Ticket to Life
“Jesus said what? That can’t be right.”
In John 14:13-14, Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
At first glance and without context, this verse sounds like the ticket to all the pleasure and happiness in the world! Yet, this ticket is quickly crumbled up and thrown on the ground when it seemingly proves untrue. However, upon reading it in its context we will find that it’s absolutely true and quite exciting.
Purpose of John
Firstly, it’s important to recognize that the entire gospel of John was written for one singular purpose. John explicitly says that the signs (or “revelations”) of Jesus that he wrote in his book “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
John is concerned about belief in Jesus and the resulting “life” in Jesus’ name. True life is dependent on true belief in Jesus. There is no abundant, joy-filled, and eternally happy life outside of a genuine belief in Jesus Christ. It’s critical to have this understanding at the outset.
Now, the statement about Jesus answering whatever prayer is asked (John 14:13-14) is found at the end of a larger thought he was explaining to his disciples (John 14:1-14). To understand the basic meaning of our verses, we must look at the general outline of this thought in the larger section.
Jesus’ Line of Thought
Jesus first mentions that he’s on his way to his Father in order to prepare a place for them. After one of his disciples asked him about the way there, Jesus responds with the famous “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and goes on to explain that he is the only way to the Father and that seeing and knowing him (Jesus) is seeing and knowing the Father.
The conversation now shifts to that striking truth: to see Jesus is to see the Father (14:9). Jesus then begins to explain the implications of this – that he doesn’t speak on his own authority, but he only does what the Father tells him to do (or, as he says in 14:10, “but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”)
We then get to the statement immediately preceding our verses, which has Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” meaning, “What I’m about to say is really, really true, so pay attention.” What Jesus then announces is that “whoever believes in [him] will also do the works that [he does]; and greater works than these will he do, because [he is] going to the Father.” (14:12) In other words, whoever truly believes in Jesus will do works like Jesus and even greater works than Jesus.
This “greater” is not in terms of some “quality” or “worth” that comes from the disciples themselves but has to do with the last thing he said, “because I am going to the Father.” When Jesus went to the Father after his death, resurrection, and ascension, the fulfilment of his work that the Father called him to was complete and revealed. The “greater” reality of power in the name of the risen and exalted Jesus is now evident in the world and experienced in the disciples. Not only that, but the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now lives in the disciples (Romans 8:11), yet the Spirit couldn’t come to them untilJesus went to the Father (John 16:7).
All that said, we understand that a genuine Christian is one who believes in Jesus and will, by result, do greater works than Jesus – “greater” because of the fulfilment of the gospel and the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in them. These “greater works” are not for the Christian’s glory, but are simply (and powerfully) the continuing of Jesus’ works, which are the Father’s works, and are ultimately for the glory of the Father through Jesus. Complicated? Yes, but I hope it makes sense!
The Verses in Question (John 14:13-14)
We finally get to our verses, which are, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” In light of what we’ve studied, we can see and understand these statements in a new light. Jesus is not giving out some “magical formula” to all people so that they can fulfill their selfish endeavours. Jesus, as you know, is not a jinni. Here’s how we know this: the emphasis of these verses is both the phrase, “in my name,” and “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
So, what we can understand Jesus as saying to his disciples (and what he still promises to us) is, “When you pray in my name and your prayer is for the Father’s glory in me, I will do it, whatever it is.” Firstly, we must know what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. Simply put, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). It’s to pray in an awareness of the truth of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, and the ultimate goal of Jesus. It’s also to pray in the authority of Jesus, since genuine believers have Jesus living in them (John 15:4-5) and “do the works that [Jesus does].” (14:12)
Secondly, we have to look at the phrase “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Notice how John has put this phrase in the centre – it’s between the two repeated phrases. This portrays its importance. Jesus is saying that he will promise to do the request of any prayer in his name for the purpose to glorify the Father through him. This means that when a prayer, even though it might have “in Jesus’ name” attached to it, doesn’t fulfill the purpose to glorify the Father through Christ, then Jesus won’t do it. The purpose of prayer does not end in the comfort, safety, and provision for the Christian, but the glory of the Father through Jesus. If a prayer is made that doesn’t glorify God, then it won’t be answered.
You can see, really, the similarity between praying “in Jesus’ name” and “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” You can’t honestly have one without the other. If one’s there, the other is there also. This means that verbally saying “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t automatically provide the request asked. If a Christian’s prayer is ultimately for the Father’s glory (which is sometimes done unconsciously), then Jesus will happily give the request.
The Mystery of Prayer
Now, here’s the beautiful and difficult mystery about this truth: God’s sovereign and definite will is perfectly aligned with and works through our genuine prayers in Jesus’ name to the glory of the Father. We can be assured that this promise of Jesus never fails and is always at our disposal – which is very exciting and encouraging. It’s up to us to meet its condition: to genuinely pray in Jesus’ name and for the purpose that the Father may be glorified in the Son. And if a Christian is cognitively praying in Jesus’ name and desires the glory of God through it, yet doesn’t see the evidence of their prayer being answered, it does not mean that they weren’t genuine in their prayer. It just means that God will give the request later (for example, praying for Jesus to return to the earth), or that, even though the Christian had the right intentions, the specific request, in the eyes of the all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-present God, wouldn’t glorify him.