The Upper Room Discourse is the title given to a block of Jesus’ teaching found only in the Gospel of John. The discourse is what Jesus told His disciples on the night before the crucifixion while they were observing the Passover (the Last Supper) in the “upper room.”
An upper room would have been on the roof of a typical home and may have been open-air or covered by some sort of canopy. It would have been accessible from the outside of the home, so Jesus and His disciples could have entered and exited without disturbing the family who owned the home. The term upper room is not found in John, but Mark and Luke both identify the location of the final meal together as an upper room (KJV) that a homeowner allowed them to use.
“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
“So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, ‘Go into the city and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there’” (Mark 14:12–15, emphasis added).
John does not give the background about the upper room found in Mark and Luke, but John 13 picks up with the meal already in progress. In this chapter, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, tells them of His coming betrayal by Judas (although not mentioning him by name), and tells of Peter’s coming denial. Although this happens in the upper room, it is not normally included in the “Upper Room Discourse,” which formally starts in chapter 14. (Please note that the title “Upper Room Discourse” is simply a term that Bible scholars use to designate a portion of Scripture. It is not found in the text of Scripture itself in much the same way that chapter and verse divisions have been added later and are not the result of inspiration.)
John 14 is the only block of teaching that actually occurs in the upper room, although most include the content in chapters 15—17 as part of the “Upper Room Discourse” because it all takes place on the same occasion—just before Jesus’ arrest. The theme is Jesus’ last words to His disciples, and those words are meant to comfort them and prepare them for what is to come. In chapter 14 Jesus tells His disciples not to be troubled because He will be leaving them. He is going to prepare a place for them and will return. They do not yet understand what He means by this and are still struggling with the idea that He will be betrayed and crucified. Jesus tells them that He is the only way to the Father, that if they have seen Him they have seen the Father, and that He will send the Holy Spirit to them after He is gone in order that they may be comforted.
The last words of John 14 are “come, let us leave,” which indicates that Jesus and the disciples are leaving the upper room. They are walking to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives (cf. Mark 14:26), and the ensuing teaching happens while they are walking there and perhaps stopping along the way.
In John 15 Jesus gives the famous illustration of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine, and the disciples are the branches. They cannot bear fruit unless they remain connected to Him. He commands them to love each other and warns them that the world will hate them as it hates Him. Once again He promises the Holy Spirit will come to them.
In John 16 Jesus warns them not to fall away from Him due to the grief that they will shortly experience. He tells them to be encouraged for He has overcome the world.
John 17 records Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, sometimes referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. He prays for their unity and their protection and for that of believers yet to come: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20). He also looks forward to the glory that He will once again possess after He completes the Father’s will in the crucifixion and resurrection.
John 18 begins, “When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it” (verse 1). What happened there in the Garden of Gethsemane is recorded in the other gospels. (See Matthew 26:36–46 or Mark 14:32–42).
Some of Jesus’ most beloved and comforting words are from the Upper Room Discourse:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
“I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2–3)
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
“If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9)
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:17)
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)