This passage finds us in Christ’s Farewell Address to his disciples, except, at that time, they did not realize it was his final teaching for them on the other side of the cross. Imagine being accustomed to hearing revolutionary words coming from Christ over a three year period. Imagine watching him heal people, feed multitudes, and bring people you know back to life. And now Christ begins speaking about his relationship with the Father. In verse 6 he tells them that he is the way to the Father. That if they know him, they know the Father. And finally he tells them they have actually seen the Father.
As a university professor, I have seen more than my share of blank stares from students. The disciples’ blank stares are summed up in Philip’s response: “Just show us the father, then, master, and it’ll be good enough for us!” (Wright, 2004, 57) That’s N.T. Wright’s translation of verse 8. Once again Jesus’ answer must have been confusing to his followers.
Here are the high points:
“You don’t know me!” (Verse 9) Three years in close company. Sleeping many nights together out of doors. Sharing food together. Hearing parables for the first time. Watching Christ’s compassion for the hurting, the broken and children. It must have been stunning to have Christ tell them that they didn’t know him.
“See me, see the Father!” (Verse 9) Many scholars hold that Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step dad had died. Had that been true, then it would have been puzzling for Christ to be speaking of Joseph. Surely they understood Christ to be speaking of “Our Father in heaven.” Several years earlier, when Christ gave a Sermon on the Mount, he instructed to pray to “Our Father in heaven.” Still everyone from Moses on knew that it was humanly impossible to see God the Father. After all, Moses only saw the back of God the Father. As a result, Moses’ face glowed so much that people asked him to wear a veil. How could they see the Father when not even Moses did?
“I’m in the Father and the Father is in me.” (Verse 10) How does this work? The disciples were learning to wrap their minds around what it meant to be “born again.” Nicodemus spoke for all of us when he said, “How do we go back into the womb again?” The disciples knew that, once we are born, we start to become independent individuals who are no longer “in” a parent. Now Christ is speaking of an unheard of relationship.
“If you don’t believe the Father is in me, at the very least, trust his works.” In verse 11, Christ encourages them to work backwards from the signs (John’s word for miracles) they have seen Christ do to the Father who is “in Christ.” Christ is helping them link their experience of signs to their faith in God the Father.
Christ was initiating the disciples into the interworkings of the Trinity. It was Gregory of Nazianzus (329 – 390) who first used the word perichoresis to attempt to describe how the human and divine natures of Jesus functioned. John of Damascus (675/676 – 749) applied perichoresis to the relationship of the Trinity. Think of perichoresis as inter-dependence or interpenetration. C. Baxter Kruger defines the word as “mutual indwelling…without loss of personal identity” (Kruger, 2012, 113).
In this passage, Christ is inviting his followers then and now to abide, dwell, indwell and have union with the Trinity. He wants us to share in the perichoresis that the Trinity enjoys. Please realize that such a relationship does not make humans divine. However, a perichoretic relationship will make humans more Christ-like.
“Eugene Peterson points out, that in the original language perichoresis literally means ‘a round dance.’ Like a round dance, marriage can be described as two people moving rhythmically together as they repeatedly embrace, release, hold on, and then let go of each other” (Peterson, 2005, 44-45). Evelyn Underhill lends additional help for how we Christians enter into perichoresis, “We are not separate, ring-fenced spirits. We penetrate each other, influence each other for good and evil, for the giving or taking of vitality, all the time. ‘Souls, all souls’, said Von Hügel, ‘are deeply interconnected. The Church at its best and deepest is just that – that interdependence of all the broken and meek, all the self-oblivion, all the reaching out to God and souls…Nothing is more real than this interconnection.’” (Underhill, 2002, 187)
Christ was helping his tribe, then and now, to understand how deeply interconnected and Interdependent we are in the Church and with Christ – our Living Head, with God – our Father and Sustainer, and with the Spirit – our Paraclete.
For further information on perichoresis refer to Danielle Shroyer’s blog page titled The Word: Perichoresis. You can find the FaithDance graphic she used at Kunstnet.org.
Next Jesus tells his believers, then and now, that we will not only do the work I do, but we will do even greater works. I don’t know about you, but there are a number of friends and family members that I wish I could have healed. I’ve been around plenty of poor people and have wished I had the resources just to provide their daily bread. My wife went to God in 2011. Had I my druthers, I would have brought her back to life. While I have not exceeded Christ with a healing, provisioning and life-giving ministry, I have tried to be his functioning hands and feet. My daily goal is to go about doing good to others as Christ would.
I enjoy conversations with one of my colleagues, Mike Gough, professor of business at MidAmerica Nazarene University. More than once Mike has pointed out what these greater works look like. Here is what I have learned from Mike: “I think some of the greater things are like Billy Graham preaching to a billion people over the internet. Jesus never travelled far or really preached to all that many people. Yet many Christians have spoken to more people than Christ did. Any use of technology to spread the Gospel has a greater reach than Christ’s culture allowed. We have lots of medical advances that heal people. That isn’t quite the same as Jesus healing people, but today’s doctors heal more people than Christ did. Other greater works include Christian schools, hospitals, missions and homeless shelters.”
In verse 15, Christ links our love for him with our obedience to keep his commands. This should not have been a surprise for the disciples as the previous verses would have been. This was a brief hiatus before Christ tossed out an additional surprise. As Christians, we all receive the Paraclete that the Father sent at Pentecost with a new role in our world. The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, Christ describes as The Spirit of Truth who will be with us forever or constantly as The Voice translates it. (This is a rather new translation and not the TV show of the same name.)
Paraclete is a Greek word that means someone who is “called to one’s side.” A quick survey of translations show the word to be translated as Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Counselor, and Strengthener. The Phillips paraphrase puts it as someone else to stand by you.
Here’s how I remember an illustration that helped me get a handle on the meaning of the Paraclete. A long distance swimmer was determined to swim around Manhattan Island. She was more than halfway around the island when the cold of the water, the general fatigue of the distance and too many jellyfish stings caused her to stop and ask to abandon the swim. At that moment, her coach jumped into the water and began to swim at her side. He encouraged her until she got her tenacity back. She finished the swim because her coach came along side.
Don't overlook two simple words. Christ said the Father would send another Comforter. The clear implication is that Christ was also a Comforter to his disciples. Had he remained incarnate, he would never have been able to physically be with all of his followers. Now, in the person of the Spirit, Christ is in effect constantly with each and every believer around the entire world.
Thanks be to God for sending us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to come to our side, to give us the support, counsel, help, and comfort that we so desperately need.
"Greater Things." E-mail message to author. May 2, 2016.
Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going on Here than You Ever Dared to Dream. New York: FaithWords, 2012.
Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub., 2005.
Underhill, Evelyn. The Golden Sequence: A Fourfold Study of the Spiritual Life. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub., 2002
Wright, N. T. John for Everyone: Part 2, Chapters 11-21. London: SPCK, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004.