Before His arrest, Jesus spent a long time delivering what could be considered His parting speech, His last words to the disciples (and those who would believe in days to come). John 14-16 is a part of that speech, the equivalent of a man’s final wishes from his deathbed. Jesus knew His remaining time on earth was short, that His physical separation from His beloved disciples was imminent. Just like a single parent dying a tragic death too young, wondering if their kids will remember the values and life lessons they’ve been taught, Jesus longs to infuse His disciples with the critical truths they’ll need to survive in days to come.
John 14-16 is a fascinating stretch of Scripture, not just because it bears the heart of Jesus’s message to His disciples, but also because of its fundamentally repetitive nature, which serves to highlight the key themes Jesus wants His followers (both then and now) to grasp. Therefore, anyone longing for a glimpse into Jesus’s heart for them personally needs look no further than these beautifully passionate parting words.
“4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
We are to abide in Jesus the way branches abide in a vine, accepting from Him the life-giving sap only He can provide, letting it flow into us to nourish us and, through us, to produce fruit. So what does it mean to abide?
What Abiding Meant to Jesus
Rather than using our natural minds to parse these verses, let’s consider what abiding meant to Jesus as described in verse 10 of this chapter: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” Here, Jesus equates His words—words given Him by the Father—as works. Words to works. And only the Father’s words are those that are given utterance. Only the Father’s works are the ones Jesus acts upon. He remained in such intimate union with the Father that the Almighty’s works flowed through Him unhindered.
But Jesus is God, is He not? So why did He humble Himself in this way, submitting to His Father’s will, when it seems clear He could’ve represented God perfectly without any need for submission? The answer, I believe, lies in the fundamental purpose of Jesus’s earthly ministry. We like to quote John 3:16, and from it, we conclude that Jesus came to die for sinners and to bring eternal life to all who would believe in Him, yes? But eternal life is a side effect—not the truest purpose of Jesus’s calling.
More than simply winning us a free pass to heaven, Jesus came to show mankind how to re-establish the severed relationship with God. By abiding in the Father’s will, Jesus wasn’t modeling His divinity, which no man could ever hope to emulate. Rather, He was modeling His humanity and demonstrating how all mankind could be restored to the same intimate fellowship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God before the Fall.
What the Good News is—and what it’s not
Let me make it as plain as I can for anyone who’s unclear on this point: The good news isn’t about escaping hell. It isn’t about circumventing death or living forever. It isn’t about a grand post-death reunion with friends and family, though that’s a nice benefit. The good news is this: Jesus’s death and resurrection provides us unlimited access to the purest most loving relationship we’ll ever have. Eternal life is ABIDING in Him and everything that entails. Furthermore, if we think eternal life is something we only receive upon death, we’re missing out on a significant part of the gospel. As John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
So, first and foremost, ABIDING involves relationship. Intimacy. Not just knowing ABOUT God, but knowing His character, His ways. Knowing Him—not the way the newly-freed Israelites did, at a distance—but the way Moses knew Him, climbing the mountain to meet Him personally and pressing in so close he was forever changed (Exodus 19:16-20). So much that Moses’s face glowed from the glory (see also 2 Corinthians 3).
An intimate relationship is the key to ABIDING in Christ. Knowing God is eternal life. For any who feel far off from God—who doubt His love, who want to go deeper in Christ without knowing how—meditate on these words from John 14-16 and pray this prayer for yourself:
Father, give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I would know Jesus better. Enlighten the eyes of my heart so I would know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in Your holy saints and Your incomparably great power for all who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength You exerted when You raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at Your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And You placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. And Fill me with Him also, guiding me into all truth by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Modified from Ephesians 1.)