In This Chapter
Put your trust in this truth for me: that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; however, if you cannot just put your trust in this truth as an outright act of faith, then trust in it because of the miracles you have witnessed. For you see, your trust in this truth is very important to me. Truly, truly I say to you, if someone puts his trust in me, then the miracles that I do, he also shall do; in fact, he shall perform even greater miracles than these because I go to my Father. And if you ask for something miraculous in my name, then I will do it so that the Father’s glory will be revealed in the Son. If you ask for anything miraculous in my name, then I will perform it.
If you love me, then you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper in order that he may live permanently with you forever: the Spirit of Truth, whom the sinful world is not able to accept because it does not see him nor personally know him. However, you know him intimately because he lives permanently beside you and is within you.
A Quick Dip1
Pray: The Greek word used here is erotao, and it means to ask. It is important to note that erotao is the only word used in John’s Gospel to describe Jesus’ prayers. Whenever John speaks about the disciples’ prayers, a different word — aiteo — is used. A study of erotao reveals that this verb has several different shades of meaning. First, in most of its uses throughout John’s Gospel, erotao has meant to ask a question, and nearly all of such questioning was conducted by religious authorities in an attempt to gain information about the identity of either John the Baptist or Jesus (for examples see 1:19, 5:12, and 9:15). Used in this manner, erotao implies that the one asking the question stands on equal footing with the one answering the question. Secondly, erotao can mean to make a request or to ask a favor. Again the request is understood as being made by an equal. Thirdly, on rare occasions, erotao can mean to invite someone to come to a meal, a home, or into one’s fellowship.
Helper: This is a difficult word to translate (in fact, some scholars just use the Greek word for Helper — Paraclete — and do not translate this text). In Scripture, Paraclete is found only in John’s writings. In ancient Greece, a paraclete was a legal advocate or representative who would plead another’s case in court. However, this legal association is not an appropriate image to use here in John’s Gospel because the disciples are not portrayed as defendants standing before a judging God. Instead, the Paraclete is presented more as an Advisor, Supporter, or Counselor who is sent to the disciples’ aid.
Spirit of Truth: This title is used to refer to the Holy Spirit three times in John.2 Truth is defined as valid, true facts; a reliable, proper, genuine reality which is unchanging and eternal. In John, truth is God’s revelation given to us by Jesus Christ; it is the valid, eternal, and unchanging understanding of who God is. Truth is God.
Accept: Here acceptance goes beyond recognizing someone’s authority; to accept another means to receive that person’s words and to use them as a guide in one’s daily life. Total acceptance would go a step further; it would mean adopting what has been accepted as one’s own.
See: This is not a physical act of seeing with the eye. In John, to see is to perceive something with the mind or the spirit. This type of perception leads to spiritual understanding and an acceptance through faith. In other words, to see is to believe.
- In John, why does Jesus use one word, aiteo, when talking about the disciples’ prayers and a different word, erotao, when mentioning his own prayers?
- What is the condition stated here in Jesus’ promise to pray? What results are guaranteed?
- Do you love Jesus? Do you keep — obey, guard, preserve, and protect — his commandments?
- Why is the sinful world unable to accept God’s gift of the Helper? What should you and I be doing about that?
- Does the Spirit of Truth live permanently within you?
Now at last we have come to Jesus’ promised prayer, which is found within yet another conditional statement:
If you love me, then you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper.3
Until now, Jesus’ conditional statements have talked about trusting. Here, however, the pattern changes from “if you put your trust in me” to “if you love me.” For the disciples — and for us as well — to move from trusting to loving is to take a giant step forward in our relationship with God’s Son. It is to move beyond putting our faith in Jesus’ power; it means making our relationship with him the most important factor in our lives.
Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love me” — if you choose to put me above everything else — then these three results are guaranteed:
- You will keep my commandments.
- I will pray the Father.
- The Father will give you another Helper.
Each of these results is actually a response from one of the participants in this agape relationship: the disciples’ response is to obey, Jesus’ response is to pray, and God’s response is to send the gift of the Helper. Let’s take a closer look at each of these responses.
You Will Keep My Commandments
First of all, Jesus explains that when we put him at the center of our lives, we will naturally seek to keep his commandments. Because we love Jesus, we will strive to follow his teachings and to live as he lived: a life of obedience, sacrifice, and service. Indeed, for those who truly love Jesus, no other lifestyle is possible. The reverse also applies. If, on a given weekday, we hurl insults at our family members, walk unseeing past those who are in need, or fudge on the truth for the sake of the bottom line, then how can we go to worship on Sunday morning and sing about how we love Jesus? Jesus himself makes it perfectly plain: if our lives are dominated by selfishness and disobedience, then we cannot possibly claim to truly love the Son of God.
I Will Pray the Father: Understanding Erotao
In the second part of this statement, Jesus describes his own response to the disciples’ love: his promise to pray, to erotao. We already noted that in John’s Gospel, erotao is the only word which Jesus uses to describe his own prayers, and he uses it here for the first time. In contrast, whenever Jesus refers to the disciples’ prayers, he uses the word aiteo. Why the change in verbs? Both aiteo and erotao can mean to ask a favor from someone.4 So what’s the big deal? Does it really matter which Greek verb some first-century writer used?
Oh, yes. It really matters. Bear with me while I try to explain.
First of all, let me confess that before this study, I always misread the English translation of this conditional statement. I thought that Jesus said:
If you love me, then I will pray asking the Father to give you another Helper.
In other words, Jesus promised to ask God for a favor — to bestow upon the disciples the gift of the Helper. But the Greek makes it plain that Jesus actually says:
If you love me, then I will pray and [if you love me,] then the Father will give you another Helper.
This is a very different reading of the text. Here Jesus is not asking for anything; he is not asking God to send the gift of the Helper. Both Jesus’ prayer and God’s gift are seen as separate responses — separate gifts — which will be granted if the disciples choose to love, to put Jesus first in their lives. So, if Jesus’ promise to erotao is not a request asking for God to do him a favor, but rather a gift offered to friends who are troubled and confused, then what kind of a gift is this? What exactly does Jesus mean when he promises, “I will pray the Father”? And frankly, if God is going to send the gift of the Helper anyway, who cares whether or not Jesus prays?
I believe that in order to understand what Jesus’ promise means here, we must look back in “A Quick Dip” at that third and rarely used definition of erotao: to invite another into one’s fellowship. In this passage, Jesus says, “If you love me, then I will pray; I will invite the Father into our fellowship, into our relationship with one another.” This is an invitation that will once again turn two-dimensional relationships into three-dimensional ones.
So you see, Jesus’ promise to erotao is — once again — a promise to strengthen relationships. Over and over in this study, we have seen Jesus use prayer for this purpose. When we watched Jesus pray for himself in Gethsemane, we saw him reach up and move closer to God. When we heard Jesus pray for others — whether it was for Peter, his enemies, or the wayward crowd standing around — we saw him move closer to those people and point them toward a more meaningful relationship with his Daddy. Jesus promises to do the same here. When Jesus declares, “I will pray the Father,” he is really promising, “I will move closer to you, and I will invite my Daddy to come with me.” Through this promised intercessory prayer, Jesus moves toward a stronger, deeper, more intimate relationship with his followers, and at the same time he leads them toward a stronger, deeper, more intimate relationship with his Daddy.
I went out to my solitary place and took this insight with me. I asked my Master, “Is this it? Is this what intercessory prayer is all about? Can we really bring strength to those who are troubled just by praying for them?” I also asked for an illustration.
I remembered a story I had heard long ago about a father and his three sons. One day the father called his sons to him and gave each of them a thin, dry stick. He told his sons to break their sticks, and each one did so easily. Next, he gave them three more sticks, but this time he told his sons to bind the three sticks together. Having done this, the father then instructed his sons to break the bundle of sticks. Each son tried in turn, but no one could break the bundle.5
The lesson for us is simple. The people around us are like those single sticks: weak and easily broken when attempting to face life’s trials alone. Whenever we see someone who is in trouble, we can bring that person added strength simply by moving closer to that person’s side. But when we pray — when we move closer to that person and invite our Daddy to come with us, and when our Daddy in turn brings with him his own gift of the Helper — well, that movement provides a strength that absolutely nothing will be able to overcome.
When Jesus promises to “pray the Father,” he does not promise to ask the Father for something; he does not promise to ask the Father to do something. Instead, Jesus promises to invite the Father into our relationships, to ask the Father to come into our anxious hearts and troubled lives. This is intercessory prayer. It is not a prayer that asks God to bestow a specific gift, to provide a quick-fix Band-Aid, nor to solve a problem in a certain way. It is simply a prayer that invites God in and then confidently leaves the rest to him.
The gift of Jesus’ prayer and God’s gift of the Helper are promises which would normally fill my heart with comfort and peace. However, we cannot pull these promises out of their context — out of that conditional statement. There is a catch, a catch that unsettles my longed-for sense of peace.
You see, when I imagine myself as one of those troubled disciples hearing Jesus’ words in an upper room at a last meal, I imagine myself feeling slightly disturbed by that one little word: if. I mean, when I am upset and confused, I prefer to hear unconditional promises and guarantees. Here, however, Jesus is waving conditions all over the place. The miraculous deeds, the answered prayers, the promised prayer, the gift of the Helper — they are all conditional and based upon what I, the disciple, must do first: believe, trust, love. Jesus places the burden squarely on my shoulders. I cannot just sit here being troubled and confused and expect all of these gifts to fall into my lap. I must act first. Somehow that doesn’t seem comforting. That doesn’t even seem fair.
Why the conditions? Because a relationship cannot be built by one person or one being alone. Jesus said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20a). Neither Jesus nor his Daddy will ever kick down the door and force an entry into our lives. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him” (Rev 3:20b). The invitation to enter into a relationship with the Father and Son is always there; that part is unconditional. But everything that follows depends upon our response, our actions, our choices. Jesus will not enter if we refuse to get up and open the door.
So yes, Jesus does challenge his troubled disciples. He could have told them, “Don’t worry. I’ll pray for you and everything will be alright,” but instead he said, “if.” Likewise, when we are seeking to comfort our loved ones and neighbors who are troubled and confused, we often need to say “if” as well.
Here, finally, I have learned how to pray for my friend from the introduction — my friend who is troubled and upset because her father is so sick. When she asks me to pray for her and her family I can say, “Yes; if you will love God’s Son and put him first in your life above every other concern, then I will pray; I will move closer to you and I will invite my Master to come with me. What is more, if you will love and trust him, then God himself will send you a gift: the gift of the Helper, who will stay right beside you both now during this difficult time and through all the times — both good and bad — that are still to come. That Helper — God’s very own Spirit — will give you all of the comfort, support, wisdom, guidance, and love that you will ever need. And if your family will also love God and put him first in their lives, then this will be my prayer and God’s gift for them as well.” Gently I can encourage my friend and her family, “Believe. Trust. Hope. Love. Open the door of your hearts and let God’s Spirit fill your lives with his grace and his peace. If you will just love him, I can assure you that these results are completely guaranteed.”
At the same time, I must use great care whenever I offer such words to a friend. If I make such a promise, then I must not break it. If I set forth the condition and my friend responds, if she makes the choice and puts Jesus first, then I must keep my promise. I must pray. I must move closer to her and invite my Master into our relationship.
This insight forces me to take an honest look at my prayers and ask myself some soul-searching questions: How many times have I promised to pray for someone then promptly forgot that promise? Or, if I did remember, how many times did I just toss up a passing thought, “Oh, yeah, God please help so-and-so”? If intercessory prayer is going to mean to me what it meant to Jesus, then I can no longer “pray” for others in this manner. I must take my promises to pray more seriously. I must take my relationships with others more seriously. I cannot give a nod to God on behalf of my friend during my prayer time and then quickly get back to my concerns. If I am going to pray for someone, I need to pray like Jesus did. I need to move closer to my friend. I need to invite God to become a part of our relationship. I must seek a stronger, deeper, more intimate relationship with this person every time I pray for her. If I am not doing this, then I am not really praying.
When Jesus prayed, he moved. He moved into the very hearts of those who loved him. When Jesus prayed, relationships were redefined. When Jesus prayed, he brought his Daddy’s very presence into the room with him. When Jesus prayed, he opened his heart to those around him. And when we pray for others, Jesus invites us to do the same.
Yes, Jesus promises his disciples a prayer, and later at this same table, Jesus makes good on his promise. In John 17, Jesus turns his heart toward his Daddy and prays what I consider to be the most powerful prayer that has ever been recorded. During the remainder of this study, we turn our attention to Jesus’ farewell prayer.
Chapter 16 Footnotes
1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix, found in the free PDF download.
2 John 14:17, 15:26, and 16:13.
3 “If you love me . . . you will keep . . . I will pray . . . he will give . . . ” is a future more vivid condition: see this footnote of the free PDF download for the original Greek conditional phrase.
4 It is interesting to note that aiteo means to ask a favor from someone “higher up,” someone with more power and authority than oneself. When the disciples pray, Jesus wants them to acknowledge that their requests are heard by someone whose power and authority are far superior to their own. Erotao, on the other hand, means to ask someone for something as his or her equal. Without question, John uses erotao in his Gospel in order to point to Jesus’ equality with God. Again and again, the Fourth Gospel teaches us that in power, authority, and ability, God and Christ are one. However, I believe that this “equality with God” interpretation only partly explains John’s use of erotao in this passage.
5 “A threefold cord is not easily broken.” Eccl 4:12b.