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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
John 16

 

 

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Verse 1

The phrase "These things I have spoken to you" (Gr. tauta lelaleka hymin) brackets this subsection of the discourse and highlights a reason for it (cf. John 14:25; John 16:25; John 16:33; John 17:1). Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble (Gr. skandalethron, be caught unaware) in their discipleship after His departure because the events that would follow took them completely by surprise (cf. Matthew 5:10-12). Even though they did not understand everything Jesus told them immediately, they would remember them and understand them more fully later (cf. John 14:20; John 14:25-26).

"The greatest danger the disciples will confront from the opposition of the world is not death but apostasy." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p530.]

"Apostasy," from the Greek apostasis, meaning "to stand away from," is a word that describes people"s relationship to Jesus and or His truth. It is a term that identifies departure from a position formerly held whether the person in view is a believer or an unbeliever. It does not necessarily identify an unbeliever. It is possible for believers to depart from the Savior and His truth as well as unbelievers (cf. John 15:4; John 15:7; 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3). Jesus gave this present teaching so His believing disciples would not depart from Him and what He had taught them when persecution assailed them following His departure from them (cf. Matthew 10:33; Mark 8:38; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:8).


Verses 1-4

The reason for this Revelation 16:1-4

Jesus introduced this teaching by explaining further why He was telling His disciples these things.


Verses 1-24

7. The clarification of the future16:1-24

Jesus proceeded to review things that He had just told His disciples, but He now gave them more information. Particularly the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the subject of this section of the discourse, though Jesus also clarified other matters about which He had spoken, namely: the new relations arising from His departure.

Jesus" method of teaching in the Upper Room Discourse was not to give a thorough explanation of one subject, then a thorough explanation of another subject, and so on. It was rather to introduce several subjects initially, then return to them and give a little more information, then return again and give even more information. This Isaiah , of course, excellent teaching methodology. This is also the method that John employed in writing his first epistle.


Verse 2

Jesus announced that these disciples would experience excommunication from their Jewish synagogues (cf. John 9:22; John 9:34; Acts 18). The first strong opposition that the early Christians faced came from the Jews because most of them had been Jews ( Acts 2:11; Acts 2:14; Acts 2:22). Unfortunately Christians have persecuted the Jews too. Jesus also hinted that some of them would die as martyrs (cf. Acts 7:59; Acts 9:1-4; Acts 12:2). Church history indicates that all the Eleven did, though there is some division of opinion about the death of John. Moreover those who would kill the disciples would not do so believing themselves to be criminals for taking their lives but thinking that they were glorifying God by doing so (cf. John 12:10; Acts 9:1-2; Acts 22:5; Acts 22:19; Acts 26:9-11).

Jesus credited the Jews with good motives even though their actions were wrong (cf. Romans 10:2). However, opposition that arises from religious conviction is often the most severe and brutal type. Ironically the Jews were opposing God by persecuting Jesus" disciples rather than serving Him (cf. Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9:1-2; Acts 22:4-5; Acts 26:9-11).


Verse 3

The opponents of the disciples would do these things because they had not come to know the Father or the Son. Theirs would be a sin of culpable ignorance.


Verse 4

"Their hour" (NASB) refers to the time when the disciples" persecutors would control their fate. Ironically their hour would appear to be the time of their greatest victory, but really it would be the time of their greatest defeat. Conversely Jesus" "hour," His passion, would appear to be the time of this greatest defeat, but really it would be the time of His greatest victory.

The memory that Jesus had forewarned His disciples would enable them to realize that things were not out of control when they seemed to be. This remembrance would really strengthen their faith in Jesus rather than weakening it.

Jesus had not revealed the extent of opposition His disciples would face earlier because He was with them and He was the focus of unbelieving hostility. However now that He was preparing to depart from them they needed to be aware of what lay ahead for them.


Verse 5

Jesus again pointed out that the revelation of His departure had made the disciples sad rather than happy. They had little interest in where He was going. What concerned them was the sorrow that His departure produced for them. Peter and Thomas had asked Jesus where He was going ( John 13:36; John 14:5), but Jesus evidently did not regard those questions as expressing genuine interest in Himself but themselves. He apparently regarded them as superficial protests against His departure. [Note: Barrett, p485; C. H. Dodd, pp411-13 , n1; Beasley-Murray, p279.]


Verses 5-15

The ministry of the coming Spirit16:5-15


Verse 6-7

The disciples were full of grief (Gr. lype, cf. John 16:20-22) because they did not realize how good it would be for them when the Holy Spirit came to indwell them. Really it was to the disciples" advantage (Gr. sympherei) that Jesus should leave them. Consequently Jesus proceeded to give them more information about what His coming would mean for them. Some of the benefits of the new covenant that Jesus ratified by His death, into which all believers entered at Pentecost, required the indwelling presence of God"s Spirit ( Jeremiah 31:33-34).

Some Christians wish that they could have lived during Jesus" earthly ministry and accompanied Him around Palestine hearing His teachings firsthand and beholding His miracles with their own eyes. This would have been a treat, but Jesus here clearly affirmed that believers would be better off after the Spirit"s coming than they were before.

"It is important to note that the Spirit comes to the church and not to the world. This means that He works in and through the church. The Holy Spirit does not minister in a vacuum. Just as the Son of God had to have a body in order to do His work on earth, so the Spirit of God needs a body to accomplish His ministries; and that body is the church.... The Spirit does not "float" in some ghostly way up and down the rows of a church building, seeking to win the lost. The Holy Spirit works through the people in whom He lives." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:362.]


Verse 8

The Spirit"s coming would result in heightened conviction among unbelievers concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. [Note: See Chafer, 3:210-24: "The Convicting Work of the Spirit;" and John Aloisi, "The Paraclete"s Ministry of Conviction: Another Look at John 16:8-11 ," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society47:1 (March2004):55-69.] Before then, that conviction had come mainly from the Old Testament, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples" personal influences.

What did Jesus mean when He said the Spirit would "convict" (Gr. elenxei) the world? This Greek verb occurs18 times in the New Testament ( Matthew 18:15; Luke 3:19; John 3:20; John 8:46; John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 14:24; Ephesians 5:11; Ephesians 5:13; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; Hebrews 12:5; James 2:9; Jude 1:15; Jude 1:22; Revelation 3:19). In each case it involves showing someone his or her sin with a view to securing repentance. [Note: Cf. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. elenxo, by F. Bchsel, 2:473-74.]

"In John 16:8 the Holy Spirit is involved in pointing out sin in order to bring about repentance. The legal idea suggested by some seems to have been derived from the use of the term in extrabiblical literature, whereas the biblical writers used elenxo primarily to describe correction, not prosecution or conviction." [Note: Robert A. Pyne, "The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion," Bibliotheca Sacra150:598 (April-June1993):208. For the legal idea, see Paul Enns, "The Upper Room Discourse: The Consummation of Christ"s Instruction" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979), pp296-97; or Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, pp564-65.]

Wherever the Greek preposition peri ("concerning" or "in regard to") occurs after elenxei ("convict"), as here, some evil or source of evil follows (cf. John 8:46; Luke 3:19; Jude 1:15). The Spirit would not just accuse people of sin, but would bring an inescapable sense of guilt before God upon them (cf. 2 Samuel 12:7; Psalm 51:4). [Note: Tenney, " John ," p157. Cf. Donald A. Carson, "The Function of the Paraclete in John 16:7-11 ," Journal of Biblical Literature98 (1979):547-66.] This sense of guilt is an indispensable prerequisite for salvation.

The title paraclete (i.e, one called along side to help, cf. John 15:26) is an appropriate one for the Spirit. He acts as a prosecuting attorney by demonstrating the guilt of those whom Jesus accused with His teaching. Earlier Jesus had spoken of the Paraclete as the defender of believing disciples ( John 14:16-18), but now the Eleven learned that He is also the prosecutor of unbelieving sinners. Believers are witnesses, the Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney, and the lost are guilty sinners.


Verse 9

There is some question about the correct interpretation of "because" or "in regard to" (Gr. hoti) in these verses. Was Jesus identifying the cause for the conviction in each case, as "because" suggests (e.g, NASB), or was He identifying the specific subject of conviction, as "in regard to" suggests (e.g, NIV)? Normally hoti introduces a causal clause, and that is evidently what Jesus intended here. However, He could have meant both things. This may be another instance of double meaning, which is quite common in this Gospel.

Failure to believe on Jesus after He had come is the great damning sin ( John 3:18; John 3:36). If people believed Jesus, they would believe what He said about their guilt, and they would turn to Him in repentance. In spite of their unbelief the Spirit graciously convicts unbelievers of their sinfulness so they will believe on Jesus. He may convict them of the individual sins they have committed, but a person can clean up his life and still go to hell. It is the sin of unbelief in Jesus Christ that condemns people.

"A court can convict a man of murder, but only the Spirit can convict him of unbelief." [Note: Tenney, " John ," p157.]


Verse 10

The Spirit would also convict the world of righteousness. Normally righteousness (Gr. dikaiosyne, which occurs only here in John"s Gospel) refers to truly righteous conduct and standing before God. The world does not have that. It also refers to the righteousness that people profess to have that is far inferior to the righteousness that they need for acceptance with God ( Matthew 5:20; Romans 10:3; Philippians 3:6-9; Titus 3:5). This self-righteousness, which Isaiah compared to a filthy menstrual cloth ( Isaiah 64:6), is apparently the negative side of what Jesus had in mind. The Spirit would convict the world of the inadequacy of its righteousness and move the unsaved to seek the true righteousness that only Jesus Christ provides.

The Spirit would convict the world of its lack of righteousness because Jesus was going to the Father with the result that His disciples would see Him no longer. Jesus had convicted those He contacted of their inadequate righteousness during His earthly ministry, but that source of conviction was about to depart. The Spirit would continue this ministry.

Jesus" reference to the disciples" inability to see Him implies the need for them to become the instruments through whom the Spirit would exercise this ministry. Moreover Jesus" ascension testified that His righteousness is the standard for divine acceptance (cf. Acts 3:14-15; 1 John 3:5).


Verse 11

Third, the Spirit would convict the world of judgment coming on it for its sins that culminated in the rejection of Jesus. The Jews of Jesus" day generally judged Him to be a false pretender to Messiah"s throne. That judgment was wrong, and the Spirit would convict many of them of the error of their judgment (cf. Acts 2:36-37). The Cross and the Resurrection would be compelling proofs that would change the minds of many.

The Spirit would do this because God had judged Satan (cf. John 12:31). The resurrection of Jesus constituted a condemnation of the devil (cf. Colossians 2:15). Since the ruler of the world stands condemned, his children can expect the same treatment unless they believe in Jesus (cf. John 14:30).

"When a lost sinner is truly under conviction, he will see the folly and evil of unbelief; he will confess that he does not measure up to the righteousness of Christ; and he will realize that he is under condemnation because he belongs to the world and the devil ( Ephesians 2:1-3).... There can be no conversion without conviction, and there can be no conviction apart from the Spirit of God using the Word of God and the witness of the child of God." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:362.]


Verse 12-13

These verses begin the fifth and final paraclete passage in the Upper Room Discourse ( John 14:16-17; John 14:26; John 15:26-27; John 16:7-15). The passage focuses on the completion of the revelation that Jesus brought from the Father (cf. John 1:1; John 1:14; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:1-4). The New Testament consistently views the revelation that Jesus gave the apostles through the Spirit following His ascension as a continuation of Jesus" revelation.

Jesus never acted on His own initiative but only in obedience to the Father. The Spirit who would reveal the truth would do the same. This description implies the Spirit"s complete equality with Jesus in the Godhead. The Spirit would not give revelation that conflicted with what Jesus had taught. The source of both the Son"s and the Spirit"s teaching was the Father.

Specifically the Spirit would reveal things still future. While this revelation would include yet unknown facts about the future (i.e, eschatology), the expression covers all that would be ahead for the disciples following Jesus" separation from them. This would include the full significance of Jesus" passion (cf. John 14:26) as well as all the revelation now contained in the New Testament.


Verse 14-15

The Spirit would glorify the Son by expounding Him, as the Son had glorified the Father by expounding Him. The Spirit would really be taking what the Father had given the Son and explaining its significance to the disciples, unpacking it. The Eleven are particularly in view. They were the individuals who were presently unable to understand further Revelation , and they had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry ( John 16:12; cf. John 14:26; John 15:27).

"The Spirit worked in the apostles" minds so that they could perceive, understand, and teach about the Savior." [Note: Blum, p328.]

Many of the later New Testament writings expounded on the teachings of Jesus (e.g, Romans ,, Hebrews ,, James ,, 1 Peter ,, 1 John , Revelation; et al.).

Notice that it is not the Spirit"s function to attract attention to Himself or to promote Himself. As John the Baptist, His purpose is to make Jesus increase in prominence. This fact should make suspect any human attempt to glorify the Spirit above the Son. Such an emphasis is not in harmony with the Spirit"s purpose.

Jesus revealed that the Spirit would have a threefold ministry when He came. He would convict the world ( John 16:8-11), enlighten the disciples ( John 16:12-13), and glorify Jesus ( John 16:14-15).


Verse 16

As the following verses show, Jesus was referring here to His imminent departure in death and His return to the disciples shortly after His resurrection. The first "little while" was only a few hours in duration, and the second "little while" was only a few days. Other returns that Jesus had mentioned in this discourse included His return in the person of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and His bodily return at the Rapture.


Verses 16-24

The reappearance of Jesus16:16-24

Jesus next turned the disciples" attention from the Spirit"s future ministries to His own reappearance.


Verses 17-19

This announcement prompted the disciples to voice their confusion again (cf. John 13:36; John 14:5; John 14:8; John 14:22), though this time they kept quizzing (Gr. imperfect tense) one another rather than Jesus. They still did not understand what He meant by His departure (cf. John 16:12). Evidently they did grasp that Jesus had been talking about returning to His Father ( John 14:28), but how could He do that and then reappear in a little while?

Jesus" references to "a little while" especially perplexed them ( John 16:18). The fact that John recorded the repetition of "a little while" five times in these three verses shows that he regarded it as very significant.


Verse 20

Again Jesus did not answer the disciples" question directly because they would not have been able to understand Him if He had ( John 16:12). What He did say was very important, however, as His introductory asseveration indicated.

Jesus" departure would mean great sorrow for His disciples but great joy for the world. This was the condition when Jesus died on the cross. Later the disciples" sorrow would turn to joy. This was the result of Jesus" resurrection ( John 20:20). Some commentators viewed the second part of this verse as referring to the Lord"s return at the end of the age. However what Jesus said about the disciples being essentially joyful during the inter-advent period argues against this view ( John 15:11).


Verse 21

Jesus compared how the disciples would feel to the feelings of a pregnant woman at her delivery. This was an Old Testament illustration of how God"s people would feel when Messiah appeared (cf. Isaiah 21:3-5; Isaiah 26:16-21; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 13:21; Micah 4:9-10). Jesus again used the word "hour" (Gr. hora, John 2:4; et al.) to focus the critical time of both painful experiences: His death and the woman"s delivery. What issues from the painful experience is so wonderful, in both cases, that the resulting joy replaces the former sorrow.


Verse 22

Jesus applied the illustration to His disciples. Their sorrow had already begun with the news of His departure. Yet He would return to them. Jesus again stressed that the initiative rested with Him. The joy that that reunion would kindle within them would remain in them in spite of the persecution that Jesus had predicted they would encounter (cf. Isaiah 66:14).


Verse 23

The context indicates that the day in view is the time when the disciples" joy would have become full. That would be after Jesus" resurrection and ascension (cf. Luke 24:50-53). The disciples would ask Him no questions then because He would be bodily absent from them. They would have to request answers to their questions from the Father in prayer (cf. Acts 1:14).

Jesus encouraged the disciples to ask the Father for whatever they needed, however. He did this by repeating His promise that the Father would grant petitions that they would offer "in Jesus" name" (cf. John 14:13-14; John 15:16).

Some commentators made much of the two different Greek words for asking in this verse. The first one that occurs, erotao, usually means to ask a question, whereas the second one, aiteo, means to ask for something. However, John often used erotao to describe asking for something ( John 4:31; John 4:40; John 4:47; John 14:16; John 16:26; John 17:9). Consequently we should probably not make too much of this difference. John frequently used synonyms with no great distinction in mind.


Verse 24

The disciples had not appealed to the Father in Jesus" name before now. As Old Testament believers, they had undoubtedly grounded their petitions on God"s promises in the Old Testament. However the entrance that Jesus now gave them with the Father would assure an even warmer response to their prayers than Old Testament saints received.

Jesus urged His disciples again to ask the Father. The verb in the Greek text is a present imperative (aiteite, from aiteo). He also gave them assurance that they would receive what they requested "in His name" (cf. 1 John 5:14-15). The consequence of answered prayer would be fullness of joy for them (cf. John 15:11; John 16:22).

Jesus brought many of the themes of chapter15 together in this concluding promise: loving obedience, asking, receiving, joy, and fruit-bearing.


Verse 25

"These things I have spoken unto you" (NASB) indicates another transition in the discourse (cf. John 14:25; John 16:1; John 16:4; John 16:33; John 17:1). Jesus acknowledged that He had not been giving direct answers to His disciples" questions. He had been speaking enigmatically or cryptically. The Greek phrase en paroimias has this meaning elsewhere (cf. John 10:6). Jesus was referring to His entire discourse, not just His illustration about the woman ( John 16:21). He evidently did this to avoid presenting what lay ahead in such stark reality that the disciples could not accept it ( John 16:12).

The coming hour when Jesus would no longer speak figuratively to them but clearly (Gr. parresia, cf. John 10:24; John 11:14) probably refers to the time following His resurrection and ascension. Then He and the Spirit would help the disciples understand the meaning of what He had said earlier (cf. Acts 1:3).

Jesus used parables to teach the multitudes because they were not ready to receive clear teaching ( Mark 4:33-34). He interpreted some of His parables for the disciples because they could receive some clear teaching. However, He also used enigmatic language with the disciples because even they were not ready to understand some things yet.


Verses 25-33

8. The clarification of Jesus" destination16:25-33


Verse 26-27

After Jesus" ascension, the disciples would pray in Jesus" name to the Father (cf. John 14:13-14; John 14:26; John 16:23-24). The Father would grant their request-in the context it is a request for understanding of Jesus" former teachings-because the Father loved them in a special sense. They had loved His Son and had believed on Jesus. This is a second reason the disciples could take comfort in Jesus" promise that they would understand better in the future. The first reason was that the Father would grant them answers to their prayers because they prayed in Jesus" name.

Jesus was not denying that He would intercede for His disciples with the Father ( Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; cf. 1 John 2:1). His point was that the Father"s love for them would move Him to grant their petitions, as well as Jesus" intercession and sponsorship (cf. John 15:9-16). Believers have a direct relationship with the Father as well as with the Son and the Spirit (cf. Romans 5:2).


Verse 28

"The promise of plain speech is now adumbrated in a terse utterance which is at once a summary of Johannine Christology and the heart of this Gospel." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p287.]

This was Jesus" clearest statement yet about where He was going. What Jesus explained here should by now have become clear to the reader of this Gospel (cf. John 1:10-11; John 1:14; John 3:16-17; John 14:19). However to the disciples who first heard these words they were fresh, clear revelation. This statement really summarized Jesus" mission from the Incarnation to the Ascension.


Verse 29-30

The disciples now felt that Jesus had answered their questions about where He was going clearly. This revelation helped them believe that Jesus knew what He was talking about when He taught them about God and His ways. It also helped them believe that Jesus had indeed come from God. However they did not yet understand the full meaning and significance of what Jesus had said, though they may have thought they did. Jesus had just said that they would not understand His meaning fully until a future time ( John 16:25-26).

"Had the disciples really possessed the understanding they claim, they would have reacted very differently when the crisis came." [Note: Morris, p631.]


Verse 31-32

Jesus questioned the fact that the disciples now believed fully because of what He had just explained. The NIV translation, "You believe at last!" is an interpretation that the reader should understand as ironical. The events surrounding Jesus" arrest and crucifixion would show that their faith was still weak. They would desert Him in His hour of testing. That hour was coming very soon, but Jesus could speak of it as already present because Judas was even then planning with the religious leaders for His arrest. Jesus" confidence in His Father comes through in that He found consolation in the fact that the Father would not desert Him even though the disciples would. Jesus gave this gentle rebuke because the disciples again overestimated themselves (cf. John 13:38).

It is true that Peter and probably John followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. It is also true that John stood near Jesus" cross during His crucifixion ( John 18:15; John 19:26-27). Nevertheless all the disciples abandoned Jesus at His arrest and returned to their own things temporarily ( Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50; John 18:17; John 18:25-26; John 21:3). It is also true that the Father abandoned Jesus on the cross ( Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). However that was only temporary too. The Father remained with Jesus throughout all His trials and only departed from Him when He judged sin, which Jesus took on Himself as our substitute ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).


Verse 33

The structural marker "these things I have spoken to you" (cf. John 14:25; John 16:1; John 16:4; John 16:25; John 17:1) identifies the conclusion of this section of the discourse. The ultimate reason for Jesus" revelations about His departure, as far as His immediate disciples were concerned, was that they might experience peace in their relationship with Him (cf. John 14:27). "In me" probably harks back to the vine and branches intimacy that Jesus revealed in chapter15. Their relationship with the world would result in turmoil because of the opposition that would come on them from unbelievers. However the proof that the peace that Jesus would give them would overcome the turmoil that the world would create was Jesus" victory over the world in the Cross ( John 12:31; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:4-5). This was probably another statement that the disciples did not understand immediately.

Jesus closed this discourse with a word of encouragement. The Greek word thareso, translated "take courage" or "take heart," is one that only Jesus used in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:22; Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; Mark 10:49; John 16:33; Acts 23:11). Jesus was the great encourager. The Holy Spirit continues His ministry in us today.

The tension that the victory of Christ and the opposition of the world pose for the Christian is not one that we can escape in this life. Notwithstanding it is possible for us to be more peaceful than distressed as we realize and believe that Jesus has already won the victory ( John 16:11; cf. Romans 8:37).

The Upper Room Discourse ends here ( John 13:31 to John 16:33). The rest of Jesus" private ministry (chs13-17) consisted of prayer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 16:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-16.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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