The previous chapter describes the setting – the rather strange final meal Jesus ate with his disciples the night before his death. It was an evening marked by the awkwardness of his insistence of washing their feet and the shock of his announcement of his betrayal and imminent departure. They had left all to follow him, but now, for a time, they were to be on their own and would not be able to go with him. It is no wonder they were “troubled”.
He speaks to comfort them (and us). He is going, but he will come back. And when he returns he will take us to be with him in his Father’s house: what a place to be! And there is plenty of room for us all. His departure, which is causing them such grief, will actually be the means by which he will prepare a place for us there – ie his death and resurrection will secure our place in heaven.
Thomas’ and Philip’s questions in vv.4,8 provide much of the structure to the passage, each picking up on the final words of the previous section and being the springboard for the next bit of teaching. Jesus has assured them they know the way, and when Thomas questions that, Jesus spells out that to know him is to know the way. Indeed uniquely he is the way to God, in him is found the whole truth of God and eternal life.
Philip’s request shows how little he has understood. He longs to see the Father, little understanding that in knowing Jesus the Father has been revealed perfectly to him. There is not more of God to find. To see Jesus is to see the Father – that’s not to confuse the different persons of the Trinity as though they are one and the same. They are distinct persons, but one and the same God, profoundly and indissolubly one (“I am in the Father and the Father is in me”). Jesus’ words are the Father’s words – though actually, and rather surprisingly, Jesus actually says (v.10) that his words are the Father’s works: implying that in the words of Jesus we see the Father at work (which I think should mean that even if we can’t now see Jesus as Philip did, we are not disadvantaged for we can still “see the Father” through the words of Jesus). The miracles are evidence of the unity of the Father and the Son.
The opening eleven verses back up the call in the opening verse to trust in Jesus. Verses 12-14 refer to the consequence of such belief. Two things are promised, both are big and striking. First, having just mentioned his miracles, he now says his disciples will do, not just similar things, but “greater things”. John 5:20,21 is an important cross reference. The greater things are what the miracles point to: the salvation Jesus comes to bring. We will be able offer that because of his going to the Father – ie because of his death and resurrection. So it is not a promise that we will be able to raise the dead or feed multitudes with our packed lunches or heal lepers (though that’s not to say miracles don’t still happen), but it’s a promise that we will be able to bring about the far greater blessings that his miracles pointed to through the preaching of the Gospel.
Secondly, there is a promise of answered prayer (vv.13,14). Such prayer is an expression of the trust called for in v.1. Verse 14 is amazingly unconditional, but the context does qualify it somewhat. We are to pray in Jesus’ name, and therefore in accord with his character and purposes; and Jesus makes clear what his ultimate concern is – the Father’s glory. The previous verse (v.12) perhaps gives some context too, suggesting that a particular focus of our prayers should be for the ”greater works” that Jesus calls us to do – ie prayer for people’s salvation. Obviously it is not a promise we can apply to any particular individual we pray for, but I think in a more general sense we can expect God to work in answer to our prayers for people to be saved, indeed we should expect it.