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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
John 16

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-33

We have already considered the circumstances under which the two chapters upon which we now enter were spoken; and, if we have been correct in the view taken of them, we are not to imagine that the first figure of chap. 15 was suggested by a vine seen at the moment on the slope of the temple mount, down which the Lord and His disciples were passing. It is equally improbable that it was suggested by a vine penetrating into the room where they were gathered together. Apart from all other considerations, it is enough to say that, at this season of the year, the vine was hardly far enough advanced to supply materials for the different illustrations used. The solemnity of the moment, the fulness of Old Testament thought which dwelt in the mind of Jesus, perhaps even a reminiscence of that ‘fruit of the vine’ of which they had all so recently partaken, are enough to account for the language with which our Lord begins this second part of His last discourse. It is of more importance to observe that it is distinguished from what goes before, not so much by presenting us with matter entirely new, as by applying the same line of instruction in an advanced form to the advanced position in which the disciples are supposed to be. In chap. 14 the main thought is that of the true union brought about by the apparent separation; the chief reference has been to personal experience; and the climax is reached in John 15:20; John 15:23. That is the preparation of the disciples for their work; they ‘are’ in Him, and He in them. The chief thought now is that of ‘abiding,’ and this abiding presupposes difficulty and trial. ‘Being’ in Him is life: ‘abiding’ in Him is life working, triumphing. It is the disciples working, then, that we have before us; and how well does this correspond to what we have already said of the standing attitude in which this discourse was most probably delivered. It will be observed that the advance from chap. 14 to chaps. 15 and 16 consists in the application of principles rather than in any change from one set of principles to another.

The subordinate parts of the section are—(1) chap, 15, John 15:1-17; (2) John 15:18-27; (3) chap. 16, John 15:1-11; (4) John 15:12-15; (5) John 15:16-24; (6) John 15:25-27.


Verse 1

John 16:1. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye may not be made to stumble. The ‘things’ referred to are especially those described in chap. John 15:18-27, and the verse is a pause (not the introduction of a new idea) before the same subject is resumed: there is no change either of circumstances or of topic: the difference between this passage and the earlier is simply one climax. John 16:1-6 correspond to John 15:18-25 : John 16:7-11, to John 16:26-27 of the same chapter. The word ‘make to stumble’ is used in this Gospel only in one other passage, John 6:61. It points to the danger of having faith and constancy shaken by trial instead of standing firm in allegiance to Jesus, whatever might be the difficulties encountered in His service.


Verse 2

John 16:2. They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, an hour cometh that every one that killeth you should think that he offereth service unto God. It is of Jews that Jesus speaks, and the figure is therefore naturally taken from Jewish customs; but opposition on the part of Jews is in these discourses the type of all opposition to the truth. On the severity of the trial alluded to in the first clause of the verse, see on chap. John 9:22. Yet not merely excommunication but death in every one of its varied forms shall be their portion. Nay, they shall even be regarded by their murderers as a sacrifice to be offered to God; they shall be slain as a part of the worship due to Him. ‘Every one who sheds the blood of the impious is as if he offered a sacrifice,’ is said to have been a Jewish maxim. Not in indifference only or in lightness of spirit shall they be slain, to make a Jewish or a Roman holiday, when perhaps their fate might be mourned over in soberer hours, but in such a manner that those who slay them shall return from the scene as men who have engaged in what they believe will gain for them the favour of heaven. It is impossible to imagine a darker picture of fanaticism. Yet the picture is heightened by the mention of ‘an hour,’ an hour laden with the divine purpose, which must ‘come’ to them as it had come to Jesus Himself.


Verse 3

John 16:3. And these things will they do, because they know not the Father, nor me. The root of the opposition as formerly spoken of, chap. John 15:21.


Verse 4

John 16:4. But these things have I spoken unto you, that, when their hour is come, ye may remember them, that I told you. The analogy of such passages as chaps. John 2:22, John 12:16, John 14:26, seems to show that the ‘remembering’ here spoken of is not an effort of memory alone. It involves the deeper insight given by experience and the teaching of the Spirit into the meaning and purpose of trial in the economy of grace. The disciples shall so remember that they shall have a fresh insight into the mystery of the Cross. Nay more, they shall learn to feel themselves peculiarly identified with their Lord. As there was an ‘hour’ in which His enemies were permitted to rage against Him, an hour which was theirs (Luke 23:53), so there is an hour again given them when they shall rage against the preachers of the truth (comp. John 16:2).

And these things I told you not from the beginning, because I was with you. Had Jesus, then, not told them these things in the earliest period of His ministry? It is often urged that passages such as Matthew 5:10; Matthew 9:15; Matthew 10:16, show us that He had, and that it is impossible to reconcile these with the words before us. Yet we have only to put ourselves into the position of our Lord and His disciples in order to see that there is no contradiction. It is not merely that He now speaks, or that they now understand, with greater clearness than before. His ‘going away’ is an essential part of ‘these things,’ and with it all that He now says is so connected that it has its meaning only in the light of that departure. He could not then have so spoken ‘from the beginning,’ for the simple reason that He was not then going away. General allusions to their coming sufferings there might be and were. But that they would have to take His place, and, in doing so, to find that His trials were their trials, He had never said. That solemn lesson was connected only with the present moment, when their training was completed, and they were to be sent forth to be as He had been.


Verse 5-6

John 16:5-6. But now I go away to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou away? But because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. It was in the joyful consciousness that His ‘going away’ was really a going to the Father, that Jesus had been speaking. But the disciples had not sufficiently considered this. They Had looked upon His departure simply as a departure from themselves, and had failed to enter into all the glorious consequences connected with it. Thus they had been overwhelmed with sorrow. It is true that, at chap. John 13:36, Peter had asked—‘Whither goest Thou away?’ But he had done this with no sufficient thought of the ‘Whither’: the parting, not the goal to which Jesus went, had been in his mind. It was with no proper sense of its real meaning, therefore, that the question had been put. The suitable words might have been used, but not with the spirit and feeling which they ought to have expressed. This state of mind, not the failing to use certain words, is that which Jesus has now in view, and to which He refers with a certain sadness before He points out (as He does in the following verses) that, truly considered, His departure was not less a cause of rejoicing to His disciples than it was to Himself (comp. chaps. John 16:22, John 17:13).


Verse 7

John 16:7. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Advocate will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. Sorrow filled the hearts of the disciples at the thought of the departure of their Lord. Now, therefore, in these His crowning teachings, not only must their sorrow be dispelled, but they must be sent forth with the joyful assurance that, so far from His departure’s being a just cause of sadness, it is rather that which shall secure to them the most glorious strength in their conflict with the world, and the final possession of the victory. The great truths set forth, then, in the deeply-important verses on which we now enter are: (1) That the departure of Jesus is the indispensable condition of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit; (2) That through such bestowal the world with which the disciples must contend shall become to them not only a conquered, but a self-convicted, foe. The first of these truths comes before us in John 16:7, the second in John 16:8-11. The first thing to be observed in the former verse is that in it, along with John 16:5, no fewer than three different words are used to express the idea of ‘going away’ or ‘going.’ Between the first two there is probably little difference, although the second may bring less markedly into view than the first the mere thought of departure. The third, in the words ‘if I go,’ is distinguished from both of them in that it distinctly expresses not so much the thought of departure as that of going to the Father (comp. chaps. John 14:2-3; John 14:12; John 14:28, John 16:28). The glorification of Jesus, then, is here clearly in view; and this passage teaches the same lesson as chap. John 7:39, that upon that glorification the bestowal of the power of the Spirit was dependent (comp. on chap. John 7:39). Not that the Holy Spirit had been given in no degree before. He had certainly wrought in Judaism, and had even been the Author of all the good that had ever appeared in heathenism: but He had not been given in power, had not been the essential characteristic of an era in which He had made only scattered and isolated manifestations of His influences. It was to be different now. The era to begin was the era of the Spirit, in which He was to breathe a new life into the world. Various reasons may be assigned why this gift of the Spirit could be bestowed only after Jesus was glorified; but we omit them for the sake of that which seems to us the main consideration upon the point. The end of all God’s dealings with man is that he shall be brought into the closest and most perfect union with Himself, and that, in order to this, He shall be spiritualised and glorified. This is effected through Him who took human nature into union with the Divine, and the end of whose course is not the Incarnation, but His being made ‘the first-born’ among many brethren so spiritualised, so glorified. Only, therefore, when this end is reached is Jesus, as not only Son of God but Son of man (chap. John 3:14-15), in full possession of the Spirit: only then is He so set free from the conflicts and the troubles of the time of His ‘sufferings’ (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8) that His Own spiritual power and glory are illimitable and unconditioned; only then can He bestow in His fulness that Spirit which, as the essential characteristic of His Own final, perfect state, is to raise us to the similar end which the purpose of God contemplates with regard to us. In this sense the Holy Spirit not only was not but could not be given so long as Jesus was on earth, unglorified. But then, when, as Son of man glorified, and still, because Son of man, in closest fellowship with us who are men, He should have in Himself all the power of the Spirit,—then would He be able—and how could they who knew His love doubt that He would be willing?—to pour forth upon His disciples that ‘Spirit of glory and of God’ which should make them more than conquerors over all their adversaries. Surely it was ‘expedient’ for them that He should ‘go away,’ and, in going away, ‘go’ to the Father. Nay, it was better for them that He should ‘go away’ than that He should remain; for not only was this fulness of the Spirit connected with His glorified condition, but the disciples, instead of leaning upon Him as they had done, would gain all that strengthening of character which flows from working ourselves rather than having work done for us by another.


Verse 8

John 16:8. And he, when he is come, will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. The Agent has been spoken of; we now enter upon His work, and the climax from chap. John 15:26, where the same aspect of the Spirit ‘s work is spoken of, is clearly perceptible. We are not to understand by the word ‘convict’ either simply ‘reprove’ or ‘convince.’ It is much more than both, and implies that answer of conscience to the reproving convincing voice, by which a man condemns himself (chaps. John 3:20, John 8:26). The word ‘concerning’ also is not the same as ‘of.’ The inference to be drawn from these considerations (comp. also on chap. John 14:30-31) is that in the conviction of the world here spoken of its conversion is not necessarily implied. Conversion may or may not follow for anything here stated. The promise now given to the disciples is not that they shall convert the world, but that it shall be silenced, self - condemned, overwhelmed with shame and confusion of face. The Judge of all the earth is upon their side; He will judge for them.


Verses 9-11

John 16:9-11. Concerning sin, because they believe not in me: and concerning righteousness, because I go away to the Father, and ye no longer behold me: and concerning judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged. The general work of conviction to be effected by the Spirit having been stated in John 16:8, the several particulars are next explained more fully. The point of view from which all are to be looked at is that of the controversy with the world in which Jesus had Himself been engaged. So long as He was on the earth this controversy was left unsettled; but after His departure, His disciples, in the power of the promised Advocate, shall bring it to a triumphant issue. The first part of that controversy had reference to sin. The world had cast on Jesus the imputation of sin (chaps. John 5:18, John 7:20, etc.); and, on the other hand, His whole work and life had been first directed to bring the charge of sin home to the world. But the world had no just idea of what sin was. It thought of gross violations of the Divine law, or of violations of positive religious ceremonial: of sin in its true sense, not only as a departure from truth and love, but as even a failing to recognise and welcome these with all the affection of the heart and devotion of the life, it had no idea. Hence the work here spoken of—the work of Him who was at once the Advocate of Jesus and of His disciples. He shall convict the world of wrong in its estimate of Jesus, and thus also in its estimate of itself. He shall bring home to the world the fact that it believed not in Jesus, did not trust itself to Him as the impersonation of Divine truth and love, and that in this lay sin. Nay, not only so, the world shall learn that in this lies the very essence and root of all sin, for it is really a rejection of the Father manifested in Jesus—it is hating the light and choosing darkness (chap. John 3:21, etc.). Thus it was unnecessary to speak of other sins: this was the crowning sin, inclusive of them all.

The second part of the controversy of Jesus with the world had reference to righteousness;—in what righteousness really lay, what the true nature of righteousness was. The world boasted of its righteousness; in its form as the Jewish world it was proud of its fathers, of its outward inheritance from them, and of itself. Jesus had pronounced that righteousness to be worthless (Matthew 5:20, etc.). Again, which of them is right? The Advocate, working in the disciples, shall decide the controversy in such a manner that the world shall be silenced. He will bring home to it the truth that, notwithstanding its rejection of Jesus, the Father has received Him, and has set His seal upon Him as His Righteous One. Hence the last words of John 16:10, ‘because I go away unto the Father, and ye no longer behold me,’—words which do not seem to mean that the realm of faith shall henceforth be the abiding state of the kingdom of God on earth, and the home of the righteousness which is of faith, but which appear simply to give expression to that removal from the bodily sight of the disciples which is the essential concomitant of the glorifying. They gently explain that what brought such grief to those who were now to be separated from their Lord was the very means of accomplishing the great purpose that the Father had in view—the settlement of the controversy as to His Son, and the manifestation of what the Son really was. It is interesting to notice how the disciples, at a time when the work of conviction here spoken of had begun, dwell upon that characteristic of Jesus which is thus referred to (Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14; Romans 1:1, etc.).

The third part of the work of conviction is that of judgment; and it has reference to the same controversy to which, as we have seen, the two previous parts of the work of the Spirit are related. The world had judged Jesus; but He, on the other hand, had judged the world; and His judgment would be proved to be just when the Advocate should enable the disciples to bring home to the world that it was founded upon eternal reality and truth. ‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’ were now the objects of the world’s ambition and pursuit; but a day was coming when it should be compelled to acknowledge a different standard of judgment; when it should discover, with terror and dismay, that its past standard had been altogether false; that what it had approved was passing away; that what it had despised was abiding for ever. Then should it see that its very prince had been judged in a manner against which there was no appeal, and that, instead of being the conqueror, he had throughout been the conquered. Then should the world be constrained to confess that it had been madly attempting to reverse the position of the everlasting scales, and had been foiled in the attempt.

Such, then, is the great work of the Holy Spirit upon the world during the whole period that was to pass between the departure of Jesus to His Father and His coming again in glory. It will be observed that it is the same work which Jesus had Himself carried on, that is now completed by the ‘other’ Advocate. The difference does not lie so much in the nature as in the effect of the work: to the one period belongs the beginning of the controversy; to the other, the final decision. It is also clear that the conviction spoken of is to be understood in the same sense throughout. It is not primarily a work of conversion (although it may lead to conversion) that is referred to: it is a work that confounds and overwhelms the world when, as God gives His judgments unto the King and His righteousness unto the King’s Son, ‘they that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him, and His enemies shall lick the dust’ (Psalms 72:9). That work is the glory of the Church of Christ as she takes her Master’s place in the world; and, when she remembers that it could not be done, did not the exalted Redeemer send down to her His all-powerful Spirit, she may well feel that it was ‘expedient for her that He should go away.’


Verse 12

John 16:12. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Jesus is about to draw His instructions and consolations to a close. He does so by returning to the great promise of the Spirit already given in chap. John 14:26. Yet there is a difference between the promise there and here; and the difference, as usual, is one of climax. Teaching of a higher kind is now to be referred to, for the element of experience comes in. It is not enough to have been taught by Jesus Himself. The disciples were to take their Master’s place, and to carry on His work. The Spirit, then, who had been His strength, must be also theirs. Thus it is not so much new teaching that they need as the old teaching in a new way, brought home to their hearts with a new power. It is, indeed, often supposed that the ‘many things’ here spoken of refer to new truths. This seems improbable. We can hardly suppose that Jesus had left any large part of His revelation not given, especially when He had so often spoken of the revelation of ‘the Father,’ as if it contained the sum and substance of religious truth. Besides this, we have already seen that in the words of Jesus ‘all things’ are implicitly contained (comp. on chap. John 14:26). And, further, the word ‘bear’ does not mean to apprehend; it is to bear as a burden, and the most glorious and encouraging truths may become a burden to one too immature to bear them.

Not, therefore, because the disciples could not in a certain sense even now understand further revelation, but because they had not yet the Christian experience to give that revelation power, does Jesus say that they cannot bear the many things that He has yet to say unto them. When shall they, or when shall the Church, be able to understand them? The answer is, When at any stage of their or her future history the ‘many things’ are needed, and so may have their power felt. But just because of this they need not be, as the whole context teaches us they are not to be, new truths. They are old truths made new, expanded, unfolded (as we see especially in the Epistles of Paul), illumined by receiving light from the lessons of history, when these are read in the spirit of Christian trust and confidence and hope, but not wholly new. There will not be in them one revelation, strictly so called, that was not in the words of Jesus Himself: but their ever greater depths shall be seen as the relations of the Church and of the world respectively become more complex. It has been so in the past: it will be so in the future. There is no reason to think that the treasure in the words of Jesus will ever be exhausted: it contains, according to the seeming paradox of the apostle, what we are ‘to know,’ although it ‘passeth knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:19). This is the true development of Christian insight and experience, not the false development of Rome.


Verse 13

John 16:13. But when he is come, the Spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth: for he will not speak from himself; but whatsoever things he shall hear, he will speak: and he will declare to you the things that are coming. These words lend strong confirmation to what has been said on the previous verse. For this work of the Spirit is evidently different from that of chap. John 14:16; John 14:26, or chaps, John 15:26, John 16:7; the first pair of these passages relating to preparation for the work, the second to the discharge of its duties, while this relates to something to be given in the midst of these duties and their corresponding trials. Further, ‘He shall guide’ implies not merely that He shall show the way, but that He shall Himself experimentally go before them in the way (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39; Acts 8:31; Revelation 7:17). It will thus be observed that we are again led to think, not of new revelation, but of earlier teaching deepened by experience. The view now taken is strengthened by two important particulars in this verse:—(1) The unexpected use of ‘for’ in the clause ‘for He shall not speak from Himself.’ This word, so closely binding the clauses together, makes it plain that ‘all the truth’ can be nothing else than the truth of which Jesus was the Proclaimer: ‘all the truth,’ He would say, ‘which I have proclaimed, of which I am Myself the substance (chap. John 14:6). He will guide you, for it is not from Himself that He will speak: He comes as My Representative, not for new and independent offices of grace: He will carry on My work.’ (2) When it is said, He hears, we are not told whence He hears. It is possible that it may be from the Father; but when we call to mind that the unity of the Father and the Son is a leading thought in this discourse (comp. chap. John 14:23), particularly in relation to the sending of the Spirit (comp. chap. John 14:26, and especially chap. John 15:26), it seems highly probable that the mention of the Source whence the Spirit hears is designedly omitted. Thus we are led to think not of the Father only, but of the Father and the Son, and again the revelation given is bounded by what Jesus has Himself revealed. The last clause of the verse may indeed, at first sight, appear inconsistent with this view. Are not ‘the things to come’ new revelations? We answer that in no strict sense of the words are they so. Even should we suppose that Jesus speaks of such things as ‘the things to come’ of the Apocalypse (chap. John 1:19), these properly interpreted are not so much revelations wholly new, as new applications of what had already been revealed, and in particular of that very controversy between the Church and the world of which the mind of Jesus was now full. ‘The things that are coming’ are the things that happen when ‘He who is to come’ begins in the power of His Spirit the great conflict carried on throughout all the ages of the Christian Church in her militant condition; and the whole verse thus refers not to new revelations, but to revelations made new by the teaching of Christian experience.


Verse 14

John 16:14. He shall glorify me, because of that which is mine will he receive and will declare it unto you. On the glorifying of Jesus here spoken of, see on chap. John 13:31. This glory will be given Him by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the Church, because that which the Spirit applies for the ever increasing growth and efficiency of the Church is only a fuller unfolding of ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ To Him as the Alpha and Omega of our faith, and never beyond Him, the Spirit leads us.


Verse 15

John 16:15. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I that he receiveth of that which is mine, and will declare it unto you. It is of Himself as Son of man as well as Son of God, not of Himself only as the Eternal Son, that Jesus speaks. In that capacity ‘all things whatsoever’ had been given Him by the Father. Therefore might He well say in the previous verse that, in leading His disciples onward to the ultimate goal of the Divine purposes, the Spirit would do this by receiving and declaring of that which was His. What was so received and declared would not fall short, therefore, of leading them into the highest truth—the truth as to ‘the Father.’


Verse 16

John 16:16. A little while, and ye behold me no longer; and again a little while, and ye shall see me. Trial has been spoken of and encouragement given. That both shall soon be known is the transition to the present verse. The difference between the verbs ‘behold’ and ‘see’ must determine the meaning of the words, the former here denoting (as in chap. John 14:19) vision with the bodily, the latter vision with the spiritual, eye. The time closing the first ‘little while’ is the death of Christ, when ‘not beholding’ begins; the time closing the second ‘little while’ dates from the resurrection, when the ‘seeing’ begins and continues for ever (comp. chap. John 14:19). After the death of their Lord the disciples shall be in the position of the world (chap. John 13:13); under the saddening influence of that event their faith shall wane, and all the joy experienced in His presence shall disappear. But He whom they had thought lost for ever shall enter at His resurrection on a glorified existence, from which He shall send to them that Advocate in whom and through whom He shall be always with them, and they with Him.


Verse 17-18

John 16:17-18. Some of his disciples therefore said one to another, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while and ye behold me not: and again a little while, and ye shall see me: and, I go away to the Father? They said therefore. What is this which he calleth, A little while? We know not what he speaketh. Their perplexity is natural, and it is occasioned not only by the last words actually used by Jesus, but by what had been so prominent a point in the previous part of His discourse, that He was going away to the Father (John 16:10). They fear, however, to ask a direct explanation from their Lord, and some of them discuss the matter among themselves.


Verse 19

John 16:19. Jesus perceived that they were desirous to ask him, and he said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves concerning this that I said, A little while, and ye behold me not: and again a little while, and ye shall see me? He entered at once into their difficulties, and proceeded to explain more fully what he meant, not indeed dwelling most upon the ‘little while,’ but upon the great and sudden contrasts of mind to be experienced by them, and previously hinted at in the words ‘behold’ and ‘see.’


Verse 20

John 16:20. Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice: ye will be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. The one is the result of the ‘not beholding,’ the other of the ‘seeing.’


Verse 21

John 16:21. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no longer the tribulation for her joy that a man is born into the world. An illustration of what had been said familiar to all, but drawn out of the very heart of Old Testament life and feeling (Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 66:7; Psalms 128:3; Ezekiel 19:10). Yet there is more in the language than meets the eye at first sight, and its peculiarities form a valuable proof of the correctness of the interpretation given above by the twice repeated ‘little while.’ For why (1) the expression her ‘hour’ is come, but because the crucifixion was the ‘hour’ of Jesus, that of His deepest sorrow and the sorrow of His disciples? And why (2) the use of the word ‘man’ instead of child, when it is said ‘a man is born into the world,’ but because that which is brought forth in tribulation is the new birth of regenerated humanity, and because that new life with which the Church springs into being is life in a risen Lord (Ephesians 2:5), and carries us back to the moment when Jesus Himself rose from the grave?


Verse 22

John 16:22. And ye therefore now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh away from you. At John 16:19 Jesus had said ‘ye shall see me,’ but now He says ‘I will see you.’ It is the blessed reciprocity of intercourse between Him and His own. From the moment of the resurrection He will see them, and they shall see Him, and shall rise to the full brightness of that position to which He elevates His people. Nor will this ‘seeing’ terminate with the ascension, for it is their spiritual vision that is mainly thought of. In the power of the Spirit He will see them and they Him, and they shall rejoice with a triumphant and abiding joy.


Verse 23-24

John 16:23-24. And in that day ye shall ask me no question. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name. Hitherto ye asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled. The two verbs here rendered ‘ask a question’ and ‘ask’ are different; and though the former may be used of prayer when our Lord ‘asks’ the Father (chap. John 17:9; John 17:15; John 17:20), it seems impossible to separate the use of ‘ask a question’ in John 16:23 from its use in John 16:19 and again in John 16:30, in both which passages it refers to asking information upon points occasioning perplexity to the mind. The declaration of Jesus thus is, that in the day when the joy of the disciples is perfected they will not need to feel that they must have Him beside them to solve their difficulties. They will then be so entirely in Him, one with Him, that along with Him they will have such a full knowledge from the Holy Spirit—a knowledge belonging to His ‘day’—as will exclude the need of such questions. But this full knowledge will do more. If it restrains the questioning of ignorance, it at the same time opens their eyes to see better all their true need, and the source from which it shall be supplied. Therefore, not in a spirit of curious questioning but in a spirit of perfect trust let them approach the Father, for He will give to them ‘in the name’ of Jesus. He has revealed Himself to them in Jesus as their Father; He has made them in Him His own sons; therefore shall they receive as sons, and nothing shall be awanting to the fulfilment of their joy.


Verse 25

John 16:25. These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs; an hour cometh when I shall no longer speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall tell you plainly concerning the Father. Jesus is now about to close His last discourse. At this point, accordingly, He refers to the method of teaching, of which He was giving them illustration at the moment, for the purpose of bringing out by contrast the glory of the period upon which the disciples were about to enter. On the word ‘proverbs,’ comp. on chap. John 10:6. The contrast suggested is not between figurative and direct speech, or between enigmatical and clear sayings. Jesus had used few figures, and He had taught with the utmost simplicity and plainness of language. But the effect of His teaching had depended upon the authority of the Teacher, not on the spiritual insight of the pupil. The Teacher alone had Himself ‘seen’ what He described (chap. John 6:46), and it had been His aim to make His pupils understand it. Now, however, that stage of instruction was to come to a close, and the pupils, in ripened manhood, were themselves under the direct teaching of the Spirit to ‘see.’ That this is the case, is clear from the fact that the ‘hour’ of John 16:25 and the ‘day’ of John 16:26 were an hour and a day when Jesus was to be personally removed from His disciples, and when the ‘Spirit of the truth’ was to take His place. The contrast, therefore, between ‘in proverbs’ and ‘plainly’ is to be sought in the difference between outward teaching of every kind and that internal teaching which comes from the illuminating influence of the Spirit of God, and which is the best, the only true, teaching. The Spirit shall be given after Jesus goes away, and the disciples shall see in their own free and independent insight what as yet they received only upon the authority of their Master.


Verse 26-27

John 16:26-27. In that day ye shall ask in my name; and I say not unto you, That I will ask the Father concerning you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.In these words, which may be spoken of as the last words of this discourse before Jesus turns to its closing thoughts, the encouragement that He would give to His disciples reaches its highest point. They are assured that they shall stand in such unity of love with the Father that the Father shall embrace them in constant affection as His sons, that they as sons shall approach directly to Him as their Father; and that in that intercourse there shall come to them every blessing which the fulness of Divine love can supply. The verse will best be understood by contrasting it with the words of chap. John 14:16. There Jesus had said that He would ask the Father, and He would give them another Advocate. Here He says that He will not need to ask for this Advocate on their behalf; and why? Because the Advocate has come, because He has taken full possession of their hearts, because it is His ‘day.’ What is the consequence? They will ask ‘in the name’ of Jesus,—that is, the habit of their mind is that of prayer as persons who, through the revelation of the Father in the Son, know the Father to be their Father. Further, Jesus will not need to ask concerning them, for the Father needs no one to remind Him of His children. Lastly, the Father Himself will enfold them in His love, because in faith and love they have been united to the Son with whom He is one. It is an ideal state, the perfected state of the Church of Christ under the teaching of the Spirit; a state not yet reached by her amidst her many sins and weaknesses. Nevertheless the state is one not the less ideally true, because not yet reached; and not the less to be kept before us as the hope of our calling to that glorious issue, when all contradictions and disharmonies shall be done away, and when, through the power of the Spirit, the one unity of father, Son, and redeemed man shall be completely realised.


Verse 28

John 16:28. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father. The connection of this verse with the preceding is not to be found in the supposition that we have here additional mention made of two great truths in which the disciples are to rest. They are supposed to be beyond that now, and the connection is best found in observing that the discourse of these chapters is about to close, and that it does so in the manner of which we have had so many illustrations, by returning again to the leading truths that had been spoken of. The words before us are accordingly a summary of the whole history of Jesus in the light of His redeeming work, from the period of His pre-existent state in the bosom of the Father to the period when He shall again return to His everlasting rest in Him. He came that He might lead men to the Father: He goes that they may be perfected in the Spirit, and that He may prepare a place for them in the many places of abode in the Father’s house.


Verse 29-30

John 16:29-30. His disciples say, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and sayest no proverb: now we know that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any one should ask thee questions: by this we believe that thou earnest forth from God. Two entirely different views may be taken of the feelings and language of the disciples as here described. Either they are really led into a sudden knowledge of the truth, thus affording a striking illustration of darkness dispelled and of heavenly light shining into the heart from the teaching of Jesus, while He again joyfully recognises their faith and beholds in it an earnest of completed victory: or the disciples misunderstand themselves, and confess their faith in a manner which, though sincere, is so imperfect that Jesus is constrained to speak to them in words of warning. The latter view is that which deserves acceptance. The disciples ‘words,’ ‘now we know,’ contrasting with the promise of John 16:23, a promise relating to the future, are obviously hasty; there was nothing clearer in the latest words of Jesus than in words often uttered by Him before; and, above all, the confession proves itself by its very terms to be imperfect, inadequate, inferior to that of a true faith. ‘From God,’ the disciples say in John 16:30;—not the ‘from’ of either John 16:27 or John 16:28, but one expressing a less intimate relationship with the Father than that of which Jesus had just spoken. The disciples think that they believe, but they do not believe in such a way as will alone enable them to stand in the midst of coming trial. They are not content to take Jesus at His word, that by and by their faith will be experimental, deep, victorious. They persuade themselves that even ‘now’ it is all that it need be; and they must be warned and reproved.


Verse 31-32

John 16:31-32. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, an hour cometh and is come, that ye should be scattered, each one to his own, and leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. The view taken of the preceding verse leads to the conclusion that the first clause of this verse is interrogative, not affirmative, and the conclusion is favoured by chaps, John 6:70, John 13:38. The meaning of the reply is, ‘You anticipate the time, you deceive yourselves; this faith of yours, sincere and real up to a certain point though it be, needs deepening and perfecting. It will be deepened and perfected in such a way that no trial will be too hard for it—but not yet: rather the hour cometh, and is come, when you shall all forsake Me in the time of My greatest need, and shall think only selfishly of yourselves. Yet, notwithstanding, even then, when to all appearance alone, I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.’


Verse 33

John 16:33. These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world. ‘These things’ refers to all that had been spoken from chap. John 14:1, to the thought of which beginning of His discourse Jesus now returns at its close. The present tense, ‘ye have,’ seems to indicate that tribulation is not merely a historical certainty, but the natural consequence of the position of the disciples in the world. It must, as well as will, be so. But what of that, ‘Let not their hearts be troubled’ (chap, John 14:1). The world is a conquered foe. Jesus has overcome it; and that not for Himself only, but for them. His faithful disciples have still sorrow in the world, but their sorrow is turned into joy; they have still to wage a warfare in the world, but each part of the field resounds with their exulting shouts, and the very death which the world may bring to them is the gate of higher and more glorious life. The world is not to be overcome: it is overcome; and to those who follow in the footsteps of their Lord, the path through is not so much a conflict as a victory. As reapers in the harvest field, they rejoice together with Him who sowed (chap. John 4:36); as soldiers of the cross, they share the triumph of the Captain of their salvation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 16:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-16.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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