There is no need to fear!
Take a moment and think back to your most frightening memory. I recently did this exercise personally, and then called my parents to see what their response would be. We both mentioned the same story.
I was four or five years old. It was vacation and we were in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We had just pulled off into a rest stop and parked the car. My parents were excited to point out that about twenty feet away were two baby bear cubs.
I didn’t share their excitement one bit. I began screaming, wailing, crying – afraid that I was about to be eaten by two bears for lunch. I got so worked up that I lost my own lunch there in the car! I cannot remember a more terrifying moment from my childhood. I needed one of those “fear not” verses from the Bible! Frankly, this fear had paralyzed me.
The Setting in the Upper Room
I don’t know what types of fears and anxieties the disciples may have had. But in the context of John 13-16, Jesus shares with them that He is about to die, they are going to be persecuted, and He is going back to “the Father’s house.” He knows that what they are hearing from Him is troubling, frightening – they need His help.
As John records some of this conversation, we’re reminded that this particular section isn’t found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). John offers an interpretative approach on the ministry of Jesus. He does more than simply record history; he is arguing theology.
In this section, John records for us the Upper Room Discourse, given by Jesus on the night He was betrayed. The conversation begins in John 13, continuing through chapter 16, and concluding with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in chapter 17.
In the opening scene, the disciples are enjoying what would become “the Last Supper” with Jesus. As supper was ending, Jesus performed a task unthinkable in the minds of His followers. He took a basin and a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. On His last night before the Crucifixion, He was instilling into them the principle of servant leadership. This was the way to truly be great in God’s kingdom.
After this action of humility, Jesus foretells His own betrayal by one of the very men whose feet He had just washed. This is followed by Jesus also foretelling that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed.
As reality begins to sink in, there is a palpable uneasiness with the group – a fear of losing everything that they had worked for in the last three years. Beginning in chapter 14, Jesus begins to comfort them: “Let not your hearts be troubled…If I go…I will come again.” He is preparing them.
As Jesus gives His disciples their final set of instructions, it is full of hope. The disciples will have great power and privilege in prayer (14:13-15). They will receive the Holy Spirit (14.16-26). They will ultimately have peace and not fear (14:27-31).
In chapter 15, which is still part of the same context, Jesus wants to illustrate how all of these blessings can be promised to His followers. In verses 1-14, He teaches them about abiding in Him (the Vine) and that they as the branches would bear fruit.
Later, Jesus warns them that the world would not be their friend; it will hate them (15.18-25). Yet, He comes back to the comforting thought of the Spirit, whom aptly enough is named “the Comforter,” (15.26-27).
The theme of persecution is continued in chapter 16 (1-6). Then Jesus begins to speak about His imminent death, His resurrection, and His return (16.16-33). Jesus doesn’t share the coming persecution, His death, and His removal from the group to scare them.
John 16.33 gives us the reason for the revelations provided in the Upper Room.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome [from nikao, νικαω) the world.
Let me provide a Lester paraphrase: “Hey guys, I’ve got some good news and some bad news…Let’s start with the bad: Get ready for persecution and tribulation from a world that hates you. Here’s the good news: I’ve already overcome the world!”
Just joining us on the journey? Follow the links below to see the previous posts. (To minimize the number of links, I’ve only added the first part of each section.)
- INTRODUCTION: Click here
- CHAPTER 1: Click here
- CHAPTER 2: Click here