Like a mirage shimmering in our peripheral vision, the mystery of the Trinity defies definition. Yet, if Jesus’ identity can’t be understood apart from the Father and Holy Spirit, then neither can we grasp our own identity in Christ without exploring the Trinity. That’s why our triune God invites us into this shrouded embrace—not for comprehension, but for communion.
To get the most out of this Bible study, read John 14-17. Before you read, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. And above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: John 14:17-20; John 16:12-15; John 17:20-26
One purpose of Jesus’ early ministry was to bring the Jewish leadership to a decision about His messiahship. By attributing to Satan a miracle done through the Holy Spirit’s power (Matt. 12:24), the Pharisees expressed their verdict of rejection. From that point on, the Lord focused on training the disciples to continue His work in His absence. This culminated in Jesus’ farewell address (John 14-17), which was directed not only to the participants of the Last Supper but also to all future disciples—namely, the church. In it, Jesus spoke about the Christian’s spiritual identity.
The key to understanding our identity in Christ is two-fold. First, by putting on flesh and walking among us, Jesus identified with humanity before we ever thought to identify with Him. Second, though He’s a distinct person, Jesus is part of the Trinity; His own identity can’t be understood apart from His Father and the Holy Spirit. And so it is with us—we may identify with Jesus on a personal level, but our union with Him is an inherently communal, rather than individual, experience.
In John 14:18, Jesus comforts the disciples by telling them He will not leave them as orphans. Considering the definition of orphan, how do you think Jesus sees Himself in relation to His followers?
Write “disciples,” “Jesus,” and “Father” in one line on a piece of paper. Now, reread John 14:20 to see how Jesus describes their relationship. At first glance, it may seem akin to Russian nesting dolls, with one entity resting inside another inside another. But on closer inspection, that image falls apart. Draw lines connecting the words, based on Jesus’ explanation. Describe how the three parties are interrelated.
In Their unbroken unity, the triune Godhead practices perfect mutual submission, agency, and dependency on one another. How does each member of the Trinity interact with the others, according to John 14:10 and John 16:12-15?
Jesus identified with humanity before we ever thought to identify with Him.
Continuing the Story
As Jesus continues speaking to His disciples, the conversation delves more deeply into the interdependence that’s tied in to identifying with Him.
In the John 15 passage on the vine and the branches, one of the most repeated words is abide, or remain. The Greek word is menó; among its meanings, according to Strong’s Concordance, are “to continue to be present, to remain as one, not to perish, not to become another or different, not to depart.” Usually we think of “remaining” as a passive state, but here it’s pictured as an active resistance against an external force. What things are pulling you away from the Vine? If you’re remaining fully present in Him, in what ways does that imply your absence elsewhere?
Look at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Which of the two sisters remained with Jesus, not allowing herself to be swept away by the tide of chores and preparations? Now, consider that the other sister was simply fulfilling the cultural responsibility of hospitality. In light of this, what expectations and responsibilities in your life might be siphoning your attention and presence away from Jesus? Would choosing to resist the pull of such obligations incur complaints of neglectfulness or irresponsibility?
At the end of John 17, Jesus transitions into praying for “those also who believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20), which includes every person throughout history who trusts Him as Savior.
Here “remaining” is pictured as an active resistance against an external force.
In John 17:23, Jesus prays that we “may be perfected in unity.” Have you ever experienced perfect unity with a group of believers? How would you characterize such unity?
In what ways does identifying with Jesus position us for unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ? In your own life, is unity within your community of believers the norm or the exception? Considering yourself as part of a whole, what might be preventing you from becoming one with God and His church?
REMEMBER Identity unifies.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
From identity flows unity, but why does unity even matter? Obviously, working together makes achieving a goal much faster and simpler. Take, for instance, the Tower of Babel: With one purpose and one language, the people began to build something that merited God’s intervention. That’s an astounding level of cooperation, but even they had to stack the bricks one by one—the sum of their unity was not greater than its individual contributors. In contrast, Jesus prayed for us to experience a supernatural unity, the kind that produces something far beyond the sum of its contributors’ will and purpose.
Reread John 17:20-26, paying particular attention to verse 23. What effects does “perfect unity” produce on a global scale?
In Acts 2:42-47, how is the account of the early church a picture of this kind of unity? How did believers’ communion with one another mimic the interdependent, mutually submissive relationship of the Trinity?
Eleven times throughout chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel, we find versions of the word glory. Look specifically at John 17:4-5, John 17:10, John 17:22, and John 17:24. What role does glory play in Jesus’ relationship with His Father? With His disciples and us? How does knowing that Jesus has given us His glory (v. 22) affect how you think about yourself and fellow believers? In this passage, glory flows back and forth between members of the Trinity and us—it’s a reciprocal experience. Imagine light bouncing off multiple mirrors; is the light muted or magnified?
God’s very nature is communal and inclusive. Through Jesus, He invites us in to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), identifying ourselves with the God who first identified Himself with us. And in that way, His love is revealed to a suffering world.
Illustration by Adam Cruft