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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
John 16

 

 

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Verse 1

1. These things—Including his description both of the hostility of the world and the co-operation of the Paraclete or Comforter.

Should not be offended—Be caused to backslide or to apostatize.


Verse 2

2. Put you out of the synagogues—Excommunicate you from the Old Testament Church, as if no longer Jews; though in reality they are the excommunicate and you are the Church. So even in the history of Christendom, a Church in form, yet apostate in spirit, may expel from its communion those who are in spirit and in truth the purer and the truer Church. Popery can expel the Reformers; Anglicanism can exclude from her churches a Wesley and a Whitefield. But happily often, even from the holy communion of the excommunicates, there returns a blessed influence, to purify and regenerate, more or less, the dead old organism that expelled them.

Killeth you… doeth God service—So utterly may churchmanship have put darkness for light that it may be with a religious intent that it persecutes religion itself. Especially is this liable to be the case when a dead organization persecutes men of the living Spirit. Nay, it is even possible that men, with the best light they have, and with the purest conscience their age and position permit, may persecute with a holy intention. Hence we may feel a pity even for good men betrayed into the sin of persecution.

Even in the minds of such, however, a worldly zeal for their own system, and a bitter human hatred, usually dwell. As Saul of Tarsus, who sincerely thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and that he ought to persecute even unto strange cities, did also breathe out threatenings and slaughter. With the honest zeal for truth, and earnest opposition against the defenders of error, there may mingle a fierce ambition, a cruel partizanship, a diabolical malignity. The former might be excused in the sight of God, however mistaken; the latter mingling brings them under deep condemnation, both from God and man. Honest error, moreover, may spring from a dishonest antecedent. Error must not only be itself honest, but it must be honestly come by.

Doeth God service—Doeth service to God. Bitterest and most cruel of all is likely to be the fate of that victim of persecution whose persecutor most deeply believes he is doing service to God. Our Lord therefore most justly brings this in as the final summit of the climax of suffering he predicts.


Verse 3

3. Because… not known the Father—This fact, repeated from John 15:21-25, is the sad destruction of all excuse for this Jewish persecution. However honest for the moment their persecuting zeal, it sprung from a heart that had previously entrenched itself in error and hardened itself against God. Hence its zeal, however sincere, was mingled and impregnated with fierce and cruel purpose.


Verse 4

4. These things have I told you—Again does the Lord cast back a recapitulating glance in order fully to impress his words upon their memory for future use, both for confirmation of faith and consolation of heart.

Said not… at the beginning—Commentators of different ages have found it difficult to reconcile this apparent statement of our Lord, that he had not predicted persecutions heretofore, with passages like Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 10:21-28; Matthew 16:24-25; Matthew 24:9; Luke 6:22, etc. That he had predicted persecutions heretofore, again and again, is beyond all question. What, then, is it that our Lord had not said at the beginning? We answer: all these things; namely, that under a persecution of a spiritual character their support was to be the Spirit of truth. This entire shape and substance of things were entirely new. It was his last revelation to them previous to that departure which should produce the coming of that Spirit. He had not said it at the beginning; for he had reserved it until now, the close.


Verse 5

5. None… asketh… whither—In the table discourse (chap. John 14:5-7) they had so asked; but now, as he stands uttering his farewell, and unfolding to them their apparent abandonment to the most limitless persecution, with none but a spiritual Comforter, a Comforter little, now, by them appreciated, they had forgotten all question as to his whither.


Verse 6

6. Sorrow hath filled your heart—The sorrow was reasonable; but this word filled implied that it was excessive and reprovable. But he goes on to express, with a stronger emphasis, the consolation he had already proffered, namely, the coming of the Comforter.


Verse 7

7. I tell you the truth—The solemnity of the affirmation arises from the fact that in their present state of mind the information was difficult to believe. Our Lord solemnly assures them that there is no contingency or mistake in the idea that his departure, however sorrowful, was necessary in itself, and best even for them. Expedient for you… go away—This pregnant phrase, go away, included all the circumstances—the cross, the atonement, the resurrection, and the ascension, with the perpetual intercession at God’s right hand ensuing.

If… Comforter will not come—The epoch had arrived in God’s redemptive plan in which, by passing through his atoning death and glorification, the Son of God should purchase his right to have his elect and to establish his Church, endowing it with the blessed Spirit. God the Father would not grant that Spirit until his well-beloved Son had performed the condition. At the price of his life did the Redeemer purchase his glorious headship over his Church.

If I depart I will send—When the blessed Son ascended to the right hand of God he was fully entitled to send to his Church below, and through it to the world, the blessed Gift. If, therefore, Christ goes not, the Spirit comes not.


Verses 7-15

The struggle of the Spirit with the world, John 16:7-15.

At once as a consolation and as a prophecy of the future dispensation, our Lord now declares that it is expedient FOR THEM, that he should depart. Why? Because the Christian dispensation is, according to God’s plan, to be, not the dispensation of Christ’s bodily presence, but the dispensation of the Spirit. Christ came and gave that dispensation its start; but the Spirit must give it its development, its maturity, its consummation, until Christ come again and affix its judgment end. The bodily must give place to the spiritual. There must be an invisible Saviour, for the same reason that we have an invisible God; namely, that the souls of men may have room for faith and be developed into growth by faith. That invisible Saviour must be above, that men’s souls may be developed upward, and not downward, heavenward, and not earthward. Men, upon these low grounds of earthly nature, must grow up, and form their probationary character, not under a living present corporeal teacher, but under the impregnating power of a spiritual influence, rendering an elevating faith necessary, as shaping their personality to a firm and solid piety and fitness for heaven. Christ must therefore go, in order that the Spirit may come.

What was obscure to these apostles time has rendered plain to us of the present age. We can now understand that it was God’s great plan, that, once for all, Christ should come as a Saviour in a most miraculous manner; that then he should ascend and leave the world under the secret ministration of the Spirit, with the co-operation of mere human agency, even unto the end. Human agency, Christ being corporeally withdrawn, aided by the Spirit, must establish his Church, gather in the Gentiles, convert the world, and prepare for the consummation at the judgment day. Thus it accorded with the laws of human history that miracle should be limited to the least possible space, and that men, from the Ascension to the Advent, should be allowed to work out their own mission and probationary destiny while probation lasts.


Verse 8

8. When he is come—This gift is not a mere fluid or emanation shed off from the divine essence or person; it is a He, the essence or person himself. It is not an influence shed from the Spirit, but it is the influencing Spirit. It is not a vapour, but a living Being and Person. The qualities, actions, efficiencies of a living agent are, through the whole passage, ascribed to this Comforter. There is no alternative left but either to pervert the passage, or to acknowledge herein the presence of the third person of the adorable Trinity.

Will reprove—Will demonstrate, (so the word signifies,) so that the conscience and mind cannot but more or less clearly perceive the truth. By this Spirit’s power responsibility is made possible. The inability, natural to the human heart, either to perceive or obey divine truth, is more or less dissipated. The Spirit shows to the soul the things of Christ; salvation is brought within its reach, and condemnation for rejection becomes just.

The world—The world viewed as apart from the redemptive scheme; the race as it is left in Adam without Christ. This is a fallen world, and it is the purchased Spirit that comes to reconstruct it. Over this world a prince (John 16:11) has usurped a dark despotic rule, and the aim of Father, Son, and Spirit is that he be judged, cast out, (John 16:31,) and finally sent to the bottomless pit. This, however, is not to be done by immediate force, but by the conviction which the Holy Spirit may work by his gentle dealings with the free volitional spirits of men.

Sin… righteousness… judgment—These are the three great topics presented by the Holy Spirit to the human conscience and intellect.

Sin, from rejection of Christ; righteousness, through the ever-living intercession of Christ; judgment upon persistent sin, executed by Christ.


Verse 9

9. Sin… believe not on me—Not that all sin consists in rejecting Christ; but that the rejection of Christ leaves them in the full possession of all their guilt, and to the full consequences of all their sins. By rejecting Christ they hold on to all sin.


Verse 10

10. Righteousness—In contrast with the sin of the previous verse. This righteousness, existing first in the person of Christ, is, by his great work, brought into the possession of believers in him.

I go to my Father—That is, I go through the great work which both evidences my righteousness and wins my right to bestow justification, sanctification, and eternal life on all who believe in me.

To my Father—To the courts of the invisible God; to be myself an invisible Saviour, to be seen by you no more, yet to reign on high, at the right hand of God, over the Church, judging and casting out the prince of this world.

Ye see me no more—To you, and through you to all my future Church, I shall be an object not of sight, but of faith. Their religion shall not be corporeal. It shall be the faith of the human spirit, co-worked by the divine Spirit, aspiring upward to the heavenly and the divine.


Verse 11

11. Of judgment—Of scrutiny and of separation between good and evil, to be now begun, continued through future history, and consummated at the Second Advent.

Prince—See on John 16:8.


Verse 12

12. Many things to say… ye cannot bear—The wise teacher knows not only how to instruct, but how to withhold instruction that he may instruct in the right order. He will not impose truths upon brains not strong enough to bear them. And some instructions need diagrams, examples, apparatus, or experiments before they can be understood. So these apostles needed that Christ should suffer, rise, and be glorified before they could understand and preach a suffering, risen, and glorified Saviour. Nor were they as yet prepared to accept in heart the abolishment of circumcision and of the Jewish ritual, with the destruction of Jerusalem, the overthrow of the Jewish state, and the reduction of Jew and Gentile into one universal Christian Church. Much he probably taught them during the forty days after his resurrection; but, as the next verse teaches us, it required the coming of the Spirit fully to graduate them into a competent apostleship.


Verse 13

13. Guide you into all truth—A strict translation would require the article the before the word truth. The Spirit does not guide into scientific, political, or historical truth. The inspiration of Scripture was never intended to teach astronomy or geology. It was to guide them into all the truth, namely, the truth embraced in their apostolate. And this is the truth beyond all comparison with any other truth.

Not speak of himself Literally, from himself. The messenger-Spirit should not have a message of his own separate and apart from his divine Sender. Like the Son, he is not alone and independent, absolutely originating his own doctrine.

Whatsoever he shall hear… shall he speak—This hearing, be it noted, is a hearing by the Spirit; it has no fleshly ear, no atmospheric sound. But spirits, we understand, communicate, though by pure voiceless impartation; and so the divine Spirit hears without organ; that is, perfectly sympathizes in the divine thought and purpose of Father and Son, from whom He goes forth. Thus, in an ineffable and mysterious sympathy and oneness does the holy Trinity eternally agree. Here let us believe rather than explain.

He will show you things—As it is a spiritual and not a fleshly tongue with which the Spirit will speak, and a spiritual ear with which he will hear, so it is with a purely spiritual, not a fleshly hand, that he will show. He will take the apparatus of salvation, the cross, the tomb, the glory, and unfold them all to the eye of the human spirit.

Things to come—Not only these past things, but things future will he show. The future growth of his Church, the future advent, the future salvation of the blessed, and the future retributions of eternity, will be so unfolded by the Spirit to them that they can unfold the whole to the world.


Verse 14

14. Shall glorify me—The Spirit shall exhibit the Son in all his Messianic glory, as Head of the Church, and Judge of the world. Nay, he shall exhibit him as possessing “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9.)


Verse 15

15. All things that the Father hath—How stupendous is this all! Omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternity, all these the Father hath, and, therefore, the Son. Yet, by the very terms, the Father possesses alone his Fatherhood, and the Son his Sonship.

Therefore—Because the Son hath this fulness, therefore had Jesus included this all in the things revealed by the Spirit.


Verse 16

16. Not see me… see me—Two different Greek words are here used, both translated by the word see. The former, θεωρειτε, signifies the seeing either by the bodily or the mental eye. The latter, οψεσθε, signifies more properly bodily sight alone. Hence Jesus here declares that during the little while of his departure he would be lost to both their bodily and their spiritual view, while his return would be to their physical sight. This fact alone, in our opinion, decides that it is his corporeal return at the resurrection, and not merely a spiritual presence, that the Lord here intends.

Because I go to the Father—He here gives a reason why they shall see him again. He is not going into nothingness; but he is going to the Father who once sent him, and will send him again.


Verses 16-29

16-29. From this high strain the Master now touches a humbler and gentler chord—the immediate present. He recurs again to the little while of his absence; and, being drawn out by the queries of his disciples, he contrasts the grief of that little while of absence with the joy of his return at his resurrection, and the high apostolic privileges which that resurrection should inaugurate.


Verse 18

18. What is this that he saith—We suppose that, at the close of the last verse, a slight pause of the Saviour’s discourse enabled him to hear a murmur of perplexity and inquiry among his disciples, which induces him to pause still further, until their perplexity is fully expressed in a low and rapid consultation among themselves. Seven times does this phrase a little while occur in these chapters, and at this point their query is specially fixed upon that clause, but not that clause alone. They take his last expressions by piecemeal, and toss them from one to the other. They would be glad to know, but dare not interrogate the Lord.


Verse 20

20. Weep and lament—A description of the grief of the apostles between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It is a stronger expression of grief than that of Mark 16:10they mourned and wept, which describes the same grief.

The world shall rejoice—The hostile Jewish world. But this narrow hostile world is a representative of the entire world hostile to Christ, which crucifies him, buries him, and rejoices in his supposed destruction and in the sorrow of his friends. Worldliness and infidelity, in all ages, share this joy, and suffer its reverse in the triumph of Christ.

Sorrow shall be turned into joy—He says not merely that their sorrow shall be followed by joy; but the very sorrow shall be transformed into joy. For the death of Christ is the source alike both of the sorrow and the joy.


Verse 21

21. A woman… hath sorrow—A brief illustrative parable. It is plain that the woman stands for the apostles; her travail sorrow for their grief at Christ’s death; and the man child for Christ revealed at his resurrection. The best commentary upon this parable is furnished by John himself in Revelation 12:1-5, where a woman brings forth a man child, who is caught up into the heaven to the throne of God; in which the woman represents the Church of God bringing forth a Saviour and ruler of the world. The literal basis of this figure is the birth of Christ from a pure virgin. Or, still farther back, it is Eve whose seed should bruise the serpent’s head. The woman thus symbolizing the Church is here represented by the apostles, who are the Church now in travail and overwhelmed with sorrow until the bringing forth of the glorified Christ. Then shall their very sorrow transform into joy.

Remembereth no more the anguish—It is God’s great compensation that her sorrow shall be as if it never had been, and the whole thing becomes a joy.

A man is born—A human being, according to the Greek, of either sex. In the midst of humiliation and sorrow, the birth of a human immortal is a most stupendous event. The creation of a material world bears no comparison with it; hence, to the view of Scripture, all the circumstances of generation and birth are divine and wonderful.


Verse 22

22. Your joy no man taketh—Your sorrow shall depart, but never your joy. Hostile as is the world, no man can wrest it from you.


Verse 23

23. In that day—The day of the resurrection. Upon that day Jesus rose as glorified King, able to crown his followers in his kingdom with everlasting joy. See our notes on Matthew 28:18-19. But that resurrection day was the commencement and inauguration of a great new period of divine-human history. And to his apostles he now promises that they shall be endowed with all the wisdom within the scope of their holy office, have rich access to the Father, and amid tribulation should triumph over the world. Indeed this phrase, in that day, has much of the ring of the same old prophetic phrase in the Old Testament. Thus, Exodus 8:22 : I will sever in that day the land of Goshen. Isaiah 2:11 : The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. Ezekiel 29:21 : In that day Israel shall be exalted.

Zechariah 9:16 : The Lord their God shall save them in that day.

Ye shall ask me nothing—Within the scope of your apostleship the fulness of revelation made to you shall forestall all inquiry. They will be under no need of putting such crude questions as were offered in John 14:5; John 14:8; John 16:17. For be it noted that the Greek word here for ask, (unlike the Greek word for the ask in the latter part of the verse,) mainly signifies to inquire or question. Our Lord does not, indeed, mean that no unwise questions would be asked. For Alford truly objects that, in Acts 1:6, they in reality did ask a question; but it is to be replied, that the Lord immediately informed them that their question was outside the limits of their office. Nor should the words be so stringently interpreted as to deny that they should ever ask for wisdom or information. It simply implies that they shall never be left in bewilderment, but should be fully inspired with due wisdom for the apostolic office.

Whatsoever ye shall ask—That is, petition.

Will give it—Of course the breadth of this promise, like that of the last previous promise, must be limited within the laws of the kingdom of grace and the apostolic office now to be established.


Verse 24

24. In my name—See note on John 14:13. While Christ was with them, not having been exalted to his mediatorial station at the right hand of God, prayer had not been offered through him; but now he is our Advocate, to hand our petitions to the Father.


Verse 25

25. These things—To John 16:28 Jesus now opens a new promise. The obscurity now resting upon his words to their minds should be withdrawn. New facts and new revelations should be made, which should throw back their broad light upon his past discourses.

Proverbs—The proverb, as the word is here used, is a brief expression of a great truth in language concise and somewhat enigmatical. Its very riddle detains the attention of the mind upon it, and so fastens it upon the memory. Our Lord had discoursed in what were to a great degree enigmas; but those very enigmas served as vehicles to hold fast the truth until the day of explanation.

Time cometh The time was doubtless the period of the forty days after his resurrection. And yet in spirit it covered the whole period of their apostolic office.


Verse 26

26. I say not… will pray—That he said at another time; but that he sets aside for the present. He will omit now to mention his own prayer to the Father for them, in view of the rich access they shall have to the Father himself.


Verse 27

27. Father… loveth you—The love of the Father precedes even the gift of the Son, and was the reason of that gift. John 3:16. But here is an additional love of the Father for these apostles, in consequence of their love to Christ. And this love is from the Father himself; originating freely and earnestly from him.


Verse 28

28. I came forth from the Father—And this is the fundamental fact, basing, sustaining, and justifying their faith. His origin is from God, for their redemption; his destination is to God, for their final glorification and eternal salvation.


Verse 29

29. Now speakest thou plainly—Commentators very generally here attribute to the apostles a false pretence, or rather a false estimate of their own understanding. They profess or imagine that they understand when they do not. “They understand so little,” says Augustine, “that they do not even understand that they understand not.” And Lampe even goes so far as to say that they contradict Jesus. But the emphatic word in their language is now. This little word implies that in the past the discourse of Jesus had been enigmatical, and not by them understood. In the present it implied, and implied truly, that his words just uttered were understood, and were divinely cheering to their hearts. For the future it implied that his present words were an earnest that there were lessons yet to come that would make them wise for their high office and for eternal life. Their words were indeed childlike, but not childish.


Verses 29-33

Last response of the disciples, and concluding reply of Jesus, John 16:29-33.

So literal and cheering were these last sentences of our Saviour—so did they fill the demand of their hearts—that the apostles suddenly applaud him as not only clear but divine. Thereupon the Saviour avails himself of the moment of their elation to warn them of coming dispersion, but to assure them, also, that all will result in final triumph.


Verse 30

30. Now are we sure—The emphatic now they earnestly repeat. So delicately and effectively had the great Master suited his words to their hearts as to convince them anew that he knew their hearts.

Ask thee—So well does he know their questionings of heart that he is able to answer without hearing them.

Thou camest forth from God—And so it is that the Gospel adjusts itself to the sins, the penitence, the moral wants of our nature, so as to test its own divine origin.


Verse 31

31. Do ye now believe?—The best commentators now agree that the words should be rendered not interrogatively but affirmatively—Ye do now believe. Jesus admits their faith.


Verse 32

32. The hour cometh—The hour of high faith is the proper time to prepare for danger. Jesus therefore seizes the present moment to warn them of their coming peril. Yet he assures them that abandonment by man is not abandonment by God—the Father is with me.


Verse 33

33. In me… in the world—Here is a striking antithesis. The apostles were in the world; happy if they were in me. They could be in the world and in me at the same time. At the same time, therefore, they could be both in tribulation and in peace. Such men have a right and a reason to be of good cheer. No tribulation from the world can destroy their peace in Christ. And this imperturbable peace is all earnest of the final triumph over the world, announced in the words that follow. Indeed, the bidding of cheer is in view of this closing triumphal sentence.

I have overcome the world Even in view of the coming sacrifice the glorious victim feels himself the conqueror, and chants his paean of victory. Though the battle is yet to be fought, he stands in spirit at its close, and the immortal laurel is upon his brow. Nay, he is standing in spirit in that future period when his apostles, amid tribulation in the world, shall hear in spirit his thrilling words, Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. And in all ages of the Church the preacher, the martyr, and the saint have fought the battle of the faith, trusting in the great Captain who has overcome the world. And in that trust they too shall overcome. And this victory is over every means which the world uses to deprave the spirit or destroy the soul. Whether the world would allure and ensnare us by its charms, or overwhelm and destroy us by its violence, through faith in Him who has overcome the world we too may overcome.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 16:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-16.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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