Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled: Four Lessons from the Upper Room Discourse

On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples known as the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus implemented the practice of taking Communion and demonstrated his sacrificial love by washing the feet of his disciples. But the most substantial portion of the Last Supper that has been recorded for us is Jesus’ teaching to his disciples following the dinner. This teaching is known as Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, and it is found in John 13:31-16:33. This teaching can be seen as Jesus’ “farewell address” to his disciples. In this discourse, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them soon, and the main theme of the teaching is how Jesus’ followers are to live in the world in his absence. Some of Jesus’ most well-known and enduring teachings come from this discourse. Below are four principles taken from the discourse that can serve as an encouragement for us during Holy Week as we aim to live like Jesus while we await his return. 

Our calling is to love (John 13:31-35).

Jesus begins his Upper Room Discourse by stating, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). This is an intriguing and powerful statement. It is intriguing because Jesus calls this a “new” commandment, but the commandment to love others in itself was not new at all. This command can actually be found in Old Testament passages like Leviticus 19:18. So, what exactly is “new” about this commandment? What is new is the motivation given for following the commandment. Followers of Jesus are to love others in the same way that he loved us. The example of sacrificial love that Jesus displayed for his followers was unlike anything ever seen before, and this is both the motivation and example for following this command. 

This leads to the power of Jesus’ statement in John 13:34. This is a powerful statement because of the kind of love that Jesus is calling his followers to exemplify. Jesus introduced a radical new commandment with a new motive for his followers. But what does this kind of radical love look like? This would have been clear to the disciples because right before giving this new commandment, Jesus demonstrated this principle by washing their feet. When he made this statement, the garments he was wearing might have still been wet from drying the disciples’ feet! This means that the love that we are to demonstrate to others as Christians shows up in the form of service. Simply put, if we are following the example of Christ, there is no one that we should not be willing to serve. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who left shortly after to betray Jesus. If Jesus still humbly served the one that he knew would betray him to the point of death, then Jesus’ followers must be willing to serve anyone, even their enemies. This is the radical new command that Jesus gives. 

Our hope is in God’s dwelling (John 14:1-14, 23). 

As Jesus informed his disciples that he would soon be departing from their presence, they understandably asked him where he was going. Jesus told them that they could not follow him immediately to where he was going, but comforted them by adding, “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” (John 14:2-3). In this statement, Jesus provided hope for his followers that they would one day be reunited with him. What is especially interesting about Jesus’ statement is the word he used at the beginning of Verse 2 which is translated here as “room.” This is the Greek word moneࠢ, and it can more literally be translated as “dwelling.” What is significant about Jesus’ use of this word is that he is not offering his followers hope by describing how lavish their residences in heaven will be, but he offers hope by simply stating that, in heaven, we will get to dwell with him. That is our ultimate hope, and that is what will make heaven, heaven – dwelling permanently with Jesus. 

What is even more staggering about Jesus’ teaching in John 14 is that Jesus uses the word moneࠢ one more time in John 14:23. Interestingly, these are the only two times that this word appears in the whole New Testament. In John 14:23, Jesus promises, “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” (emphasis added). Here, Jesus promises that what will be fully and permanently available to us in heaven–dwelling with God–begins here on earth through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I can think of no greater hope for this life than this promise that God will dwell in us if we love Christ, and there is no greater hope for the future than dwelling permanently with Jesus. 

Our comfort is the Holy Spirit (John 14:14-31, 16:4-15).

As Jesus is informing his disciples about his upcoming departure, he promises that they will not be left empty-handed. In his absence, Jesus promises the coming of “another helper” (John 14:16) in the person of the Holy Spirit. In his wording, Jesus is clear that the Holy Spirit will not be a new or separate helper, but another of the same kind as himself who bears the same divine nature. The term that Jesus uses to introduce the Holy Spirit is the Greek word parakleࠢtos, and it is a word that is difficult to define with just one word in English. It refers to a person who comes alongside another person to support them or act as an advocate for them. This is why the Holy Spirit is called the “comforter” or “advocate” in this passage. The Holy Spirit is a comfort for those who follow Christ because his presence means that we are not left without God’s presence even while Jesus is absent from earth. Jesus even went so far as to say “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). While Jesus was limited in his earthly ministry to a single geographical location, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is worldwide through the indwelling of believers. This should serve as a great comfort and reminder to all who are in Christ, that we are not left without God’s presence and that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to empower our work and our witness in his absence. 

Our expectation is hatred from the world (John 15:18-16:4). 

Despite the positive tone for much of the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus is realistic with his followers about the treatment they can expect from the world. In John 15:19, Jesus told his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” In this statement, Jesus is warning his followers that they should expect at least some degree of hatred and persecution from the world. But what is the reason for the world’s hatred of Jesus’ followers? Clearly, it should not be because of our actions, as Jesus had just previously called his followers to love and serve all people in Chapter 13. The reason that Jesus warns them to expect hatred is because of the message of the gospel that his followers will share. The gospel message is offensive to the world. It is exclusive and convicts those who hear it. Jesus had just spoken about the exclusive nature of the gospel in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus was giving a realistic warning to his disciples that this exclusive message would not be well-received by the world around them. 

While this particular theme from the Upper Room Discourse is not positive in itself, it can still serve as an encouragement to us. As we face rejection or persecution for the message of the gospel, we know that we are not alone in this rejection. Jesus framed his teaching on this topic by stating, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). During Holy Week, as we consider the suffering of our Savior, we must realize that we might be called into that same suffering in some way during our lives. But so long as we are being hated for sharing the truth of the gospel and not our own missteps, we can rejoice that we share in Christ’s suffering. We can also rejoice and be encouraged that we have comfort with us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and we also have a secure, eternal dwelling with Christ awaiting us as we look forward to our union with him. 

Sam Hitchcock (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as the Director of Spiritual Formation at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond, OK.

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