I will come back again…and show you the way

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. In yesterday’s post we considered the meaning of the expression “in my Father’s house…” Today we consider the promises of Jesus’ return (“come back again”). Jesus’ coming back (v.3) has been variously interpreted:

  • his coming to the disciples following his resurrection (cf. 20:19–29);
  • his coming in the person of the Holy Spirit (cf. 14:15–21);
  • his second coming at the end of this age (cf. 14:28; 21:22–23; parousia); and
  • his ‘coming’ to take his disciples to be with him when they die. (This suggestion, comforting though it is to think of Christ ‘coming’ for us when we die, is not something that receives any support in this passage.)

Many commentaries opt for the second coming/parousia understanding, but what does one then do with the tension between such a view of vv.2-3 and the realized eschatology of the rest of the chapter?  Eschatology is the study of the end things. The “realized” modifier speaks to the “end things” unfolding in time such that some have happened already while others lay ahead. A little too simplified, but it will do for an explanation.

For example, the thought in vv.15-17 (also 16:7) is that Jesus comes back to the believer in and through the Paraclete who dwells in the Christian. What does one do with the thought in v.23 (only other NT use of mone) that Jesus and the Father shall make their dwelling place in the Christian? Do we have to pick one vs. the other?  Is there a way in which both understandings are present?

Fr. Raymond Brown insists that there are elements both of final (in the end) and of realized (now) eschatology in John and that they can be found even in contiguous passages (vv.19-25, 26-30). Yet some commentators find it difficult to think that two such different pictures of heavenly dwelling with Jesus and of earthly divine indwelling could have been put side by side in John 14 as promises of how the disciples would be consoled after Jesus’ departure without some attempt at reconciliation or harmonization. It is obvious from our discussion that the phrasing of “in my Father’s house” did not originally refer to Jesus’ return in the form of indwelling, but could the phraing have been secondarily reinterpreted to make it harmonious with the indwelling theme of the rest of the chapter?

Fr. Brown proposed a possible understanding to that end by integrating this early part of John 14 into the over-all Johannine theology of the chapter. Jesus’ return after the resurrection would be for the purpose of taking the disciples into union with himself and with the Father, without any stress that the union is in heaven. In the Greek of v.3, Jesus says literally, “I will come back again and take you to myself.” If, as Brown suggests, this continues the relational element of Father-Jesus-us, then by his death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus is to make possible a union of the disciples with his Father. Thus he must prepare his disciples for the union by making them understand how it is to be achieved. Augustine (In Jo. 118: 2) expresses this cleverly: “He prepares the dwelling places by preparing those who are to dwell in them.” Thus, vs. 4 seeks to involve the disciples, as Jesus assures them that they know the way to where he himself is going (to the Father, because they know Jesus). But just as “the Jews” of 7:35 and 8:22 could not understand where Jesus was going, neither can Thomas (v.5). To answer, Jesus must now explain clearly that he is going to the Father and that he represents the way to get to the Father (vs. 6) – to be in union with God.

Image credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1319), “Jesus taking leave of his Apostles,” ca. 1310 | Panel 4 of the Maestro, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena | Public Domain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.