“Abiding” in the gospel of John

bible john

One of John’s most used words is “abide.” In fact, out of the 118 times that this word shows up in the New Testament, 60 are in John’s writings and 40 of them are in his account of the gospel.

The word has a wide range of meanings. Here are a few:

“To persevere, to remain, endure, to await, to stay on, with, staying, place to stay, to hold out, wait on, patience, endurance” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).

In John’s gospel the word sometimes means to stay or remain in one physical place. In 1:38-39, for example, two of John’s disciples want to know where Jesus is staying. But as it is often the case with John, words don’t just simply mean something; especially words like abide, which is so characteristic of this gospel.

So perhaps, as Don Carson has suggested, “it may well be the Evangelist again assigns more symbolic depth to the question than the Baptist’s disciples could have intended at the time.” In other words, when they asked him where he was staying, they only had his lodging place in mind, but when Jesus answers them, “come and you will see,” it seems to be a deeper invitation to see that Jesus is remaining with the Father and he can also remain in them if they believe in him and remain in him (cf. Jn 6:56; 14:10, 17).

At other times in the book, John would talk about Jesus’ physical location and add the detail that he remained or stayed there. Once again, the reader would do good not to overlook this information as trivial details. There is a reason John is including those details.

The Word of God abiding in people

Jesus teaches several times that the word of God must abide in people. In one occasion he exposes the Jewish people stating that the Word of God does not abide in them. The reason is that they do not believe in the one whom God has sent, that is; Jesus (cf. Jn 5:38). This reminds us of David and Joshua (cf. Ps 119:11; Jos 1:8-9) “who hid God’s words in their heart meditating on it learning not to sin against God, understanding that divine blessing in their lives was vitally dependent on the indwelling of this word. Since Jesus is the very word of God (1:1), and the Jews have no time for him, it follows that they share neither in the experience of nor the blessings upon Joshua and the psalmist” (Don Carson, Pillar Commentary).

On a different occasion he tells his disciples that in order to truly be his disciples they must abide in his Word (8:31). If they want to avoid the same pitfall that the Jewish leaders fell on, they must abide in his word. John 15 is the section that talks about abiding the most, and we will get to it in a bit. In the meantime, let us notice that Jesus once again states that the disciples are to remain in his words.

Abiding and the Trinity

John’s work is full of references to the Trinity. The word abide is an important one when understanding the Trinity. The very first time the word abide appears in this gospel is after Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and remains on him (1:32-33). Jesus, during his earthly ministry, does not do things of his own accord. His ministry is not autonomous. His ministry is by the Holy Spirit. He not only descended on him but remained with him for the duration of his ministry on earth.

Not only the Spirit abides in Jesus, but Jesus abides in the Father, and the Father abides in him, and everything Jesus does and says is from the Father (14:10).

There is a clear fellowship among the persons of the Trinity. They don’t do anything apart from the others. Now, when we get to John 15, is when things get crazy!

Abiding in Jesus and fellowship with the triune God

John 15 is a tremendous passage that teaches dependance on Jesus. Apart from him we can’t bear fruit. The only way to bear fruit is to abide in him just like a branch of a vine must abide in the vine if it wants to produce anything.

One of the greatest concepts of abiding is the result of abiding in Jesus. The Spirit abides in Jesus and Jesus abides in the Father, and when we abide in Jesus, by abiding in his word, we are brought into this triune bliss. The Spirit will now dwell in the disciples (14:17), and through Jesus, the disciples will abide with the Father and just like Jesus did the works of his Father, the disciples are now empowered to perform the works of the Father in Jesus’ name.

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