In chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus repeats himself with a Greek verb eleven times in ten verses. He wants to get across a critical point! And getting the words right the first time means the difference between hearing God’s Word and missing it altogether.
Nowhere else in the New Testament does this level of repetition occur. The word is “abide.” It has been translated several ways, all attempting to preserve the original meaning but often obscuring John’s intent.
The two most commonly used interpretations of the word “abide” in English, “continue” or “remain,” do not preserve or explain anything. Both suggest endurance or perseverance—some will or determination—to hang in there, to stay with Jesus and his Word through thick and thin.
We get an entirely different impression when we read chapters 14 and 15 together. Chapter 15:1-10 appears to inform the meaning of chapter 14:1-3. Jesus says that he is going away to prepare a place for his disciples to be with him where he is. Traditionally, this means he is going to heaven to prepare an eternal home for them, a “mansion” or “room” in the Father’s house.
This understanding seems awkward. And it’s puzzling. The words “mansion” (how does one put many mansions in a house?) or “rooms” (is this a hotel?) seem to distort the entire narrative and looks out of character from the context. In chapter 15, Jesus refers to a present or a soon-to-be present—the experience of dwelling with him in a never-ending bond is not a location but a quality of life.
The best understanding of “μένω” (meno) is “abide” in chapter 15 and “abiding place” in chapter 14. Jesus promises he will go away—not to heaven, but to the cross—to prepare a place for them to dwell in and with him forever. This “abiding place” is not a connection that begins after this life in a future heaven, but now in real time and space, in the earthly experience of regeneration, and never comes to an end.
Viewed this way, we lose nothing regarding our guaranteed “real place” in the New Heaven and New Earth since this is not the subject of chapter 14. Instead, it emphasizes that Jesus and God, our Father, will be our eternal home. As Jesus is our “abiding place,” which he prepared by going away to the cross—paying a price we could never pay and crediting us with his righteousness—we are included in that bond of love that was once enjoyed only by Jesus with the Father. By his work of redemption, believers are now with Jesus where he is.
“Abide” in Greek is an active word. We are not resting. We are actively participating in a relationship with our heavenly Father. We have made our home in Jesus, and there is a constant conversation (prayer) with him and active participation of him in our lives.
Most Christian readers will immediately recognize the famous phrase, “Hiding Place,” from the book by the same title. Dutch Christian Corrie Ten Boom took this from the Psalms (17:8; 32:7;27:5, 31:20; 64:2; 119:114) to describe both the regular experience of King David and her place of security in Christ while she and her family hid Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation.
But after the Gestapo discovered their actions, they could no longer hide, and the family was put into the concentration camp along with the Jews. So her “hiding place” in Christ became her “abiding place” as she shared their suffering and was sustained supernaturally in a living hell, eventually surviving it. In this abiding place amid torment, Christians under persecution have dwelt since Pentecost, whether in martyrdom or the typical experience of living out your faith in a hostile, wicked world.
A “hiding place” is a reality for believers who must hide from totalitarian authorities or intolerant members of other religions. But many Christians in the West use idea of a “hiding place” as a refuge from an encounter with the world. Rather than engage their opponents with the power of the Gospel, they choose to wait it out in cozy security until Jesus snatches them away to heaven in the rapture.
What motivated missionaries and evangelists of the last two thousand years was not the impulse to hide from the world but to invade and occupy enemy territory in the name of their Lord. Jesus promised his faithful disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church (Matthew 16:18). This seems to imply that evil powers cannot withstand assaults against Satan’s strongholds—any power or anyone who opposes the Kingdom of God.
If Christians choose to hide rather than “abide,” we can look to history and see what acceptance and understanding of evil produced. However, it takes only a small minority of committed believers who are “abiding” in Jesus—who have made him their home—to accomplish sweeping and lasting transformations in their communities and the world. From the abolition of slavery to the creation of endless educational and helping institutions, in the words of Jesus, they will bear “fruit that lasts” (John 15:16).
Christians need to stop hiding, take Jesus’ crystal-clear admonition seriously to abide in him as branches living off the vine, become his disciples genuinely, know the truth, and be made free (John 8:31, 32). While Christians hide, the world burns. No matter your age, it is time to lovingly share the Word of Truth and stand firm against the forces of this age. Our medicine to a severely hurting world is the Great Physician and Healer, Jesus Christ. Let us abide in him and draw the strength we need to share the truth of the Gospel.
-Photo by Dimitri Kolpakov on Unsplash
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