Two statements about the return of Jesus in John’s Gospel
In the previous column, we examined Jesus’ bold statement, “I will come again.” Now, let’s look at two of Jesus’ other statements about his return as recorded in the Gospel of John. Then, we’ll explore other passages in which Jesus expresses the certainty of his return.
“Don’t let your heart 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 am going to prepare a place for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to where I am going.”
“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples for his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. They don’t understand who the betrayer is or where Jesus is going. Jesus tells them, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33).
Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36).
Jesus replies, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later” (13:36).
Peter insists, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (13:37).
Jesus then predicts Peter’s thrice-denial of his Lord (13:38).
Sensing the rising angst in the upper room, Jesus offers assurance: “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1).
Jesus then goes on to explain that his imminent departure is for their good. In fact, a little later, he assures his followers that it’s to their advantage that he goes away so that he may send the Holy Spirit as the agent of the triune God’s work of redemption throughout the church age (John 16:7).
While Jesus is away in heaven, he is busy preparing a place for his followers. This harkens back to Jesus’ parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matt. 25:1-13), a parable nested in the Jewish wedding custom in which a young man, espoused to his future bride, returns to his father’s home – often for a year or so – to prepare a special wedding chamber for his bride-to-be.
Jesus therefore is telling Peter, and us, that while he is away, he is making things ready for his glorious return when, like a bridegroom, his presence lights up the streets and his coming is shouted from the rooftops. He personally returns to fetch his bride – the church – and take her to his Father’s house.
So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them, the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
So this rumor spread to the brothers and sisters that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
John corrects a false rumor in this passage. Some apparently think John is going to remain alive on earth until Jesus returns. But as John writes, Jesus did not tell Peter that John would escape death, but that it’s really no concern of Peter’s. For the disciples’ part, it’s more important to follow Jesus than to be concerned about the timing of Christ’s return or the longevity of another person’s ministry.
The key point for our purposes is that Jesus prepares his followers for his temporary absence and future return. He has not revealed the day and hour – nor does Jesus know, for this matter is in his Father’s hands (Matt. 24:36). But until Christ returns, his followers are to “Engage in business until I come back” (Luke 19:13).
Next: The Son of Man and the return of Jesus
Copyright 2021 by Rob Phillips