Our text is located in the second major section of the Gospel of John 13:1-21:25. It begins with the last supper, foot washing, and new commandment. Jesus is alone with his disciples in this first part, John 13:1-17:25. Then Jesus public arrest, trial, and crucifixion are portrayed in John 18:1-19:42. The final two chapters of John show Jesus again predominantly with his disciples.
In John 14:1-31 Jesus promises the disciples that they will be empowered despite Jesus impending death so they should not worry. Jesus indicates that they will be aided by a figure variously translated Paraclete, Counselor, Comforter, or Advocate. The Greek term parkletos is used to designate someone being “called to the side of “a person involved in a dispute. The use of this term may have come into the text with some of the later reworking of John’s Gospel. The legal background of the term seems to be reflected less than the teaching dimensions of the term that are found throughout the allusions. The Advocate is another term for the Holy Spirit. The Advocate will continue to give assistance to Christians after Jesus departure. One could say the Advocate will carry on the teaching of Jesus and even respond to new questions that were not answered previously. In the history of the interpretation of these verses one sees various factions in the church interpreting the text and debating the relationships, especially the Father and Son (Christological) and Trinitarian understandings.
The focus of John 14:1-31 is on the diverse assurances given to the disciples. Whether Jesus words, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate the disciples will be cared for and given peace despite Jesus departure. These significant images and especially the image of the father are complemented in John 14:18 by the words, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
The orphan was a significant person within the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible who deserved care, peace, and love just as the foreigner and the widow. The Sinai covenant with the Israelites says that Israel will be judged by the way they treat the orphan. Of course God is depicted as the father (Psalm 68:5-6). God will watch for the orphan (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 10:14, 18). As a matter of fact because of the concern regarding the orphan we even find that the God of Israel will protect Edomite orphans (Jeremiah 49:11). If the Israelites do not act justly and in a caring way for the orphan they are threatened by the Lord with the harsh punishment of making the Israelite children orphans (Exod. 22:23–24). In an ironic reversal Job complains that God causes him to suffer because Job helped the orphan (Job 29:12; 31:17, 21). Job’s anger even provokes him to say that God casts lots for the life of orphans (Job 6:27).
John’s gospel picks up from the ancient tradition of God’s concern for the orphan and makes it clear that the disciples can be assured that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will care for them forever. A peace unlike anything the world knows will come to the followers of Christ despite Jesus dying.