In school you’ll often hear teachers say something like this at the start of every class. ‘Remember students, there is no such as a stupid question. The only stupid question is the question not asked.’ I had a different experience when I began seminary. There, one of my professors began the class by saying this, ‘There are such things as stupid questions. So if one of you asks one I will point it out and move along without answering it.’ I’m sure you can imagine our reaction to that, we were all a bit taken back. So much so that there wasn’t much discussion and I don’t think anyone in the class asked a single question the entire class.
Regardless if there truly is such a thing as a stupid question, Philip’s question in v8 surely comes close. As we continue to track through this conversation in John 14 I’d like to draw your attention to not only Philip’s question, but Jesus revolutionary answer.
Philip’s Question (v7-8)
Jesus has time and time again told them plainly what He is, what He’s doing, and what He’s going to do. In context here in John 14, recall Jesus stating that: 1) He would soon head off to a place they could not follow, 2) to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, 3) from this place He would return to bring them to Himself there, and 4) that they knew the way to where He was about to go. Thomas, confused by this and troubled in v5, honestly states that He does not know the way to follow Him which opens the door for Jesus to expand further explaining in v6 that He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Then, in v7 (where our passage for today begins) Jesus adds, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” The phrasing of v7 can be put many ways from Greek to English. Does it mean that the disciples do not yet truly know Jesus and therefore do not know the Father as well? Or does it mean that if they have come to know Him they therefore know the Father also even if they aren’t quite aware of it? I think we can conclude both to be the reality of the disciples. They knew Jesus, but did not yet grasp how exalted He truly is. They knew Him but did not yet grasp that in Jesus God the Father is making Himself known and visible to all. They knew Jesus but did not yet grasp that by knowing Him they also know the Father.That Jesus says, “From now on you do know Him and have seen Him” means all of this is about to change. No one has ever been able to see God the Father, but ‘from now on’ or ‘as a result of’ what Jesus about to do the disciples theological understanding and religious experience would be revolutionized.
Well, as Jesus’ teaching in 13:33-34 prompted Peter’s question in 13:36, and as Jesus’ teaching in 14:1-4 prompted Thomas’ question in 14:5, so too Jesus’ teaching in 14:7 prompted Philip’s question in 14:8. But while Peter and Thomas’ questions came out of troubled hearts it seems Philip’s question comes out of a frustrated and impatient heart. “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Little does Philip know what he’s asking. He’s requested what Moses requested on the mountain. Do you remember what happened there? After 17 verses of back and forth between God and Moses about God’s people, Moses finds great favor with God and in Exodus 33:18-23 we read the following, “Moses said, “Please show me Your glory.” And Godsaid, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand on the rock, and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
Moses requested to see God’s glory, to see His face, but God only allowed him to see His back, because no man can see God’s face and live. Philip is aware of these events, he’s aware that God didn’t allow Moses to see Him. Why then does Philip think Jesus will grant this request now? I don’t think Philip believes he’s greater than Moses, no. I do think Philip, in asking this question, reveals his frustration with Jesus’ comment in v7. The impression we get here is that he isn’t willing to do the hard work of trying to understand and truly know the reality of v7, that the Father is fully revealed in the Son and that the Son came for that purpose, to reveal the Father. So he, in a sense, pushes aside v7 as if it’s no good to him in solving his current problems and asks for something he thinks he can understand, something that he thinks is easier to manage, something that might just settle all his trouble and questions. Perhaps the Son of God is just a bit too ordinary for Philip, too common, too familiar. Sadly I think that’s the case; Philip wanted more.
Don’t judge him too quick though. Philip is quite like you and I today. Many people today don’t want ordinary experiences with God, they don’t want an ordinary or common church service either. No, they desire something extraordinary, they want something that will excite them, they want hype. Ironically enough God Himself was standing right before Philip’s eyes in the Incarnate Word and he wanted more. And ironically enough God has revealed Himself to us in His inspired Word and we hold it in our very hands and yet, like Philip, we want more. Ask a simple question here: if seeing the Son (whose equal with the Father) wasn’t enough for Philip, what makes us think seeing the Father would be enough for him?Rather than working to help him or solve Philip’s problems this question actually works against him revealing how little he actually knows of Jesus.
So we’ve seen his question, now see the three revolutionary realities Jesus gives in response. Though I honestly think there’s overlap between these things, the first reality is largely theological while the second and third realities are largely experiential.
The Theological Revolution: Knowing Both Father and Son (v9-11)
v9, “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
If there ever were a time when Jesus was saddened, grieved, or exasperated by His disciples it is here. This isn’t a gentle observation, it’s a rebuke. Jesus has been with them for a while and yet they don’t know or recognize who He is. To see Him is to see the Father. How could Philip say such a thing? I think it’s easy for us to understand why the Pharisees and Jewish leaders didn’t know or recognize Jesus for who He is, they hated Him, didn’t believe Him, and wanted to kill Him. But the disciples? The very ones who left all to sit at His feet and learn from Him? That they don’t know Him after so much time being with Him reveals the depths of their spiritual blindness.
I don’t think this is very far removed from our own experience. Aren’t their many people who come to church each and every Sunday and still don’t truly know who Jesus is? The lesson here is simple: maintaining a close proximity to Jesus or His Church doesn’t produce salvation. For example, if you’re sick you can wear yourself out looking at your medicine, or holding tightly hold onto medicine but doing those things won’t heal you will it? No, taking that medicine into you will. So too, it is only faith that saves. Faith, not in yourself, not in your Bible reading, not in your praying, not in your church attending, not in your holy living, not in anything you do. It’s only faith that grabs ahold of Christ and takes Him into you, faith in Jesus and what He has done for us that saves us. Church, if the disciples could be physically present with Jesus for years and miss it, it’s very possible for you and I to come to church, even for years, and completely miss it too.
Jesus makes his main point in v10-11, “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 authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
This does not mean Jesus is just extremely knowledgeable on the subject of His Father, as if He were the expert on God. It also does not mean that Jesus is just the Father’s puppet and if we look hard enough we can see the strings controlling Him. No, the unity and mutual indwelling of Father and Son is in view in v10-11. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. The words the Son speaks are the Father’s words and the works of the Son are works the Father does through the Son. Because this unity has been, is now, and forever will be is why the Son is able to reveal the Father fully. To know Jesus’ mind and heart and ways is to know the Father’s mind and heart and ways. So to grow in our knowledge of Christ is to grow in our knowledge of God. Because the Son and the Father are unified in being the Son can reveal God because He is God. Negatively we say: any idea of God that does not agree with the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is a false idea of God. Positively we can say: any questions one has about God’s nature or character are answered in Christ.
The early Church believed this, died for this, and committed this to history in various creeds and confessions. One of those written around the 5thor 6thcentury called the Athanasian Creed describes this unity of Father and Son and Spirit (who will come into view in v15) like this: “…we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has…And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being…not three uncreated or immeasurable beings; there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being…not three almighty beings; there is but one almighty being…not three gods; there is but one God…not three lords; there is but one Lord.”
This is deep stuff I know. If you find it difficult to grasp, know that most do. True faith is truly more than mere agreement to certain theological truths but for faith to be true it must embrace the teaching of Christ along with the Person of Christ. Notice this in v11. Jesus doesn’t say we’re to merely believe in Him but to believe Him. Meaning, when He teaches us anything we’re to take Him at His Word and believe His teaching, find it to be true, and base our life together on it.His intention is that the disciples (and us) should firstly believe His teaching and then see His miracles as proof that His teaching is true. But in v11 He adds that those who find this difficult should go in the opposite direction and begin with His works and then move to His teaching. So for those who have eyes to see, the miracles, the signs, and the wonders of Jesus will lead to a recognition that His teaching is divine.That’s the theological revolution. The mutual indwelling and unity of Father and Son in v7-11.
Experiential Revolution One: Greater Works Will Be Done (v12)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
Whoever believes in Jesus and whoever believes Jesus’ teaching will not only have their theology revolutionized but will have their experience revolutionized as well. How so? By the promise of doing greater works. “…greater works than these he will do, because I am going to the Father.” But what does this mean? Jesus certainly isn’t speaking in terms of power. The apostles will work wonders of healing perform miracles of various kinds and persevere through life threatening trials like Jesus did in His life. But no apostle or believer today can do a work equal to the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the most powerful work ever done! No power, isn’t view in v12, so what is? Extent. During Jesus lifetime He was largely confined to Palestine. After His departure to His Father the extent of the disciples work was dramatically larger. Not only did their work extend out from Palestine to the whole world, but at Pentecost alone more people were added to the Church in one day than the entire ministry of Christ! The proof of v12 is the entire book of Acts, it shows all of these greater works coming to pass and continuing on through the history of the Church. Martin Luther comments on this saying, “For Jesus took but a little corner for Himself, to preach and to work miracles in…whereas the apostles and their followers have spread themselves through the whole world.”
But how are they to accomplish these greater works? Look at the end of v12. Jesus adds the reason they’ll be able to do these greater works is “…because I am going to the Father.” It seems strange at first that the physical absence of Jesus would allow greater works to be done. But it isn’t all that strange when we think about it. Once Jesus accomplishes His redemptive work and returns to the Father, who will both the Father and the Son send to indwell and empower those who believe in Jesus? The Spirit of God! And once He comes, the normal, uneducated, and fearful disciples become mighty, wise, and courageous gospel preachers! Therefore the book of Acts of shouldn’t be called the Acts of the Apostles, but the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. As Jesus continues on He gives more clarification to the nature of these greater works.
Experiential Revolution Two: Greater Works Will Be Done by Prayer (v13-14)
“Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
Yes, from now on greater works will come after the disciples are filled with the Spirit. Yes, from now on the gospel will be proclaimed in power and boldness. And yes, from now on the gospel will spread throughout the world as dead sinners are raised to new life. But how will the Spirit move within the disciples to accomplish these greater works? v13-14 show us that the Spirit will move the disciples to prayer. Or to say it another way, the fruitful labors of the disciples are the product of Spirit led prayer, prayer offered to God in the name of Jesus.
Don’t see v12 teaching that there is a contrast of who does the work, that Jesus does work during His ministry and the disciples do the work afterwards. No, see v12 clarified further in v13-14 when it says it isn’t the disciples who do the work, but when they ask in Christ’s name, Christ Himself will answer and Christ Himself will do work in the disciples and through the disciples!The prayer in view in v13-14 then, isn’t intended to be a open ended and unrestrained, green light to ask God in Christ’s name for whatever you so desire in life. Prayer in Jesus name isn’t a mere formula we can use bend God’s will to our own. You could interpret it like this, but you’d be wrong to do so. Rather see it as it is: prayer offered to God in the name of Christ must always be prayer according to the Word of Christ, aiming at the glory of Christ. This was Jesus’ purpose in life, that in all things His Father would be glorified. This was completed in His birth, His life, His teaching, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension. In His work the Father was glorified, but remember v7-11 (!), because of the unity of Father and Son, these things were also the way the Son was glorified. Now, in His exalted reign, His purpose continues! Now, by His Spirit, He enables His own to do greater works and plead in prayer for greater works to be done in, among, and through them, works which will ultimately bring glory to God the Father.
Philip asked the question, and Jesus revolutionized their theology concerning the Father and the Son, and revolutionized their experience concerning greater works being done through prayer by the power of the Spirit all of which brings glory of God! This is what Jesus teaches in v7-14 and we ought to believe Him and take Him at His Word.
What can I say to close and sum up all of this wonder?
Church as the disciples have been so revolutionized, every believe in Jesus has been as well. “…we could’ve been six feet under, we could’ve been lost forever. We should be in that fire, but now there’s fire inside of us.”Fire from who? The Holy Spirit. Fire for what? To prompt us to pray and work hard in this great and global gospel expanding work! There is no greater joy than being a part of this greatest of all works in which God gets all the glory!