Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 14.15-21
Sixth Sunday after Easter - Year A

Other texts: 

This pericope continues from the previous week on John 14.1-14

Introductory Comments

What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence? That was a question for John's first readers and for us today.

One answer is that while Jesus may be absent, God is not.

There are three different promised presence in 14:15-24

One explanation for these three is that they were independent sayings that John combined. Our text includes the first two promises, which forms an outline of our lesson:

a. The coming of the Paraclete (vv. 15-17)
b. The coming (back) of Jesus (vv. 18-21 -- possibly referring to the resurrection

However, the entire lesson is bracketed by common thoughts (but in reverse order)

A1 If you love me,
B1 you will keep my commandments (v. 15)
B2 The one having my commandments and keeping them,
A2 that is the one who loves me. (v. 21)

Brown [John, Anchor Bible] suggests even more parallels between the two subsections:

v. v.
Necessary conditions: love Jesus; keep his commands 15 21
Giving of Paraclete // Coming back of Jesus 16 18
World will not see Paraclete or Jesus 16 19
Disciples will recognize Paraclete and see Jesus 17 19
Paraclete and Jesus will dwell in the disciples 17 20

Neither the coming of the Paraclete or Jesus in these verses seems to be the coming related to the Judgment at the Last Day. Here the coming(s) are limited to the disciples who know the Paraclete (Spirit of Truth) and see Jesus -- something the world is not able to do.

V. 15 is a conditional statement -- a future more vivid condition -- which makes a definite and unqualified statement about some future event. How it is translated depends on which variant reading one chooses.

Brown, using the subjunctive variant reading for teresete ("keep"), suggests a two part protasis and a one part apodosis:

"If you love me and keep my commandments, then I will ask the Father ...."

However, the more accepted reading, and the one used in NRSV and most translations is the future; which supports one protasis and a two part apodosis:

"If you love me, then you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father ...."

Another variant uses the imperative:

"If you love me, keep my commandments and I will ask . . . ."

NOTE: the verb for "love" (agapate) is a present subjunctive, implying a continuing act of loving Jesus -- keep on loving Jesus or continue to love Jesus.

agapao also implies more than having "warm feelings" towards someone or something. It emphasizes "showing one's love" or "demonstrating one's love" -- sometimes even without the inner "feeling". E.g., "loving" one's enemies doesn't mean to develop warm feelings for them, but to do "beneficial deeds for" them.

How do we show our love for Jesus? By keeping his commandments. That's another answer to the question: "What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence?"

What are Jesus commandments (note the plural, also in 14:21; 15:10)? His commandment (singular) is that we are to love one another (13:34; 15:12). 15:10b leads us to ask, "What are the Father's commandments that Jesus kept?"

Four times John has Jesus talking about commandments (entole) or commands (entellomai) that come from God.

It should also be noted that the keeping the commandments is not the same as obedience to the Torah. Jesus is asked in 8:5: "Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" She wasn't stoned.

Since the Father's commandments which Jesus kept involved what he said and did, then I think that Jesus' commandments refers to all that he said and did. We can't just pick one or two verses and conclude that they are Jesus' commandments. What Jesus expects from us is revealed by what Jesus did.

What does it mean to "keep" (tereo) them?

The definitions of this word in BDAG are:

1. to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard
2. to cause a state, condition, or activity to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve

a. for a definite purpose or suitable time
b. keep, etc. unharmed or undisturbed
c. of holding on to someth. so as not to give it up or lose it
d. of being protective

3. to persist in obedience, keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to, esp. of law and teaching

NOTE: that "obey" is not one of the glosses = the words in italics, which are the English words that might be used in a translation. A gloss is not the same thing as a definition. While "to persist in obedience" is a definition, the glosses suggested are: keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to.

A definition that I've used of tereo is "hold dear" or perhaps, "consider important". As it is used in the phrase, "keeping the commandments," I don't think that Jesus (or John) implies just blind obedience to what Jesus said and did. We are to considering those deeds and words as extremely important. "Holding dear" that tradition that has been handed down to us. Keeping alive the memory of all that Jesus did and said and carrying on that ministry -- keeping it going. Someone else suggested the idea of a "keepsake". Something that we have been given that we hold dear and want to display and use so that others know that it is dear to us.

This interpretation goes beyond mere obedience. People may detest the rules that they feel forced to obey. People may hate those who give and enforce the rules, and since they fear the punishment, they comply. For example, a model prisoner may keep on the rules, but hate them and the guards who enforce them. I don't believe that Jesus it talking about that type of "keeping the commandments." I also don't think that the word tereo necessarily implies such blind obedience as prisoners are forced to do. I believe that the word suggests having a positive attitude towards the commandments. They are important to me; the One who gave them are important to me, that is why I want to follow them.

Loving Jesus and "holding dear" what Jesus said and did are inseparable. In ch. 14-15, twice "love" comes before "keep" (14:15 & 23) and twice "keep" comes before "love" (14:21; 15:10). The two cannot be separated or prioritized. Both are part of our life in relationship with Jesus.


I find it best not to translate the Greek word parakletos because there are too many possibilities. While the literal meaning of the related verb (parakaleo) means "to call to one's side" -- usually asking the other for help, the noun took on a legal meaning as "helper in court". Thus we have translations like "counselor," "advocate," or "one who speaks for another" as well as the (too) general translation of "helper".

Besides, keeping the word untranslated lends itself to some fun puns. The Paraclete is not a little yellow bird. Paracletes are not those things on the bottom of football and baseball shoes.

This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1J 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in John's Farewell Discourse (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

If the Paraclete is a "helper in court," whose helper is it? I had thought of it as our helper; but I'm more inclined to think of it as Jesus' helper. The Paraclete comes to speak to us for Jesus. In 14:26, it will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us. In 15:26, it will testify on Jesus' behalf. It helps keep alive all that Jesus said and did.

In our text (and in 15:26, see also 16:13), the Paraclete is called "The Spirit of truth." This phrase is best understood as an objective genitive: "The Spirit who communicates the truth" although the subjective genitive also has merit: "The true Spirit."

What is the truth the Spirit communicates [or as I've titled past sermons, "The Song of the Paraclete" -- 6 Easter has also been known as "Church Music Sunday"]? From John 16:8; it "sings" the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

It proclaims the truth about us -- we are sinners. We don't always like to hear that. An illustration of this I've used -- which perhaps some of you have experienced -- is getting a speeding ticket. Even though I usually know I am speeding, I don't to be caught on radar. I don't want to see the officer making a U-turn and flashing his colored lights. I don't want to hear the truth about my driving. Often that truth means suffering some sort of penalties for my wrong actions. It is uncomfortable to be caught doing something wrong and fall under the judgment of the state.

The "song of the Paraclete" is a tune of sin and judgment. Like a police officer stopping and handing out tickets to speeders, the Paraclete confronts us with our sins and God's judgment against sinners. Like a prosecuting attorney, the Paraclete makes your sins known to you and to God, the Judge.

However, there's another verse to the "song of the Paraclete". It also proclaims the truth about Jesus -- Jesus came to save sinners!

A true story: One day I was stopped for speeding. I knew I was wrong. I was late for a meeting. I was driving on a brand new four lane highway with almost no traffic. When I saw those flashing red lights behind me, I know that I was going to be even later to the meeting. After the patrolman got my license, he went back to his car. I waited for him to return with the judgment against my sin. As I waited, another police car pulled up behind the first. The man with my license went back to the second car. My anxiety level was rising. He left the second car and came back to my car. He handed me my license and said, "The sergeant says that you're a friend of his. Keep your speed down and drive carefully." He returned to his car and drove off. So did I.

I was guilty. I had broken the law. I deserved the ticket. I deserved to pay the fine, but because of a friendship, my mistake was forgiven and forgotten. There was no penalty to pay. That is grace. I thanked the sergeant, who was a member of my congregation. Note that his comment to the other officer was that I was a friend of his. There is a sense that our salvation is based on Jesus considering us his friends, not that I consider Jesus my friend. Matthew 7:22-23:

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' [NRSV]

It is not "knowing Jesus" that's important. These people seemed to have known who Jesus was and even used his name. It is being known by Jesus that's important. It is Jesus knowing us that is important. Because Jesus knows us and considers us his friends, our mistakes are forgiven and forgotten. There is no penalty to pay. Jesus has taken care of it. We all know who George W. Bush is. Does he know who we are? My son had the honor of meeting and shaking hands with Bill Clinton when he was president -- we have a picture. Does Bill know my son? Does he even remember that event?

Using the courtroom image, now the Paraclete is our defense attorney defending us before God the Judge. The defense -- the penalty has been paid in full by Jesus.

Why might the world not be able to receive the Spirit of Truth? It doesn't want to hear the truth about itself. If it will not be convinced of its sinfulness, it also has no need for Jesus. If it has no need for Jesus, it doesn't need to watch for his coming. As I remember it, Scott Peck in People of the Lie, defines evil people as those who are unwilling to hear the truth about their sinful selves.

How can we know if we have the Spirit of truth in us? We don't look for little, yellow birds or spiked shoes <g>.

First of all, we claim the truth of baptism -- we have been born of water and the Spirit.

Secondly, if we recognize ourselves as sinners and falling under God's judgment -- who tells us that truth about ourselves? It is the Spirit of Truth in our lives. It is the Paraclete's job to convict us of sin and judgment.

Thirdly, if we recognize and believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our savior and friend, who wins forgiveness for us -- who tells us that truth about Jesus? It is the Spirit of Truth in our lives. It is the Paraclete's job to convince us of our salvation and righteousness in Jesus.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901