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John 16:0 - Preparation for the Future (John 16:0 ).
The thoughts from chapters 14-15 continue into chapter 16. But here it is Jesus Himself Who will send the Helper (the Holy Spirit) to them (John 16:7), whilst the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will Himself glorify not God but Jesus (John 16:13), for He will receive of what is Jesus’ and will show it to them. So Heaven’s concentration is on Jesus, Who will Himself have sent the Holy Spirit. And this is because ‘all things that the Father has are Mine, that is why I said He will take of Mine and show it to you’.
That ‘all things that the Father has’ belong also to Jesus, and can indeed be seen by Him as ‘Mine’, is a further indication that He is God, for Who else could possess all that belonged to the Father and call it His own? And to speak of the Spirit as being sent to glorify Him in men’s eyes without mention of God would have been blasphemy if He were not God.
Having then explained something of what the future holds for His disciples, Jesus confirms that, ‘whatever you shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you’ (John 16:23; compare John 15:16). It is His Name which will be effective because they will be asking in order to further the Father’s purposes in Jesus. And He assures them that while what He has been saying to them has been to some extent figurative (they must have been showing that they were in some confusion), He will make it all plain to them in the future. For He will show them plainly from the Father (John 16:25).
Then as His discourse approaches its close He assures them, ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world. Again I leave the world, and go to My Father’ (John 16:28). Here, if words mean anything, we have a further clear statement of His pre-existence (compare John 3:13; John 8:56-58; John 17:5), and an indication that when He was ‘sent’ it meant literally from another place, not just that He was spiritually sent like the prophets were. The idea is that the Word, Who had existed in the beginning with God, and was God (John 1:1), had been made flesh (John 1:14), was now returning to His former glory (John 17:5).
In this chapter Jesus also continues and sums up the thoughts of the coming persecution of the disciples described in John 15:20-25 and stresses that this will be combated by the work of the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, Who will ensure that, in spite of all, the truth will triumph in the world, the truth about Himself which will be established inerrantly through them.
Jesus then closes the discourse by confirming that He is shortly leaving them, something which will cause them to experience great sorrow, but stresses that in the end that sorrow will be turned into joy. And He confirms His promise of full provision for all their needs in their God-proposed task, and closes with a warning and a promise.
“These things have I spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of synagogues. Yes, the hour comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God. And these things will they do because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
‘These things have I spoken to you’. That is, the warnings of the hatred they will experience and the promise of the Spirit they will receive, especially the former (John 15:18-27). The natural thought of the preacher of the Gospel is that his message is so wonderful that none can refuse it, and it can initially come as a shock when that is not so. But what they had yet to recognise was the evil in men’s hearts which comes to the fore when they are faced with the truth, an evil which is often wrapped up in fine words. It was a necessary warning. In view of what was to happen in the future they might well, without this warning, have begun at times to wonder whether God’s hand was at work after all.
‘They will put you out of synagogues.’ They will be rejected and excluded constantly in many places where they might have expected acceptance, and this will be because their message conflicts with that of the Pharisees and of tradition. This would especially be true in Palestine, but, as the church became established and less Jewish, it would also become true on a wider scale. Their very success would result in the hatred that arises from jealousy and from clinging to the old ways. Yet in those same places, prior to their rejection and exclusion, they will find men whose hearts have been prepared by the Holy Spirit for the words they bring. Rejection would also come from the Gentiles because they hit at their profits and were seen as insulting their gods (Acts 16:19-22; Acts 19:23-29).
‘The hour comes.’ Note that the disciples too will have their hour, although here it is also the hour of the fulfilment of the things Jesus warned them about. It will be a time when men will actually think they are serving God by ill-treating and killing the disciples of Christ, whom they will see as blasphemers and enemies of their faith. No persecution is worse than that of fellow-religionists, for it arises from the passion of a heart that thinks itself to be totally right and can brook no opposition. Paul himself describes how it was his zeal as a Pharisee that caused him to persecute the church with a fierce intensity (Acts 22:4; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:5-6).
‘They will do these things because they have not known the Father.’ But the real reason behind this persecution will be the failure of these people to have truly known the Father. They may claim to follow God, but they do not know Him as He really is. They follow an image built up in their own hearts. No one is more dangerous than the one who is certain he is right because of his own religious instincts and feelings, and will not consider the fact that he might be wrong. However, had these people really known the Father they would have been aware of what true righteousness is, and would have known the way of mercy and forgiveness. They would have been humble and receptive. Above all they would have recognised the One Who came from the Father Who in true humility revealed that righteousness and mercy and forgiveness. That they did not do so clearly indicated that they did not have the mind of the Father.
‘Nor me.’ It thus follows that they will not know the Son. Again we have here a clear separation of Jesus from all others as He parallels Himself with the Father and puts Himself on the divine side of reality.
Warnings of Coming Persecution (John 16:1-4 ).
These verses continue the theme of John 15:20-25. There He had spoken of coming persecution so that when it came they would not be caused to stumble, but would recognise that even this was of God. Now He spells out that persecution in more detail.
Jesus’ Final Words To His Apostles (John 13:31 to John 17:26 ).
This next section, from John 13:31 to John 17:26, can be seen as the equivalent of the dying words of Jesus. Words spoken on approaching death, and especially on a deathbed, were considered to be particularly potent. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, like the blessings of Jacob to his sons in Genesis 47:29 to Genesis 49:33, Moses’ farewell words in Deuteronomy 33:0, the farewell of Joshua to the nation of Israel in Joshua 22-24, and David's farewell speech in 1 Chronicles 28-29. Thus we must see these chapters as essentially spoken to the disciples, although of course we may apply much of what was said more generally as having wider implications. Within them, however, Jesus gives special promises of unique gifts and blessings which were only for His Apostles in their task of establishing the new people of God, the new Israel growing out of the old (John 15:1-6).
It is noteworthy that they were not spoken until Judas had left the company. They did not apply to him. He had gone out into the night. These instructions and promises were for those who walked in the light of day.
“But these things have I spoken to you so that when their hour is come you may remember them, how that I told you.”
And they will indeed need to remember His warnings, for often they will be baffled at the failure of men to see and understand, at the hardness of heart that prevents men responding, and at the fierceness of the wrath that is directed against them. And they will begin to question themselves, and God. This is a reminder to us that we too must not expect the Christian life to be easy and rosy. If men would not receive Christ, we should not be surprised if they will not hear us.
Note how Jesus recognises the doubts and fears that at some times in the futures will cloud their lives. But He emphasises to them that when they do they are to remember His words. We also may sometimes have doubts and fears, and at such times we too must turn to His word for the answers.
“And these things I did not say to you from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. And none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Jesus recognises that His disciples are perplexed. In spite of His many warnings (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33; Mark 10:45 and parallels) they have still not realised that it is God’s purpose that He should die at the Passover. And yet they are conscious that He is talking of death. To them it must have seemed so unreal. They must have been thinking, ‘Why do we not just slip away and avoid the danger as we have done before?’
So He makes it clear that He is giving them these warnings because His time to go has now come. In the future He will no longer be around in the flesh in order to give the guidance needed at the time, as He has in the past. But they must recognise that this is because He is going to the One Who had sent Him, and that His death will not be as a result of failure but will be as a result of the fulfilment of God’s purposes.
‘None of you asks, ‘where are you going?’ Although they were sorrowful, they were not asking the right questions. Now they know that He is about to die they should have been wanting to know where He is going. They needed a new perspective. They needed to recognise that everything was following God’s plan, that His future was under control and that His destiny was certain.
It was true that previously they had asked such questions (John 13:36), but that had been out of curiosity rather than faith, thinking that He meant that He was going on a journey. Now their hearts are dulled and they are instead taken up with sorrow. They have at last realised that He really is going. But they have no thought to ask where, for their minds are still fixed on earthly things. To them the future spoken of by the prophets was to be fulfilled on earth. They looked for an earthly kingdom and battles fought on earth. They had no recognition of heavenly realities. So they did not know what to think, and did not want to find out. They were sheltering in ignorance.
This was the reason why their minds were in the wrong place. It was because they had continually thought of an earthly kingdom and of an earthly Messiah (compare Acts 1:6). They cannot conceive that man’s future lies outside this world where heavenly battles were to be fought. It would only be later that they would realise that the promises to Abraham of ‘a better country’ would be fulfilled in Heaven (see Hebrews 11:10-14). Now He is calling them to look upwards and beyond earthly things to heavenly realities. It is in the heavenlies that the battle must be won.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16:4-15 ).
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you. But if I go I will send him to you.”
So now He will show them where He is going. He is going to the place from where He can send the Holy Spirit to them. And He points out that this means that, although it may not seem like it, His departure will be best possible thing for them. For until He has offered Himself for the sins of many (Mark 10:45) they cannot know the full work of the Spirit acting in the world. Thus His departure will not be the disaster that they think, but will be a springboard into the future, a preparation for glorious success. It will not the final tragic end to a promising ministry. Up to now they have been at school. Now they are to graduate and begin the task for which He has trained them, assisted by the greatest power of all time.
We should note the emphasis on the fact that the Holy Spirit cannot become the major player until Jesus has gone. There could not be separate activities of the Triune God on earth which conflicted with each other. Whilst Jesus was present the concentration had to be on Him. But now that He was going the outstanding work of the Spirit prophesied by the prophets could begin.
‘The Paraclete’. The One ‘called alongside’ (parakaleo) to help. The revealer of truth (John 14:16-17; John 14:26). The One Who will make real to them the continued presence of the risen Jesus (John 16:14), and will make His truth known to them (John 14:26; John 16:13). And particularly here, along with John 15:26, the One Who will minister through them to the world.
‘If I do not go --.’ Until He has offered Himself for the sins of the world the work of God will be limited. Once He has gone the full flow can begin.
‘I will send him to you.’ Jesus Himself has the authority to send the Holy Spirit to them. Indeed He will minister the Holy Spirit to them Himself (see John 20:22). Once again He assumes that He has divine authority.
“And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment. Of sin because they believe not on me. Of righteousness because I am going to the Father and you see me no more. Of judgment because the prince of this world has been judged.”
‘When He is come.’ From the previous verse we can add ‘to you’. The Holy Spirit is not some vague wind blowing around the world. He comes to and on God’s people, and it is through them that He carries out His activity.
‘He will convict the world.’ The basic meanings possible for this verb are (1) "to convict or convince someone of something", (2) "to bring to light or expose something, and thus reveal guilt”, and (3) "to correct or punish someone". The last is clearly not His purpose at this time. It may well be that it is a combination of the first two that is in mind. He convinces and convicts. This work will mainly be accomplished through His disciples and their lives and preaching, followed by the lives and preaching of those who follow them.
‘He will convict the world of sin -- because it believes not on me’. This means that He will make clear the sin of men’s unbelief. Not to believe in Christ is the greatest sin of all for it is to sin against Him Who is the light, and reveals the darkness of the heart. It is to hide from the light. The light has shone revealing the truth about God and His love for man revealed in the cross and in the giving of His only Son. By rejecting Him men show what their hearts are really like deep down. Thus through God’s people the Spirit will expose men’s unbelief, and cause them to be declared guilty. Guilty because of what they are, and guilty of not believing in, and responding to, the light from God. He will bring home the fact that when the world as a whole rejects the One Who has come as a light into the world they do so because their deeds are evil, and they are therefore condemned because of it (John 3:16-21).
We can compare here John 12:37. ‘Although He had done so many signs before them yet they did not believe on Him.’ The sin of these men against the light from God was the more inexcusable because the coming of the One Who was the light was testified to by such great signs. They had no excuse at all. Had their hearts been open their response would have been certain. But they had in fact deliberately closed their minds to Him. They were therefore doubly guilty.
For as Paul elsewhere makes clear, all men are without excuse for God has revealed Himself in other ways too and men have still closed their hearts and minds (Romans 1:18-20).
There are, however, the comparatively few, who will be awakened by the light that has come from God, and will respond to it (John 3:18-21). They too are convinced of the sinfulness of not responding to the light, they too are made aware of the sinfulness of their own hearts. But in their case their response is to come to Him to receive forgiveness and eternal life.
‘He will convict the world of righteousness -- because I am going to the Father and you see me no more.’ The presence of Jesus in the world has revealed more fully than ever before what true righteousness is. He was righteousness personified and His life and teaching had shown forth righteousness in all its true glory. Thus the work of the Spirit may be seen as taking over that task of revealing what true righteousness is to the world, when Jesus has gone to the Father, again mainly through God’s people and through God’s word.
He will convict the world of righteousness because He will bring home to them what true righteousness is. He will convince some of them of their own need of righteousness. He will bring home to them how they can obtain perfect righteousness through Christ.
So will the world continue to be faced with the light, to have the truth about itself and its deeds exposed. The righteousness and the righteous teaching of God’s people will convince some and lead to their response to Him. But that same activity will also face those who reject Christ with their sinfulness, and will declare them guilty, ‘so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world be declared guilty before God’ (Romans 3:19). And they will not like it.
This convicting of ‘righteousness’ may also be seen as convincing men of their need for imputed righteousness. They will recognise that there is a need for them to have righteousness put to their account by the One Who as the Righteous One bore their sins and offered them His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30), because their own righteousness can never be enough. These two aspects of righteousness, true righteousness and imputed righteousness are but two facets of the same jewel. Imputed righteousness is the true righteousness of Christ put to men’s account. The awareness of true righteousness will make them aware of their need, because they are not truly righteous. The offer of imputed righteousness will provide a way by which they can receive righteousness and become acceptable to God. And then they will begin to live righteously and teach righteously and the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. Imputed righteousness inevitably results in practical righteousness as God comes home to the heart, and the result is that that world is also faced up to true righteousness.
So the Spirit’s convicting of righteousness may be seen as declaring that, as a result of Christ’s offering of Himself, the Holy Spirit will, through God’s people and through His word, bring home God’s offer of imputed righteousness through Him, which men will either accept ‘unto righteousness’ or reject ‘unto judgment’. However this awareness of the need for imputed righteousness can only arise from a recognition of what righteousness really is. Without awareness of the one, men will not recognise their need for the other.
Alternately some would argue that the idea behind ‘righteousness’ here is of vindication, and thus they see it as meaning that the Holy Spirit will vindicate Christ and establish His righteousness before the world. Thus when Christ goes to the Father it will be a proof that the Father has vindicated Him, something that the Spirit will bring home to the world.
Indeed all may be seen together in that the Spirit will reveal true righteousness, including revealing the true righteousness of Christ which can be imputed to the believer, something which will result in the offer of mercy to man through that righteousness and the vindication of Christ, together with the imparting of true righteousness which will result in men becoming truly righteous.
‘He will convict the world of judgment --- because the prince of this world has been judged.’ This means that His work will be such that it demonstrates the judgment of ‘the prince of this world’. The prince of this world is finally Satan (Luke 4:5-7) but the term also incorporates all who rule in this world in antagonism to God. For they rule under Satan (which was why at Jesus’ temptation Satan could offer Him authority over the whole world). This then involves in judgment all those who ‘lie in his (the Evil One’s) arms’ (1 John 5:19). Again in Paul’s words, ‘the whole world is declared guilty before God’ (Romans 3:19), along with its supernatural prince. Some will be convinced of this by the cross and respond to Christ. Others will stand convicted and condemned.
We must compare in this regard Jesus’ words in John 12:31-32, ‘now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out’. There they are linked with His being lifted up on the cross. As Jesus is lifted up on the cross for man’s sin, and then finally resurrected in vindication of His righteousness, this expresses and declares God’s judgment on the world for its sins, and on its ways and on its prince. In the final analysis this can only refer to Satan for it was he and his minions who were defeated at the cross (Colossians 2:15). It is this revealed judgment that the Holy Spirit will bring home against the world, declaring the world guilty, producing response from some and rejection to final judgment in others.
Thus we may sum up that the work of the Holy Spirit through the disciples, His people and His word, will be to make mankind aware of its need and sinfulness, especially in respect of its attitude to the One Whom God sent. He will bring home to man what true righteousness is, and how he has fallen short of it, and how Christ has provided true righteousness for guilty man on the cross resulting in His own vindication. And He will make clear the final judgment of God on all who fail to respond as evidenced by His work and victory on the cross, while in the light of that revealed judgment causing some to be convinced and respond to Him..
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Jesus is fully aware how baffled and battered, apprehensive and helpless the disciples are feeling. They cannot cope in their present condition with what He wants to tell them. But that is one reason why the Paraclete is coming. He has much to reveal to them which will eventually finish up as the New Testament. Note that when the Spirit guides (v. 13) it will be Jesus Who will be speaking.
“However, when he the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever things he will hear that will he speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take of mine and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine, that is why I said that he takes of mine and will declare it to you.”
The Spirit when He comes will later guide them into all truth. For that is what He is, the Spirit of Truth. In the same way as Jesus could say, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6), so also can the Spirit. This special promise in its full significance is unique to the Apostles. All spiritual truth in its entirety will be revealed to them, the truth about God, the truth about Christ, the truth about His ways and purposes. Thus will they be able to lay the foundation for the infant church.
Just as in the Old Testament Moses spoke with God as a man speaks with his friend and wonderful things were revealed to him (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8), even more so will it be for the disciples. The Spirit will take of the deep things of God and make them known. He will speak only what He receives from the Father and the Son. He will make known things to come. He will glorify Jesus, and make His glory known, and will reveal the totality of what belongs to the Godhead.
Jesus stresses here that what the Spirit teaches is what comes from both Father and Son. The truth of God ministered by the Spirit will agree totally with that of the whole Godhead. This does not limit Him to what has been taught in the past, (contrary to some), for what Father and Son reveal is continuing. Indeed He will reveal things to come. Thus is being established the promise of the New Testament. But there is no suggestion that this special enlightenment will pass on beyond the Apostles.
‘He will glorify me.’ That is to be the work of the Spirit, to point away from Himself to Another. His ministry is to take of what is of Father and Son and make it known. Activity which concentrates solely on the work of the Spirit should always be viewed with suspicion. When the Spirit is active it is the Father and Son Who are glorified.
'He will glorify Me for He will take of Mine and will declare it to you.' The Spirit will glorify Jesus by taking what pertains to Him and making it known. He will reveal His eternal pre-existence, He will reveal His power as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, He will make known the inner depth of His teaching, He will manifest the depths of the humiliation through which He will go, He will reveal what He has accomplished on the cross in sacrificial and redemptive power, He will make known the power and glory of His resurrection, and how His resurrection life can be manifested in us, He will reveal Jesus in His exaltation as the Lord of glory, as the One to Whom Heaven and earth will bow, as the One Who is over all, as the One Who will be judge of all, and He will make known through Jesus the fullness of the Godhead in so far as such can be comprehended by human beings on earth.
So while we can apply all these words in John 16:13-14 to ourselves in a secondary way they cannot apply to us as they did to the Apostles. These are His deathbed words to His chosen men. There have been many great men of God who have received great understanding, but none have received it as the Apostles did. For these other great men have had to have their teachings tested by others, and all without exception have proved in time to have been wrong in one thing or another. But for the Apostles the promise was that they would know ‘all truth’. As He promised them earlier, ‘He will teach you all things and bring back to your memories all things that I said to you.’ That could only be said to eyewitnesses.
But that these words can be secondarily applied to us comes out in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16. There Paul describes the work of the Spirit in illuminating the heart and mind of the believer and revealing to him the deep things of God. Thus we can apply them in a secondary way.
It is certainly of significance that in these verses Jesus has spoken of the expectations of His people. The manifestation of sin, righteousness, judgment, the revelation of the glory of Christ, the ‘coming things’, were all expected at ‘the end’. Here Jesus is describing it as coming at once. Like much in John, what is to come in the end of time is already to be experienced by His people. To him these are ‘the end times’ (compare the same thought in Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1Pe 1:20 ; 1 Peter 4:7; Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 9:26-28).
‘All things whatever the Father has are mine, that is why I said that He takes of mine and will declare it to you.’ Here Jesus was declaring that everything that was of the Father was (and is) His, to such an extent that to have what belongs to Jesus revealed is to have the fullness of God revealed. Thus the Holy Spirit by glorifying Jesus will be revealing the fullness of God. There is no limit placed on the words. The totality of what was the Father’s, belongs to Jesus. The fullness of the being of the Father was revealed in His being. There was nothing that was of the Father that was not also of Jesus. The Father had no attribute that Jesus did not have. He enjoys the fullness of all that the Godhead is. So much so that when He spoke of the Spirit revealing the glory of God in its fullness He only had to refer to Himself, for that included the revealing of all the glory that was the Father’s. This went far beyond a claim to Messiahship. It was a claim to portray in Himself the totality of God. It was a claim that all that the Father was, He was. In other words, He was saying, think of all the attributes that were known of God in the Old Testament, and these were His attributes too.
The remarkable fulfilment of these verses in the early church must not be overlooked. Fourteen men with powerful minds went out without a New Testament, relying only on the Old, and yet remained faithful to what we now know as Biblical truth, and continued to agree together (despite failed attempts to prove the opposite), to such an extent that Biblical truth survived all that followed. We have a partial revelation concerning this fact in the writings of differing Apostolic men in the New Testament. But it needs to be recognised that all the Apostles were involved in founding churches and yet remained true to their common heritage. This was a miracle in itself.
“A little while and you see me no more, and again a little while and you will see me.”
The meaning of this verse is amplified in the following verses. He is departing from them and in human terms they will not see Him again after the following day. But shortly afterwards they will see Him for He will rise again and they will see Him face to face as the glorified Christ, and from then on the Spirit will reveal Him continually to them as such. That ‘you will see me’ does not refer to the second coming is apparent in John 16:20-24.
Warning and Assurance for the Future (John 16:16-33 ).
As the time for them to go to Gethsemane approaches Jesus now begins to prepare them for what is to happen there. They are to recognise that what is to happen there will in fact be truly of God, and that through what will happen in that Garden will be carried out the grandest and most supreme of the purposes of God. The Son will accomplish His work of redemption and will return to the Father.
‘Some of his disciples therefore said to one another, “What is this that he says to us? ‘A little while and you see me not, and again a little while and you will see me’. And ‘because I go to my Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that he says, ‘a little while’. We do not know what he is talking about.”
This is John’s method of indicating a real and general discussion. His words have caught the attention of the disciples and they now talk over with each other some of what He has said. First he speaks of going to the Father and being seen no more (v. 10). Then He speaks of not being seen and then being seen (v. 16). What on earth can He mean? But they do not like to ask Him Himself, although they are genuinely puzzled. These indications of Apostolic puzzlement are a confirmation of the genuine historicity of the narrative. No one would have invented them afterwards in respect of men who were so highly revered.
‘Jesus perceived that they wished to ask him, and he said to them, “Do you ask among yourselves about this, that I said ‘a little while and you do not see me, and again a little while and you shall see me’? In very truth I tell you that you will weep and lament but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail has sorrow because her hour is come, but when she is delivered of the child she remembers the anguish no more, for the joy that a man is born into the world. And you therefore now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one takes away from you.”
Jesus now explains more clearly that they are entering a period of sorrow at losing Him. But it will be a sorrow which will turn into joy when they discover that they have not lost Him after all but have gained something far greater. At first they will weep and the world will rejoice because of what is about to happen to Him, for He will be snatched away from them and will be put to death, and they will fall into despair. But their gloom will be turned into joy for they will see Him again and then they will be filled with a joy that nothing can alter.
He knew that they could not at that moment fully understand what He meant, but His aim was to establish in their minds the fact that although gloom lay before them they could be certain that it would turn eventually into rejoicing. Thus in the midst of their gloom they could be conscious that hope lay ahead. The reader, of course, aware of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, fully understands what He is saying, but His past attempts to explain these things to His disciples had not met with great success (e.g. Mark 8:31; Mark 9:9).
The illustration He uses is telling and vivid, while at the same time being commonplace. As mere males they may not have been present at births but they would certainly know all about it. A woman in labour suffers great pains and begins to ask whether it is all worth it. And she often cries out in her pain. Indeed she can go into despair. But once the birth takes place it is all forgotten because of the joy of what follows. And that, says Jesus, is how it will be with them.
This illustration has in mind Isaiah 66:7-8 which portrays ‘a land born in a day’, ‘a nation brought forth at once’ as a result of birth travail, which is connected with the birth of a male child (compare Revelation 12:2-5). Thus they should not be surprised at the need for ‘birth pangs’. The new age is about to come in, but it can only come in through suffering and the birth pangs of those participating in it. Isaiah then adds appropriately ‘you will see it and your hearts will rejoice’ (Isaiah 66:14), words which echo those of Jesus here. The new age is about to begin.
“And in that day you will ask me nothing. In very truth I tell you, if you will ask anything of the Father he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive that your joy may be fulfilled ”
‘In that day you will ask me nothing.’ This is still in the context of John 16:13-15 which has been interrupted by the brief discussion. Up to now Jesus has been the source of all their understanding, of all their learning, and has provided for all their needs. When they have had a question they have come to Him. When they have needed anything they have looked to Him. But now it is no longer Him to Whom they will come. Instead they will directly approach the Father through the Spirit.
‘If you ask anything of the Father he will give it to you in my name.’ When they need help in their ministry, and especially when they need help in understanding God and His ways, they can ask the Father and He will give it to them. The Spirit will take of what is Christ’s and the Father’s and will declare it to them (John 16:14-15). Jesus is now leaving them and He is seeking to direct their thoughts and attention to the Father. From now on it is to Him that they should look. All the supplies of Heaven are now available to them.
The promise may be seen as inclusive of other things than just the wisdom and understanding that comes from God, but, in so far as it is, it is directed towards the fulfilment of their ministry. This is no blanket promise that any Christian can have whatever he wants. It is the promise that as they seek to fulfil their service to Him and in His name, they can receive from Him and in His name all that is needed.
These were dedicated men who thought only of fulfilling the Master’s will and the promise is given in that light. When we take these words and apply them to our own selfish needs we make light of them. When we pray seeking something for ourselves we are not praying ‘in His name’, we are asking in our own name, whatever the words we use. It is when we seek His help in making us more fit to serve Him and seek strength from Him in fulfilling His work that we are going in His name. ‘Seek first the Rule of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’ (Matthew 6:33).
“Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name, ask and you will receive that your joy may be fulfilled.”
Up to this point they have not needed to ask. The Great Provider has been with them and they could look to Him. But now He was going. However, this does not mean that the heavenly supplies will dry up. Now they can go to the Father in the name of Jesus and be sure that they will receive all that is needed for the accomplishment of the work that is theirs, and in receiving this they will experience great joy.
A reading of the Gospels brings out how little the disciples prayed in contrast with Jesus. They no doubt shared group prayers and, of course, entered into synagogue worship, but we are again and again brought face to face with Jesus praying without being made aware that the disciples were praying. In their need they had turned to Him, as He turned to the Father. Now they too must learn to turn directly to the Father. They will pray much more now.
“I have spoken these things to you in parables. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in parables, but will tell you plainly of the Father.”
By ‘parables’ or ‘sayings with a hidden meaning’, Jesus is necessarily referring to what He has been revealing to them, for until He has been crucified and raised from the dead how can they begin to understand? They are dealing with the unknown and the inconceivable.
His words are looking from their viewpoint. It is they who see all He has said to them as a mystery, not the fact that He has not spoken plainly. It has all been so new and so revolutionary that they have not been able to grasp it. However, He says, they may be puzzled now but one day soon all will be made plain to them. The Holy Spirit will illuminate their minds. They will learn the Father’s plans and understand His ways, in so far as it is possible for man. A glance at the sermons in Acts and the teachings of the epistles immediately brings out the truth of these sayings. Their whole thinking had been turned upside down. Thus the revelation by the Spirit interpreting the coming events are here described as ‘I will tell you plainly’. Once again Jesus and the Spirit work as one.
‘These things’ may refer to the whole of Jesus’ teaching, or just to the words in the Upper Room. As we know, using specific parables was a favourite method of teaching for Him, and these hid as well as revealing. To those whose hearts were open and sought humbly to know more they provided light, but to those who were only casually interested their true message was veiled. They enjoyed the story but did not grasp the message. And indeed much of Jesus’ teaching, even when not strictly parabolic, had to be in picture form, for He was speaking of things which were not of this world, and He was speaking to veiled minds.
Furthermore, even the disciples after a number of years of Jesus’ ministry were still bound by prejudices, confidence in the rightness of their own cherished beliefs, and an unreadiness to accept that what they had come to believe in the past was wrong. And they saw things in that light. Their minds were veiled. We know from their response when Jesus spoke plainly how difficult it was for them to move from their old ideas (e.g. Mark 8:31-32; Mark 9:31-32; Mark 10:32). And He often had to rebuke them gently because they could not shake off those old ideas. We must remember that much of what He was teaching turned their own ideas upside down. We sometimes begin to wonder how the disciples could have been so dim, but that is because centuries of exposition of Scripture have made more clear what would otherwise have been difficult to understand. Had we been in their shoes we would have been even more puzzled than they.
We have only to read the early church fathers to see how difficult they found it to understand the teaching of Jesus and Paul. They interpreted them in the light of their own ideas and regularly missed the point. To move from the New Testament writings to the teachings of early church literature is like a backward step into the semi-dark. We may think that we are not like that, but we are. How much of modern popular belief among Christians is really the result of our own environment and our current philosophies. We interpret Scripture in the light of these. It is just that we have the advantage of centuries of men of God meditating on the Scriptures and opening them to us, and their multitude of books, which help to correct us.
When Jesus came to His disciples and breathed the Holy Spirit into them (John 20:22) He was preparing them to recover from the most shattering period of their lives when everything that they thought that they knew was torn apart. They were in for the most severe period of rethinking of their lives. They had experienced Gethsemane, they had watched what happened to Jesus in His trial and on the cross, they had stood before an empty tomb and they were totally bewildered. Their whole belief pattern had to be transformed. Everything had to be rethought. Whatever they had learned to expect of the future, as interpreted by themselves, it was not like this. None of what Jesus had taught them had fully prepared them for this, not because He had not told them but because their minds had not been willing to accept it. Even His plainest words had been a mystery to them. But when the Holy Spirit came He brought back to them lessons that Jesus had spoken which they had put to one side or misunderstood and it all began to make sense. It was a miracle of rethinking and transformation of understanding. It heralded a new beginning. Now He could tell them plainly of the Father because their prejudices had been utterly broken down and they were at last open to receive it.
“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.”
This verse for ever puts to an end the claim that we need Mary or the saints to pray for us. Indeed it tells us that even the intercession of Jesus is not strictly necessary for those who are committed to Him, because the Father loves them so much.
Of course Jesus will discuss us with the Father, but not because the Father needs persuading of anything. And He will carry out His High Priestly intercession, applying His work of atonement and sanctification to His people, a work which no other can do. But receiving answers to prayer for assistance in their work for Him do not require His intercession because of the direct interest of the Father in their work.
So when the disciples ask ‘in His name’ in order to obtain assistance in carrying out His work they can be sure the Father will answer because of the regard the Father has for them. This regard is due to the fact that they have believed that Jesus really did come from the Father. It is because of their response to Him.
“I came out from the Father and am come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father.”
Jesus reiterates what He has said again and again, but this time it will strike home with more force. Firstly that He has come from the Father into the world (sent by the Father), having left behind the glory which had been His before the world was (John 17:5) and secondly that He is about to leave the world and go to His Father to once again experience that glory. This is His summing up of His life on earth, a parenthesis between two eternities. He Who was the Lord of glory had divested Himself of His glory and humbled Himself for a time, entering servitude and becoming man (Philippians 2:6-7). He had taken the lower place, made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9). In status He had demeaned Himself so that for that period He could say, ‘My Father is greater than I’. Now He goes to be restored to His former glory. What the disciples do not realise at this time is that it will be by way of humiliation and the cross, and to enjoy new and greater glory as a result of what He will do.
“His disciples say, ‘Lo, you now speak plainly and do not speak in mysterious words. Now we know that you know all things and do not need that any man should ask you. By this we believe that you came forth from God’.”
The disciples now accept as wholeheartedly as they can that He has come into the world from the Father, that He has ‘come forth from God’. Thus they realise He is a heavenly figure and must know all things, and self-contentedly say that now none of them need ask Him anything about it any more, for now they understand. How foolish is the wisdom of men. They will soon learn how little they know. Do they now think that His going to the Father will be peaceful and without problems? Probably. For they were certainly not ready for what lay ahead.
Their response is understandable. The truth is that no one likes to be told that they do not understand. So they begin to put on a pretence of understanding, and to save their own self-respect even convinced themselves that they did. The disciples had not liked being told that they saw all things as parables. They liked to think that they really did understand things, unlike those others. Their pride demanded that they tell Jesus that now at last they understood. So they seized on His current words and told Him that now they could suddenly understand what He meant. Notice that Jesus immediately righted their wrong impression. He did it gently by referring to belief rather than understanding. He did not want to humiliate them. But He knew that the greater their self-confidence the greater the spiritual collapse when their belief was all revealed within the next few days to be totally wrong.
‘Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? behold the hour is coming, yes it is here, that you will be scattered every man to his own and will leave me alone. And yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”
Jesus calms their enthusiasm by facing them up with the truth. He is not rebuking them but giving them a gentle warning. He wants them to realise that their faith is not as strong as they think it is. They think that now they truly believe in what He is, but this is not true, for shortly they will desert Him for the safety of their homes and friends, leaving Him strictly alone. It is noteworthy that Peter says nothing. Is he still remembering Jesus’ words in John 13:38? Note how their lack of belief is to be indicated by their lack of faithfulness. It is ever so.
Yet in a strange way this will later be a source of comfort. They will be disappointed in themselves but they will be aware that He knew all the time what they would do and loved them still.
‘You will be scattered.’ Compare on this Zechariah 13:7. The striking of the shepherd always results in the scattering of the sheep. But in this case He will be able to gather them together again, just as in Zechariah it led to the people saying ‘the Lord is my God’.
‘And yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.’ There is One Who will not fail Him, Who will be with Him through all He has to face. He has full confidence in the Father. Even when He cries in His agony feeling the lack of the Father’s presence, His Father will be there. He will not be left totally alone.
“These things I have spoken to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
His purpose in all that He has said is so that in the end they will have peace. As they think back and remember all He said and all that has happened their assurance and confidence will grow and peace will fill their hearts. And especially He wants them to have confidence in the fact that the world will not win. It is God Who will win. For by His sacrifice of Himself He has overcome the world and all that it stands for. The point would appear to be that His light will triumph over the world’s darkness and over its evil intent (John 1:4).
‘In the world you have tribulation.’ That will be true for them and for the church and Christians throughout the centuries. ‘Tribulation’ is the Christian’s lot because he is at enmity with the world’s ways. The word means ‘distress brought by outward pressure’. But its purpose is good for it produces patient endurance, leading to experience which results in hope for the future (Romans 5:3-4).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29