In the Gospel of John we are given a detailed account of Jesus’s last hours with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus, knowing this is about to happen, speaks to the confusion and uncertainty his departure will create. He tells them in chapter 14, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
One of the disciples, Thomas, interrupts with a question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas was utterly honest, pessimistic, and uninhibited–a virtual poster-child for the “I’ll believe it when I see it” crowd.
Jesus answers Thomas’s question by telling him that the disciples not only know the way, but that the way is standing right in front of them! “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus tells them. He then explains that he will be leaving, but they will not be abandoned. Jesus promises that someone very much like him (the Holy Spirit) will take his place. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you… In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
The “day” Jesus mentioned is the day of his resurrection. After that, the disciples would realize by their own experience that Jesus lived in his Father, and they lived in Jesus, and Jesus lived in them. In other words, they would begin to know what it means to live in God and have God live in them.
The key, Jesus said, is the abiding nature of his relationship with those who follow him: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The Greek word translated “make our home” is meno, which means to “remain” or “abide.” The same root word is used in verse 2, where it is translated “rooms.”
In Jesus’s next image of a vine (John 15) he uses the word meno again and again: he says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine…” He uses the word eleven times in just this one chapter, and forty times in the Gospel of John. Why does he repeat the same word so many times? Why is Jesus so redundant? Remember the occasion for this teaching: the disciples feel like their world is out of control; they feel like they are spiraling downward… just like so many of us feel today. Sometimes we feel like everything we worked so hard to put together is falling apart, like we have been abandoned.
Jesus is speaking not just to his first century apprentices, but also to his twenty-first century apprentices. Many of us make the same mistake the rival archeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark made: he thought the Ark of the Covenant was like a telephone that people could use to get their requests answered. Kinda like the magic lamp in the Aladdin story. But God isn’t that way. He never planned a relationship with us where he is just our “emergency contact person.” The relationship He designed is much more organic and connected, like a branch and a vine.
Please take some time this week to thoughtfully read Jesus’s prayer in John 17; it is a storehouse of information about who God is and His plan for those who follow Him.