John 15:12-25 (the Love Of Israel And The Twelve Apostles)

Love one another12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

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In the previous section, we established the fact that from the stand point of Jesus, the number twelve for his apostles was not a coincidence. He is the Good Shepherd of Israel who established and delegated his authority to the Twelve to rule Israel in his place when he would be absent. They are the new heads of the Israelite tribes and are reminiscent of the Twelve patriarchs.

When we recall the story of the twelve fathers/heads of Israel, we immediately remember that love towards one another was not a characteristic of their relationships. In fact, the story of their internal family relationship was one of attempted group murder and the sale into slavery of their younger brother Joseph. Jesus, as he establishes his new leadership over Israel recalls this story of deep family dysfunction, saying that these new heads must be the opposite of the original tribal heads. The new leaders must love one another.

13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

For several years, the disciples of Rabbi Jesus (as they referred to him) were his servants. This may sound strange to modern ears, but in ancient times, especially in the Jewish setting, if someone was a student of a religious leader, he was also his servant. The time for Jesus’ departure has come. He began the final preparation of his disciples for the very challenging task of being his representatives during a foundational period that would be incredibly unstable. The time had come for them to be included in his council as friends and not only as students. He was approaching his death and through it preparing to show them that they must follow his example and commit to what one day would become one of the core Jewish value concepts – Ahavat Yesrael (Love of Israel).

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 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. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

You may recall that throughout this study we are identifying places where John does not use the word cosmos, usually translated as world, in a simple way. At times, his use seems to challenge some of our already well-established interpretive options. We saw this clearly in our discussion of John 7 when the reference referred to the world as Judea and Jerusalem!

We have repeatedly seen that Jesus was enthusiastically received in Galilee, but was persecuted in Judea. This is very different from texts in the synoptics where we see the opposite. His home is Galilee, not Judea (as in John) and it is in Galilee that he receives most of his opposition. In John it is clear that all of Jesus’ persecution comes from the Jerusalemite religious establishment and their affiliates – hoi Ioudaioi. They hate him and they make plans to destroy him at all costs, realizing the threat he posed to their place of leadership in Israel.

21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

The summarizing phrase “they hated me without a cause” for the persecution and suffering of Jesus is a direct reference to several of the psalms of lament.

In Ps.35:1-8 we read: “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! … Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! … Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them! For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.” While in Ps.69:1-4: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause…

This is the case throughout John where the hoi Ioudaioi, when they feared losing power, launched a full attack against Jesus. But for their fear, they had no real cause to hate him.

© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.


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  1. Rafael

    I recall that Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him. But they never made the attempt because Reuben talked them into leaving him to die in a pit (with the intent to free him later). But they had not left the pit. So the attempt to abandon him there had not yet happened (so no murder attempt yet). Judah hatched the idea to sell him into slavery. But that was not a murder attempt. The murder attempt was nearly made, but not quite.

    Perhaps you are making reference to some other attempted murder in their internal family structure? Help me out. I don’t recall any such attempt.

    Interesting thing about Judah: even though he was the one who talked the others into selling Joseph instead of killing him, he’s also the one who later offered his own life to redeem Benjamin.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think this is of the reasons why Judah was chosen to lead Israel from that point on (answering your second point). On the first point I think we mean the same thing stating it somewhat differently.

  2. Ruth Harvey

    I recently came across this comment on John 1, the first disciples and if you have time I would appreciate your view:
    Vs. 39: If the Rabbi rejected the potential disciple, he would say something to the effect, “It is none of your business.” If he accepted them as a disciple, is response would be, “Come and see.” Here, the Rabbi
    I recently came across this comment and would appreciate your view Dr Eli:
    Yeshua accepts His first two disciples. This would also be a good time to bring out another point. The Hebrew word translated disciple is “talmid,” which would be far better translated “student.” It is an unfortunate fact that today we try to make disciples out of people who are not very good students. Discipleship, then and now, was not for everyone. It is from these disciples that came the Rabbis, teachers, and elders of the community. That is the way it should be now. Because we do not really understand the Biblical concept of discipleship, we can end up trying to put people in a position that causes only frustration for them because they are not called into it.
    The general view is that believers are all disciples but I am also aware that the Gentile church has got more than a few things ‘misunderstood’.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ruth, hi. I think translating “disciple” as student does the term disservice, while really trying to help. Disciple includes into itself student, but has many more aspects of training attached to it. As far as the response to accepting someone as a talmid I am not sure, but I would be thrilled to find out the source of the quote. (not the person from whom you heard it, but where is in the rabbinical writings exactly). I like it though. Dr. Eli

  3. Ildiko

    Shalom, DR. Eli

    I engoyed your study. It offer a new wievpoint. There are many things what I did not, or I understand in other way. I did’n know that the disciples was servants in realy sense of word. And I did’t realise before that Lord Jesus was persecute by the religious leaders because they go in fear of theirs place in leadership in Israel. This is queer: they know the Messiah will come, they know the prophecys for His acts, they know I think everything about Him, and when He is there, they can’t give up theirs positions. Theirs soul was blind…

  4. RamonAntonio

    Your observation about the teacher-servant relationship is refreshing but also a little troubling. I don’t have sufficient information of this being a typically Jewish teacher-servant relationship. However, I do have read a lot of references of that relationship in other cultures including greek, chinese and even Indian.
    Being the Axial Era a conceptual definition posited by scholars as an imaginary axis line in time and space that describes an almost coincidence of pivotal figures in diverse cultures that almost simultaneously affect their respective culture and religion and which can be interconnected by an imaginary line that describes an axis north-south of Ancient World the common trait of this so presupposed teacher servant relationship? The Axial Era encompasses precisely most of these religions, is defined around 7th Century BC and includes China, India, Persia, Judea and Greece. In ludea it included Ezekiel-Jeremiah (most probably the latter). Karl Jaspers includes as follows:
    “Jaspers also included the authors of the Upanishads, Lao Tzu, Homer, Socrates, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Thucydides, Archimedes, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Deutero-Isaiah as axial figures. Jaspers held Socrates, Confucius and Siddhartha Gautama in especially high regard, describing each of them as an exemplary human being and paradigmatic personality”.
    Although critiqued, this theory resides in the figure of traveling sages with disciple (Servants). May this be a model for Jesus ministry…?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      no sure.

  5. Kat Hobaugh

    Here is the change it makes in my thinking. I consider vs 17 thirsting or asking for the Holy Spirit (prior to gospel for me). I ask because of sin. It seems probably to me that they ask because of servant hood.

  6. Kat Hobaugh

    Your historical explanation of a Jewish student serving their religious leader has made me reconsider the interpretation of this text. “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another”
    Is it reasonable to think that a Jewish servant attitude would have first considered how to serve his leader (vs 17) before asking the Father (vs 16)? This would indeed be very different from modern interpretations.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am thinking…

  7. amj

    They hated Him because in their eyes He blasfemied calling Himself Son of the Almigthy etc.
    Therefore they seek to destroy Him. Their mind was full of the letter of the Law, but not spiritually. They did not grasp what He was telling them, namely it was all About Himself what He tried to teach them. Even His apostles did not always understand Him fully, So He explained it to them.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Anton, welcome to the forum. I agree and disagree with you at the same time :-). Please, see some of my arguments here –

      I do not think that in Judaisms of Jesus day it was at all problematic to refer to himself as the Son of God. The problem was the challenge that Jesus posted to the authority and power of the hoi Ioudaioi system. Let’s keep on thinking together. Dr. Eli

  8. Gamal R. Scharoubim

    I enjoy reading your analysis, being an analytical person myself. I am a chemist by education and chemists have to have a strong proclivity for analysis. Otherwise they will be DOA.

    You open a new vistas of thought which I feel enrich my uunderstanding of the Bible and of the faith. Bible here encompasses both the Torah ( the Old Testament as a whole 0 and the New testament. I am not a believer in one closing his eyes to what others have to offer, or his ears to what others have to say.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Gamal, thank you for your comment. I think all of us must be thinking people, critical (in the sense of being thinking) in our approuch to everything including the Bible.

  9. Keepha

    I enjoyed this very nice commentary. I was wondering why the omission of the Divine Name in Psalm 35 and 69?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Can you please explain a little bit more? I looked at the references and I am not sure what you are asking. Dr. Eli

      1. Keepha

        Yes I can. I was basically asking why was the Tetragram omitted from the scriptural verse you used in the book of Psalm?

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I am not sure it is omitted. Simply a different designation for God is used. It is very common.

  10. Janis Moller

    Beautiful study I like this! Thank you Dr Eli…shalom shalom