12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14 if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
In the context surrounding John 14:12-17, we see that Jesus is teaching the disciples various things. This teaching narrative begins in chapter thirteen with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and ends in chapter seventeen with Jesus releasing Judas from the meal, knowing that Judas will betray him. He then begins teaching the disciples and answering their questions. After the teaching narrative concludes (John 17:26), Jesus and his disciples travel to a garden, where Jesus is betrayed by Judas and taken captive. This is part of Jesus’ last teachings for his disciples before his death.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary says that what Jesus offered in these verses was a radical promise. Jewish tradition held that some very pious teachers could receive from God almost anything they asked, but this was never applied to the majority of people. It is also highly significant that Jesus told the disciples to ask in his name. Asking something in his name meant that those who ask genuinely in his name, i.e. those who seek his glory (not their own) and are his true representatives on earth (IVP Bible Background). This verse ties in with verse 15 – those who love Jesus will keep his commandments. Those who are his true representatives on earth will also keep his commandments. The Jewish NT Commentary agrees with this, saying that our prayers, if we love him and obey him, will be in line with his will and therefore will be answered. The Spirit is also promised in 14:16-17, who is a Spirit of truth. This seems to indicate that the Spirit will continue to reveal the truth of Jesus to his true representatives on earth.
In his commentary on John, Barclay points out that “in the name of Jesus” is vital to understanding this passage. One cannot pray for some unworthy or unchristian object (such as personal revenge or for personal ambition) in the name of Jesus. Barclay says, “When we pray, we must always ask: Can we honestly make this prayer in the name of Jesus?” (165). In other words, prayer based on his will, rather than prayers based on ourselves, will be answered. Regarding 14:15, Barclay points out that for John, the one true test of love is obedience. If we say we love him, but do not obey him, then our love is not true. Yet there is the promise of the Spirit; we are not left alone to struggle with obedience. We are given a Counselor and Spirit of truth that will dwell with and in us to help us in our walk with Jesus (Barclay 166-167). The Bible Exposition Commentary says that asking in Jesus’ name is not some magic formula. “To ask anything of the Father, in the name of Jesus, means that we ask what Jesus would ask what would please Him, and what would bring Him glory by furthering His work.” Being able to use God’s name doesn’t mean we can just ask for anything; having the privilege of using his name means that we know his nature and his purpose. Requests that don’t glorify God’s name should not be asked in his name (Bible Exposition Commentary).
These verses demonstrate a lovely and powerful cycle: we are given the promise of being able to ask anything in his name, we are asked to (if we love him) keep his commandments, and we are promised the Spirit of truth, who will dwell with and in us and counsel us forever in his truth. Therefore if we are walking in love and doing what he commands, and the Spirit is revealing the truth to us, then what we ask of him is what he truly desires for us and for the world. Of course he would be able to fulfill those prayers, which are truly praying for his will to be done on earth. And we are then able to do greater works, for not only do we have him answering our prayers, but we also have the Spirit and Counselor with us. These verses truly seem to tie together as an image of how Christians ought to live on earth; we are to be Christ’s true representatives, doing his will because we love him and praying his will in his name.
I have to ask myself whether I have been Christ’s true representative on earth. Have I obeyed him in every way that I could? Have I been worthy in praying in his name? I know there are times when I have not. But the comfort is that his grace abounds, and we are able to try again and again, with the guidance of the Spirit, our Counselor, who has been given to us.