Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

203. Comforter and Reprover (John 16:4-15)

The soul of Jesus was clouded with the prospect of impending persecution and suffering. This chiefly because of his disciples. The world hating him, would assuredly hate them also. So he was much concerned to fortify them against the evil to come: "These things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember (and understand; 2:17, 22; 12 :16) that I told you of them" (13 :29; 14 :29 also). Forewarned and with yet greater confidence in their Lord as a true prophet when his words were so exactly fulfilled, they would brace their souls against the onset of antagonism and stiffen their loyalty to his cause.

He could have spelled out these ominous predictions for them in the early days of their discipleship. But what purpose could it achieve when they had Jesus constantly with them? But now he was to be taken from them. Then their understanding of his person and work were marvellously limited: now, for all their many misunderstandings, they knew and loved him better.

In a little while he would be snatched away from them, but because he had been at pains to explain to them beforehand (15 :18-25) there was no need for bewildered blunders such as Peter's: "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?" (13 :37). Even so, there was puzzlement enough, as their later cross-questioning of him was to show (16 :17-19). And, inevitably, a bleak sense of impending bereavement clouded their present enjoyment of his fellowship.

Yet, paradoxically, it was for their own good that he be taken from them. "It is expedient for you that I go away," firstly, because it was so fore-ordained in the Word of God: "Thou hast ascended up on high"—this first, and then: "thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men . . . that the Lord God might dwell among them" (Ps.68 :18). Jesus now reiterated this: "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you."

Then, too, they must learn the wholesome truth, however reluctant they might be to face it, that a man can only grow into mature discipleship away from Christ. For the basic Christian virtue is the faith which struggles and grows and flourishes without the present aid of theophany.

More than this, how could Jesus come to be the Lord of disciples everywhere if he were to be localised in one spot and restricted in his fellowship to one small group? Indeed, it was expedient that he go away.

The promised Comforter

But he left them a true promise (this is the idiomatic meaning behind his words: "I tell you the truth")-the Holy Spirit would be their aid and guide and comfort in every spiritual need. To some extent the disciples would appreciate what he meant, for on an earlier occasion when he had sent them out preaching, away from his personal direction and support, they had found themselves mysteriously and wonderfully helped by the very powers which they had seen in him (Mt.10:1). And later, at a time of uncertain faith, when Jesus had gone into the mount of transfiguration, how unsure and helpless they had been without those powers, when they were faced by the double challenge of an epileptic boy and hostile argumentative Pharisees (Mk.9:16-18).

But in the days to come, renewed and encouraged by the Pentecostal gift, these men were to show themselves worthy witnesses of their Lord. "He (the Holy Spirit) will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and .of judgment;" As in the earlier part of this discourse, the "world" here is certainly the Jewish world.

But why should the Holy Spirit be referred to by a personal pronoun? This could be because the Holy Spirit is God in action-the Father's power vindicating His Son through the inspired witness of his disciples. Or, the pronoun "he" could be regarded as necessary to agree with the earlier word "Comforter" (parakletos is a masculine noun), and so right through this passage (especially in v.13). Yet another suggestion, on very different lines, will be offered later in this study.

A Power of Conviction

Jesus went on to expound his teaching about the Holy Spirit. First, there must be reproof of Jewry regarding its sin in rejecting himself-"because they believe not on me." In all men this is the great sin-lack of faith in Christ. It is a sin which invalidates every other .virtue a man may have, no matter how many or how fine. And this sin-the rejection of Jesus—was to write off as worthless all the Jewish dedication to good works and godliness. The sin was specially grievous because of the sustained witness of Jesus himself and of his unique works.

From the earliest days the Holy Spirit in Peter hammered away at this unpalatable truth: "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of Life... Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..." (Acts 3 :14,15,19). "They were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (2:37). The apostle's preaching had brought conviction not only of their own sin, but also of Christ's righteousness, and of his unique power to intercede with God: "because I go to my Father" (v.10; 1 Jn.2 :1). The Holy Spirit in Peter once again: "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2 :24,32,33). This speech of Peter's was beautifully complementary to the words of Jesus in its allusion to the promise of the Holy Spirit and to the vindication of Jesus through his ascension to God's throne ("Because I go to my Father," Jesus said). It was a claim which would have been bitterly contested and rancorously denounced if there had been any shred of evidence to encourage such a rejection.

A third equally momentous conviction was to be brought home to the Jews—that through Jesus the entire Mosaic system was coming to an end: "the prince of this (Jewish) world is judged." As Jesus put it in this brief trenchant phrase, the "prince" or "ruler" of Jewry was the high priest whose office and functions made him the pivot and fulcrum of everything to do with the Law of Moses. With the death of Christ all this revered system became nugatory. Jesus, "blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col.2 :14). The apostles came to this intensely revolutionary idea very slowly and timidly.

Stephen and Paul were the most clear-sighted regarding it. Nor did they lack the courage to assert this truth: "And by him (Jesus) all that believe (both Jews and Gentiles) are justified from all things, from which ye (Jews) could not! be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13 :39), Without the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit's wisdom how could these frail men have ever come to espouse, let alone advocate, such a radical doctrine?

Until their concept of Jesus had changed drastically, much that he would fain impart must remain unsaid: "Ye cannot bear them now."

Always Jesus had adjusted the quality of his instruction to the capacity of the twelve to take in what he was saying: "he spake the word unto them, as they were able to hear it... when they were alone he expounded all things to his disciples" (Mk.4 :33,34). He fed them with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto they were not able to bear it (1 Cor.3:2).

Promise of the Apocalypse

However, during the Forty Days—and much later through the Apocalypse—he was to further their understanding very profoundly. In earlier discourse (Studies 172,199), Jesus had deliberately aimed to bring out the parallel (and the contrast) between himself and Moses. In that designed similitude the earlier counterpart of the first promise of the Spirit of truth was the Angel of God's Presence guiding Israel in the wilderness. Now Jesus recurred to the same idea: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (concerning me): for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." This last sentence is an explicit promise of the Book of Revelation—for what other showing of future things was given to the apostles?

The ensuing comment harmonizes admirably * with this: "All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you." This is very close in idea to Revelation 1:1 "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John." The two passages have exactly the same ingredients: The Father, Jesus, the angel (called also the Spirit), the Lord's apostles, things to come shewn—in John the word "shew" (anangello) is chosen to suggest an ange!l The words may even mean that when the Apocalypse was given an inspired understanding of it or commentary was also available to the early church through the guidance of the Spirit of truth. And when it is realised that Revelation, in the primary fulfilment of Seals and Trumpets at least, is very largely concerned with the overthrow of Jerusalem and its Mosaic system, the context in John is also seen to harmonize remarkably closely, for-as just indicated-verses 8-11 are only meaningful when read with reference to the old order in Jerusalem which the Truth in Christ was to supersede.

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