last night of Jesus' earthly night is quite different from the other Gospel writers (more on this below). John gives 5 chapters (13-17) to the events that precede His time at Gethsemane. (Luke, on the other hand, just gives half a chapter to this evening, and most of that is about the Last Supper.) And within this, you can tell that chapters 14-16 are one giant final discourse -- that's as long as the Sermon on the Mount!
We're going to spend 4 lessons on this "farewell discourse" (and a further lesson on the prayer than follows), so we will be able to appreciate what Jesus says. As important as the Sermon on the Mount was to Matthew in setting up Jesus' ministry, Jesus' "farewell discourse" is just as important John in "wrapping up" Jesus' ministry. In it, Jesus is going to
address His disciples' fears,
answer some final questions,
give them hope for the future,
make some promises about the Spirit,
explain why He must leave them.
My new favorite Klink commentary outlines this discourse based on 6 key statements:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life" (14:1-14)
"I will give you the Spirit" (14:15-31)
"I am the true vine" (15:1-17)
"I have experienced the hate of the world" (15:18-27)
"I will empower you by the Spirit" (16:1-15)
"I will turn your grief into joy" (16:16-24)
"Everything that's about to happen is necessary, is a part of God's plan, and is for your eternal good." I know that's what I want to hear in the dark and uncertain times -- "it's going to be okay".
Klink points out how this farewell discourse is worded like a covenant. (Indeed, the other Gospels specifically say that the Last Supper institutes a new covenant -- John simply spells out what the covenant entails.) These chapters are Jesus' answer to the critical question, "What do we do now?"
You can actually see those wheels turning in the disciples' heads based on how John the author frames this discourse:
Before: 13:37 “Lord,” Peter asked, “why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
After: 16:29 His disciples said, “Look, now you’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language."
In other words, these chapters are an extremely big deal.
This Week's Bonus Big Idea: The Importance of the Footwashing
In order to devote appropriate time to the discourse, Lifeway skipped over the other events of chapter 13: washing feet, the Last Supper.
You might have some questions. Let me talk about this here, and hopefully that will save you some time in the group time. Let's start with the footwashing. There are three common approaches to it:
It's an example. This is the most common and most obvious interpretation because Jesus says this -- footwashing is an action of humble service, and we likewise should humbly serve one another.
It's a metaphor for salvation. This dives into Jesus' exchange with Peter about bath vs. footwashing -- the "bath" represents justification (what Jesus accomplished on the cross) and the "footwashing" represents our need for continuous renewal through confession and daily "cleansing". In other words, the footwashing isn't what's important; this is a symbol of how we should daily come to Jesus.
It's a sacrament. This is the opposite of the previous interpretation -- Jesus gave special significance to the physical act of washing somebody's feet. In other words, Christians are to practice the ceremony of washing one another's feet.
I personally fall in line with #1. I think that humility/service is the key to understanding this event. (I think Luke validates this by mentioning the disciples' argument about who would be the greatest.) BUT that doesn't mean that the other two interpretations are unhelpful. Our humility before one another is supposed to reflect our humility before God, which is a central part of our salvation. And the physical act of footwashing is a very powerful (and clear) symbol of that humility -- any time I have participated in a footwashing ceremony, I have absolutely felt "humbled". The ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper teach us important things about salvation through the actions/images. Footwashing can do the same. But Jesus clearly commanded us to practice baptism and the Lord's Supper; I believe He just as clearly said that footwashing was just an "example".
This Week's Double Bonus Big Idea: John's Gospel vs. the Synoptics
John the author really doesn't say anything at all about the Last Supper. A lot of Bible readers are surprised by that, considering how much else John reported from Jesus' last night with His disciples.
The long and short is this -- John the author focused on Jesus' discourse; the other authors focused on Jesus' actions. We don't know why; my guess is that John felt like the Last Supper was thoroughly covered already; he wanted to focus on the other parts of that evening.
So, what about the "differences" between the way John reports things vs. the other authors? Actually, there aren't any. Here's John's report:
25 So he leaned back against Jesus and asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus replied, “He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.” When he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. So Jesus told him, “What you’re doing, do quickly.” 28 None of those reclining at the table knew why he said this to him.
[Aside: how did the disciples not understand what Jesus was saying?????????]
Now -- to Matthew:
22 Deeply distressed, each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He replied, “The one who dipped his hand with me in the bowl—he will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, his betrayer, replied, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” “You have said it,” he told him.
The Last Supper account then follows.
Mark doesn't mention Judas at all in this exchange.
Finally -- Luke. Luke doesn't have any of that. Instead, he has:
20 In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But look, the hand of the one betraying me is at the table with me. 22 For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”
Here are the common questions:
John seems to indicate that Judas left before the Last Supper; Luke seems to imply that Judas was at the table during the Last Supper.
John says that Jesus gave Judas the bread to dip; the other Gospels seem to suggest that the disciples all already had their bread.
The second question is easier to answer -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke all emphasize the intimacy of the betrayal. Jesus' betrayer was one who shared table fellowship with Him. Jesus could have said the words in Matthew/Mark to set the stage, and the words in John could have followed.
The first question is harder. The wording Luke records in verse 21 does not have to mean that Judas was present at the table at the moment Jesus says those words. Like in Matthew and Mark, it's a lament about the intimacy of the betrayal. "The man who will betray Me is one of the people I invited to sit with me at this very table."
Really, I think the bigger controversy comes back to "how did the disciples miss this?" We read what Jesus says in the four Gospels, and we think they should have known it was Judas. Look, I agree! I don't know what was wrong with their brains! But that's not a problem with the Gospels; that's a problem with the disciples. Just as God hid Jesus' identity from Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, He prevented the disciples from understanding what Judas was doing. (My guess is they would have tried to stop Judas, and Judas had to do what Judas was going to do.)
Where We Are in John
Now let's show that Bible Project video again!
And then we have two Visual Bible videos:
Something I want everyone to notice: Henry Ian Cusick's (Jesus) actions and inflections and pauses all help us "interpret" what Jesus meant with those words. Those actions and inflections and pauses are not in the Bible (but they had to made dramatic decisions to turn John's Gospel into a video). I'm not saying that the director and actor chose wrongly! I think that the Visual Bible is an extremely helpful tool for learning the Bible. We just need to remember that the dramatic choices are not necessarily "right".
Chapter 13 is the "beginning of the end" of Jesus' earthly ministry. I mentioned above how John uses Jesus' "Farewell Discourse" in 14-16 as a kind of bookend to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount -- the Sermon on the Mount sets the stage for Jesus' people; the Farewell Discourse sets the stage for life after His ascension.
Part 1: Honor Through Love (John 13:31-35)
31 When he had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If you just read this week's passage in one go, you should immediately see how important this Farewell Discourse is. Each section has at least one "Hey, I've memorized that" verse. We all should know the "I give you a new command" verse. (If you don't, learn it right now.) The challenge for this week's group time: how do you cover all of it in one sitting? You'll have to decide ahead of time what you really want to focus on...
We talked last week about how Jesus would be "glorified" in the events to come. Do a brief recap -- it's vital for all of us to understand that Jesus was in complete control of this situation. Everything that happened happened because He and God the Father had decided before time began that these things were necessary.
And then Jesus uses "little children". This is not condescending (like your older brother would say). This is affectionate (like a mother would say). If you didn't use the "you're not old enough" topic, you might throw a summarized version in here. The disciples didn't like being called this -- they thought they were "grown up", that they didn't need Jesus' protection. Well, they were wrong (as the next 24 hours would prove).
John the author introduced this whole evening with this verse:
13:1 Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
This is the framework for everything Jesus said and did. It was all for love for the disciples (and the rest of the world). They weren't "ready" to follow Jesus to death. Yet.
Verse 33 is the proof that Jesus had everything under control. Nobody took His life from Him. Indeed, He had already explained this to the Jews who were out to get Him --
7:28 As he was teaching in the temple, Jesus cried out, “You know me and you know where I am from. Yet I have not come on my own, but the one who sent me is true. You don’t know him; 29 I know him because I am from him, and he sent me.” 30 Then they tried to seize him. Yet no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come. 31 However, many from the crowd believed in him and said, “When the Messiah comes, he won’t perform more signs than this man has done, will he?” 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things about him, and so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent servants to arrest him. 33 Then Jesus said, “I am only with you for a short time. Then I’m going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35 Then the Jews said to one another, “Where does he intend to go that we won’t find him? He doesn’t intend to go to the Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, does he? 36 What is this remark he made: ‘You will look for me, and you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come’?”
That exchange emphasizes Jesus being the one in control. But in chapter 8 --
8:21 Then he said to them again, “I’m going away; you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I’m going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said again, “He won’t kill himself, will he, since he says, ‘Where I’m going, you cannot come’?”
That exchange emphasizes the consequences for where Jesus goes and what Jesus does. We talked about this last week --
31 Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus' death would mean salvation for His followers (the little children), but it would mean damnation for those who opposed Him.
In that "new world order", Jesus' followers would need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. That's why Jesus gives "a new command".
This is a part of that "new covenant" that Jesus instituted with the Lord's Supper. The old covenant was marked by the foundational idea --
Exodus 6:6 “Therefore tell the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians and rescue you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians."
Jesus has claimed us as His people, and now He tells us what that looks like. He expects His people to love one another. Now, we all know this was a part of the old covenant:
Leviticus 19:18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
What's different about the way that Jesus uses this idea in the new covenant?
I'm very interested in what you think. Here's how I read it (and I might be wrong!). In Leviticus, that passage falls in the middle of a whole bunch of "dont's". But Jesus is framing it as a "do" (to me, this is like how the "Golden Rule" is positive, not negative).
Also, God frames the old covenant behavior as a demonstration of their acceptance of Him as God (which is what they needed! remember that they had been pagans in Egypt and hadn't exactly shown themselves to be wholehearted followers of Yahweh while on the road to the Promised Land). But in the new covenant, this behavior would no longer be based on fear but on love. (Don't hear me say that the old covenant was flawed for that approach; Christians now have the Holy Spirit -- they didn't!)
But now let's get to the important discussion topic: how good are Christians at showing love to one another?
And then the hammer: why does Jesus say that love would be our identifier? And what does our current behavior say about us?
Let your group soak on that one. I won't link any of the thousands of headlines from the last year of Christians treating other Christians badly.
Aside: does this mean that Christians don't have to love non-Christians? Read the Sermon on the Mount and answer that question for yourself. If we can't show love to one another, how do we expect to love the world that hates us?
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit share a love that is pure and powerful beyond imagination -- and Jesus wants us to share our faint expression of that love with the rest of the world. How? We have heard it from God the Father, seen it in God the Son, and felt it in God the Spirit. 1 John 4:19 "We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar."
Part 2: Honor through Loyalty (John 13:36-38)
36 “Lord,” Simon Peter said to him, “where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” 37 “Lord,” Peter asked, “why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.
We will talk about Peter's betrayal and restoration in a future lesson, so this might be a place where you can "save some time". This is where the "irrational confidence" illustration comes in. Peter's not the only disciple to do this; remember this:
Matthew 20:20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached him with her sons. She knelt down to ask him for something. 21 “What do you want?” he asked her. “Promise,” she said to him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right and the other on your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left is not mine to give; instead, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Yeah, that's not a good look.
A point that we can take away is that indeed Peter, James and John would eventually follow where Jesus was going. They would all be martyred. But they weren't ready. Yet.
For us, it's the crushing blow of Jesus' revelation to Peter. I can try to imagine some worst-case modern scenarios. "Put me in, coach, I can get the game-winning hit!" "No, in fact you'll strike out and knock yourself out cold on the backswing." "Put me in, coach -- I can make the game-winning shot!" "No, in fact you'll airball it and then foul the other guy and get a technical in the process and we will lose by one." "Put me in, coach, I'll make the game-winning kick! No, in fact you'll miss it so bad that the other team will catch it and score the game-winning touchdown on the return."
No illustration we can imagine comes close to what Peter heard in that moment. (Poor Joseph Ossai might argue with me about that.)
The reason I think you can sit on this is we will study how Jesus restored Peter to leadership and love. Even the worst failure imaginable can be forgiven and redeemed by Jesus.
Part 3: Honor through Believing (John 14:1-6)
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.” 5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Most preachers I know like to use these verses at funerals. Because they are absolutely amazing. Tell me your spirit wasn't lifted just by reading them just now!
Jesus gives us a very simple answer to the question I posed above about how to handle a troubled heart. Believe in God and believe in Jesus. How would believing in God and Jesus help calm a troubled heart?
When Covid hit, we all used the phrase "Faith not fear" / "Faith over fear".
That's basically what Jesus means here: "believe not fear" / "confidence not confusion". "Believe" is the verb form of "faith" -- it's an action.
[Aside: the verb for "believe" could either be indicative or imperative. The leader material suggests that the first use is indicative and the second imperative -- i.e., "You believe in God; therefore believe in Me." That's wrong. The whole point of the Gospel of John is to demonstrate that faith in God and Jesus is inseparable. Instead, we should read both of these as side-by-side commands: "when you're trapped in doubt and fear, believe in God! believe in Me!"]
Verse 2 goes into one example of how belief in Jesus would help calm the troubled heart.
Rich Mullins died in a car crash after recording a demo of an album. My favorite song off of that demo is this one, based on these verses. Some friends of his later took the raw recordings and turned them into studio masters. Really cool. Anyway, it's such an uplifting reminder!
Let's just address the one bit of confusion with this verse -- the King James says,
In my Father's house are many mansions:
They did that because the base word in the Latin Vulgate is "mansiones", which meant "resting places" (not "palatial home" as we understand "mansion" today).
And so we have the "mansion up over the hilltop" theology. Unfortunately, that has gone in the direction of focusing on how great heaven will be for us. Catch that -- the emphasis is on us.
In heaven, the emphasis will not be on us.
The word for "house" in "My Father's house" simply means "dwelling place". Heaven is the place where God dwells. And one day that place will be on earth with us.
Revelation 21:3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.
(That verse ties together John the author, God's original covenant, and God's new covenant. Very key.)
In other words, here's what the verse means: where God dwells, there is a place for us.
But wait! Does that mean we will live in a house in heaven? In a fancy hotel? In a guest room in God's mansion?
Y'all! Thats. Not. The. Point! In heaven, we will be with Jesus, and THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERS.
But what about Jesus going and preparing the place for us? I had a friend who used this in funeral messages -- Jesus doesn't send an angel to prepare your room, He does it Himself. Look, I love that idea, and it sure makes people feel good, but Jesus is not a housekeeper. The going is the preparation. The cross is how our place in heaven is secured.
Jesus is not trying to describe heaven for us here. All He's doing is telling us that He is making a way for us to join Him there, and we will be there with Him for all eternity.
And that's enough for us all! Read the book of Revelation for more description of the city of God.
But there's another important thing explained in here -- Jesus promises His Second Coming. This is no pipe dream of whimsy disciples but the promise of Jesus. One day, Jesus will come back and take us to be with Him. The day before, Jesus had already explained the flip-side of this event:
Matt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left."
It will be a glorious day for Jesus' followers. It will be the damnation of everyone else.
So -- we have a time, a place, and an action. This is no nebulous "nirvana" or "altered existence after death". No! There is coming a day when Jesus will take us to a place where we will dwell with Him.
But how do we get there? Or as Thomas asked, "How will we know the way?"
I'm long-since out of space in this post, so I'll trust you guys to answer this question as a group. Write down on a board "WAY" "TRUTH" and "LIFE", and spend the remainder of your time with these questions: how is Jesus the way, truth, and life? And - what does that mean for us today?
We've already talked about the importance of the "I AM" statements. Put these into that framework.
And please don't minimize the importance of the exclusivity of what Jesus said.
Here's the most astounding thing I'll say about this passage: this is just the beginning of His Farewell Discourse. He has even more to say!
If you save time, I think it would be fun to talk as a group about why these particular verses function so well as the opening lines for a "farewell discourse". What is Jesus setting up in these verses that will make everything else He has to say "easier" or more understandable?
And then the most important thing of all -- how will these verses help you handle a troubled heart this week? How can you use them to help friends and family struggling with their own troubled heart?