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The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters contain the discourses which our Lord uttered shortly before His passage over the brook Kedron; the seventeenth chapter contains His prayer to the Father. In His discourse to the disciples, the Lord first unfolds, in the section before us, the threefold relation in which they stand, first to Him, then to one another, and lastly to the world.
The Lord first gives to His disciples a commentary upon the first table of the Decalogue, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” That, under the New Testament, takes the form of abiding in Christ. Since the existences or natures of the Father and the Son perfectly coincide and cover each other, Jesus could not, in a separate section, adjust His disciples’ relation to the Father specifically. As they stood with respect to Himself, so they stood with respect to the Father; should they abide in Him, they would abide in the Father. Then, in ch. John 15:12-17, He turns to the second table. The commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” takes, in the kingdom of Christ, the form of Christian brotherly love. After the Lord had determined His people’s relations to Himself as their Head, and to each other as brethren (Augustin: “For on these two commandments of love hang all the law and the prophets”), He sheds light upon their relation to the world, and what they would have to expect from it, and what resources they would be able to use in defence against its enmity.
The sections are clearly and sharply demarcated. The first is separated from the second by the concluding formula in ver. 11; the second from the third by the concluding formula in ch. John 15:17. The third is distinguished from that which follows by the circumstance that the watchword world—which in the beginning of the section, is used with intentional frequency, in order to point attention to the theme which now begins to be treated—twice recurs at the end. And that all things down to the most minute are here ordered and sure, appears from the fact that, in the first section, the watchword abide occurs precisely ten times, as J. Gerhard long ago observed (μείνῃ? , in ver. 11, is a false reading); that in vers. 12-17, which are entirely devoted to love, there are seven characterizations of that grace, the seven further being divided as usual into four and three: ἀ?γαπᾶ τε , ἠ?γάπησα , ἀ?γάπην , ἀ?γαπᾶ τε—φίλων , φίλοι , φίλους ; that in the third section κόσμος also recurs seven times, the seven being divided into five at the beginning and two at the end—a division of seven which elsewhere accompanies that into four and three. We cannot attribute this to chance, especially as this kind of reckoning occurs so frequently, not only in the Gospel and the Apocalypse of St John, but also in the Lord’s discourses, as recorded by the first three Evangelists. We have only to refer to the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, the benedictions, and the seven words on the cross.
Ver. 1. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman.”
In vers. 1 and 2 the relation is sketched in its general outlines; from ver. 3 onwards with specific reference to the disciples. The not observing this order of thought misled De Wette, who remarks that the fruitfulness of the branches is an idea that comes in too soon at ver. 2, and which, in the appropriate order, should follow ver. 5. Calvin gives the actual force of the figure of the vine thus: “He teaches that the life-sap flows only from Himself, whence it follows that the nature of men is unfruitful, and void of all good.” So also Gerhard: “He would, by this figure, denote the most intimate union between Himself and His disciples, and all believers in Him.” When Christ describes Himself as the true vine, He intimates the existence of false vines. These may be either the natural vines, according to the remark of Meyer and others: “Christ declares Himself to be the reality of the idea which is only symbolically exhibited in the natural vine; the material growth of the earth is not the true vine, but only its type and figure;” or the false vine is a spiritual power which promises life but does not bestow it, as Beza says: “He speaks of the true vine as that which alone has in itself that quickening life, and is alone able to communicate it, in opposition to all other means for the securing of spiritual life, which are altogether false and delusive.” This last dew is the only right one. It is in itself improbable that Christ would designate Himself the true in opposition to a common vine. That earthly things are only types and symbols of the heavenly, is indeed a theosophic idea, but not a scriptural one. It would be more suitable to Dionysius Areopagita than to the Redeemer. In ch. John 1:9 Christ is termed the true light, not in opposition to the natural light, but in opposition to spiritual lights, like John the Baptist, imperfect and transitory. Christ is the true bread in chap. John 6:35, not as opposed to ordinary bread, but as opposed to the manna. The good (that is, the true) shepherd the Lord is termed in ch. John 10:11, as the antithesis, not of ordinary shepherds, but of the wicked rulers and guides of the people, the Pharisees. The visible world has, according to the scriptural view, its own proper significance in itself, and it must not be degraded into a mere shadow and type. We can all the less doubt that the comparison points to a spiritual vine, because in the Old Testament Israel often is introduced as such, and because his destination to be a true vine is contrasted with his lamentable degeneracy, which needed grafting again, and renewal. This was promised in Christ. Israel, the vine of God, is the fundamental idea of Psalms 80. Concerning degenerate Israel we read in Deuteronomy 32:32, “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter.” Hosea says, in ch. John 10:1, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself; according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars,” etc. According to Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 5:4, the Lord planted His vineyard with the choicest vine, and “looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.” In Ezekiel 19:10-14, Israel is a vine fruitful and full of branches, which was destroyed by the wrath of God. But the real original, to which the Lord here refers, even as in Matthew 21. He refers to the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, is Jeremiah 2:21, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me?” LXX.: ἐ?γὼ? δὲ? ἐ?φύτευσά σε ἄ?μπελον καρποφόρον πᾶ σαν ἀ?ληθινήν , πῶ?ς ἐ?στράφης εἰ?ς πικρίαν , ἡ? ἄ?μπελος ἡ? ἀ?λλοτρία . There we have the same antithesis between the true and the false vine. Since Israel is changed from a true to a false vine, another true vine must be substituted: such an one as should not be strange to Israel, but in which Israel finds again his true nature, as the Messiah is in Isaiah 49:3 mentioned as He in whom Israel would attain to his destination, and in whom the idea of Israel would be realized. The false vine is not Israel generally, but Israel after the flesh, 1 Corinthians 10:18; Israel degenerate from its true nature, and not gathered again into Christ its head. The thought is, that salvation does not come from out of the people themselves, but from above, from fellowship with Christ, who has been placed in its midst: comp. Romans 9:31; Romans 10:3. The true vine is Christ, or the Church in its absolute dependence on Christ; the false vine is the Jews establishing their own righteousness, and all those who tread in their footsteps, all communities which separate from the Head, and sever salvation from its absolute dependence upon Him. We may find a commentary on this passage in the beautiful golden vine over the gate of the Herodian temple, “a marvel both of size and of art to all beholders,” as Josephus says, Ant. xv. 11, 3: comp. also Bell. Jud. v. 5, 4, where we read, “The gate had also golden vines upon it, from which depended clusters as long as a man;” and the thorough description of this vine in the Mischna Cod. Middoth, c. 3, 8.
Our Lord convicted of error the Pharisaic notion concerning the vine, which in His own time was the prevalent interpretation, and at the same time He pointed to the real truth which was contained in the figure. Christ is the true vine only, in the first place, as opposed to Israel after the flesh, the synagogue of Satan (Quesnel: “The Church does not bear bitter fruit like the synagogue”), which became such because it assumed to have life in itself, and would not derive it from connection with Christ as the Head of the Church. “I am the true vine,” our Lord cries out, through all ages of the Church, in opposition to those who either altogether or partially establish their own righteousness, and would set up in the Church other sources of life than those which it derives from connection with Him as its only and living Head.
“And My Father is the husbandman: “the husbandman here is identical with the vinedresser, the d ἀ?μπελουργός of Luke 13:7; Luke 13:9; γεωργός is the general term. We may seek explanation in Genesis 9:20, “And Noah began to be an husbandman (Sept. γεωργός ), and he planted a vineyard.” There the work of the husbandman is the general designation, including, as a specific branch, the planting of the vineyard. No mention is made of any owner of the vineyard or the land; the husbandman only is mentioned, because here possessorship is not referred to, but labour. That this labour had, first of all, the planting of the vine for its object, is shown by the example of Noah. And it corresponds, in” the Divine vineyard, that the Father had sent His Son into the world, and caused Him to take flesh of our flesh. It may be questioned, however, whether that function of the husbandman is here alluded to. In the succeeding verses we read only of two works performed by the husbandman, the cutting off of unfruitful branches, and the cleansing of the fruitful. And that the Divine act which corresponds to these is not attributed to the Father in opposition to the Son, is evident, as Chrysostom and Augustin noted, from ver. 3, where the purity of the disciples is derived from the word which Christ had spoken; while, as it respects the cutting off evil branches, ch. John 5:22 is decisive, according to which the Father had given all judgment to the Son. Jesus terms Himself the vine, not with respect to His whole being, but only one aspect of it. He is the vine, inasmuch as He is immanent in the Church. But, so far as He rules over the Church, He is, along with the Father, the husbandman.
Ver. 2. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”
It may seem strange that our Lord should speak of branches in Him that bear no fruit; it is manifest that those are meant who have never borne fruit at all. It might seem that these could not be regarded in any sense as branches, especially as the beginning of fruit-bearing is, according to ch. John 6:29, faith in Christ. Yet Quesnel’s observation is perfectly true, that “the good and the evil branches belong alike to the stock.” The matter is resolved by the actual offer of the grace of Christ, and the voluntary acceptance of that grace. So long as this is proffered, and until Christ punishes the rejection of His gifts by exclusion from His kingdom (comp. ver. 6), the unbelieving and the wicked are branches in Him the vine. Predestinarianism, indeed, is much embarrassed by “in Me,” as may be seen in the commentaries of Calvin and Lampe. What is spoken of is the unfruitful branches actually being in Christ the vine, and not their thinking themselves, or others thinking them, to be so. The matter is an actual offer of the gifts of Christ, and the assurance of the possibility of a full participation in them: an offer and an assurance which result in nothing only through the fault of those who receive them.
“Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit: “the Jewish branch is primarily meant; as by the contrasted fruit-bearing branch we are to understand primarily the Apostles, and the Christian Church having its germ in them. That even the Jews were a branch in Christ the true vine, is as certain as that, according to ch. John 1:11, when He came to the Jews, He came to His own property. Accordingly, they belonged to Him from God, and by absolute right. It was because the Jews, in spite of their not bearing fruit, their unbelief and their enmity, were still a branch in Christ, that a final attempt was to be made after the death of Christ, and through the sending of the Paraclete, to win them: ch. John 15:26, John 16:7-9. Those with whom this final attempt was vain, and who persisted in their stiffnecked rebellion, were cut off. But the evidence that Jesus had primarily in view the Jews, when He spoke of the branches not bearing fruit, is found in the fact that the same thought recurs in ver. 6, where the reference to Ezekiel 15 places the allusion to the Jews beyond doubt. Further, that the general proposition, “Every branch in Me that beareth fruit,” etc., refers first of all to the Christian Church, as existing in the germ of the apostolic company, is shown by ver. 3. But it is manifest that the reference of the unfruitful branches to the unbelieving Jews goes on parallel with this. A comparison of Jeremiah 8:13 leads to the same result: “I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes in the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things which I have given them shall pass away from them.” There also we have the taking away; and the reason, the not bearing fruit, is common to both. In regard to this latter, we may still further compare Deuteronomy 32:32, where it is said of the people of Israel, “Their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter;” Isaiah 5:2, “And He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes;” Micah 7:1. Speaking of the Jews, John the Baptist uttered the general declaration, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.” The same words, with reference to the same people, are spoken by our Lord in Matthew 7:19. For the αἴ ρει , we may compare Luke 13:7; Luke 13:9. There the fig-tree which was to be cut down is the Jewish people; and the αἴ ρει has also its parallel in κακοὺ?ς κακῶ?ς ἀ?πολέσει αὐ τούς , in Matthew 21:41. The branch bearing no fruit in our passage, is in Matthew 21:19 the fig-tree bearing only leaves. In Romans 11, the olive-tree is another parallel to the vine; the ἐ?ξεκλάσθησαν κλάδοι corresponds to the αἴ ρει αὐ τό , as we find it stated of the Jews in Romans 11:19. The reference to the Jews in our present passage will hardly be misapprehended, if we bear in mind that the last discourses of Christ in the first Evangelists, and especially in Matthew, are predominantly concerned with the judgment which was to befall the Jews on account of their unbelief.
The alliteration between αἴ ρειν , to take away, and καθαίρειν , to purge, goes for nothing, as it exists only in the Greek, and the verbs themselves have nothing in common. (Bengel: Graceful rhythm, although καθαίρω is not, like καταίρω , from αἴ ρω .) That even the fruit-bearing branches also need purging, points to the deep and thorough corruption of human nature. Calvin: “He mentioned the purging, because our flesh abounds in superfluous and noxious vices, and is only too fruitful of them.” The means of the cleansing are manifold; and many other passages of Holy Scripture, as well as experience, make it plain that, among those means, tribulations are prominent. Many therefore suppose them to be mainly intended. But that here we must think of the purifying power of the word, is clear from ver. 3. Luther: “In what way that purifying comes, and what the purification truly is by which they are incorporated into Christ as living branches, He plainly shows, when He adds. Now ye are clean, etc.” All other means are but subsidiary to the energy of this first and main instrument.
Ver. 3. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
The Lord had, in vers. 1 and 2, spoken generally. Henceforth He speaks with specific application to the disciples. He says here, first, that they, for the present, belong to the second of the two classes indicated in ver. 2. That was consolatory to their minds; but consolation was not our Lord’s real end. The Lord’s admission that they were clean, forms only a transition to the following exhortation to abiding in Him, which is the real pith of the whole section, as is plain enough from the word being repeated ten times. As soon as they forget the abiding, they fall back into the former class. Thus it was equivalent to saying, “Now ye are indeed already clean; but—” Lücke’s “Be ye therefore without fear, ye will never be cut off,” misses altogether the right point of view.
The purity here corresponds to the fruit-bearing in ver. 2. That it was only a commencing purification which they had received, is shown by the relation to ver. 2, where it is seen to be a process continually going on in the fruit-bearing branches: by the following words, in which the urgent exhortation to abide in Christ rests upon the consideration that there were still in them impure elements which struggled to get the mastery again; and by ver. 13, according to which Christ must, even for His disciples, lay down His life, and deliver them by His blood from their sin.
The source or cause of the purity of the disciples is stated to be the word which Christ had spoken to them. That excludes every notion that they had acquired their cleansing by any efforts of their own, or any inherent righteousness possessed. The Father, in whom, according to ver. 2, the purifying energy has its final source, wrought it in them through the word of the Son. It is not any single word that is intended, as some think, who appeal to ch. John 13:10 as that word; but the sum of all that which Christ had spoken, as Peter said to Him, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” In ver. 7 corresponds “and My words abide in you,” where the ῥ?ήματα is but the expansion of the λόγος in our present passage. Out of the word of Christ sprang that faith to which, in Acts 15:9, the purification of the heart is ascribed. Thus the word is the final and proper cause of purity. To the word of Christ a high importance is here assigned; and we are therefore led to set our affection upon it, to meditate upon it day and night, and absolutely to submit our wills to its influence. We are warned against the deceitfulness of modern theology, which assumes to be censor and judge of the word which cleanses us, and wrests and perverts it every way. It is the direct consequence of the importance here attached to the word, that Christ has taken care that it should be transmitted to His Church in an uncorrupted and pure form. As the complement of the word which Christ Himself spoke immediately to His disciples, we have, according to ch. John 16:13-14, that which He has communicated by His Spirit for the Church of all ages.
Ver. 4. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.”
To the fact uttered in the preceding verse, is now adjoined an exhortation. Then the Lord develops the motives which must afford the disciples an argument to abide in Him: that abiding alone makes them capable of bearing fruit, vers. 4, 5. Not abiding, is to fall under the Divine judgments, ver. 6. He who abideth may pray with assurance of being heard, ver. 7. He enters into an intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son, ver. 8. He receives the portion of that which, to the Apostles, was the best and highest good—the love of Christ, ver. 9. Then, after the nature of this abiding is still further explained and developed, ver. 10, there follows the concluding formula, ver. 11, “Abide in Me.” It is shown by what follows that the disciples could not do this of themselves, and of their own power: “Without Me ye can do nothing.” But they could, like Judas and the Jews, close their own hearts; they could wickedly hinder the efficacy of the means employed by Christ in order to their abiding; and they are here urgently exhorted not to do that. The main instrument by which Christ effects our abiding, is, according to ver. 3, His word. Their preservation could be secured only by the same means which wrought the beginning. In the fundamental passage relating to our abiding in Christ, John 6:56, we read, “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him.” There the means of abiding in Christ appears to be, that we incessantly receive the flesh and blood of Christ, and thereby more and more tame and discipline and render divine our own flesh and blood. This factor goes hand in hand with the Word of God. That Christ should be more and more evidently formed within us, is the tone and substance of the Word of God. Everything in it points to that
Christ attaining a full life in us.
The emphasis thrown upon “abide in Me” by our Lord, serves for the refutation of the doctrine of the indefectibility of grace. If this were a sound doctrine, our whole section would have been needless. The ten times repeated abiding, shows that there is not merely an abstract possibility of falling, but the most urgent danger of falling, against which we need to be every moment on our guard.
“And I in you.” Some explain this as if the exhortation were here continued: Do your diligence, that I may be able to abide in you; by your own abiding, so demean yourselves, that I may still abide in you. But it is simpler to take it thus: (So I also abide in you. Ch. John 6:56 confirms this view. Only the μείνατε ἐ?ν ἐ?μοί has a hortatory meaning; as is plain from the fact, that the motive and inducement presently introduced refer to that alone.
As, in the reason urged for the abiding in Christ, all fruit-bearing is made dependent upon that abiding, this is a, strong denunciation of fallen human nature, which out of its own resources can produce only sin or delusive virtue; and therefore it is a direct refutation of all Pelagianism.
Ver. 5. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing.”
The first words do not contain a mere repetition. The words which had been formerly spoken generally are now specifically applied to the relation to Christ and His disciples, in order to draw the conclusion, that they can bear fruit only in fellowship with Him. “Ye are the branches” does not imply that the disciples were the only branches. It is rather equivalent to saying: My relation to you is that of the vine to the branches. This does not exclude the fact, that with them there were, and after them should be, other branches. That there were other branches, and that the Jews in particular were such, is shown by vers. 2 and 6. The absolute relation of vine to the branches, which Jesus assumes in declaring His relation to His disciples,
His thus making Himself to be unconditionally the source of all spiritual powers of life,—presupposes and rests upon the basis of His divinity. Augustin: Quamvis autem Christus vitis non esset nisi homo esset: tamen istam gratiam palmitibus non praeberet nisi etiam Deus esset. “Without Me ye can do nothing” leads to the deep corruption of our nature, and presupposes the πονηροὶ? ὄ?ντες in Matthew 7:11, and “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” of ch. John 3:6. Thence will appear at the same time the necessity of the closest adherence to the vine, and of the firmest continuance in a state, to relapse from which is to fall back again into the old impotence. Augustin: Non ait, sine me parum potestis facere, sed nihil potestis facere. Luther: “Thus there is a heavy sentence pronounced upon all life and action, however; great and glorious it may seem to be, which is out of Christ: man can do nothing, and be nothing, out of Him.”
Ver. 6. “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
In the former words the abiding in Christ was commanded, on the ground that it alone would capacitate them to bring forth fruit. The not bearing fruit is a miserable lot. Here the exhortation assumes a still more solemn character: the fire is the issue of not abiding. “If any man abide not in Me”—whether it be that he never made a beginning of fruit-bearing, or that he afterwards fell away again, and thus relapsed into the state of the not-bearing branch, ver. 1. The limitation to the latter part of the alternative is negatived by the fact that there is reference to the words, “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit,” ver. 2, which evidently here have their full development; as also by the fact that Jesus, in the whole verse, has primarily in view the unbelieving Jews, who were as certainly branches in Christ, as they belonged to the people of God: the Jews had originally stood in a relation to Christ
He was their divinely-appointed Shepherd, and they His flock; but they did not abide in Him, they violently sundered themselves from Him. A comparison with Ezekiel 15 makes this allusion to the Jews indubitable. There the Jews appear under the image of a degenerate and wild vine, which was fit for nothing in the world but to be burnt: “Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel.” We are led to the same result by the parallel with the last discourses of Christ in Matthew, which for the most part refer to the Divine judgment impending over the degenerate people. Especially we must bear in mind the symbolical treatment of the fig-tree that bore no fruit, but leaves only, Matthew 21:18 seq., Mark 11:12-14; as also the parable of the vineyard, Matthew 21:33, Mark 12:1 seq. As this last refers back to Jeremiah 5, so our present parable rests upon Ezekiel 15. It is obvious, however, that the reference to the Jews is only the primary one, and not the sole. The Lord speaks, indeed, to such as have already become Christians. But that there is a certain latitude of interpretation, which will refer the not abiding, or the falling away, to the Gentiles who were to be called into the kingdom of God, is taught by the parable of the guest who had not on a wedding garment: comp. also Romans 11:22, “But toward thee goodness, if thou continue (ἐ?ὰ?ν ἐ?πιμένῃ?ς ) in His goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” This apostasy shall increase in a special manner towards the final period of the kingdom of God. That the τίς designates rather an ideal person than an individual, a unity which embraces a real plurality of persons, is shown by the following αὐ τά in the plural, which in the καίεται returns back into the ideal unity. It is not accidental that our Lord here uses the third person; not saying, “If ye abide not in Me,” although immediately afterwards the direct address returns in ver. 7. This serves to intimate that the not abiding and the cutting off of Judas would not apply to any other of the Apostles; that to the remainder belonged rather the promises addressed to such as should abide in Christ.
The two aorists, ἐ?βλήθη and ἐ?ξηράνθη , emphatically indicate that the guilt is at once followed by the decree of punishment, although the execution of that doom may be a little longer delayed. The נכרתה of the Mosaic law strictly corresponds. The soul that broke the Divine command is cut off at the moment of the breach itself.
The being cast out refers to exclusion from the kingdom of God: comp. Matthew 8:12, “But the children of the kingdom ἐ?κβληθήσονται (ἐ?κ τῆ?ς βασιλείας ) into outer darkness.” Matthew 21:43 gives us a commentary on the ἐ?βλήθη ἔ?ξω , so far as Jesus had the Jews in His eye when He spoke: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” The guilt corresponding to this retribution we have in Matthew 21:39: “And they took him, and cast him out of the vineyard.” They thrust the Lord of glory out of the vineyard, and as the penalty they are now themselves thrust out; or, at the moment when they did this, they did really cast themselves out: comp. also Luke 20:16.
The ἐ?ξηράνθη has here the same meaning as in the case of the fig-tree, which signifies the Jewish people, Matthew 21:19. It points to the solemn fact, that with severance from Christ all life and prosperity cease. The first evidence of this is in the spiritual and ecclesiastical life, which dies away. What a fearful change has passed upon Judaism, in regard to this, since the rejection of Christ! How saltless and vapid has everything become! But the withering has its reference also to outward prosperity. All bloom and every sign of well-being passed away with the rejection of the Messiah.
The plural συνάγουσι , βάλλουσι , is significant: it can refer only to the instruments of the Divine judgment, and shows that that judgment is to be executed by men. Lampe: Hoc judicium non immediate a Deo infligitur. Pater amputavit palmites: sed plures sunt qui eos colligunt. Comp. Isaiah 13:3, “I have commanded My sanctified ones; I have also called My mighty ones for Mine anger;” and the Lord’s own word, “Where the carcase is, there shall the eagles be gathered together,” in which the eagles point to the Roman standards. If we carefully note the double plural, we shall not hastily with Stier interpret the fire as meaning the “great furnace at the end of the world.” It signifies rather the Divine judgment, as in Deuteronomy 32:22: “For a fire is kindled in Mine anger” (here fire is evidently expounded as wrath), “and shall burn unto the lowest hell; and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” Just before, we read, “And I will move them to jealousy with those that are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” The executioners of the Divine judgments are, throughout the chapter, the Gentiles. The Baptist had early threatened the Jews with the fire of Divine judgment in case they scorned to be baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit, the sole preservative against the fire. Matthew 3:10-12. So also the Redeemer Himself in Matthew 7:19. In the Apocalypse the fire is commonly the fire of the Divine wrath: comp. my commentary on ch. John 4:5, John 8:5, John 14:18. The material fire in Matthew 22:7, “And he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, καὶ? τὴ?ν πόλιν αὐ τῶ?ν ἐ?νέπρησε is only the embodiment of this spiritual fire. That we must not here think primarily of the fire of hell, the final manifestation of the fire of the Divine wrath, is shown by the original passage in Ezekiel, ch. 15. There the fire is that of the Divine judgment by the hands of the Chaldeans; and the material of the fire is not individuals as such, but the catastrophe has a national import. The final form, however, of this fire is of course the fire of hell, Matthew 5:22; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:42. The general doctrine is this, that their relation to Christ involves those in heavier guilt and punishment who cease from His fellowship, and who thereby sink back into a condition which is far worse than that of those with whom He never entered into any such relation. The truth of this declaration of the Redeemer was demonstrated not only in the Jews, but also in many early flourishing Christian communities and peoples, which were consumed by the fire of the wrath of God because they failed to abide in the Vine.
Ver. 7. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
A new motive. To have the privilege to pray with acceptance is a high prerogative; and the condition of that privilege is abiding in Christ. To “if ye abide in Me” is appended, “and My words abide in you,” in order to impress it upon the disciples that they must attach supreme importance to the words of the Lord, and give them all their due. It was through His words that they came to Christ, and their retaining His words that would decide their abiding in Him. He who deals frivolously or capriciously with Christ’s words, who partially rejects them, or evades them by one-sided interpretation, deceives himself if he thinks that he abides in Christ. Lachmann’s reading αἰ τήσασθε , instead of αἰ τήσεσθε , is condemned by the fact that the imperative never occurs in that form. The future is in ch. John 16:26 the same as here; and the imperative was doubtless adopted through failure to understand the passage. If we lose sight of the strict and inseparable connection of these words with those which follow, we may suppose that the future yields no appropriate meaning—as if every man might ask what he would; and consequently the imperative, giving an authority for such asking, would seem necessary. But if we pass on immediately to “and it shall be done,” it becomes manifest that the words speak of petition that may be granted.
The limitation to “what ye will” is given by what precedes. Supplication for temporal good, for instance, cannot proceed from one in whom Christ’s words abide, Luke 12:15; his mind is set, and set wholly, on the true riches. Augustin: Aliud volumus quia sumus in Christo, et aliud volumus quia sumus adhuc in hoc seculo. Here, however, we must think especially of such asking as is concerned with the universal interests of the kingdom of God; for the Lord is not so much speaking to individuals as to the Church as such, represented by the Apostles. If the Church abides in Christ, she cannot fail of victory over the world, particularly the Jews, and then over the whole power of heathenism: comp. on ch. John 14:12. All the Church’s power, as outward, is dependent on her internal relation to Christ. If all is well there, her enemies need cause no alarm.
Ver. 8. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit: so shall ye be My disciples.”
We have here also a motive to abiding in Christ. For, according to what has preceded, the bringing forth fruit is dependent on that abiding. But this has here a double blessed result. First, the Father is glorified by it, on whose ground the fruit is borne (Bengel: Multitudo uvarum honorifica est vinitori); and this is of itself a blessed thing, fruitful in the reward that follows: comp. ch. John 13:32. And then, secondly, they thereby advance more and more into the blessed condition of the disciples of Christ, whose most characteristic token is the bearing much fruit. In the sermon on the mount, we have the glorification of the Father set forth as a motive to zeal in good works, Matthew 5:16. In regard to ἐ?δοξάσθη , the proleptic aorist, comp. Winer. Before γένησεσθε , we must supplement ἐ?ν τούτῳ? . Beza: Ita glorificabitur Pater meus, et ita demum eritis mei discipuli, si multum fructum attuleritis. Some expositors interpret, “Thereby My Father is glorified in your bringing forth much fruit, and becoming My disciples.” But, in harmony with the figure, the exhortation refers only to the bearing of fruit. The result that they become disciples in relation to Christ, is simply parallel with the result that the Father is glorified: comp. ver. 1; ch. John 8:31 also is in favour of the co-ordination, ἐ?ὰ?ν ὑ?μεῖ?ς μείνητε ἐ?ν τῷ? λόγῳ? τῷ? ἐ?μῷ? , ἀ?ληθῶ?ς μαθηταί μού ἐ?στέ . As there, so here also, the Lord makes the becoming disciples a promise. Ἀ?ληθῶ?ς may have passed over from that passage to this. The ἐ?μοί is also an argument for the co-ordination of Christ with the Father. The becoming disciples also could scarcely with propriety be made the condition of the glorification of the Father. The reading γένησθε originated in an incorrect notion concerning the dependence of ἵ?να , which only in a few exceptional cases is connected with the indicative future. The saying teaches us that the final end of our actions should be the good pleasure of God and His glory, and that we cannot more effectually attain that object than by zeal in good works; and the fact that these are dependent on our abiding in Christ, should urge us continually to adhere to Him. Further, we are taught that we may only then assure ourselves of our intimate relation to Christ, when there is in ourselves that inseparable result of abiding in Him, the bearing of fruit.
Ver. 9. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.”
The last motive: Abiding in Christ is the only means of retaining the highest good, Christ’s love. “As the Father hath loved Me:” the love of Jesus receives its highest significance in this, that it is the reflection of the Father’s love to Him. The love of Him whom the Father loveth as His Son, should be preserved as the apple of our eye. The word is, “hath loved Me,” because only those demonstrations of the Father’s love to the Son which had been openly witnessed come here into consideration. “My love” can be only the love of Christ to His people, not the love of His people to Him. They would abide in this love, if they did not, like the Jews, constrain Him through their apostasy to withdraw His love from them; or, in other words, if they kept His commandments, ver. 10. Strictly parallel with this is, in Romans 11:22, the “continuing in His goodness,” not losing it through apostasy. Christ’s love is suggested also by a comparison of the abiding in the vine, “in Me,” ver. 4. Accordingly, here also the discourse must refer to abiding in an objective person.
Ver. 10. “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.”
That the ἀ?γάπῃ? μου is the love of Christ to His people, is evident from the corresponding ἀ?γάπῃ? ἐ?μῄ? in ver. 9. Consequently, the love of God also at the end must be the love of God to Christ, not the love of Christ to God. To this we are led also by ch. John 10:17: “For this cause My Father loveth Me, because I lay down My life.” The laying down the life there corresponds to the keeping the commandments of God here. This was manifested especially in the fact, that Christ, in obedience to the will of the Father, presented the atoning sacrifice. “Even as I have kept,” etc., hangs on ver. 9. As Christ’s love to His people is the reflection of the Father’s love to Him, it is natural that its maintenance should rest on the same condition. We have here generally a thought which is the counterpart of ver. 9. To the exhortation of that verse, urging the disciples to continue in the enjoyment of His love, is here appended an indication of the means in order to that continuance.
Ver. 11. “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
Properly “might be in you,” not “might remain;” it is ᾖ? , not μείνῃ? . My joy, in contradistinction to your joy, can only be the joy of Christ in His disciples or over them; especially as the interpretation, “My joyfulness may be in you,” is opposed altogether by the phraseology. The joy of Christ is described as being in His people, inasmuch as it is a transcendent passion or affection, which penetrates its object, and sinks into it entirely. In the Hebrew, verbs expressing joy are frequently connected with ב . In the same way as joy is spoken of here, it is spoken of also in Luke 15:5; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10. Comp. Ephesians 4:30, according to which the Holy Ghost is grieved by the sins of the elect. But there are Old Testament passages which expressly illustrate it: such as Psalms 45:9, where it is said, in reference to the bride of the Divine King of the future age, “Out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad;” Isaiah 62:5, “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee;” and Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save. He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”
The joy of the disciples keeps pace with the joy of the Redeemer. That joy is fulfilled when it attains its climax: comp. on ch. John 3:29. It therefore means, “And the highest joy shall be yours.” The climax of all joy is the consciousness of being and abiding in Christ: comp. Song of Solomon 1:4, “The king hath brought me to his chambers. We will be glad and rejoice in thee. We will remember thy love more than wine.”
We have here the concluding formula of the first part of Christ’s farewell discourses. That which He lays down as the design of His words (comp. ch. John 16:1; John 16:33), which exhort to abiding in Him, is at the same time a motive to that abiding. Who must not wish that Christ may be able to rejoice in him? And who would rob himself of his own joy, which rises or declines in proportion as Christ’s command to abide in Him is responded to?
There follows now, in vers. 12-17, the New Testament supplement of the second table of the law. As in the former section abiding was the watchword, so now it is love. Jesus bases the commandment of Christian brotherly love upon the type and example of His own love, ver. 12. The greatness of His love He exhibits by intimating that it urged Him to lay down His life for His friends, ver. 13. To such great love they were to respond—this is a second motive—by obedience to His commandments, especially that of brotherly love, ver. 14. His love, however, did not declare itself merely in His sacrificial death; it finds expression also in this, that He makes His friends sharers and fellow-partakers of His knowledge of the mysteries of God, ver. 15; and this was all the more a reason why they should return His love by faithful obedience, especially in reference to His commandment of brotherly love. And they should further be urged to love by the consideration, that Jesus, vers. 16, 17, who elected them, and therefore had the right to impose the conditions of their relation to Him, specified as those conditions that they should bring forth fruit, and specifically that they should love one another. Thus we have here three motives: the example of Christ; the obedience to which they are bound by His love; and the fulfilment of the condition under which their election was vouchsafed to them.
Ver. 12. “This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
This is My commandment: that is, in regard to your relation to each other. By ἀ?λλήλους the domain is indicated in which this commandment is all in all. If we fail to bear in mind the limitation prescribed by the context, we must needs interpret it by saying that brotherly love is only a single expression of a generally renewed and right Christian spirit, that it shows in one point the goodness of all, and that therefore this commandment is in a certain sense the only one. Augustin: “Where there is love, there must be faith and hope; and where there is brotherly love, there must be also the love of God.” But the Scripture is not wont to speak thus; it does not place thus in the background the first and great commandment. We read in Romans 13 that “love is the fulfilling of the law;” the connection teaches us—especially ver. 8, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: he that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law”—that the fulfilment of the law is meant so far as it refers to our relation to one another.
Ver. 13. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The injunction of brotherly love had been grounded on the love of Christ to His disciples. The strength of His own love our Lord here further declares, and thus points to the strength of the obligation entailed, and the height of the demand which gratitude urged. “He teaches us,” says Quesnel, “as our Master, our love to the brethren; to copy the love which He bears to us.” If I have loved you to the extent of sacrificing My life for you, ye must also have a fervent and self-sacrificing love to each other. We have the unfolding of the same thought in 1 John 3:16, Ephesians 5:1-2. Jesus here speaks of the laying down of His life, in allusion to Isaiah 53:10: comp. on ch. John 10:11, where the sheep correspond to the friends of this passage. That the death of Christ comes into view as a sacrificial death, is evident from the reference to a passage in the Old Testament that treats of the sacrificial death of the servant of God. A death of mere devotion is quite unsuitable here. Christ did not save the life of His disciples by dying for them. Even Hiss friends need an atoning sacrifice (“And hath given Himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God, προσφορὰ?ν καὶ? θυσίαν ,” as we read in Ephesians 5:2). So active is sin and the corresponding wrath of God. The friends here are, however, to be distinguished from the sinners and enemies of Romans 5:8; Romans 5:10; and Lücke’s remark, that “only because He in His love thinks of sinners as friends, does He die for them,” fails to meet the case. What Paul there wrote, St John could not here have written. The Apostles to whom Christ is here speaking were not sinners and enemies in the sense in which St Paul there speaks of sinners and enemies. “Greater love:” love is here spoken of in relation to the disciples, who were already friends. Hence there is no propriety in the objection that has been urged, viz. that love to enemies and dying for them was greater. In relation to friends, the offering up of life is the greatest demonstration of love. Luther says: “He is so gentle and tender to them, that He speaks into their heart this last commandment that He leaves them; impressing upon them that they should consider and think how He loved them, and what He had done for them. This is My commandment: I lay it upon you, and demand it as the return of My great and unspeakable love, if indeed ye would that men should know you for My disciples.”
Ver. 14. “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
We have here a second motive. In the preceding verse, the injunction of brotherly love had been based upon the example of Christ. Here it is based upon the obedience which the disciples of Christ as His friends are bound to render. As friends He treats His disciples, when He gives up His life for them; as friends they should approve themselves, by fulfilling His commandment, and thus loving one another.
Ver. 15. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.”
The practical reasoning runs as in ver. 14. Christ treats His disciples as friends, not only by dying for them, but also by the free communication of all that which He had heard of the Father. Such love they should requite by fulfilling His commandments, especially that of loving one another. Δούλος is here the antithesis of φιλός : a servant and nothing more, a mere slave. The absolute dependence of the disciples on Christ can never cease: even as friends, they still are servants: comp. ch. John 13:13; John 13:16, and here, ver. 20. Εἴ ρηκα refers to what had just been spoken. The Lord had, at an earlier period termed the disciples friends, Luke 12:4; but now the relation of friendship had reached its point of consummation through the perfected revelation of the Divine counsels, mysteries, and doctrines. “All things:” this is spoken generally, and does not exclude the fact that there was very much to be imparted to the disciples at a later period, which they were not as yet able to hear (comp. ch. John 14:26, John 16:12-14), as also that there was much which our Lord withheld from the disciples, as generally transcending human capacity, and having no tendency to further them in the way of salvation. Suffice that Jesus withheld nothing from them through lack of love; and the limitation which Calvin expresses is plain from the nature of the case: “Nothing of those things which concerned our salvation, and which it imported that we should know.” The expression implies obviously the absolute supremacy of the person of Christ, and the infinite interval between Him and His disciples. What endless love was it, that the eternal Son of the Father should communicate to poor mortals those mysteries which He possessed through fellowship with His Father; and how urgent the obligation to requite that love with obedience! The form of expression suggests the similarity of Jeremiah 21:10.
The Old Testament revelation was a prelude of the revelation perfected in the Son, Hebrews 1:1; and the rather, as even in the prophets it was the Spirit of Christ who spake, 1 Peter 1:11.
Vers. 16, 17. “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name. He may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
A new reason, the third. The disciples did not choose Christ, but Christ chose the disciples. Therein lay the propriety of His laying down the conditions of discipleship. One fundamental condition is, that they bear fruit; and it was therefore necessary that they should love one another, for brotherly love is part of the fruit of discipleship.
The choosing here, as in ch. John 6:70, John 13:18, is the assumption into the number of the Apostles. And the enumeration among the faithful was of course included. To ask whether the election referred to the Apostles or to the believers, is as perverse as to ask whether in 1 Samuel 16:13 the gift of the Spirit, common to all believers, is spoken of, or the royal charisma. When applied to all believers, the term refers only to the Christian privilege or state, as such. The ordaining marks the high and independent prerogative of assigning their lot. The word ὑ?πάγειν , “that ye should go,” is not superfluous; but it points to the fact that Christianity is such a continuous movement of life. The bringing forth fruit embraces at once the good works which are common to all believers, and those which were peculiar to the apostolical office. That it here stands specially connected with Christian brotherly love, is manifest from its connection with what precedes; and in ver. 17 it is expressly asserted.
The words, “that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He may give it you,” forsake the main thought, and indicate, by the way, what would abundantly encourage the disciples in the fulfilment of the duty of their vocation to bring forth fruit. The fruit would approve itself to be abiding—as fruit that does not perish, but has the best results (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:58, “knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”)—by this, that it would place the disciples in the blessed condition of offering acceptable prayer, and prayer that would always be answered: comp. on ch. John 14:13 and John 16:23. By their fruit they would show themselves to be the genuine disciples of Christ; and to such the Father can deny nothing which they ask in the name of His Son. That every offence against love affects injuriously the offering of acceptable prayer, had been many times impressed upon them by their Master: comp. Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 5:23, and Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:7.
Ver. 17 serves at one and the same time as the complement of the thought in ver. 16, and as the final formula for the whole section, corresponding to the close of the first section in ver. 11.
The relation of the disciples to Christ, to each other, to the world, are the three fundamental points which needed establishment, definition, and adjustment. Our Lord comes to the last in ch. John 15:18 to John 16:11, not as it were fortuitously, as if the injunction of brotherly love naturally suggested the hatred of the world. That is only the formal link of connection between the two sections, which does not affect the independent import of this latter. Still less are we to suppose that the hatred of the world is introduced merely to strengthen the motive, or add one to the motives, to enforce the exhortation to brotherly love contained in the previous section. (Lampe: Tacite novo argumento praeceptum amoris fraterni stabilitur. Illis enim potissimum incumbit, ut vi unita fortiores se reddant, quibus multi et timendi hostes imminent.) There is nothing to warrant such a view; and the introduction of it tends greatly to imperil the independence of a section so important as this. It was of the greatest moment that the disciples should rightly apprehend their relation to the world—that they should be rightly persuaded at the very outset that they would have nothing to expect from the world but hatred and persecution—and that they should know the reason of this. Otherwise the “strangeness” of it, 1 Peter 4:12, would have led them into great temptations. In ch. John 16:1, the Lord declares that the aim of His communication was expressly to obviate temptations from that source. If the disciples knew from the beginning what they had to expect from the world—if they discerned it as a necessity, based upon the relation of the world to Christ and to the Father,—then persecution, whenever it set in, could have no strength to mislead them as to their Master’s cause; it would rather strengthen their faith in Him who had so clearly and expressly set before them what they had to expect from the world. But the Lord does not limit Himself to a description of their danger, and a development of its necessity: He refers the Apostles also to the help which they might look for; and the Church has, from the day of Pentecost downwards, gloriously realized that promise.
The formal articulation of the section is seen in the circumstance, that according to the common division of seven into five and two, the watchword world occurs five times at the beginning, and twice at the close. It may be distributed thus: the hatred of the world and its cause generally, vers. 18-25; and the preliminary reference to the help to be afforded in encountering it, vers. 26, 27. Then in ch. John 16:1-4 we have the climax of the hatred, its paroxysms (to use Bengel’s expression); and thereupon, in vers. 5-11, the still more developed reference to the sending of the Paraclete.
In ch. John 15:18-25, the arrangement is as follows: the Lord first, in vers. 18-20, exhibits the hatred of the world towards His disciples as the necessary fruit of their hatred to Him; then, in vers. 21-24, He refers back their hatred to Himself to their hatred to the Father; and finally, in ver. 25, He points to the fact, that the Jews, the portion of the world then before His eyes, only fulfilled, through their hatred to Him, the predictions of the Old Testament Scripture.
Ver. 18. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”
That γινώσκετε is imperative, the corresponding μνημονεύετε in ver. 20 shows. The Lord’s meaning refers to a living knowledge, which alone is able to furnish effectual aid against the assaults of temptation. If the world first hated Christ, its hatred must have rested on some essential principle of necessity; and true Christians must be conscious of a strong willingness to submit to a hatred which is the inseparable concomitant of membership in Christ, and the absence of which infers the absence of that union. Augustin: “Thou refusest to be in the body, if thou declinest to bear with Christ the hatred of the world.” Bernard: “Do not the members follow the body? If we receive good things from our Head, why should we not also endure evil? Do we wish to reject the troublesome, and communicate with Him only in the pleasant? It is not a great thing that the member should suffer with the Head, when with the Head it will be glorified.” Luther: “Had they not first hated Christ, they would not now hate me. But because they hated Him who died for them, what wonder that they oppose me: what am I in comparison of the Lord?” He who duly considers that the world hated Christ before it hated himself, will not, when the world’s hatred presses him hard, yield to the temptation to think that Christ might have spared him these heavy assaults, and to murmur because He has not. He will rather regard his trial as the seal of his union with his Lord. In the world the Lord saw primarily that phase of the world with which the disciples had pre-eminently to do
Judaism. This is proved by the present, μισεῖ? , in reference to the disciples; by the perfect, μεμίσηκεν , in reference to Christ; by the sequel, wherein Jesus speaks of those who had heard His discourses, and had seen His works; by ver. 25, where the Lord refers to those who were subject to the law; and by the ἀ?ποσυναγώγους , in ch. John 16:2. He introduces here a new principle of division, to which a Jew would find it hard to reconcile himself. Hitherto Judaism and heathenism had confronted each other. Now, however, the contrast is simply between the world and the Church; and unbelieving Judaism, in spite of the law, and circumcision, and the Passover, must needs sink into a subdivision of the world. But obviously the Jews were only primarily meant. The idea of the world embraces in itself “all nations,” all the children of Adam who have not, by union with Christ, been redeemed from their natural ruin and regenerated, and by abiding in Him maintained their new estate.
Ver. 19. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
The hatred of the world does not aim at human weakness in the disciples. It is evoked rather by their good side, that which they have specifically Christian, the image of Christ stamped upon them. In this the world beholds something strange and repulsive; something unfamiliar and intolerable, because it, in act and reality, is a continual protest against the world. On “the world would love its own,” Luther says: “But He speaks as to matters concerning the Gospel. Here they all agree together
Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, Judas, and all devils—against Christ and His people, however otherwise at enmity among themselves. Towards each other, apart from Christ, they are such friends as dogs and cats; but in all that concerns Christ they are quite unanimous in their hatred.” With all subordinate differences, there remains ever an absolute concord in the essential matter. The election manifests itself in this, that Christ impresses upon those who, like others, were children of wrath ( Ephesians 2:3), His own stamp; renews in them His own image; imparts to them thoughts, inclinations, and tempers, altogether different from those of the world, springing from a source quite other than that opened by the fall. Thence arises a contrast which has no parallel, and which conceals beneath it no latent principle of unity.
If the hatred of the world springs from the source thus indicated, it ought not to be matter of dismay, but rather to be rejoiced in as a sign of election, the highest prerogative of man.
Ver. 20. “Remember the word that I said unto you. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.”
The saying, “The servant is not greater than his lord,” had been spoken, ch. John 13:16, in another connection: the disciples were not to fail in or shrink from those manifestations of love in which their Master had preceded them as their example. This was His primary meaning; but the translation of this watchword into another region would be all the more easily understood by the disciples, inasmuch as Jesus had once before, Matthew 10:24, used it in precisely the same way. The τηρεῖ?ν τὸ?ν λόγον must mean, following the parallels, retaining the word in mind, as opposed to a thoughtless forgetfulness, and a scornful rejection of it: comp. ch. John 8:51-52; John 8:55, John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23-24, John 15:10. The Lord places the condition and the result in juxtaposition, and leaves it to the Apostles to decide which of the two propositions assumed is the existent state of the case, and so to shape their prognostic of the future. If we include the past and the present, then the Lord’s word continues thus: “As they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; as they have not kept My word, but rather on account of it have laid snares for My life, ch. John 8:37, so will they not keep your word, but rather on account of it place your lives in danger. Thus ye see clearly what ye have to expect from them; and when the peril shall come, ye must not think it a strange thing, and take it ill.” It is plain from the “all these things” of ver. 21, which cannot of course refer simply to “they wall persecute,” that beneath the alternative at the close, there is an announcement of snares and various dangers impending. When the Lord speaks of the Apostles’ word as not kept, it is clear that He speaks of them as Apostles, as appointed ministers of the word, and not merely as representatives of believers. J. Gerhard: “He subjoins the mention of their word, that He may fortify them against the offence of their Gospel being despised when they should preach it.” Luther hits the practical point well: “It is not fit that the Head should wear a crown of thorns, and the members sit upon cushions.
Therefore let it not seem strange to you; for thus it is with Me.” The Saviour had, in vers. 18-20, opened up to the disciples a consolatory aspect of the sufferings which they had to expect from the world: they suffer “for My sake,” as Christians. We perceive the strength of this consolation by examining Acts 5:41: “But they went from the presence of the council rejoicing, ὅ?τι κατηξιώθησαν ὑ?πὲ?ρ τοῦ? ὀ?νόματος ἀ?τιμασθῆ ναι :” comp. also 1 Peter 4:16. But the consolation was not yet perfect. There remained yet another important stumblingblock. Did not the matter stand as all the authorities, and the immense preponderance of the people, thought,—on the one side Jesus and His disciples, on the other side God and the Jews? This stumblingblock our Lord takes, in vers. 21-25, out of the way. The persecution which the world, or the Jews, directed against the disciples for the name of Jesus, rested upon ignorance of that God in whom they boasted, ver. 21. For as Jesus had approved Himself the Sent of God by His words, full of spirit and life, their hatred of Him was a hatred of God, His Father, as well as of Christ Himself, vers. 22, 23. And all the more, as His works, such as no other had done, ver. 24, had gone hand in hand with His words. The matter, therefore, stood thus: on the one side the disciples, Christ, the Father; on the other the world, with its princes, the Jews, who, by their rejection of Christ, had been transformed from the Church of God into the synagogue of Satan. Who would not rejoice to suffer at the hands of the world, in the fellowship of Christ and of the Father?
Ver. 21. “But all these things will they do unto you for My name’s sake, because they know not Him that sent Me.”
The ἀ?λλά points to the introduction of a new thought. Now that new thought we do not find in the “for My name’s sake,” equivalent to “on account of My historical manifestation and personality” (compare διὰ? τὸ? ὄ?νομά μου , Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9; ἕ?νεκεν ἐ?μοῦ? , Matthew 5:11). For it had been already taught in vers. 18-20, that Christ was the cause of the hatred of the world against His disciples. The new element lies rather in this, that the matter of vers. 18-20, the persecution for Christ’s sake, is referred to ignorance of the Father as its primary source, and thus the disciples are saved from the solicitude of thinking that the Father was against them. If the Jews had known the Father, they must have loved Christ, whom the Father had sent, and in whom He had revealed Himself.
Ver. 22. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.”
That the Jews, by their hatred to Christ, had revealed their ignorance of the Father, Christ proves first by His words, which exalted Him far above the level of mortality, and demonstrated that the Father had sent Him, and that the Angel of the Lord, whom the Old Testament magnified, had appeared in Him in the flesh. By the side of this proof from the words, comes in the proof from the works, in ver. 24. The καὶ? ἐ?λάλησα αὐ τοῖ?ς is badly translated by Luther, “und hätte es ihnen gesagt,” and told them. “And had spoken to them” refers rather to the whole substance and body of the discourses of Christ during His ministry, which had loudly and always protested against their separating Him from His Father. He was by them declared to be the Sent of the Father; for the words which He had spoken were spirit and life, and consequently argument of His superhuman life: comp. on ch. John 6:63; “Thou hast the words of eternal life,” ver. 68; the avowal which the servants of the high priests were constrained to make, that never man spoke like this man, ch. John 7:46; and the testimony to His discourse, in Matthew 7:28-29, “The people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” The words and the works constituted the double evidence which Jesus adduced, as here so also in ch. John 14:10, for His being in the Father. In Luke 10:23-24, He said to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see: for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” There our Lord appeals to the great double evidence of His words and His works to attest His heavenly origin.
The ἦ?λθον has no independent meaning, but is connected with ἐ?λάλησα , and should not be separated from it by a comma. According to the connection with what precedes, where the Lord had spoken of the unbelief and hatred displayed by the Jews towards Himself, the words, “If I had not come and spoken to them,” must mean, “If they had not been unbelieving, in spite of My having spoken to them, and demonstrated and made plain My Divine mission by My discourses.”—“They had not had sin;” that is, no sin of such all-penetrating importance: comp. on ch. John 9:41, “If ye were blind, ye would not have sin.” The universal disease of the human race scarcely comes into consideration, in comparison with this sin of unbelief in Christ, as attested and legitimated by His words. That this is, strictly speaking, the only sin, is involved in the fact that its essence is a guilty contempt of the only remedy for sin. Augustin: “For this is the sin by which all sins are retained; whosoever has it not, to him all sins are remitted.” A disease for which there is offered a sure remedy, can scarcely be regarded as a disease. In ch. John 16:9, also, the not believing on Christ appears as the climax of all sin, and in a certain sense the only sin. So also, in Matthew 11:20-24, where Jesus condemns the cities in which He had performed most of His wonderful works, and declares their guilt to have been incomparably greater than that of Tyre and Sidon, cities notorious for their heathenish abominations, greater indeed than even that of Sodom.—” But now they have no cloak for their sin.” For sin before Christ there was a πρόφασις , an excuse, that of ignorance. Acts 17:30, 1 Peter 1:14: men knew not, and could not know, better; on which account in the Old Testament there is foreannounced a future restoration to the greatest sinners, doomed by the judgments of God to temporal destruction. This kind of excuse has indeed only a relative significance; but an excuse of that relative kind was expressed by the term πρόφασις . The antithesis here gives the preceding “had not had sin” its limitation and precise meaning; such sin as much may be said to apologize for, cannot in the fullest and deepest sense be called sin. Without this limitation, these words, “they had not had sin,” would have been a contradiction to the law and the prophets of the Old Testament, would have been inconsistent with the Divine judgments preceding Christ, and with the language of Romans 1:18.
Ver. 23. “He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also.”
This is not merely asserted here by Christ. It is rather an inference from that which had been laid down on the former verse. Since Jesus had by His words approved Himself the Son, it followed that the hatred displayed against Him was displayed against the Father also. The Jews professed that they loved God, and that on the ground of that love they hated Christ; the God, however, whom they loved was not, a true God, but a phantom which they named God. This was as certain as it was that Christ’s words had declared Him to be the Son. The fact that they rejected Christ, in spite of all His words so full of spirit and truth, detected their hypocrisy, and showed them to be manifest enemies of that Father whom they professed to love.
Ver. 24. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father.”
We have here the second proof of the proposition, that the Jews by their hatred of Christ had displayed their ignorance of the Father, and their hatred of Him. It lay in this, that Christ by His works had most amply declared Himself to be the Sent of the Father. That the Jews hated Him, in spite of His works, was a sin in comparison of which all former sin sank into insignificance. “Which none other man did” may be compared with Matthew 9:33, where the multitudes cried on account of the healing a dumb and deaf man under demoniac influence, “It was never so seen in Israel.” The miracles of Jesus acquired, through their connection with the dignity of His person, an absolute supremacy over all that had been wrought under the Old Testament; apart from the fact that some individual miracles—such as the healing of the man born blind (ch. John 9:32), and the raising of Lazarus—had no parallel or approximation in the Old Testament.
Ver. 25. “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law. They hated Me without a cause.”
The Lord now obviates another objection, which might be drawn from the Jews’ enmity against Him, by pointing out that they were, and would be, only instruments in the fulfilment of that which was written in the Old Testament Scriptures, and consequently that their hatred would serve only as an authentication of His claims. It was an Old Testament fundamental principle, that no righteous man, and least of all the Christ, would fail to encounter the hatred and persecution of the world. Accordingly, Christ would not be Christ without the hatred of the Jews. So also, in ch. John 12:38-39, the opposition of the Jews to Christ was regarded in the light of a Divine appointment, through which the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy was brought about. Seen from this point of view, the hatred of the Jews should have no power to dishearten, but rather to fill with the highest joy. We see in it the presence of the Divine hand, impressing upon Christ the seal of authentication. The ἀ?λλά points to the circumstance that a new point of view in regard to the hatred of the Jews is opened up. Accordingly τοῦ το γέγονεν must be supplemented: comp. John 19:36, and probably also John 13:38, Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:49. The name of the law is here, as in John 10:34, John 12:34, referred to the entire Old Testament, because the remaining books divide with the Mosaic the whole. “In their law;” so that thus the criteria of the Messiah, given in the law, were such as they were obliged to accept and be regulated by.
In reference to the ἐ?μίσησάν με δωρεάν , we may collate the following passages of the Old Testament. First, Psalms 35:19. There the suffering just man says, “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me; neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause:” Sept. οἱ? μισοῦ ντές με δωρεάν . Then, again, the fourth verse of Psalms 69, which is so often cited and applied to Christ. There the suffering Righteous One says, “They that hate Me without a cause (Sept. again, οἱ? μισοῦ ντές με δωρεάν ) are more than the hairs of Mine head; they that would destroy Me, being Mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty.” It will be seen that these two passages have in common “hating me without a cause,” and “enemies wrongfully.” These verbal resemblances and parallels, which are peculiar to the Davidic psalms of the Righteous One, have the effect of indicating that they are links of a great chain, parts of a great descriptive painting. So, finally, Psalms 109:3, “They compassed Me about also with words of hatred; and fought against Me without a cause:” Sept. ἐ?πολέμησαν με δωρεάν . In this psalm too the suffering Righteous One speaks. “That the singer had in view, at the same time, the family of David, and especially Him in whom it would reach its crown;—that the psalm, as it proceeded from David, so also went back to him (in his offspring), and kept him ever in view,—cannot be doubted when we compare the last verse of the psalm with the first of Psalms 110, and with the fifth verse of the same. Here it is the help of the Lord, which He sends to His anointed in His sufferings; there it is the glory which He sheds upon the saved one. Here we see how He stands at the right hand to save him from those who condemn his soul; there we hear Him saying the great word, Sit thou at My right hand.” This connection of the 109th Psalm with the 110th throws a wonderful light upon the remaining psalms of David which refer to the suffering Righteous One. The quotation here is designedly combined from the three passages quoted. From the first two we have the hating; the third is indicated by the fact that the verb there is in the preterite. The co-reference to this passage is of importance, inasmuch as there the final reference to Christ, which is rather concealed in most of the passages which treat of the suffering righteous, appears most expressly and plainly,
Ver. 26. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.”
Jesus had hitherto fortified the disciples against the hatred of the Jews, by reminding them that it fell upon them on account of His name; that the hatred which they felt for Him had His Father also for its object; and finally, that this hatred subserved the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. A new element now enters. It might have been supposed from the previous considerations, that Jesus had already now finished with the Jews. But this issue would have been at variance with the prophecies of the Old Testament, which were not satisfied by all that had been yet attained. According to those prophecies, the calling of a special election was as necessary as the rejection of the mass. Hence our Lord intimates that the work of salvation among the Jews was not sealed and closed; and that He would oppose to their hatred such a power in the Paraclete as should subdue many into submission. The Christ of truth, coming from the Father, would with victorious power break down the opposition of many. Thus the disciples were prevented from making the enmity of the Jews a source of despondency.
These words concerning the Paraclete do not point back to ch. John 14:26—that saying is not taken up again until ch. John 16:13—but to ch. John 14:16, where the question is the same as it is here, the warfare against an unfriendly world. The Holy Ghost is the Paraclete only inasmuch as He in this conflict lends His aid. The idea of the Paraclete is elucidated in 2 Timothy 4:16: “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me.” The human paracletes, or judicial advocates—which service in ancient times was discharged not merely by counsellors, but also by distinguished friends—had forsaken the Apostle; but, instead of them, the heavenly Paraclete had faithfully stood by his side
Christ, that is, by the Spirit whom He sent. The ὑ?μῖ?ν must be carefully noted. It shows that the Holy Spirit is considered here as having His indwelling in the Apostles, and not as simply exerting His immediate influence upon the minds of those to whom they preached the word. So, in ch. John 16:8, it is only a false interpretation which finds anything like a direct relation of the Paraclete to the world. This is evident from the preceding πρὸ?ς ὑ?μᾶ?ς in ver. 7. We may compare the “filled with the Holy Ghost” in Acts 4:8; and Luke 24:49, where the Lord, after His resurrection, says to His disciples, “And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high;” and also Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you;” and ch. John 4:31. There is a distinction in ver. 27 between the testimony which the Holy Spirit would bear in His function as Paraclete by the lips of the Apostles against the opposing world, and the Apostles’ own testimony, which would refer to the historical facts as such, and which they would bear as intelligent and honourable men: compare the same distinction in Acts 5:32, where Peter says, “And we also are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.” There, however, the two testimonies are inverted. Those that obey are the Apostles. As here, so also in our Lord’s word. Matthew 10:20, “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you:” the organ altogether retires behind the efficient Spirit. Quesnel brings out the practical element in these words with much force: “What have we to fear? The Spirit who is in the Church and dwelleth in our hearts, is stronger than the spirit which dwells in the world and in the ungodly.
We labour in vain when we seek to overcome error by merely human means, without the assistance of the Spirit of truth.”
That the Holy Ghost finally proceedeth from the Father, the original source of all power, was a truth of such importance, so encouraging and quickening to the disciples, before whom Christ stood in His humble servant-form (compare “The Father is greater than I” in John 14:28), that the words “from the Father” are immediately expanded into “proceedeth from the Father,” in order to give this point its full prominence. Both were very important,—the proceeding from the Son, on which the emphasis falls in “whom I will send from My Father,” and the proceeding from the Father; but the latter was under their present circumstances so important, that it might not be lightly despatched with a mere “from the Father.” Calvin: “Nor in the face of such great forces, such and so impetuous assaults, would the testimony of the Spirit suffice, unless we were persuaded that He came from God.” The explanation of the fact that the Spirit is, on the one hand, sent by Christ, while on the other He proceeded from the Father, is to be sought in the fact that He was sent by Christ, from the glory of the Father. The ἐ?κπορεύεται , taken in connection with the preceding πέμψω , shows that we have not to do here with eternal relations in the Godhead, but with the mission of the Spirit to the Apostles. The present, ἐ?κπορεύεται , is the timeless tense that stands in a general sentence: when He goeth forth, it is from the Father that He goeth. The more specific idea is given by the preceding future. There can be no reference to the going forth of the Spirit from Genesis 1 downwards, through the whole period of the Old Testament economy (comp. Isaiah 63:11). The Spirit in this speciality—as Paraclete, as Spirit of truth (comp. ch. John 14:17)—was specially linked to the atoning death of Christ; He was not yet in the world, because that Christ was not yet glorified: comp. ch. John 7:39. The Spirit of truth, the Paraclete, was what Peter lacked, says Augustin, when he was terrified by a little maid, and uttered his triple denial: “He giving His testimony, and making His witnesses most resolute, took away all fear from the friends of Christ, and converted the hatred of His enemies into love.”
Ver. 27. “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.”
This is a second power for subduing the hatred of the Jews: which, indeed, derives its true significance from its strict connection with the first preceding it. This double testimony—that of the Holy Ghost and the historical—now goes on in the Church concurrently. But the thorough study and use of the latter is not so simple as in the apostolic age; and it demands a profound research. The present, μαρτυρήσει , is fully explained by the future that immediately precedes. The Lord places Himself in the future: “Ye then bear witness.” We have a commentary on “from the beginning” in Mark 1:1; Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21. The beginning was the first manifestation of Christ: comp. 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, declare we unto you.”
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 15". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany