John (Part 59): Holy Spirit in Us – Part 2 (ch 16)
The next mini-section we come to in Jesus’s discourse begins in verse 5 of chapter 16. Again Jesus mentions that he is going away, and then he seems to chide the disciples for not asking where he is going. But if we flip back just a page or so in our Bibles, we find at the end of chapter 13 that Peter asked exactly that question. John 13:36 reads, “‘Lord,’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘where are You going?’” There is no hidden change of meaning in the Greek. The question in 13:36 is exactly the same wording as what Jesus seems to say they failed in asking in 16:5. Further, in 14:5, Thomas also seemed to pose the question, although in a bit of a different way: “‘Lord,’ Thomas said, ‘we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?’”
Many commentaries will explain this apparently incorrect charge by Jesus by saying that the question Peter and Thomas had posed was a crudely literal wondering about the location of Jesus’s going-away comment. Once they had the full account of going to the Father, they should then have asked more intelligent, spiritually perceptive questions. That explanation, however, doesn’t satisfy. Remember that this is not a written story that only the reader would interpret. Jesus is saying this to them at that moment. If the disciples were not posing intelligent, spiritually perceptive questions, how would they recognize the rebuke from Jesus by him simply accusing them of not asking him where he was going?
I believe that if we examine all the explanation Jesus has given specifically about his going away that we will discover that rather than simply sitting there unresponsive and unthinking, the disciples had indeed absorbed much of what Jesus had said. (I quote only the applicable portions of the verses below.)
13:33 “I am with you a little while longer … Where I am going you cannot come.”
13:36a “Lord, where are you going?”
13:36b “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.”
13:37 “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!”
In this series, Jesus has just introduced the fact that he is going away. The response by Peter is very much about wondering if he plans to go into hiding or to face some danger. But then Jesus begins his comfort of them concerning their distress that he is leaving them.
14:1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Continue trusting in God and in me continue trusting. . . . You know the way to where I am going.”
14:5 “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
With these words, Jesus provides an answer to the disciple’s locational puzzlement. Jesus links Thomas’s question about where Jesus is going to the answer in leading them to the Father.
14:12 Believers will do “greater works … because I am going to the Father.”
14:13 “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.
Here Jesus hints at the fact that because he is going to God, a change will occur for those who believe in him. Hidden in the statement is that they will be brought to God, having hearts and minds moving according to God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. And they will testify and lead others to God as well.
14:16 “I will ask … and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of Truth.”
Again, as a result of Jesus going (accomplishing redemption), the Spirit would then be with them to lead them.
14:19 “In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.”
Jesus speaks here of his resurrection, which is exactly the finishing of his going away. Reuniting with the Father provides lie to the disciples. But again, this is something that as yet they did not understand.
14:25 “I have spoken … while I remain with you. But the Counselor … will teach you all things.”
Here apparently Jesus shows understanding that the disciples don’t understand everything. And he lets them know that part of what the Spirit will do is to lead them to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God so that they will understand as they continue to pursue God.
14:27-28 “Peace I leave with you. . . . You have heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”
By this statement, Jesus again strongly hints at the benefit the disciples would gain by his going. They would love as God loves—a giving of self for the benefit of the collective community.
Now let’s back off and take a full aerial view of the conversation. Peter, in questioning in 13:36 where Jesus was going was wondering if he planned to hide or face danger. And Peter’s response to what he imagined was to eagerly be willing to go along too.
But then we see—
The disciples became troubled (14:1) – and Jesus encouraged them to continue in faith (14:1).
The disciples would be persecuted (15:18-21; 16:1-4) – and Jesus encouraged them to remain in love (15:9-12).
The disciples became sad (16:6) – but Jesus had encouraged them to recognize the reason to rejoice (14:28).
So, what we see are disciples that were troubled and sad, understanding that Jesus was going and they would face persecution even to death. This was not exciting news for them. It made them fearful and sorrowful. They didn’t want this scenario played out. They didn’t want this to happen. They didn’t want Jesus to go.
It is at this point that Jesus says in 16:5 no one is asking where he is going. Understand that Peter’s question in 13:36 was asked with confident, eager approach to take on anything. The point of Peter’s question was not simply wondering where Jesus was going. His point was that wherever Jesus goes, he readily wanted to go along. But when Jesus explained what would be, their mood dropped considerably. And so just after Jesus explains the persecution they’d face, he pauses, looks at their dejection, and then speaks in 16:5 with this intent: “Hmm. Now—after all that I’ve told you about the hardship to come—now it seems as if no one is so eager anymore. You’re not so readily asking, ‘Where are you going?’ wanting to go along.”
This, then, is the reason that Jesus moves immediately again into words of comfort. Even though it is hard and harsh, his going away, he insists, will benefit them. God the Spirit will dwell with them (16:7).
Jesus goes on to explain that though there is evil and rejection of God in the world, the Spirit would come to convict through the testimony about Jesus. We read in 15:26b-27 that the Spirit would testify about Jesus. And he would do so by testifying to the disciples (14:26). The disciples then would in turn speak what they hear to the world. We see that testifying about Jesus reiterated in 16:13-15.
This testifying of the Spirit through the disciples (including all disciples—us) will accomplish conviction of the world of sin (verse 9), righteousness (10), and judgment (11). I think the translation of “convict” in verse 8 (as in HCSB, NASB, and ESV) is better than the KJV’s “reprove” or the NIV’s “prove to be in the wrong.” The Greek seems to carry a note of, not only refutation, but also shame. And so, for the world to be convicted, the world must realize its fault. Here again is an example of God’s revelation to the world that, for the most part, is understood by the world but rejected because of their selfish disposition (a la Romans 1). (That, of course, is an important concept of faith electionism—that God can and does communicate to the lost, who are able to understand his communication (revelation) although lost. Reformed theology admits to this in cases such as Romans 1 but seems to deny it in the insistence that a person, in the logical progression of the salvation process, must be reborn prior to understanding God’s proposal for covenant life.)
Notice that the three areas of conviction all have to do with the culminating work of Jesus in accomplishing redemption. The sin described in verse 9 is the sin of rejection of God’s salvific intent. If the culminating work in Jesus had not been accomplished, it could hardly be sin for OT people to not believe God would redeem. But with the cross and resurrection, God’s insisted promise through the leading covenants with Israel was realized.
Righteousness, we must remember, is defined as faithfulness to the covenant. All humankind failed in faithfulness to the Covenant of Life, inheriting the brokenness (trust in self) from Adam. Jesus, however, although also fully human (but not inheriting Adam’s unrighteous condition) proved his faithfulness to the covenant (in total, constant trust in God’s care/leading), by his return to the Father. The fact that the Father accepted Jesus in resurrection following his death proved that his death was not on account of his sin. Thus, he proved his status of righteousness, which would be, through the testimony of the Spirit through God’s people, conviction to the world.
And with his death and resurrection—through no fault of his own—Jesus accomplished the necessary sacrificial offering for humankind that, for all who believe, trumpets the victory of the Zion purpose: everlasting love relationship with God, as opposed to Satan’s leading purpose of self love.
It is interesting that at this point Jesus interrupts his explanation of the grandeur of redemption’s climax to tell the disciples that continuing on would be too much for them. Why is this so? It is because they as yet do not have the Spirit within to keep their own spirits’ eyes on the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. But Jesus knows that when the Spirit comes (as a direct result of his redemption accomplishment), that Spirit would lead them into all truth (16:13; 14:26). We should pause here to lay hold on this information that Jesus provides of how the Spirit works. We often hear among even the most biblically faithful the misconception that the Spirit necessarily always bypasses the human intellect to lead by feeling. I knew a preacher, who was filling the pulpit of a church I once belonged to while we sought a permanent pastor, who would more times than not begin by telling us he had planned a certain message, but the Spirit led him that morning to speak on a different subject. While I would not doubt that this could and does happen on occasion, I find it difficult to believe that this is the normal course of operation for the Spirit. The Bible seems to insist, in passages such as the one we’re in, that the Spirit leads us in those attributes given us by God to image him—attributes such as our conceptual intelligence, conscious morality, and critical aesthetic. Those means we have of recognizing God’s truth, goodness, and beauty are what the Spirit uses to teach and to remind of the Word of God. To believe that the normal operation of the Spirit is through a non-thinking impression of whimsy seems wholly foreign to Jesus’s insistence here. Of course, I would not want to impugn the character of that preacher who spoke to us. Perhaps he had sensed a less than openness to the Holy Spirit among us that he was trying to remedy. But we need to realize that the biblical injunction to study is a coordinating work we do with the Spirit in order to be led to Godliness.
The last verses of this section again provide language of seeming direction among the Godhead. However, we must make sure not to understand this language as teaching hierarchy in role-playing among the Trinity. It actually shows just the opposite. Jesus’s insistence is that the motivation and message of what is delivered by the Spirit will be THE SAME as that which he has been teaching, which itself is THE SAME as that which the Father intends. There is no conflict in message, thought, intent, hope, or activity of God. Everything centers on the culminating realization of the Zion purpose, accomplished through the cross/resurrection: the everlasting love relationship of God with his image bearers.
In the next section, verses 16 through 24, Jesus speaks again of his going away, but this time with more emphasis on the facet of not seeing him followed by seeing him. This is confusing to the disciples, and it could be confusing to us. Here Jesus’s intent is not simply that he would be unseen in the grave but then seen again physically 3 days later—although that is indeed part of it. But the greater reality is what is accomplished through that going away and returning. If all he meant was a physical inability to see him followed by a physical ability, his previous words in 14:19 would not make sense. There Jesus insisted that the world would not see him but the disciples would. So in this instance, he can’t simply be talking about a physical ability to see him, because the world could do that as well. Rather it is the going to the Father—the acceptance by the Father of this righteous one—that enables the disciples and us to be brought to God, seeing him and Jesus our Lord in newness of spirit.