“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13, ESV)
I don’t understand why this verse is often brought up as a difficult saying in the words or our Lord. If we are careful about our study of the text and make sure we keep the passage in it’s proper context then things become much more clear.
When I say context, I am thinking of the context of the text that comes before and after our passage, as well as the cultural context. So let’s take a quick look at this passage.
The cultural context is easy here. We have Jesus the Jewish Rabbi coming near the end of his ministry (John 13:36), having teaching moments with his equally Jewish (not Christian) disciples. Jesus has relayed that his time here is about finished and after a question from Peter about where the Lord is going Jesus tells the disciples – ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1, ESV) which brings us back up to the overall context is why John is writing this gospel in the first place – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13, ESV) – “to believe in his name” is one of the very reasons John is writing this gospel. So we must always keep this context in mind as well.
Now let’s look at the textual context – what is going on before and after our passage. The beginning of this particular section is framed with a simple question from Philip – “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”” (John 14:8, ESV) Jesus responds to Philip a bit frustrated and tells him if he has seen Jesus then he has seen the Father.
The next section is important to grasp – Jesus says “Do you not believe” and here believe is a verb, an action, an action really based in all that Philip would have seen through all the time he has been walking with the Lord, the works! But what does he ask him? If he believes – “that I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. This phrase is again repeated in verse 11 – “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. This is relational language, a very personal, deep relationship, between the Father and Jesus, and Jesus wants to know if Philip understands and trusts in that relationship.Then Jesus goes on to explain what the fruit of that relationship is…“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10, ESV) – The works of the Father, accomplished through Jesus!
Because of the deep relationship shared between the Father and the Son, the works that the son is doing are the works of the Father working through the son. Jesus then tells Philip if he does not believe him, then believe in those works that the Father has been doing through him.
So now we come to verse 12 where Jesus lays it all out on the line – “whoever believes in me”, who has fully trusted in Jesus to walk in his footsteps and have a similar deep relationship with him, “will also do the works that I do”. Why? Because if you are in a relationship with Jesus, then you are in a relationship with the Father, and the works that are being done are the works the Father is doing through the son, and now through the one who believes. And even greater works, why? Because Jesus’s works are now going to be multiplied exponentially through all those who believe.
Now with all of this context as the backdrop, we come to the passage in question – “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.” (John 14:13–14, ESV). The statement is repeated “ask me anything in my name” To ask in his name means in His character, in his authority, as part of the deep intimate relationship that is established between Jesus, the Father and the Disciple. Why? So that the Father is glorified. So, what we ask for is going to be in the authority and character of Jesus and thus the Father. So in a way, we can say that the Father who dwells in us does his works through us. So the things we will be asking for will be the things that the father desires to work through us and not our own personal wish list. We will have become disciples of our Lord – repeating the same patterns that he has shown us.
Many Bibles may have a break here with a new heading, but in the original text, there are no such breaks and the next sentence is still part of this conversation – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 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.” (John 14:15–17, ESV)
Again, there is deep relational language here tied to a life of obedience that flows out of that love, and it will not be done in isolation, but with Help. That life of obedience is a life of accomplishing the works of the Father, through the Son, in the power of the spirit.
So I finish with this thought. Paul wrote these words to Ephesus (the church where it is possible John wrote his gospel from) – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)