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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

John 15

Verses 1-3

Vv. 1-3. “ I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. 2. Every branch in me which bears not fruit, he takes away; and every branch which bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3. As for you, you are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

The pronoun ἐγώ , I, placed at the beginning, and the epithet ἡ ἀληθινή , the real vine, lead us naturally to suppose that Jesus wishes to establish a contrast here between His person and any vine whatsoever which is not in His view the true vine. What outward circumstance leads Jesus to express Himself in this way? Those who hold that Jesus has not yet gone out of the room, or give up the attempt to resolve the question ( de Wette), either have recourse to the use of the vine in the institution of the Holy Supper ( Grotius, Meyer), or suppose that Jesus pointed the disciples to the shoots of a vine which projected into the room ( Knapp, Tholuck), or even that He was thinking of the golden vine which adorned one of the gates of the temple ( Jerome, Lampe; see Westcott). Hengstenberg, Weiss and Keil think that Jesus wishes to contrast His Church with Israel, which is so often represented under the figure of a vine, in the Old Testament (Isaiah 5:1 ff., Psalms 80:9 ff.).

But the continuation of the figure ( branches, fruits, pruning, burning, etc.) shows that it is not a symbolic vine which occupies His thought. If we hold that when uttering the words of John 14:31, Jesus has really gone out from the room and the city, the explanation becomes very simple. On the way to Gethsemane, Jesus stops before a vine covered with branches; He looks upon His disciples grouped about Him, and finds in this plant the emblem of His relation to them. What significance has the objection of Weiss that any other plant might have served Him as a symbol? It was this plant which was there; and it offered Him points of agreement which no other presented to Him. Among all the plants, the vine has certainly a special dignity resulting from the nobleness of its sap and the excellence of its fruits; this is what explains the use which the Old Testament makes of it as a figure of Israel, the noblest of the nations.

The word vine includes here the stock and the branches, as the term ὁ χριστός , 1 Corinthians 12:12, designates Christ and the Church. The point of comparison between Christ and the vine is the organic union by which the life of the trunk becomes that of the branches. As the sap which resides in the branches is that which they derive from the vine, the life in the disciples will be that which they will draw from Jesus as glorified. God is compared to the vine- dresser because it is He who, by the sending of Jesus, has founded the Church, who possesses it and cultivates it, without by His dispensations, within by His Spirit.

Jesus means thereby to make them appreciate the value of this plant which God Himself has planted, and for which He, in such a personal way, has a care. What is said here does not preclude the fact that God accomplishes this work by the intermediate agency of Jesus as glorified. Only the figure does not allow this aspect of the truth to be noticed; for Jesus is here compared to the vine itself, and it is in the relation of His unity with His own that He appears in this parable. In the remarkable words of Ephesians 1:22, Paul has found the means of uniting this twofold relation: Jesus one with the Church; Jesus protecting and governing the Church.

The culture of the vine includes two principal operations: the purification of the vine and the purification of the branches. The first is that by which every sterile branch is cut off (the αἴρειν ); the second, that by which the fruitful branches are pruned, that is to say, are freed from useless shoots, in order that the sap may be concentrated in the cluster which is forming (the καθαίρειν ). As the question in this passage is only of the relation of Jesus to the members of His community, apparent or real, the first of these images cannot be applied, as Hengstenberg has applied them, to the rejection of unbelieving Israel. If an example is presented to the view of Jesus, it can only be that of Judas and of those disciples who, in ch. 6, had broken the bond which united them to Him. In any case, He is thinking of the future of His Church; He sees beforehand those professors of the Gospel, who, while being outwardly united to Him, will nevertheless live inwardly separated from Him, whether in consequence of a decree which will prevent them from being truly converted, or as the effect of their neglecting to sacrifice even to the uttermost their own life and to renew daily their union with Him.

᾿Εν ἐμοί , in me, may refer to the word branch: every branch in me, united with me by the profession of faith; or to the participle φέρον : which does not bear fruit in me. By fruit Jesus designates the production and development of the spiritual life, with all its normal manifestations, either in ourselves or in others, through the strength of Christ living in us ( Rom 1:13 ). It may happen that the believer, after a time of fervor, may allow his own life to regain the ascendancy over that which he derives from the Lord, and that the latter may be about to perish. Then the pruning- knife of the vine-dresser intervenes. After having for a time tolerated this dead member in the Church, God, by a temptation to which He subjects him, or by an outward dispensation which separates him from the surroundings in which he was, or by the stroke of death, severs him externally from the community of believers with which only an apparent bond connected him.

The second operation, the purification of the branches, has in view the true believers who really live in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is intended to cut off all the shoots of their own life which may manifest themselves in them, and which would paralyze the power of the Spirit. Joh 15:3 will show that it is the divine word which properly has the mission of pruning these shoots; but if this means is not employed or is not sufficient, God makes use of other more grievous instruments, which, like a well-sharpened pruning knife, cut to the quick the natural affections and the carnal will ( 1Co 11:30-32 ). In this way the whole being of the disciple is finally devoted to the production of the divine fruit.

In Joh 15:3 Jesus declares to the disciples that He ranks them in the second class of branches, and no longer in the first. The work of pruning alone concerns them, and even, in principle, it is already accomplished in them. By receiving Christ and the word which He has declared to them, “they have given the death-blow to the old man” ( Gess), even though he has yet to die. By the moral education which they have received from Jesus, the principle of perfect purity has been deposited in them. For the word of Christ is the instrument of a daily judgment, of a constant and austere discipline which God exercises on the soul which remains attached to Him. On this part attributed to the word of Jesus, comp. John 5:24, John 8:31-32, John 12:48. Διά (with the accusative) not by, but because of.Υμεῖς : you, in opposition to all those who are not yet in this privileged position.

From the nature of this position ( in me) Jesus infers the duty of the position: to abide in Him.

Verses 1-17

1. 15:1-17.

After the words: “Let us go hence,” Jesus and the disciples left the room which had just been to them, as it were, the vestibule of the Father's house. Whither do they go? According to Westcott: to the temple, which was open during the nights of the Passover feast. There was suspended the well- known golden vine which suggests to Jesus to represent Himself in the figure developed at the beginning of the following discourse. There is nothing less probable, as it seems to me, than this hypothesis. Why should not John have indicated this locality as he has always done, and how in a place like this could Jesus have found a sufficiently solitary spot for His last conversations and His last prayer?

We imagine Jesus and the apostles rather as silently traversing the streets of Jerusalem, and soon finding on the slope which descends into the valley of Cedron a retired spot where they stop. Surrounded by this little circle of disciples, in view of Jerusalem and the Jewish people now assembled in that city, Jesus contemplates the immense task which awaits His disciples as those who are to continue His work. Transporting Himself in thought to the moment when His spiritual return will be consummated, He endeavors first of all to make them comprehend the nature of this situation which is so new for them, and the obligations which will spring from it. And first, the position, John 15:1-3 ( in me); then the duty of this position, John 15:4 ( to abide in me); finally, the consequences of this duty fulfilled or not fulfilled, John 15:5-8 ( to bear fruit or to burn).


Vv. 1-11.

1. The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters evidently belong together and form one continuous discourse. This discourse consists of four parts: first, the relation of the disciples to Jesus ( Joh 15:1-11 ); secondly, their relation to one another ( Joh 15:12-17 ); thirdly, their relation to the world (John 15:18 - Joh 16:4 ); fourthly, the coming and work of the Spirit ( Joh 16:5-24 ). The closing verses of ch. Joh 16:25-33 are of the nature of a conclusion, though closely connected in thought, at the beginning, with the verses which precede.

2. The main thought of the first part is that of the abiding of the disciple in Jesus. To set this forth, the figure of the vine and the branches is introduced.

3. On the words of these verses a few suggestions may be made:

( a) The adjective ἀληθινή , here as elsewhere in this Gospel, has the meaning: which answers to the true idea.

(b) The cleansing of the fruitful branches is accomplished by the word which Christ has spoken. This word has already effected its result in the hearts of the eleven faithful disciples, and the final exhortation which Jesus gives to them is to continue in the union with Him which is already begun.

( c) The words without me you can do nothing ( Joh 15:5 ) are to be interpreted in connection with the idea of fruit-bearing, which is the idea of the verse. The fruit-bearing power depends wholly on the abiding in the vine. In a similar way the words of Joh 15:6 are to be explained as belonging to the figure, and the spiritual application of them is not to be carried into the individual expressions, but connected with the entire expression as a whole.

( d) It will be observed that the reference to the answers to prayer in Joh 15:7 is to such answers as are connected with results in the spiritual life.

( e) The words my love ( Joh 15:9 ), like my peace ( Joh 14:27 ) and my joy ( Joh 15:11 ), are to be explained of love going forth from Jesus, and not love to Him. They were to continue in such a state that His love could abide with them as His friends.

( f) The end in view of the whole presentation of the relation of the disciples to Christ is declared, in John 15:11, to be that their joy may be made complete by having the joy which He Himself has, as abiding in the Father's love, dwelling in their souls.

Verses 1-27

II. The position of the Disciples in the world after the outpouring of the Spirit: 15:1-16:15.

Jesus had just promised to His own, in ch. 14, the twofold reunion, heavenly and earthly, in which the separation should issue, the thought of which was now so greatly troubling them. In ch. 15. He transports Himself in thought to the epoch when the earthly and purely internal reunion shall be consummated through His spiritual return. The glorified Christ has returned and lives in His own. They are united to Him, and, through Him, among themselves. Under His impulse they work all together, like the members of one and the same body, in the Father's work. Such is the new position with a view to which He now gives them the necessary directions, warnings and encouragements. They are like the branches which crown a fruitful vine and offer to the world its savory fruits. But the world, instead of blessing them, will take the axe to destroy this noble plant of heaven. Its hatred, however, will have no other effect than to display the divine force which will sustain them and by means of which they will overcome the world. Thus there are three principal ideas: 1. The new condition of the disciples after the return of Jesus through the Holy Spirit: John 15:1-17; John 2:0. The hostility of the world to this new society: Joh 15:18 to John 16:4; John 3:0. The spiritual victory which the Holy Spirit will gain over the world by their means: John 16:5-15. The three personages of this coming drama: the disciples, the world, the Holy Spirit. Each one of them is successively predominant in one of the three parts of the following discourse.

Verses 1-27

II. The position of the Disciples in the world after the outpouring of the Spirit: 15:1-16:15.

Jesus had just promised to His own, in ch. 14, the twofold reunion, heavenly and earthly, in which the separation should issue, the thought of which was now so greatly troubling them. In ch. 15. He transports Himself in thought to the epoch when the earthly and purely internal reunion shall be consummated through His spiritual return. The glorified Christ has returned and lives in His own. They are united to Him, and, through Him, among themselves. Under His impulse they work all together, like the members of one and the same body, in the Father's work. Such is the new position with a view to which He now gives them the necessary directions, warnings and encouragements. They are like the branches which crown a fruitful vine and offer to the world its savory fruits. But the world, instead of blessing them, will take the axe to destroy this noble plant of heaven. Its hatred, however, will have no other effect than to display the divine force which will sustain them and by means of which they will overcome the world. Thus there are three principal ideas: 1. The new condition of the disciples after the return of Jesus through the Holy Spirit: John 15:1-17; John 2:0. The hostility of the world to this new society: Joh 15:18 to John 16:4; John 3:0. The spiritual victory which the Holy Spirit will gain over the world by their means: John 16:5-15. The three personages of this coming drama: the disciples, the world, the Holy Spirit. Each one of them is successively predominant in one of the three parts of the following discourse.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. “ Abide in me, and I in you; as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, no more can you, unless you abide in me.

To continue in the vine is for a branch the condition of life, and consequently its only law. All the conditions of fruitfulness are included in this. The imperative proves that one abides in this relation, as one enters it, freely, by the faithful use of the divinely offered methods. Joh 15:7 will show that the fundamental means is the word of Jesus. ᾿Εν ἐμοὶ μένειν , to abide in me, expresses the continual act by which the Christian sets aside everything which he might derive from his own wisdom, strength, merit, to draw all from Christ, in these different relations, through the deep longings of faith. This condition is so completely the only one laid down for the action of the force of Christ in him, that in the following clause Jesus omits the verb although it would properly be necessary for another person and at another time ( I will abide) as if to make them feel that this act on His part is an immediate and necessary consequence of the act demanded of the believer; where the latter is accomplished, the former cannot fail to be realized. In this way, the action of Christ, no less than our own, is boldly placed under the control of our freedom. It is naturally on this second fact ( I in you), of which the first: You in me, is only the condition, that the fruitfulness of the branch directly depends.

Hence the end of John 15:4; the duty imposed on the believer results from the immediate unfruitfulness with which his separation from the vine would affect him as a branch. Here, as in John 15:19, ἐὰν μή is an explanation of ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτοῦ , and not a limitation applied to the whole preceding idea: “by himself, that is to say, if he does not abide....”

The theme here formulated is not that of the moral powerlessness of the natural man for any good; it is that of the unfruitfulness of the believer left to his own strength, when the question is of producing or advancing the spiritual life, the life of God, in himself or in others.

After having described the new position and the law which it imposes, Jesus sets forth in the following verses, 5-8, the sanction of this law of life and death which He has just declared. And first, in John 15:5, the glorious results which the fruitful branch will obtain and the opposite result of unfaithfulness.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. “ I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, this one bears much fruit; for apart from me, you can do nothing.

Jesus begins by summarily reaffirming the nature of the relation. While contemplating the natural vine which He has before His eyes, He recognizes in it the image of the complete dependence on Him in which His disciples are: “Yes, here indeed is what I am to you and what you are to me: I, the vine; you, the branches! Do not therefore allow yourselves ever to fall into the temptation of making yourselves the vine, by desiring to derive anything from yourselves.” The meaning is, therefore: “In me, rich fruitfulness; apart from me, barrenness.” If this second idea is given as a proof of the first ( ὅτι , because), it appears at the first glance scarcely logical. But if Christ is so completely everything that the believer can do nothing without Him, does it not follow that the latter can do much, so long as he shall remain united with Him?

Then, in John 15:6, the fate of the branch which has become unfruitful, and in John 15:7-8, the fate of the branch united with Christ and fruitful in Him.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. “ If any one abides not in me, he is cast forth as the branch, and is withered; then they gather these branches, they throw them into the fire, and they burn.

It was in Palestine precisely the season of the vine-dressing; perhaps, as Lange observes, Jesus had before His eyes at this very moment the fires which were consuming the branches recently cut off.

The threatening of Joh 15:6 cannot be referred to the Jewish nation and its destruction by the Romans, as Hengstenberg has asserted. Jesus is thinking of the unfaithful believer; it is a warning which the disciples should recall to mind after they had received the gifts of Pentecost.

The aorists ἐβλήθη , has been cast forth (out of the vine), ἐξηράνθη , has been withered, are explained, according to Baumlein, as in the numerous cases where this tense serves to designate a truth of daily experience. Meyer thinks rather that Jesus transports Himself in thought to the time when the judgment shall have been already pronounced. Is it not more simple to suppose that the punishment is so regarded as forming only one thing with the fault (not abiding), that it seems already accomplished in it?

As subject of συνάγουσι , they gather, we must understand the servants of the vine-dresser; in the application, the angels (Luke 12:20, Mat 13:41 ).

The fire, emblem of the judgment; comp. another image in Luke 14:34-35. Καίεται , they burn, the present of duration takes here its full force. The thought remains suspended in view of this fire which burns, and burns always.

It appears clearly from Eze 15:5 that the wood of the vine, when once cut, was regarded as no longer able to serve any use except for burning. Hence the expression of Augustine: aut vitis, aut ignis.

Joh 15:7-8 describe the glorious results of the perseverance of the believer in the communion with Christ.

Verses 7-8

Vv. 7, 8. “ If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it shall be done for you. 8. Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so you shall become my disciples.

The parallelism between the two conditions indicated, John 15:7, would lead us to expect as the form of the second the words: “And I abide in you” rather than: “And my words abide in you.” Jesus wishes to make known to His own by this change of expression, that it is the constant remembrance of and habitual meditation upon His words, which is the condition on which He will be able continually to make His strength dwell in them and act through them. In this relation, the disciple will not begin by acting, but simply by asking. For he knows that it is the divine strength thus obtained which must do everything. The words of Jesus, meditatively considered, become in the believer the food for holy thoughts and pious purposes, heavenly aspirations, and thereby the source of true prayers. While meditating on them, he comprehends the work of God; he measures its depth and height, its length and breadth, and fervently asks for the advancement of that work in the definite form which answers to the present needs. A prayer thus formed is the child of heaven; it is the promise of God (the word of Jesus) transformed into supplication; in this condition the hearing of it is certain and the promise which is so absolute: It shall be done for you, has no longer anything that surprises us.

The Alexandrian authorities read the imperative ask, the others the future you shall ask. The first has more liveliness.

The result of this fruitfulness of the disciples will be the glorification of the Father ( Joh 15:8 ). What is there that honors the vine-dresser more than the extraordinary productiveness of the vine to which he has with partiality given his care? Now, the vine-dresser is the Father ( Joh 15:1 ). The ἐν τούτῳ , herein, refers evidently to the ἵνα , in order that or that, which follows; this conjunction here takes the place of ὅτι , because the idea of bearing fruit presents itself to the mind as an end to be attained.

The aorist ἐδοξάσθη , properly has been glorified, characterizes this result as immediately gained at the moment when the condition, the production of fruit, is realized. Winer and others prefer to see in this aorist an anticipation of the final result.

While contemplating with filial satisfaction the glory of His Father, which will result from time to time from the activity of the disciples, Jesus seems to press to His heart these precious beings with a redoubled affection. They will thus continue the work of their Master, who has only thought of glorifying the Father, and will deserve more and more the title of His disciples. Καί : and thus. Instead of the future and you shall become, the Alexandrian authorities read the subjunctive: and that you may become ( γένησθε , dependent on ἵνα ).

Tischendorf himself rejects this reading, which is only a correction after φέρητε .

The dative ἐμοί is more pressing and more tender than the genitive ἐμοῦ would be: “You will belong to me more closely as my disciples.” One must always become a disciple; one is not such once for all.

As the vine does not itself bear any cluster, and offers its fruits to the world only through the medium of the branches, so Jesus will diffuse spiritual life here on earth only through the instrumentality of those who shall have received it from Him. In forming a Church, He creates for Himself a body for the pouring forth of His life and for the glorification of God on the earth. The vine keeps itself in the background in this great work, that it may only allow the branches to appear; it is for them, in their turn, to put themselves in the background, that they may render homage to the vine for all which they effect. The epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians set forth, in a completely original form, this same relation between Christ and believers. The figures of the head and body correspond absolutely, in these letters, to those of the vine and the branch in this passage. When Paul says of the glorified Christ “ that all the fulness of the Deity dwells bodily in him,” and “ that we have all fulness in him,” he only formulates the meaning of the parable of the vine and the branch, as it has just presented itself to us. And this also explains why the propagation of the spiritual life advances so slowly in humanity. The vine effects nothing except through the branches; and these too often paralyze the action of the vine, instead of propagating it!

The condition for abiding in Christ is to remain under the action of His word ( Joh 15:7 ) in the enjoyment of His love, and this latter depends on obedience to His commandments, and especially to that of brotherly love: John 15:9-17.

Verses 9-11

Vv. 9-11. “ As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. 10. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11. I have spoken this to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be fulfilled.

It is the love of Jesus which has formed the bond between Him and ourselves. In this love has the stream of the divine love burst forth on the earth; first, the love of the Father for Jesus, of which He gave Him the assurance at the baptism, and which is that with which He loved Him before His incarnation ( Joh 17:24 ); then, the love of Jesus for His own, which is of the same nature as that of God for Him ( καθώς , not ὥσπερ ).

The initiative in these two cases comes from the more exalted being. What then is the condition to the end that the relation may be maintained and strengthened? It is simply necessary that the inferior being should accept this love and respond to it. He has not to awaken it; he has only to abide under its beams. But in order to this, he must not force it to turn away from him; and this is what he will do by unfaithfulness and disobedience. Jesus calls attention to the fact that He does not here impose on the believer with reference to Himself any other condition than that to which He has Himself submitted with reference to the Father. His life was an act of permanent submission to the divine injunctions; without this submission, he would have ceased instantly to be the object of the satisfied love of the Father (John 8:29, Joh 10:17 ).

Such is also the position of the believer with regard to the love of Christ. The expression my love can designate here only the love of Jesus for His own; comp. the words: As I have loved you, and the whole development in John 15:13-16. The Lord uses with reference to Himself the verbs in the past because He has reached the end of His earthly life. The second clause of John 15:9: and I have loved you, does not depend on καθώς , as: “As my Father has loved me and as I have loved you.” For the principal verb, which would, in that case, be: abide, is not in any logical relation to the first clause of John 15:9: as my Father has loved me. The meaning is: “And I also, I have loved you; continue therefore the objects of this love.”

And how so? By faithfulness to His injunctions like to that which He Himself testifies with reference to the will of the Father ( Joh 15:10 ).

In demanding this of them Jesus is assured by His own experience that He is not imposing on them a burden, but rather is revealing to them the secret of perfect joy ( Joh 15:11 ). It is this constant rejoicing in the love of the Father in the path of obedience which has constituted His own joy here on earth; and this joy will be reproduced in His disciples in the same path. It is then, indeed, His joy into which He initiates them and to the possession of which He invites them in these words: “ I have said this to you in order that...” My joy cannot therefore here signify: the joy which I will produce in you ( Calvin); or the joy which I feel on your account ( Augustine); or the joy which you feel on my account ( Euthymius). The question is of the joy with which He Himself rejoices in feeling Himself to be the object of the Father's love. Comp. the analogous expression my peace, John 14:27.

Thus through obedience their joy will increase even to fulness. For every act of fidelity will draw closer the bond between Jesus and themselves, as every moment in the life of Jesus drew closer the bond between Him and His Father. And to feel oneself included with the Son in the Father's love is not this perfect joy? The reading ᾖ seems preferable to μείνῃ . The notion of being is sufficient; that of abiding would be superfluous; comp. John 17:26.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. “ This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Comp. John 13:34. This is the normal relation of the branches to one another, which has as its condition the normal relation of each one to the vine. So Hengstenberg finds in Joh 15:1-11 the resume of the first part of the summary of the law, and in John 15:12-17, that of the second.

In John 15:13-16, Jesus raises the mutual love of His own to its full height by giving as a model for it that which He has had for them. These four verses are the commentary on the word as in the words: “ As I have loved you. ” And first, John 15:13: the point to which His love has carried devotion death; then, John 15:14-15: the character of full intimacy which He has given to this relation of love; it was the confidence of the friend rather than the authority of the master; finally, John 15:16: the free initiative with which He has Himself laid the foundation of this relation. The meaning of this whole development is this: “When therefore you ask yourselves what limits are to be set to your mutual love, begin by asking yourselves, what limits, in these various points, that love which I have had for you has set for itself!” Or: “And when you would know what it is to love, look at me!” ( Gess).

Verses 12-17


Vv. 12-17.

1. The statement of Joh 15:13 is, of course, to be interpreted in view of the subject which is occupying the thought of Jesus. The love of enemies is not under contemplation.

2. The proof which Jesus gives, that He regards them as friends ( Joh 15:15 ), is that He has made known to them all things which He has heard from God. This is not to be understood as inconsistent with what is said in John 16:12, but only as declaring that He had treated them with all openness and friendliness, concealing nothing for the purpose of concealment.

3. The word ἐξελεξάμην of John 15:16, from its connection with φίλους , seems to refer to the choice of the eleven as friends. In the relation of the thought to the bearing of fruit, the idea of the apostleship is no doubt before the mind, and not improbably the turn to this idea is to be found in the verb ἔθηκα .

4. The second ἵνα clause of Joh 15:16 is to be understood, with Meyer, Weiss, Godet and others, as co-ordinate with the first. This co-ordination, and the placing of the second ἵνα clause where it is, serve to show, once more, how completely the thought of answers to prayer is limited, in these chapters, to the matters of spiritual life and fruit-bearing.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. “ No one has greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

In the relation to friends, there is no greater proof of love than the sacrifice of one's life on their behalf. There is undoubtedly a greater proof of love, absolutely speaking, it is to sacrifice it for enemies, Romans 5:6-8. ῞Ινα keeps the idea of aim: “the highest point to which love, in this relation of friends, can aspire to raise itself.”

Verses 14-15

Vv. 14, 15. “ You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. 15. I call you no longer servants, because the servant knows not what his master does; but I have named you friends, because I have made known to you all things which I have heard from my Father.

In John 15:14, the emphasis is, not on the condition: If you do,...but on the affirmation: You are my friends; Jesus means: “It is not without reason that I have just said: for his friends ( Joh 15:13 ), for this is indeed the relation which I have formed with you and which will be maintained if you show yourselves obedient and faithful.” What more touching than a master who, finding a servant really faithful, gives him in the house the rank and title of friend!

Verse 15

Vv. 15 serves to prove the reality of this position of friends which He has given them. He has shown an unbounded confidence in them by initiating them unreservedly into the communications which His Father made to Him with relation to the great work in which He had called them to labor with Him. The master employs his slave without explaining to him what he intends to do. Jesus has communicated to them the whole thought of God with regard to the salvation in which they are to co-operate. No doubt there remain yet many things to teach them ( Joh 16:12 ).

But, if He has not yet revealed these to them, it is not from a want of confidence and love; it is in order to spare their weakness and because only another can discharge this task. It has been objected to this οὐκέτι (“I no longer call you”), that the address my friends is found in Luke 12:4, much earlier than the present moment; as if the tendency to make them His friends had not existed in Him from the beginning, and must not have manifested itself already on certain occasions! It has also been objected that the apostles continue to call themselves servants of Jesus Christ; as if, although it pleases the master to make the servant his friend, the latter were not so much the more bound to remind himself and others of his natural condition!

Verse 16

Ver. 16. “ You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that, whatsoever you may ask the Father in my name, he may give it you.

The very origin of the relation thus formed between them depends only on Him. Jesus has the consciousness of the greatness of the proof of love which He has given them by associating them of His own impulse in that work which constitutes the highest activity of which man can be judged worthy. By the term: I have chosen you, He alludes, as in Joh 6:70 and John 13:18, to the solemn act of their election to the apostleship, related in Luke 6:12 ff. The word ἔθηκα , have appointed, designates their gradual installation into this office, as well as their spiritual education, for which He had labored with so much perseverance.

The expression ὑπάγητε , that you should go, refers to their apostolic mission in the world, and sets forth the relative independence which they will enjoy as they take His place in this task.

The fruit designates here, more specially than in John 15:2, the communication to other men of the spiritual life which they themselves possess. This fruit does not perish, as that of earthly labor does: it remains.

The second ἵνα , in order that, cannot be dependent on the first, as Hengstenberg, Luthardt and Keil would have it, as if Jesus meant that they would go and bear fruit in order that, being thus in communion with the Father, they might be heard by Him. This thought is unnatural. The second in order that is simply co-ordinate with the preceding, as in John 13:34; comp. as to the substance and form, the two clauses dependent on ὅτι , John 14:12-13. Jesus reminds them that the very efficacy of their labor will be due to the revelation which He has given them of His person and the prayer which will result from it, the prayer in His name. Thus, through their dependence on the verb: I have appointed you, these words mean: “And you are now, through my name which you know, in the glorious position of gaining for yourselves directly from the Father whatsoever you will have to ask from Him.” All this as the fruit of the free initiative of His love towards them.

Verse 17

Ver. 17. “ I give you these precepts, that you may love one another.

The pronoun ταῦτα cannot refer to the ἵνα which follows: “I command you this, that you love one another.” For the plural proves that this expression includes all the preceding instructions and suggestions since John 15:1, particularly the words of John 15:12-16. The ἱνα must therefore be translated by in order that; it indicates, in conformity with the idea of John 15:12, the purpose of these injunctions.

This work is all love; love in its first origin, the love of the Father; love in its great manifestation, the love of Christ; finally, love in its end, the full flowering of mutual love among believers. Love is its root, its trunk and its fruit. This is the essential characteristic of the new kingdom, whose power and conquests are due only to the contagion of love. This is the reason why Jesus leaves no other law than that of love to those who, through faith, have become members of His body.

Luthardt observes that in the first seventeen verses of this chapter, there is found only one particle of connection. This long asyndeton has an especial solemnity. Here is the last wish of Jesus speaking to His own (see Joh 17:24 ).

Such a style could not belong to a Greek author; these words came forth from Hebrew thought.

Verses 18-20

Vv. 18-20. “ If the world hates you, know that I have been the object of its hatred before you. 19. If you were of the world, the world would love what belongs to it; but because you are not of the world and I have drawn you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20. Remember the word which I have said to you:the servant is not greater than his master; if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Jesus does not wish merely to announce to His disciples the hatred of which they are going to be the object on the part of the world; He wishes to fortify them against it; and He does so by saying to them, first: it will hate you as me ( Joh 15:18-20 ); then: it will hate you because of me ( Joh 15:21-25 ). Nothing makes us more ready to suffer as Christians than the thought that there happens to us only what happened to Christ, and that it happens to us for Him. Γινώσκετε may be taken as an imperative, like μνημονεύετε ( remember), John 15:20: “Consider what has happened with regard to me, and you will understand that everything which happens to you is in the natural order.” The indicative sense, however, is more simple: “If a similar experience befalls you, you know the explanation of it already: you know indeed that....”

By their union with Christ, the disciples represent henceforth on earth a principle foreign to humanity which lives apart from God, to the world. This manifestation therefore appears strange to the world; it is offended by it; it will seek to get rid of it. ᾿Εξελεξάμην , I have chosen, indicates here the call to faith, not to the apostleship; by this word to choose Jesus would designate the act by which He has drawn them to Himself and detached them from the world; the thought of divine predestination is not found here, any more than in John 15:16. The close relation formed by this act of Jesus between Himself and the disciples is formulated in Joh 15:20 by the expressions master and servant. The quoted axiom has the same sense as in Matthew 10:24, but a different sense from John 13:16. In ch. 13 it is an encouragement to humility; here it is an encouragement to patience.

It is natural to regard the two cases set forth by Jesus in Joh 15:20 as both real. The mass of the people will no more be converted by the preaching of the apostles than by that of Jesus. But as Jesus has had the satisfaction of rescuing isolated individuals from ruin, this joy will also be granted to the disciples. This meaning seems to me preferable to that of Grotius, who gives to the second clause an ironical sense, or to that of Bengel, who takes τηρεῖν , to keep, in the sense of maliciously watching, or, finally, to the interpretation of Lucke, Meyer, de Wette, Hengstenberg, Weiss, who see in the two sides of the alternative proposed only two abstract propositions between which the apostles can easily decide which one will be realized for them; as if Jesus and themselves had not also gained some of the members of the κόσμος .

Verses 18-27

2. 15:18-16:4.

Opposite to this spiritual body whose inward life and outward activity He has just described, Jesus sees a hostile society arise, which has also its principle of unity, hatred of Christ and of God: the world, natural humanity, which will declare war against the Church, and which is represented at this moment by the Jewish people. Jesus draws a first picture of its hatred to believers, John 15:18-25. Then, after having pointed out in passing, as if to reassure the disciples, the succor which will be given them, He reproduces with still more living colors the description of the hostility of the world, Joh 15:26 to John 16:4.


Vv. 18-16:4.

1. The word γινώσκετε , which Godet prefers to take as an indicative, is better taken as an imperative. Jesus is giving them comfort and strength in view of the hatred of the world, and bids them bear in mind the fact that they would only be meeting what He had met before. He then reminds them, as a second thought, that it was the fact that He had chosen them, and that thus they did not belong to the world, which was the reason of the hatred. The hatred would therefore be an evidence that they were really His followers. ᾿Εξελεξάμην evidently means here a choice, not to the apostleship, but to discipleship as contrasted with the world.

2. Meyer regards the conditional clauses of Joh 15:20 as abstract cases supposed, the minds of the apostles being left to decide which would be realized. Godet, on the other hand, thinks both suppositions are intended to represent real cases. The mass of the people will not receive their message, but some will. The fact that the entire context refers to the opposition of the world seems to make the view of Meyer the more correct one.

3. The statement that they would not have had sin, John 15:22; John 15:24, is to be explained in connection with the accompanying statement: “But now they have no excuse for their sin.” It is sin with no possible ground of excuse for it of which Jesus is speaking.

4. We see in John 15:22; Joh 15:24 the two evidences, which are presented throughout this Gospel, brought forward once more the words and the works and the parallelism and partial repetition in these two verses are to be accounted for as connected with the desire to set them forth.

5. In Joh 15:26-27 Jesus makes a new reference to the Spirit, by way of encouragement and support in view of the opposition of the world. As this was His purpose, it was natural that He should set forth here the testimony which the Spirit should give, and which should help the disciples in their conflict with the world. In Joh 14:16 Jesus says that He will ask the Father, and the Father will give the Spirit; here, He says that He will send the Spirit from the Father; in Joh 16:7 He says that He will Himself send the Spirit. The same indication of close union between Himself and the Father is given here, which we find in many places in this Gospel. Godet presses the distinction of the prepositions ἐκ and παρά , and the difference in the tense of πέμψω and ἐκπορεύεται , as showing that in the latter verb there is a reference to an emanating (essentially and eternally) from the Father. That this may be the correct view may be allowed, but as the verb ἐκπορεύεται is itself used with the preposition παρά , and as it does not, in itself, necessarily mean come forth out of the being or nature of God, it must be regarded as doubtful whether this interpretation can be insisted upon.

6. The present tense in μαρτυρεῖτε is doubtless used because the testimony of the disciples had already begun. The allusion to the disciples is secondary to the allusion to the Spirit, but it calls to mind the fact that they were, and were to be, a power in the world for the truth.

Verses 21-25

Vv. 21-25. “ But they will do all this to you for my name's sake, because they know not him who sent me. 22. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23. He who hates me, hates my Father also. 24. If I had not done among them works such as no other has done, they would not have had sin; but now they have seen, and nevertheless have hated both me and my Father. 25. But this is so, that the word may be fulfilled, which is written in their law: They hated me without a cause.

The apostles should not be disturbed because of this so general hatred, imagining that they have themselves provoked it, and believing that they see in it the proof that they are on a wrong path: “ But ( ἀλλά ) take courage; it is because of me.” “ Because of my name,” says Jesus; that is, because of the revelation of my person which you have received, and which you will declare to them.

The reason why this revelation, which should make Israel rejoice, will exasperate that people, is that they do not truly know God. The idea of God has been perverted in the heart of this people. This is the reason why they are offended at the appearance of Jesus, and will be offended at the preaching of His apostles. The book of the Gospels is the setting forth of the first of these facts, and the book of the Acts that of the second. In consequence of their blindness, Israel will rather see in the holiest man an impostor than the one sent from God.

Verse 22

Ver. 22. This blindness which has prevailed in their entire history (see the discourse of Stephen, Acts 7:0) might have still been forgiven them, if, at this decisive moment, they had finally yielded. But the rejection of this supreme divine manifestation characterizes their state as an invincible antipathy, as the hatred of God, a sentiment which constitutes the unpardonable sin. Some ( Bengel, Luthardt, Lange, Hengstenberg, Keil) think that the sin which would not have been imputed to them is their very unbelief with reference to Jesus. But this sin, if Jesus had not come, would not have been even possible ( Weiss). It would be necessary, therefore, to understand the first words in this sense: “If I had not come in such or such a way, for example, with the holiness which I have displayed, and had not borne witness for myself in so convincing a manner.” But Jesus simply says: If I had not come that is, as Messiah. The meaning, therefore, is this: “The former sin of Israel, its long resistance to God, would have been forgiven it, if it had not now crowned all by the rejection of Jesus as He came as Saviour, and bore testimony to Himself as such.” This last sin destroys all the excuses which Israel could have alleged for its conduct in general; it proves incontestably that this people is animated by an ill-will towards God; that it does not sin through ignorance. The idea is not altogether the same as in John 9:41.

Verse 23

Ver. 23. In the rejection of Jesus there is hatred towards Him, and in this hatred towards Him, the Jewish malignity reveals itself clearly as hatred of God: it is distinguished thereby from a mere ignorance, like that of the heathen. More than this:

Verse 24

Ver. 24. If the testimony which Jesus bore to Himself did not succeed in enlightening them, His works ought at least to have procured credence for His testimony. The one who did not have a consciousness sufficiently developed to apprehend the divine character of His teachings, had at least eyes to behold His miracles.

For the first two καί , see John 6:36: they have caused things which seemed incompatible to move together: seeing and hating; and this at once (the two following καί ) with reference to me and my Father: these last two καί are additive, not adversative.

Verse 25

Ver. 25. ᾿Αλλά : “ But there is nothing astonishing in this.” The righteous man of the old covenant had already complained by the mouth of David (Psalms 35:19; Psa 69:5 ) of being the object of the gratuitous hatred of the enemies of God. If their hatred was wholly laid to their own charge, notwithstanding the faults of the imperfectly righteous man, with how much stronger reason can the perfectly righteous One appropriate to Himself this complaint, which is, at the same time, His consolation and that of those who suffer like Him and for Him! Weiss asserts here, as with reference to the other quotations of this kind, that the evangelist puts in the mouth of even the Messiah these words of the Old Testament. The evangelist would then imagine the Messiah as also uttering these words of Joh 15:6 from Psalms 69:0: O God, Thou knowest my foolishness, and my sins are not hid from Thee; or he could never have read them! As for Psalms 35:0, it is impossible to find in it a line which could have led any reader whatever of the Old Testament to the Messianic application.

In order that depends on a “This has happened,” or “This must have happened,” understood, as in so many other cases (John 9:3, John 13:18, 1 John 2:19, Mark 14:49, etc.). On the term “ their law,” see on John 8:17. De Wette finds irony in these words: “They practise faithfully their law.” This meaning seems far-fetched.

Verses 26-27

Vv. 26, 27. “ But when the support shall have come, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me; 27. and you also shall testify, because you are with me from the beginning.

Weiss sees in this intervention of the Spirit's testimony a fact which Jesus alleges in order to demonstrate the truth of the word without cause, John 15:25. But this connection is unnatural; it would have required a γάρ in John 15:26. It is more simple to suppose that, in speaking of the hatred of the world, Jesus interrupts Himself for a moment in order to show immediately to the disciples the power which will sustain them in this terrible conflict. He only indicates this help for a moment in passing. The idea will be completely developed in the following passage, John 16:5-15, when the picture of Jewish hostility will be finished.

In saying: whom I will send, Jesus is necessarily thinking of His approaching reinstatement in the divine condition; and in adding: from the Father, He acknowledges His subordination to the Father, even when He shall have recovered that condition.

Jesus here designates the Spirit as Spirit of truth, in order to place Him in opposition to the falsehood of the world, to its voluntary ignorance. The Spirit will dissipate the darkness in which it tries to envelop itself.

Most of the modern interpreters, Meyer, Luthardt, Weiss, Keil, refer the words: who proceeds from the Father, to the same fact as the preceding words: whom I will send you from the Father, to the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. The attempt is made to escape the charge of tautology by saying that the first clause indicates the relation of the Spirit to Christ, and the second His relation to God ( Keil); as if in this latter were not already contained the from God, which, repeated in the second clause, would form the most idle pleonasm. It must be observed that the second verb differs entirely from the first; ἐκπορεύεσθαι , to proceed from, as a river from its source, is altogether different from to be sent: the ἐκ , out from, which is added here to παρά , from the presence of, also marks a difference. But especially does the change of tense indicate the difference of idea: whom I will send and who proceeds from. He whom Jesus will send (historically, at a given moment) is a divine being, who emanates (essentially, eternally) from the Father. An impartial exegesis cannot, as it seems to me, deny this sense. It is that the historical facts of salvation, to the view of Jesus, rest upon eternal relations, as well with reference to Himself, the Son, as to the Spirit. They are, as it were, the reflections of the Trinitarian relations. As the incarnation of the Son rests upon His eternal generation, so the mission of the Holy Spirit is related to His eternal procession from the very centre of the divine being. The context is not in the least contradictory to this sense, as Weiss thinks; on the contrary, it demands it. What Jesus sends testifies truly for Him only so far as it comes forth from God.

The Latin church is not wrong, therefore, in affirming the Filioque, starting from the words: I will send, and the Greek church is no more wrong in maintaining the per Filium and subordination, starting from the words: from the Father. In order to bring these two views into accord, we must place ourselves at the Christological point of view of the Gospel of John, according to which the homoousia and the subordination are simultaneously true.

The pronoun ἐκεῖνος , “ he, that being, and he alone,” sums up all the characteristics which have just been attributed to the Holy Spirit, and makes prominent the unique authority of this divine witness.

Does this testimony given to the person of Jesus consist only in the presence of the Spirit on the earth, as proof de facto of His glorification? This sense would not suit either the name support nor that of Spirit of truth, and would not account for the pronoun you, in the promise: “I will send to you.” The question here is rather of the testimony given before the world, in answer to its hostile attitude, by the intermediate agency of the apostles; for example, by the mouth of Peter and the one hundred and twenty on the day of Pentecost.

But if it is so, we ask ourselves how can Jesus afterwards distinguish this testimony from that of the apostles themselves, in John 15:27: And you also shall bear witness for me; and the more, since the particle καὶ δέ indicates a marked gradation (comp. Joh 6:51 ); καί , and also; δέ , and besides. To understand the distinction, we must begin with John 15:27, which is the simplest one. The apostles possess a treasure which is peculiar to them, and which the Spirit could not communicate to them the historical knowledge of the ministry of Jesus from its beginning to its end. The Spirit does not teach the facts of history; He reveals their meaning. But this historical testimony of the apostles would, without the Spirit, be only a frigid narrative incapable of creating life. It is the Spirit which brings the vivifying breath to the testimony. By making the light of the divine thought fall upon the facts, He makes them a power which lays hold upon souls. Without the facts, the Spirit would be only an empty exaltation devoid of contents, of substance; without the Spirit the narrative of the facts would remain dead and unfruitful. The apostolic testimony and the testimony of the Spirit unite, therefore, in one and the same act, but they do so while bringing to it, each of them, a necessary element, the one, the historical narration, the other, the inward evidence. This relation is still reproduced at the present day in every living sermon drawn from the Scriptures. Peter, in like manner, distinguishes these two testimonies in Acts 5:32: “ And we are witnesses of these things, as well as the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him. ” We understand, after this, why, when the apostles wished to fill the place of Judas, they chose two men who had accompanied Jesus from the baptism of John even to His resurrection ( Act 1:21-22 ).

The καὶ ὑμεῖς signifies therefore: “And you also, you will have your special part in this testimony.” The present μαρτυρεῖτε , you bear witness, which we have translated by the future, does not by any means refer, as Weiss and Keil think, to the present moment, when the disciples are already bearing witness. Besides the circumstance that the fact was at that time true only in a very limited sense, why should it be mentioned here, since the question is of the future and the testimony of the Spirit? This present transports the disciples to the time when the Spirit shall speak: “ And then, on this foundation you bear witness also.”

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 15". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books".