Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

Farewell Discourse

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of JesusD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018.

Summary: A study of John 14-17, based on expository messages on these texts.

D. A. Carson has had a distinguished career as professor, lecturer, scholar, and Bible teacher, publishing over 50 popular and scholarly books as well as numerous scholarly articles. Several collections of his expository messages were published in the 1980’s and 1990’s and recently have been re-packaged by the publisher and re-released. This work does not appear to be revised in any way, and there are no notes or updated prefaces to that effect.

In the preface to this work, Carson notes that this work reflects a popular rather than scholarly approach to John (Carson also has published a scholarly commentary on the Gospel of John). This work is based on messages given on John 14-17 at various conferences and has been converted to essay form. In this case, listing the chapters may be helpful to see how these essays have been organized:

  1. Prologue — John 13
  2. An Introduction to Triumphant Faith — John 14:1–14
  3. The Coming of the Spirit of Truth — John 14:15–24
  4. Three Clarifications — John 14:25–31
  5. Spiritual Intimacy with Jesus Christ — John 15:1–16
  6. Counting the Cost — John 15:17–16:4
  7. Two Special Ministries of the Spirit — John 16:5–15
  8. But First, the Cross — John 16:16–33
  9. Jesus Prays for Himself and His Followers — John 17:1–19
  10. Jesus Prays for All Believers and for the World — John 17:20–26

Each chapter other than the prologue begins with the biblical text in the New International Version. This is followed by an exposition of the text in plain language that both draws out the theological content of the text and its practical and devotional significance. One of the recurring elements is Carson’s quotation of the texts of hymns that illustrate and underscore his points. This may seem dated to some, but to reflect on the words, whether one knows the music or not, may be helpful.

One of the highlights for me was Carson’s careful and clear discussion of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, a great concern of Jesus in this discourse. Here, for example is his discussion of what it means in John 8 for the Spirit to convict the world “…of righteousness.”

“The question is: Whose righteousness? If Jesus’s righteousness is in view, then clearly the Counselor does not convict the world of Jesus’s righteousness in exactly the same way he convicts the world of it’s own sin. One would have to suppose that the Spirit convicts the world of its sin, but convinces the world of Jesus’s righteousness (thus producing an unwarranted change in the verb); or perhaps that the Spirit convicts the world of its sin and also convicts the world of its shortcomings in the light of Jesus’s righteousness (which introduces an unwarranted explanatory note into the text).

Such difficulties are overcome if the Spirit is convicting the world of its sin, and also convicting the world of its righteousness (p. 162).

He goes on to discuss how there can be good and bad righteousness, for example, the righteousness that is as a filthy rag. What I appreciate in this example, and found throughout was that in clear prose, rather than technical commentary, Carson offers clear explanations of things often left in a fuzzy state in our minds, with a finger on the biblical text.

I also deeply appreciated his comments on Jesus prayer for the unity of all believers and his understanding of a biblical ecumenism:

“[T]he things that tie together true believers are far more significant than the things that divide them. The divisive things are not necessarily unimportant: sometimes they are points of faith or practice that have long-range effects on the church for good or ill, reflecting perhaps some major inconsistency or misapprehension concerning the truth. Nevertheless the things that tie us together are of even more fundamental importance. Regardless of denominational affiliation, there ought to be among Christ’s people a sincere kinship, a mutual love, a common commitment, a deep desire to learn from one another and to come, if at all possible, to a shared understanding of truth on any point. Such unity ought to be so transparent and compelling that others are attracted to it. To such biblical ecumenism (if I may so label it) there is no proper objection. Indeed, it is mandated by the Final Prayer of the Lord Jesus himself (p. 233).

This is a rich resource for devotional reflection, and for Bible study leaders and pastors who will preach on these texts. So often, such works go out of print, not to be replaced by an equivalent or better work. The publisher is to be commended to introducing a new generation to this fine work by D. A. Carson on these final teachings and prayer of Jesus on the night before he was crucified.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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