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All that the Lord spoke on that memorable night was intended for the preparation of His disciples for what would face them in view of His death, resurrection and return to the glory. There would be stern tests for them such as they had not yet seen, and He prepares them that they should not be stumbled and faint under the trial. They would be put out of the synagogues (v.2), just as had the man recovered from blindness (John 9:34), a dreadful experience for a Jew, for this meant rejection by his own people. More than this, there would be those who considered that they were really serving God by the murder of believers. Saul of Tarsus is one example of this perverse attitude (1 Timothy 1:13).
But let believers not be embittered or discouraged by such persecution, for it stemmed from ignorance, not merely ignorance of certain principles, but of the Father and the Son personally (v.3). The Lord was forewarning them in order that, when these things occurred, they would remember His perfect wisdom as being really in control of all that transpired. What calmness and rest this would give in the face of such tribulation!
It had not been necessary at the beginning of His ministry to speak to them of these things, for He Himself had been their support in person. Now He was returning to the Father: they would be left to be tested without His personal presence to sustain them: therefore His word was of vital importance. But He says, "none of you asks Me, Where are You going?" (v.5). This may seem a contradiction of John 13:36, but in that case Peter's interest was not really awakened at all in reference to the Father's presence, of which the Lord spoke. The Lord had sought many times to exercise them as to what it meant that He was going to Him who had sent Him, but they had not sufficient concern to enquire about this. They thought only of a mere location.
If they had realized that His return to the Father's presence would be pure joy and bliss to Him, this should have given them joy too; but instead sorrow had filled their heart. Yet His leaving was profitable even for them. He insists that in this He is telling them the truth, for they were dull of hearing. He must go away in order that the Comforter, the Spirit of God, would come (v.7). For the Spirit's coming to dwell in the Church is the result of redemption accomplished and Christ raised and glorified at the Father's right hand. Only then would He send the Spirit to them.
The profit of this is wonderful. Christ in bodily form could be present only in one place at any time. The Spirit has indwelt every believer of the present age the world over, providing inward grace and strength for all. Moreover, this inward power gives understanding of the word of God such as they could not have before. Also, the saints have now an Intercessor within them and one above them, Christ in glory. All this would stimulate within them the vital exercise of faith.
Having come, the Spirit would present to the world a clear demonstration as to the serious facts of sin, righteousness and judgment, facts that the would would rather ignore, but which God requires to be faced (v.8). First, sin is demonstrated by the fact that the world does not believe in Christ. For Christ is the Son of God, the Creator: refusal of Him is dreadful sin. The names of men generally are not treated with contempt, as His is. Sin is the plain reason for this. But if sin exists, so does righteousness, and righteousness is demonstrated by the fact that, though man has crucified the Son of God, yet God has raised Him from among the dead, and He is received at the Father's right hand (v.10). Righteousness has triumphed and vindicated Him whom sin had slain. So the Spirit of God directs attention to Christ glorified in order to demonstrate to man the fact of righteousness.
Moreover, if there is such a thing as sin and such a thing as righteousness, then there must be such a thing as judgment. This is demonstrated by the fact that Satan, the prince of this world, has been judged by Christ's triumphant death and resurrection (Compare chapter 13:31). This judgment is now accomplished, not that which is future. To this the Spirit of God bears witness, He Himself being the power by which believers present this present-day demonstration to the world. It is good to pay close attention to these things if we are to be in the current of the Spirit's present work in testimony to the world.
But the Lord could not tell the disciples all that He desired them to know: they were not at that time able for it (v.12). He must first suffer and die, and be raised again, and the Spirit of God be sent to indwell them. It was He, the Spirit of truth, who would guide them into all truth. Also, just as Christ had not spoken from Himself, that is, independently, so is this true of the Spirit. He is in perfect concord with the Father and the Son. As Christ had heard from the Father, so He spoke. Just so, the Spirit speaks as He hears, and He would reveal, not only things for the dispensation of grace, but things to come, which certainly includes the rapture and what the book of Revelation declares.
As Christ had glorified the Father, so the Spirit today glorifies Christ: He is the special Object of the Spirit's testimony (v.14). The Spirit receives of all that belongs to the Son and reveals this to believers. Also, all that the Father has belongs to the Son. Compare Genesis 24:2, the servant of Abraham's house ruling over all that Abraham had. This is typical of the Spirit of God, Abraham being a type of God the Father. Verse 36 adds that unto Isaac (type of Christ) Abraham had given all that he had. The unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is again clearly emphasized here. The work of the Spirit will certainly lead to deepest reverence toward the Father and the Son.
THE MINISTRY OF OBJECTIVE POWER - CHRIST IN GLORY
We have seen in the first part of this chapter the subjective (inward) power given to believers in their having the Spirit of God. In this latter part of the chapter our attention is focused on Christ in glory, who is the objective power to enable us for meeting whatever needs may arise. As an illustration of this, though Stephen, when he bore witness before the Jewish council, was filled with the Holy Spirit, yet this was not his object (Acts 7:5-56). Because Christ was his Object in glory, this imbued him with the living energy of faith. Thus, the Spirit worked in conjunction with Stephen's appreciation of Christ.
For a little while now they would see the Lord Jesus. He speaks of His being in death, when they would leap and lament. but again they would see him, for He was going to the Father, which involved His resurrection and ascension in bodily form. Note however that at this time He does not say that again they would not see Him. For their seeing Him in resurrection would give them fully opened eyes, to see Him by faith at God's right hand. Compare John 14:19 and Hebrews 2:9.
But they are perplexed by His words (v.17). How little could they understand at the time! When this had taken place, however; and the Spirit given at Pentecost, His words surely would come back to them in precious reality. Yet at the time they were reticent to ask Him, though desirous to do so. So He gently asks as to their inquiring among themselves, and seeks further to prepare them for the ordeal of their seeing Him taken by wicked hands and crucified (v.20). Though He had told them this before, they had not taken it in. Compare Luke 9:21-22; Luke 9:44-45.
Now He tells them only that they would weep and lament while the world would rejoice. This of course would be at the time of their not seeing Him. "But," He hastens to add, "your sorrow shall be turned into joy." His illustration of the travailing of a mother in childbirth is lovely (v.21). The pain and sorrow must come before the joy. How wonderful though that the Lord speaks here of the sorrow of His disciples, not at all of His own sorrow, which in fact was infinitely deeper than theirs. In the face of all that He knew lay before Him, He occupied Himself in tender grace on behalf of them in their sorrow This is pure, unaffected love. He encourages them in the knowledge that the result of the travail in birth of a child is such joy that the sorrow is forgotten.
They now had sorrow in being told He would leave them. Of course that sorrow would increase greatly in their witnessing the dread experience of His crucifixion. But He would see them again in resurrection and bring great joy to their hearts such as none could ever take away (v.22). This was true though He Himself would then leave them to return to His Father. For His seeing them implies a nearness continued throughout this dispensation of grace, by the power of the Spirit of God.
They would no longer have Him present to bring to Him their concerns and requests, but He tells them to ask the Father in His name, insisting that the Father will definitely answer such prayer (vs.23-24). We must remember, of course, that this does not mean merely the formal expression in prayer, "in Christ's name," but rather if truly in His name, our prayers will be consistent with all that His name implies, therefore in true subjection to His authority.
While He was with them, they of course had not asked in His name: now they are encouraged to find such delight in that name that they ask with firm, holy confidence for that which will honor that name. In this their joy would be full.
He had used a parabolic form of speaking, for they could not have in any measure understood if He had spoken in abstract terms as to the Father and matters of spiritual import (v.25). No doubt their understanding of the significance of His parables was very limited, but they were intended to awaken exercise that would eventually have its answer when the Spirit of God should come. By the Spirit the Lord would then show them plainly of the Father, for it is only by spiritual means that spiritual things are properly communicated (1 Corinthians 2:13).
Christ being then personally absent, they would ask in His name. He does not mean that He would be the Mediator in their asking, but rather that they would have direct access to the Father in His name. For He encourages their confidence in the Father's love for them. He does not want them to feel that He Himself is more accessible than is the Father. He has revealed the Father, whose love is certainly the same as His own, and who loves them because of their faith and love toward His Son.
In verse 28 He speaks, as they themselves say, "plainly." Proceeding from the Father, He had come into the world: now He would leave the world and return to the Father. While there is no doubt as to the simplicity of His words, as they acknowledge, yet how little did they take them in! When He actually was taken and crucified, they were so unprepared as to be utterly crushed and uncomprehending.
Yet they confess their certainty that He knows all things, and that His greatness is therefore beyond all questioning of men. This can be true of none but God, and they at least acknowledge that they know He had come from God (v.30). It is precious that their faith went beyond the limits of their understanding, for it is evident that they were far from understanding the significance of all that was involved in the Lord's words.
The Lord asks the disciples, "Do you now believe?" For they little understood all that was involved in His words. Is He really God manifest in flesh? If so, then nothing could possibly defeat His wisdom and purpose. He is to be absolutely depended upon. But He says that the hour was upon them that they would scatter from Him, each in his own independent direction, leaving Him, the Son of God, alone! Which of us would have been any different? How sadly weak is the faith we profess!
"Yet," He adds, "I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (v.32). When the test came they would all fail, but in the Father and the Son all faithfulness and stability remained unshaken. The prince of this world could find nothing in Him, no slightest proclivity to yielding to temptation. This too was the basis of their peace. Though in themselves was weakness and confusion, yet in Him they had peace (v.33). Blessed resting place for faith! Though in the world they could expect persecution, He exhorts them to be of good cheer, for He (not they) had overcome the world. Confidence was to be, not in themselves, but fully in Him.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 16". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany