16:1 “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. 16:3 They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. 16:4 But I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you will remember that I told you about them.

As Carson says, the greatest danger posed by persecution is not death but apostasy.  And Temple comments, ‘it is hard to believe that a cause is truly God’s when it seems to meet with no success, and all power is on the other side.’

“They will put you out of the synagogue” – So it was with the man born blind, Jn 9.  As we learn from Acts, the first persecutions of Christians were by Jews (see also 2 Cor 11:24, where the 39 lashes was a distinctively Jewish punishment).  This excommunication would have included the loss of fellowship and friendship.

This expresses social rejection.  Near equivalents today would include marginalising and ostracizing Christians and their beliefs.

“A time is coming” – lit. ‘an hour is coming’.  Given the way that this expression is used in this Gospel, its use here implies that the future persecution of Christians will be connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus himself.

“…the one who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” – A chilling thought, in the light of modern religiously-motivated terrorism!  Carson provides evidence that some rabbinic authorities regarded the killing of heretics as a divine service.  Paul, before his conversion, thought that he was rendering God a service by persecuting Christians.  ‘A sermon was preached when Cranmer was burned at the stake.  Christians have faced severe persecution performed in the name of Yahweh, in the name of Allah, in the name of Marx – and in the name of Jesus.’ (Carson)  We are reminded, once again, that religion is not in itself a ‘good thing’; on the contrary, some of man’s greatest crimes have been his religious crimes.  We are reminded too that such religious motives can be sincerely held, and yet wrong: sincerity is not enough.

Jesus, indeed, received many death-threats.  Lazarus, too was so threatened (Jn 12:10).

‘Since the treatment of Jesus is the standard for the treatment of his disciples the opposition may take the form of murder.  The first-century Christians to whom John wrote had already experienced that.  During the succeeding years of the Roman empire, men, women and even children would at different times be hounded, abused, beaten, tortured in the most appalling ways and slaughtered by the thousand, at time with a refinement of cruelty which numbs the mind.’ (Milne)

Suffering for Christ has continued until the present time.  It has been estimated that about 30 million Christians have been killed for Christ’s sake.

‘But in this Gospel the ignorance of the Jews is always regarded as culpable, because they ought to have known the truth.  God had revealed himself, but they had not considered the revelation.’ (Morris)

“When the time comes” – perhaps better, “when their hour comes” (Carson).  This is the hour when their opponents think they have gained the upper hand and have defeated the cause of Christ.

When persecution comes the disciples should not be surprised, but should rather remember Jesus’ warning, guard against apostasy, and be assured that God’s purposes have not failed.

Count the cost

‘To count the cost is one of the first duties that ought to be pressed on Christians in every age.  It is no kindness to young beginners to paint the service of Christ in false colours, and to keep back from them the old truth, “Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.”  By prophesying smooth things, and crying “Peace,” we may easily fill the ranks of Christ’s army with professing soldiers.  But they are just the soldiers, who, like the stony-ground hearers, in time of tribulation will fall away, and turn back in the day of battle.  No Christian is in a healthy state of mind who is not prepared for trouble and persecution.  He that expects to cross the troubled waters of this world, and to reach heaven with wind and tide always in his favour, knows nothing yet as he ought to know.  We never can tell what is before us in life.  But of one thing we may be very sure: we must carry the cross if we would wear the crown.’ (Ryle)

“I did not tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you.

“I did not tell you this at first because I was with you” – and was able to protect them by absorbing the persecution himself.  He was the ‘lightning rod’. (Kruse)

16:5 But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking me, ‘Where are you going?’ 16:6 Instead your hearts are filled with sadness because I have said these things to you. 16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away.

“Now I am going to the one who sent me” – by way of death on a cross, anticipated in Psa 22 and Isa 53.

‘He was not driven away by force, but voluntarily departed; his life was not extorted from him, but deposited by him.’ (MHC)

“Not one of you is asking me, ‘Where are you going?'”

A contradiction?
Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted) writes:

One of my favorite apparent discrepancies—I read John for years without realizing how strange this one is—comes in Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” the last address that Jesus delivers to his disciples, at his last meal with them, which takes up all of chapters 13 to 17 in the Gospel according to John. In John 13:36, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” A few verses later Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going” (John 14:5). And then, a few minutes later, at the same meal, Jesus upbraids his disciples, saying, “Now I am going to the one who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” (John 16:5). Either Jesus had a very short attention span or there is something strange going on with the sources for these chapters, creating an odd kind of disconnect.

Some, such as Bernard and Bultmann propose one or more major dislocations in the text.

Others, such as Brown and Beasley-Murray, think that the editor has faithfully recorded two contradictory sources.

But many, including Barrett, Carson, Lincoln, and Klink, think that the ‘contradiction’ is more apparent than real.  It is probable, as Carson suggests, that the disciples had asked the question without any little real insight into Jesus’ departure to be with his Father.  They are filled with grief at his impending departure, but have given little thought as to where he is going, or why, or what the outcome will be.

‘The questions asked in 13:36 and in this verse use the same words, but their subject matters are entirely different. In light of the technical title “the one who sent me” and the nearness of his return to the Father, Jesus is rebuking his disciples for failing to grasp the deeper reality of his work and mission. When Peter asked the question in 13:36, he was preoccupied with his own affairs. But the life Jesus is preparing them for requires that they become occupied with God’s affairs and engage themselves with the priorities and concerns of his mission. For this reason Jesus rebukes his disciples.’ (Klink)

Whitacre allows that this could be a seam in the garment of the Gospel…If this is not a seam, then there must be some distinction between Peter’s question and what Jesus is referring to here. Perhaps Peter’s earlier question was not really a serious one, since he was immediately distracted from it and did not follow up on it (Morris 1971:695–96). Or perhaps the clue is in the present tense—none of them asks him. They had asked earlier, but now they are grieving instead of asking (v. 6; Barrett 1978:485). Perhaps Jesus is saying that they lack trust, that they are grieving when they should be taking into account where he is going (Calvin 1959:115).’

Lincoln agrees that the farewell discourse material may have been composed from different sources at different times.  But as for the suggestion that there is a sharp contradiction here, he is confident that ‘these verses can be read in a way that credits the evangelist with a little more coherence in the final composition of the discourse.’

Lincoln continues: ‘The alternative reading attempts to take account of the characterization of the disciples in the discourse as a whole. It notes that Jesus does not say ‘None of you has asked me’ but ‘None of you is asking me’, thus drawing the readers’ attention to the difference between the present response of the disciples and their response at the beginning of the discourse. Their earlier superficial questioning had revealed a total lack of comprehension about the implications of Jesus’ departure. Since the last question from a disciple, Jesus has given uninterrupted teaching from 14:23 to 16:4. As Jesus’ comment in v. 6 makes clear, now at least the disciples’ lack of questioning indicates a partial, if still very inadequate, understanding. They have understood enough to be filled with sorrow at the prospect of Jesus leaving them and of what will await them in the world. So drawing attention to their silence at this point is a means of highlighting their profound sadness, with which Jesus will attempt to deal in the rest of the discourse.’

Morris: ‘Peter’s earlier question…had not really indicated a serious inquiry as to Jesus’ destination.  Peter was diverted immediately and he made no real attempt to find out where Jesus was going.  He had been concerned with the thought of parting from Jesus, not with that of the Master’s destination.  He had in mind only the consequences for himself and his fellows.  Neither he nor they had as yet made serious inquiry as to what was to become of Jesus.’

Kruse, similarly, entertains the possibility that ‘although his disciples had formally asked this question before, in reality they were less interested in where Jesus was going than in the effect his departure upon them. So Jesus could say none of them had (really) asked this question before.’

‘Peter had started this question (ch. Jn 13:36), and Thomas had seconded it (ch. Jn 14:5), but they did not pursue it, they did not take the answer; they were in the dark concerning it, and did not enquire further, nor seek for fuller satisfaction; they did not continue seeking, continue knocking.’ (MHC)

‘Their thoughts were bent upon their own immediate loss, and no one asked how this departure affected Him.’ (Westcott, cited by Bruner)

Blomberg (Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel) thinks that it is probable that Jesus is ruing the fact that the disciples are not asking the question at that particular time.  Barrett is quoted: ‘It seems both necessary and justifiable to emphasize the present tense (ērōta); John does not write (ērōtēse), which would involve a flagrant contradiction with 13.36; 14.5. Here he is dealing simply with the disciples’ immediate reaction to the words of Jesus. The thought of his departure fills them with grief; but if only they had asked where he was going, and grasped that it was to the Father, they would not have grieved but recognized that his departure was for their advantage.’

Blomberg adds: ‘A literary observation lends particular credence to Barrett’s explanation. In 14:1-31 the disciples three times interrupt Jesus’ discourse to ask questions. But, beginning with 15:1, Jesus speaks without interruption. It makes sense, therefore, for 16:5 to be suggesting that they ought to be asking questions again. In fact, that is precisely what the rest of this chapter demonstrates, as 16:5—33 contains two further interruptions by the disciples. They seem to have understood Jesus’ statement in 16:5 exactly as I have interpreted it. While they do not again repeat the exact words of this verse, the questions they do ask get at the identical issue (vv. 17-19).’

Michaels notes that the apparent discrepancy has been used as a pillar for the theory that there two, distinct, farewell discourses (Jn 13:36–14:31 and 15:1–16:33), with the second perhaps being composed as an alternative to the first.  But, says Michaels, we should attempt to interpret the text as it stands.  ‘The disciples have been silent for a long time (all the way back to 14:22), and it would not be at all odd for Jesus to comment on their silence, and the reason for it. He could have said, “I am going to the One who sent me, and none of you says anything,” but instead he builds on what they had been saying earlier: thus, “none of you asks me—as you repeatedly did before—‘Where are you going?’ ” The announcement, “Where I am going you cannot come” (13:33), had prompted a string of questions. Now the announcement that “I am going to the One who sent me” draws no response at all. The accent is not on their failure to ask a particular question, but on their failure to say anything at all. Why the long silence, after so many questions? What has happened in the meantime?’

‘Exclusive interest to-day in the historic Jesus, as distinct from the risen and ascended Lord, still exemplifies this refusal to ask the question He desired His disciples to ask, Whither goest thou? We cannot understand Jesus, and the mind of Jesus, unless we take into account that He himself did not regard His earthly life as a sufficient revelation.’ (Strachan, quoted by Morris)

‘Jesus is reproaching them, not because they are not enquiring about His destination, but because in spite of knowing that He is going to the Father they are dismayed about the future.’ (Dodd, cited by Bruner, who wonders then if ‘Jesus’ remark also intends to put future disciples in the dock if we dread the future?’)

Big picture

Bruner, intriguingly, suggests that Jesus ‘dearly wishes his disciples (at all times) had the Big Picture of Jesus’ whole mission more in mind and at heart than they now do: Jesus came from God (really, and from no one less significant) and is going back this Weekend to God (really, and to no place less significant)….The lesson for all future readers, I sense, is this: Would our present lack of interest in Jesus’ now future Coming (i.e., in his Parousia or Final Return) be as disappointing to him now as his disciples’ lack of interest in his then immediate Coming (i.e., in his Resurrection)? I get the impression that healthy faith, faith that pleases Jesus, encompasses his entire career, from beginning to end. If we have very little interest in Jesus’ future realities, do we really believe in his past and present realities?’

“Instead, your hearts are filled with sadness” – Had they know the journey he was about to take, and the advantages it would confer, they would have been filled with joy (cf. Jn 15:10).  But, instead, they experience sadness at what they thought the effects of his departure would be on themselves.  Therefore, Jesus replies that…

“It is to your advantage that I am going away” – Lit. ‘it is expedient for you’.  Caiaphas thought it ‘expedient’ that Jesus should die, Jn 11:50, and ‘we may profitably reflect that this is the supreme illustration of the way God takes the acts of wicked men and uses them to effect his purpose.  Caiaphas thought the crucifixion expedient.  So it was, but in a way and for a reason that he could not guess.’ (Morris)

Hard to believe?

Following the lead of W. Robert Godfrey, we might ponder which bits of the Bible unbelievers find difficult to believe, compared with those bits that believers have trouble with.  Among the latter might be:

‘Your sins are forgiven’

‘All things work together for good for those who love the Lord’

‘It is to your advantage that I am going away.’

Morris comments that the truth of this statement is seen in that at the end of his earthly life his disciples fled (Mk 14:50), whereas no sooner had the Spirit come they spoke God’s word boldly (Acts 4:31) and rejoiced even in suffering (Acts 5:41).

‘Jesus’ departure not only means (as all other departures do mean) less of the departed’s presence with us; his departure also means a surprising more; in fact it even means the departed’s presence in another form.’ (Bruner)

Christ’s going away was ‘good’, because it involved the completion of the saving work which his Father had given him to do; good, because, by his Spirit, his presence and influence would be with them wherever they went (cf. Mt 28:20); good, because he was going to sit down at the right hand of God in order to appear, in his glorified human nature, as our advocate with the Father.  All of this is borne out by the fact that (as Ryle says) the disciples were able to do far more for Christ after he had gone, than when he had been physically present with them.

We should not, therefore, wallow in regretful nostalgia, wishing that we had walked and talked with Jesus on the shore of the lake of Galilee.  Jesus will depart, and his followers will be persecuted, but the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost would overcome their sense of desolation, and bring the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purposes in this world to a new level.

Augustine (cited by Bruner) clarifies the Trinitarian aspect of the consequences of Christ’s departure: ‘But with Christ’s bodily departure, both the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit, were spiritually present with them. For if Christ had left them so that the Holy Spirit replaced him rather than dwelling along with him, what would have become of his promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” [Matt. 28:18], and, I and the Father “will come to him and will make our dwelling with him” [John 14:23]. He had also promised that he would send the Holy Spirit in such a way that he would be with them forever [John 14:18: “I am coming to you”].… [Thus] we should in no way think that the Father is present without the Son and the Holy Spirit or [any One of the Trinity without the Others].… Wherever any one of them is, there also is the Trinity, one God.’

In the Heidelberg Catechism the question is asked, ‘What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven?’ The answer: ‘First, that in heaven he is our Advocate in the presence of his Father. Secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven, as a sure pledge that he, as the Head, will also take us, his members, up to himself. Thirdly, that he sends us his Spirit, as an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.’ (Emphasis added)

A general truth here is that ‘those things often seem grievous to us that are really expedient for us.’ (MHC)

For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment—16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 16:10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 16:11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Jesus has spoken of the role of the Spirit as defender (Jn 15:26f); now, in vv8-11, we see his prosecuting role.

‘This text had been easy, had not commentators made it so knotty.’ (Trapp)

Michaels suggests that we have in vv8-11 ‘perhaps the nearest thing we have to a distinctly Johannine formulation of the basic Christian message as first proclaimed to unbelievers.’

“If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you” – Anticipated by the Evangelist in Jn 7:39.  The impossibility of Jesus and the Holy Spirit ministering together is not for unstated metaphysical reasons, but for eschatological reasons: the saving work of Christ ushers in the new age, the age of the Spirit. (Carson)

‘The ministry of the Spirit is…not a vague impartation of spiritual energy, but the specific ministry of proclaiming, and applying to the disciple community, the triumphant procession of Jesus through death and resurrection to the right hand of the Father.  The ministry of the Spirit is the unleashing of the powers of the promised kingdom of God in the world.’ (Milne)

‘By his going away he merits redemption for his people. Now the Holy Spirit is the One whose special task it is to apply the saving merits of Christ to the hearts and lives of believers (Rom. 8; Gal. 4:4–6). But the Spirit cannot apply these merits when there are no merits to apply. Hence, unless Jesus goes away, the Spirit cannot come.’ (Hendriksen)

‘It is the task of the Paraclete to universalise the presence of Jesus. In the days of his flesh Jesus was limited by space and time. His physical departure made possible the coming of the Spirit as Paraclete and there would be no barriers of space and time to prevent disciples being in intimate contact with him. Indeed, they would find the relationship even closer than companionship with Jesus in the days of his flesh. They have known Jesus as their Paraclete…during his ministry. He has dwelt with them, but the one whom he promises as another Paraclete will dwell in them, Jn 14:17. There it is in a nutshell. The Spirit universalises the presence of Jesus in the hearts of the disciples.’ (Green, I believe in the Holy Spirit, 48)

‘The departure of Jesus is not his absence but the magnification of his presence, for the Christian life by the Spirit involves the mutual indwelling and interpenetration of both the Son and the Father (see Jn 14:19–20) and a new state of existence between the Trinitarian God and the believer, who is participating already in life that is “eternal” (cf. Jn 20:31).’ (Klink)

‘The sending of the Spirit was to be the fruit of Christ’s purchase, and that purchase was to be made by his death, which was his going away.’ (MHC)

‘Pray, mark the Spirit, as a Comforter, stays till Christ goes to heaven to send him down, and no room for Christ there, till the work was done he came about. And what was that, but, by his bloody death, to purchase peace with God for poor believing sinners? Now let him come when he will. The Spirit is ready to be sent as a comforter, as soon as he appears in the heavens with his blood as an intercessor.’ (Gurnall)

‘The best commentary on [Jn 16:8-11] is the day of Pentecost with its glorious results…and along with this, a man’s own experience of the Spirit’s work.  It is remarkable that the Apostles, the instruments of the Spirit’s agency, are not once named here; they disappear entirely out of view in the glory of the Divine Being, who works through their instrumentality.’ (Ross)

Whiteacre notes that although the Spirit was already present, he could not be sent in his role as ‘another Paraklete’ until the ‘first Paraklete’ had completed his work (see Jn 7:39).  Then, and only then, could be Spirit fulfil his role of witnessing to Christ and his completed work.

‘Note: “I will send,” here and also in Jn 15:26; but Jn 14:26: “The Father will send in my name.” There is perfect cooperation in the outgoing works!’ (Hendriksen)

‘The presence of God with his people, his “tabernacling” (cf. Jn 1:14), also involves and is now accomplished by “another Paraclete,” the Spirit. In what might seem like a paradox, the departure of Jesus therefore becomes the promise and guarantee of his presence.’ (Klink)

‘The glorified Redeemer is not unmindful of his church on earth, nor will ever leave it without its necessary supports. Though he departs, he sends the Comforter, nay, he departs on purpose to send him. Thus still, though one generation of ministers and Christians depart, another is raised up in their room, for Christ will maintain his own cause.’ (MHC)

“When he comes” – As Milne says, the Holy Spirit is a unique evangelist.  ‘He imparts as well as proclaims.  He does not remain in a pulpit or behind a podium, but comes down among the congregation.  This “coming down” is the Spirit’s ministry in the world, i.e. in the hearts of the listening, and in this case, unbelieving, congregation, v8f.  He is an evangelist who also does the counselling, by applying his message personally to his hearers.’

“The Advocate…will prove the world wrong” – He will ‘convict’, or ‘convince’.  Cf. Jn 8:46.  Wright interprets this teaching in terms of a law-court scenario: the Holy Spirit comes as an advocate in a lawsuit, vindicating Christ’s followers and proving the world ‘wrong’.

In 1 Jn 2:1 Jesus Christ, the Righteous One is the ‘counsel for the defence’.  Here, the Holy Spirit is the ‘counsel for the prosecution’.

Note how the tables are turned: the world has pronounced its verdict on Jesus, but now the world itself will be convicted (precisely in terms of its failure to receive Jesus).

‘The world’ includes of course the pagan nations, but also, insofar as it hasn’t believed in Jesus, Israel as well.’ (Wright)

‘He shall give the world the most powerful means of conviction, for the apostles shall go into all the world, backed by the Spirit, to preach the gospel, fully proved.’ (MHC)

“He will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” – He would do this through the ministry of the disciples.  This conviction of guilt would lead either to repentance and life or to hardening and condemnation (Kruse).

Morris says that this is the one place in Scripture where the Spirit is said to do a work in the world.  The other references all have to do with his work in believers.

What is meant by ‘the world’ here?

For Whitacre, throughout this passage the Jewish opponents represent ‘the world’ in its unbelief.

Kruse says that in John’s Gospel ‘the world’, as viewed in opposition to Jesus, refers to unbelieving Jews, especially their leaders.  They have been subjected to his severe warnings several times (Jn 8:21, 24; 9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11).

Michaels, on the other hand, thinks that both Jews and Gentiles are in view:-

‘What is this world that the Counselor and the disciples will confront? Is it the world of the Jews or of the Gentiles? The preceding references to expulsion from synagogues and to violent persecution as a religious duty (v. 2) suggest that a mission to Judaism is primarily in view, and this is supported by the three definitions in verses 8–11. The Jewish antagonists to the church would know about sin, justice, and judgment, but the definitions would be new to them: Sin is rejecting Jesus; justice is what God has done for Jesus; judgment is what Jesus has accomplished already by his death. The message of verses 8–11 amounts to a Christian redefinition of all that was of vital concern to the Jews. Yet the same message will confront the pagan world as well (cf. 18:33–38). Paul’s confrontation with the Roman governor Felix aptly illustrates these verses; when Paul spoke to this pagan official and his Jewish wife about “righteousness [i.e., “justice”], self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25), the governor was afraid and told Paul to leave.’

Morris thinks that this conviction is both objective and subjective, securing a verdict of ‘guilty’ and convicting the conscience of the sinner.

Michaels says that the first two of these three items are typical of early Christian proclamation as recorded in Acts:-

‘Sin is defined not as breaking a set of laws but as rejecting Jesus (v. 9; cf. Acts 2:23; 3:13–15).’

‘“Justice,” or righteousness, is defined not as obeying a set of laws but as divine vindication, the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead (cf. Acts 2:24, 36; 3:15); the Johannine way of putting it is, I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer (v. 10).’

‘Judgement’, however, is rather different.  In Acts, it is predominantly future (Acts 10:42; 17:31), whereas ‘judgment is identified here, as elsewhere in this Gospel (Jn 5:29 being the only exception), with Jesus’ victory over Satan, especially in his Passion (Jn 12:31; cf. Jn 14:30; in the Synoptics, cf. Mark 3:23–27). Because the Passion is almost upon him, Jesus can claim that the world’s evil ruler now stands judged (v. 11; cf., “now” in Jn 12:31).’

Ryle suggests that there is much more to this passage than that the work of the Spirit is to convince individuals of their sins, of Christ’s righteousness, and of the certainty of future judgment.  This, he says, ‘is truth, but not the truth of this passage,’ not least because it fails to acknowledge that the focus is not on the individual, but on ‘the world’:-

‘He would convince the Jews “of sin”.  He would compel them to feel and acknowledge in their own minds, that in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth they had committed a great sin, and were guilty of gross unbelief.

‘He would convince the Jews of “righteousness.”  He would press home on their consciences that Jesus Jesus of Nazareth was not an imposter and a deceiver, as they had said, but a holy, just, and blameless Person, whom God had owned by receiving up into heaven.

‘He would convince the Jews of “judgment”.  He would oblige them to see that Jesus of Nazareth had conquered, overcome, and judged the devil and all his host, and was exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour at the right hand of God.’

Wright observes that, although the world thinks it has justice on its side, in reality God has already given his own verdict, vindicating Jesus as the righteous one.  All those who are ‘in Christ’ share in that verdict.  This, Wright notes, comes very close to Paul’s doctrine of ‘justification by faith’.

‘The result of this operation of the Spirit is not indicated here. From Acts 2:22–41; 7:51–57; 9:1–6; 1 Cor. 14:24; 2 Cor. 2:15, 16; Tit. 1:13, we learn that in some cases the result will be conversion; in others, hardening and everlasting punishment.’ (Hendriksen)

‘He will not simply convict the world as sinful, as without righteousness, as under judgement, but he will show beyond contradiction that it is wanting in the knowledge of what sin, righteousness, and judgement really are.’ (Westcott, quoted by Morris)

“He will prove the world wrong…concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” – or, ‘they refuse to believe in me’ (Brown).  The Spirit has a key role in ‘shaming the world and convincing it of its own guilt, thus calling it to repentance.’ (Carson)

As Morris says, ‘the basic sin is the sin which puts self at the centre of things and consequently refuses to believe.’

‘The Counsellor, when he came, would likewise convict them of their sin of unbelief, just as Jesus himself had done. The sin of unbelief, refusing to accept Jesus and his revelation, is extremely serious, because it is a rejection of the one God sent, his one and only Son (Jn 3:18). It is tantamount to a rejection of God himself.’ (Kruse)

What is wrong with the world?  ‘Is this religious fact, really, the deepest wrong in the world? Jesus answers that it is; for if Jesus really is who John’s Gospel records Jesus to be saying he is—the Great God’s Personal Visitor to Earth—then the refusal to believe this greatest of all world realities would, in fact, be the greatest of all wrongs.’ (Bruner)

Matthew Henry comments that natural conscience tells people that murder and theft are wrong, but it takes a supernatural work of the Spirit to convince them that it is a sin to disbelieve the gospel.

‘What the Spirit, then, does in the discharge of this first department of His work, is to bear in upon men’s consciences the conviction that the one divinely provided way of deliverance from the guilt of all sin is believing on the Son of God; that as soon as they thus believe, there is no condemnation to them; but that unless and until they do so, they underlie the guilt of all their sins, with that of this crowning and all-condemning sin super-added.’ (JFB)

Parakletos‘ is a word with legal implications.  Here, the Spirit will act as counsel for the prosecution and convict the world.

The word is used in just one other place in the New Testament.  In 1 Jn 2:1 it is used of Jesus, as our Advocate with the Father.  ‘Jesus is the one called to the Father’s side to help us, according to the Epistle.  The Spirit is the one called from the Father’s side to help us, according to the Gospel.’ (Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, p49)

The Holy Spirit brings a true penitence to the heart of the sinner. ‘He formerly thought he was not quite as he ought to be, but now he perceives that he has been altogether what he ought not to be.’ (John Angell James)

‘When the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel, convicts men of their sin, a considerable number will cry out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They will feel that the essence of their sin (the one great sin which embraces all others for those who have heard the Gospel) is this: that they have not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior but have rejected him (see on 3:18; 12:37, 48).’ (Hendriksen)

'Church! Why would i ever go there?'
I have mixed feelings about the following criticism of Phillip Yancey:-

‘One chorus that sounds repeatedly through Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? is the story of a prostitute whom he invited to church. (p.11) Her response was, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.” Yancey heralds that pronouncement as an indictment of the church’s judgmental and negative attitude. I agree whole-heartedly that the church is to love sinners and tell them the gospel of Christ, but did Yancey never stop to think that maybe the church is supposed to make that prostitute feel bad?

‘Perhaps conviction of sin is not categorically a bad thing, and perhaps it is actually loving to make someone feel uncomfortable about their sin. Paul didn’t have any problem at all telling the whole world that they were “worthless,” “deceitful,” and had the poison of vipers on their lips.” (Rom 3:12-13) He has no problem telling them that they are sinners and that they will therefore die. (Rom 6:23) Jesus himself says that it is the very work of the Holy Spirit to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin.” (Jn 16:8) Imagine that! “The Holy Spirit! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. He’d just make me feel worse!”‘ (Greg Gilbert)

My doubt about this criticism is that it is unlikely that Jesus, when he refers to ‘the world’ here, is thinking of prostitutes, or other notorious ‘sinners’ at all, but rather unbelieving Jews.  The former he treated with utter kindness and gentleness, whereas it was the latter who came under his powerful condemnation.

See Jn 8:24.  If they had believed in Jesus, they would have turned from their sins.  But ‘this convicting work of the Paraclete is…gracious: it is designed to bring men and women of the world to recognise their need, and so turn to Jesus, and thus stop being “the world”.’ (Carson)

For a classic instance of this ministry of the Spirit, see Acts 2:22, 37.  ‘The Holy Spirit, working through the preaching of Peter, brought to the surface their suppressed resistance to the light of the world, the rebellious refusal to trust in him as Saviour and Lord.  Sin, at root, is a refusal of grace, the proud titanic assertion that we can atone for ourselves.’ (Milne)

‘Jesus is the supreme good; to reject him, therefore, is the crowning evil.  It is the Spirit’s work to convict the world of its terrible fault or error in this matter.  This he did, by the mouth of Peter, on the day of Pentecost; and this he still does, through the instrumentality of his commissioned servants.’ (Ross)

Whitacre pinpoints the three actors in this drama: ‘the world consists of all who fail to believe in Jesus, Jesus is known as the just or righteous one (cf. 1 Jn 2:1), and the devil is judged.’

The Spirit convinces of sin

‘The Spirit convinces of the fact of sin, that we have done so and so; of the fault of sin, that we have done ill in doing so; of the folly of sin, that we have acted against right reason, and our true interest; of the filth of sin, that by it we are become odious to God; of the fountain of sin, the corrupt nature; and lastly, of the fruit of sin, that the end thereof is death. The Spirit demonstrates the depravity and degeneracy of the whole world, that all the world is guilty before God.’ (MHC, emphasis added)

“He will prove the world wrong…concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer” – ‘Righteousness’ (dikaiosynē) occurs only in Jn 16:8, 10 in this Gospel.  It may mean here the false righteousness of Isa 64:5, a righteousness often alluded to in this Gospel (most recently, in v3, when Jesus said that those who persecute his followers will think they are doing God a service; note also that in Jn 9:24 ‘the Jews’ had judged Jesus to be a sinful man).  On the hopelessly inadequate righteousness of the world, see Mt 5:20; Rom 10:3; Phil 3:6-9; Tit 3:5.  Jesus’ righteousness would be vindicated by his glorification.

Whitacre thinks that ‘righteousness’ here means ‘justice’.  Jesus’ opponents ‘did not judge with right judgment (Jn 7:24), and this is seen especially in their condemnation of Jesus for his claim to be God’s Son (Jn 19:7). Jesus’ return to the Father will expose their justice as unjust.’

‘Just as [in the previous verse] sin is revealed by the Spirit to be something far different from the breaking of certain specific injunctions, so [now in our verse] righteousness is revealed to be something far different from the outward fulfillment of ceremonial or moral observances.’ (Westcott, cited by Bruner)

‘The most profound wrong in the world is the failure to trust that Jesus is who he says he is; and the most profoundly right thing that ever happened in the world is the career of Jesus—his return to the Father, as he notably describes his career here.’ (Bruner)

‘He shall convince the world that Jesus of Nazareth was Christ the righteous (1 Jn. 2:1), as the centurion owned (Lu. 23:47), Certainly this was a righteous man. His enemies put him under the worst of characters, and multitudes were not or would not be convinced but that he was a bad man, which strengthened their prejudices against his doctrine; but he is justified by the spirit (1 Tim. 3:16), he is proved to be a righteous man, and not, a deceiver.’ (MHC)

The Jewish authorities thought it would be a righteous act – offering even a service to God (cf v2) to execute him, Jn 11:50; 18:30; 19:7.  The Holy Spirit will convict men of their great fault in the matter, by convincing them that they crucified the Lord of Glory, who now sits at the right hand of God, cf. Acts 2:36.

‘The world, represented by the Jews, was about to crucify Jesus. It was going to say, “He ought to die” (19:7); hence, in the name of righteousness it was going to put him to death. It proclaimed aloud that he was anything but righteous. It treated him as an evil-doer (18:30). But the exact opposite was the truth. Though rejected by the world, he was welcomed by the Father, welcomed home via the cross, the cross which led to the crown. No longer were the disciples going to observe his day-by-day activities as he went in and out among them. He was about to die, and he was about to receive his reward (Phil. 2:9–11). By means of the resurrection the Father would place the stamp of his approval upon his life and work (Acts 2:22, 23, 33; Rom. 1:4). He, the very One whom the world had branded as unrighteous, would by means of his victorious going to the Father be marked as the Righteous One (8:46; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:1; and cf. Luke 23:47). Thus, the world would be convicted with respect to righteousness.’ (Hendriksen)

This error, says Burge, ‘thinks that through Jesus’ death his unrighteousness will be demonstrated for all to see. But God plans to reverse this and make the cross a place of glorification in which Jesus’ innocence and righteousness are proclaimed. The surprising reversal is that it is the world that lacks true righteousness (see Jn 3:19–21; 7:7; 15:22, 24). So when the world celebrates “the end of Jesus” at the tomb because he cannot be seen any longer (Jn 16:10b), the disciples can celebrate the true circumstances of his absence: He has been enthroned with the Father. This is the essence of the church’s Easter proclamation.’

Morris thinks that this ‘righteousness’ is that which cannot be attained by our own efforts but only by Christ’s atoning work.

“Because I am going to the Father” – which is why the Holy Spirit will come and carry out this ministry in Jesus’ place.

Bruner understands this as standing for Jesus’ entire earthly career.  But this seems to stretch the meaning of the text.

‘Undoubtedly this kind of conviction is driven home to the world primarily through Jesus’ followers who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, live their lives in such growing conformity to Christ that the same impact on the world is observed as when Jesus himself lived out his life before the world.’ (Carson)

‘Righteousness’ and ‘judgment’ are probably closely linked.  The world (seen most immediately as the unbelieving Jews) applied wrong standards of righteousness, and therefore judged Jesus to be an unrighteous man, Jn 9:24; cf Jn 7:24.

“You will see me no longer” – meaning the disciples (not ‘they’ but ‘you’).  How does this contribute to the conviction of ‘righteousness’?  Perhaps the meaning is simply, ‘he will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that I go to the Father when I pass from your sight‘ (NEB, emphasis added).  Or possibly Jesus is referring to that ‘living by faith, not by sight’ of which he would speak to Thomas, Jn 20:29.

“He will prove the world wrong…concerning judgment” – Judging truly, as opposed to the false and superficial judgments of his accusers (cf. Jn 7:24).

Wright thinks that ‘judgment’ here means ‘condemnation’.  ‘The world supposes that it can and should pass judgment on Jesus’ followers. But the events which are about to unfold, the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, indicate decisively that they are wrong. These events mean that ‘the ruler of this world’—the dark power that has kept humans and the world enslaved—has been condemned. His power has been broken. Death itself, the weapon of tyrants and particularly of ‘the satan’, is a beaten foe.’

“The prince of this world now stands condemned” – ‘The prince of this world’ is Satan, the false accuser, ‘the distorter of true judgement’ (Kruse).  In fact, the one who was condemned on the cross was not Jesus, but Satan.  And his present condemnation (Jn 12:31) anticipates his final expulsion, Rev 20:10.

Bruner notes the ‘strange “dignity”‘ conferred on Satan here.  He remains dangerous, even in defeat.  See Jn 12:31; 14:30; 1 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2.

‘The opponents had condemned Jesus, but the Paraclete will reveal that it was the evil one who was judged and condemned at Jesus’ glorification. This judgment in turn condemns the world itself (Jn 12:31), since they have the devil for a father (Jn 8:44).’ (Whitacre)

‘All false judgment is related to him who was a liar from the beginning, whose children we are if we echo his values (Jn 8:42-47).  If he stands condemned by the triumph of the cross, the false judgment of those who follow in his train is doubly exposed.’ (Carson)

‘The prince of this world, the distorter of true judgment, stands condemned, and the role of the Counsellor will be to prove wrong those of the world who likewise distort true judgments, particularly in relation to Jesus.’ (Kruse)

In the condemnation of Christ and his followers, then, it is in fact the world and the prince of this world who stand condemned.  To turn to Christ means to accept this judgment upon oneself, and to ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And this brings the gracious answer, “Repent and be baptised, in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 2:37f).

Godet (cited by Bruner) finds a commentary on this teaching in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2: ‘Thus by the testimony of the Spirit [through the apostolic sermon at Pentecost] the world, righteous in its own eyes, will be declared sinful; the condemned malefactor [Jesus] will be proved righteous; and the true author of this crime [the devil] will receive his irrevocable sentence: such are the three ideas contained in this [John 16:8–11] passage, whose powerful originality it is impossible not to recognize.’

Hendriksen, similarly: ‘Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) deals exactly with these three subjects: a. sin, the sin of rejecting the Christ (“you by the hand of lawless men crucified and killed him” … “this Jesus whom you crucified”); b. righteousness, the righteousness of Christ (“Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God”); and judgment, the judgment of those hostile to Christ (“Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet … Save yourselves from this crooked generation”). The result was: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ … And there were added to them that day about three thousand souls.”’

Christ the central reality

These three activities of the Spirit are all to be interpreted Christologically.

‘Sin is rejecting Jesus; justice is what God has done for Jesus; judgment is what Jesus has accomplished already by his death.’ (Michaels)

‘We often think of “believing in Jesus” as a matter of personal taste rather than as the fundamental issue. Jesus teaches here and throughout the Gospel that one’s relation to him is a sin-or-righteousness, life-or-death matter of truth. The Paraclete, the Spirit of the Truth, will move the Church to live, preach, and teach Jesus in this urgent evangelical way in order to bring the world (inside and outside the Church) to its senses and the Church to her center.

‘Notice the Spirit’s Christocentricity in Jesus’ definition of sin or wrong. The Paraclete does not show the world wrong in its failure to believe in the spiritual or in the Spirit or in religion or even in God, but wrong in its refusal to believe in Jesus, God’s authorized personal Word to the world (the message of this Gospel as early as its Prologue, 1:1–18). The Holy Spirit, we learn here again in this introduction to the Spirit in our chapter, is utterly Christocentric. The sin, the Paraclete Spirit constantly teaches, is the refusal to think that Jesus is really all that important.’ (Bruner)

The world convicted

‘The presupposition of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is a courageous belief in the spiritual, moral, and intellectual bankruptcy of the world. The problem with most of us is that we have adapted to the world so successfully that we no longer truly believe that its systems of belief, life, and thought are wrong. Like the proverbial frog slowly cooked in a warming pot of water, we don’t realize our jeopardy till it is too late.’ (Burge)

‘The advocate’ is also ‘the comforter’.

‘Because the holy spirit [sic] will do all these things, those who suffer persecution and hatred for the name of Jesus can trust that the judge of all the earth will do what is right.’ (Wright)

16:12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.

We now turn from the Spirit’s convicting ministry to his teaching ministry.  He is both convictor and comforter, law and gospel (Bruner).

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” – Perhaps this saying anticipates the teaching of Paul and others in the Epistles.

‘The original implies that such teaching as that of the Cross would have been a crushing burden. (cf. Jn 19:17; Lk 11:46; 14:27; Gal 6:2,5; Acts 15:10). The Resurrection brought the strength which enabled believers to support it.’ (Westcott.)

‘Revelation is bound to be a progressive process. Many things Jesus knew he could not at that moment tell his disciples, because they were not yet able to receive them. It is only possible to tell a man as much as he can understand. We do not start with the binomial theorem when we wish to teach a boy algebra; we work up to it. We do not start with advanced theorems when we wish to teach a child geometry; we approach them gradually. We do not start with difficult passages when we teach a lad Latin or Greek; we start with the easy and the simple”] things. God’s revelation to men is like that. He teaches men what they are able and fit to learn.’ (DSB)

The Spirit of truth – ‘He is “the Spirit of Truth”, not the Spirit of falsehood, but of truth, – not the Spirit of error, but of truth – who knows the truth – who loves the truth – who reveals the truth – who cannot be deceived – who cannot deceive – equally incapable of ignorance and deception.  The appellation is here given with a peculiar reference to the work which our Lord states he is about the engage in, as his witness.  It intimates that he is in every way a qualified witness – competent, from his perfect knowledge of truth – credible, from his infinite love of truth, and absolute incapacity of falsehood.’ (Brown)

‘Anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.’ (John Stott)

“He will guide you into all truth” – According to Carson, the preferred reading is en, ‘in’, rather than eis, ‘into’. Insofar as there is a distinction between these, the first suggests an exploration of truth already disclosed; the second a discovery of truth not yet penetrated.

Bruner thinks that the meaning is that ‘he will guide you by means of the truth’.  Jesus has referred to himself as ‘the truth’ (Jn 14:6), and so, once again, the Spirit’s work is focused on him.  ‘All truth’ would mean ‘everything I have taught you’.

Obviously, the role of the Holy Spirit was not to make them experts in every subject under the sun.  To be guided ‘into all truth’ does not mean that they would be made omniscient, or be turned in scholars of history, art or science, but rather that they should have a thorough apprehension and comprehension of what Paul calls ‘the mystery of Christ’, ‘which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets’, Eph 3:4f.  It was, rather, to teach them the truth about the person and work of Jesus (v14 – “he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.”)

For Michaels, ‘the accent is not on what human beings can learn anyway by rational inquiry or by the use of their five senses but on the much more (v. 12) that Jesus would like to tell the disciples, but cannot, about their life and mission in the world.’

‘By analogy with the Old Testament, we might anticipate that the Spirit would ensure a further canonical record of the work of God in Christ. And we are not mistaken. As early as the later New Testament documents themselves, there is a recognition of this process. In 2 Peter 3:16 we read that Paul’s “letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures.” Already, within the pages of the New Testament, Paul’s letters are accorded the status of Scripture, setting the pattern for the recognition of all the books of the second Testament as inspired and therefore canonical for the church of Jesus Christ.’ (Nigel M. De S. Cameron, EDBT, art. ‘Bible, Inspiration of’)

‘The Holy Spirit is represented under the figure of a leader, conducting a traveler into an unknown country.  That country is truth.’ (Ross)

‘The notion of “guidance” (hodegeo) in all truth has nothing to do with privileged information pertaining to one’s choice of vocation or mate, but with understanding God as he has revealed himself, and with obeying that revelation – as the occurrence of this verb in the Psalms makes clear.’ (e.g. Ps 25:4-5; 143:10) (Carson)

‘The functions of the Paraclete can be divided between his relationship to the world and his relationship to the disciples. With respect to the world, the Paraclete serves as an accuser, putting the world on trial, pronouncing it guilty of sin and worthy of condemnation (Jn 16:8-11; cf. 14:17; 15:18-26). But the Paraclete’s functions with respect to the disciples are described positively. Above all, the Paraclete assumes the role of teacher (Jn 16:13), guiding the disciples into all truth by reminding them of what Jesus had said, where reminding seems to have the force not only of recollecting, but of interpreting as well. Indeed, as stated earlier, much of the Paraclete-inspired truth is found in the Gospel of John.’ (DJG)

‘The disciples cannot take in (Jn 16:12) or understand the significance of what Jesus has said and done until he is glorified (Jn 16:25). Consequently, the Spirit-Paraclete is given to remind them of Jesus’ teaching (Jn 14:26) and to interpret it to them (e.g., Jn 2:22). The main task of the Spirit in John is to provide a particular sort of charismatic wisdom: to bring true comprehension of the significance of the historical revelation in Christ. The truth into which he leads (Jn 16:13) is not the later doctrines of the church, but principally the truth which Jesus has incarnated and taught, and concerning which Jesus would readily explain more at the Last Supper (if the disciples could only absorb it Jn 16:12); the things of Jesus and which glorify him (cf. Jn 16:14). Even the promise of the Spirit declaring “the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13), in context of the Last Supper, refers primarily (though not exclusively) to the all-important coming events of the cross and exaltation, not the End.’ (DJL)

‘In passing we should notice that the attempt of some scholars to “go back to the original Jesus” and by-pass the teaching of the apostles is shown by our Lord himself to be misguided.  The same source lies behind both.’ (Morris)

‘To be led into a truth is more than barely to know it; it is to be intimately and experimentally acquainted with it; to be piously and strongly affected with it; not only to have the notion of it in our heads, but the relish and savour and power of it in our hearts.’ (MHC)

Promise of new revelation?
This verse is often recruited by liberals to support their contention that Spirit-inspired truth goes beyond the pages of Scripture and extends to the individual, or the the church, today.  C.E. Bennison, Bishop of Pennsylvania, claimed: ‘Because we wrote the Bible, we can re-write it.’  But we did not write the Bible.  These words were directed, not at us, but to the disciples.  Notice the four references to ‘you’ in v12f.  The first two undoubtedly refer to the disciples, and therefore the last two must also.

Burge sees here a promise of something more than pre-authentication of apostolic teaching: ‘As we look at the work of the Spirit today, we see that not only does the Spirit recall, authenticate, and enliven the teaching of Jesus for each generation, but also the Spirit works creatively in the church, bringing a new prophetic word. This word never contradicts the historic word of Jesus and never deflects glory away from Jesus, but it may faithfully bring the church to see its message and mission in a new way. The “all truth” of Jn 16:13 may be something unexpected, some new frontier (like a modern Gentile Caesarea), or some new work Jesus desires to do in the present time. The task of the church and its leadership is to discern with great care what that work might be.’

Whitacre, however, cautions: ‘Jesus’ promise is not of new revelation but of insight into the one revelation found in him. Throughout the history of the church, leaders within the church as well as groups on the fringes of Christianity have appealed to this passage to justify new teachings. Any such new teaching must, however, be true to the revelation received in Jesus. The flower will continue to unfold, but it must be the same flower—the genetic code must be the same. The Scriptures, including the apostolic witness of the New Testament, has been the touchstone for this continuity throughout the life of the church. Indeed, the present passage speaks primarily of that apostolic witness, since Jesus is promising this work of the Paraclete to those who have been with him from the beginning (Jn 15:27), whom the Paraclete can remind of what Jesus has done and said (Jn 14:26).’

Prayer is the key

‘Go to God by prayer for a key to unlock the mysteries of his word. It is not the plodding but the praying soul that will get this treasure of Scripture knowledge. St. John got the sealed book opened by weeping, Rev 5:5. God oft brings a truth to the Christian’s hand as a return of prayer, which he had long hunted for in vain with much labour and study; there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, Dan 2:22. And where doth he reveal the secrets of his word but at the throne of grace? ‘From the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words,’ i.e. for thy prayer, Dan 10:12. And what was this heavenly messenger’s errand to Daniel but to open more fully the Scripture to him? as appears by Jn 16:14, compared with Jn 16:21. This holy man had got some knowledge by his study in the word, and this sets him a praying, and prayer fetched an angel from heaven to give him more light. If ever we know the mind of God, we must be beholden to the Spirit of God for it. ‘When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth,’ Jn 16:13. And the Spirit is the fruit of Christ’s intercession: ‘I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,’ &c. Now there must be a concurrence of our prayers with his intercession. While our Highpriest is offering incense within the vail, we are to be praying without for the same thing that he is interceding within.’ (Gurnall)

“He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” – In the same way, Jesus never spoke or acted independently from his Father, Jn 3:34f; 5:19f; 7:16-18; 8:26-29, 42f; 12:47-50; 14:10.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct, yet never separate.

‘The testimony of the Spirit always concurs with the word of Christ, for he does not speak of himself, has no separate interest or intention of his own, but, as in essence so in records, he is one with the Father and the Son, 1 Jn. 5:7. Men’s word and spirit often disagree, but the eternal Word and the eternal Spirit never do.’ (MHC)

‘In other words, he is conversant with the special communications between the Father and the Son’ he knows all their Divine counsels; and being accessory to all these, he instructs his disciples according to their need.’ (Ross)

‘‘The meaning is that when he comes to teach, he shall not bring new light, different from what shines in the gospel, but what truth Christ preached in the gospel, that he shall teach. When he comforts, the ingredients which his soulreviving cordials shall be made of, are what grow in the gospel garden, as Jn 16:14: ‘He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you’ – that is, my death, my merit, my resurrection, my ascension and intercession, my promises purchased and sealed with my blood-these he shall take and make report of to you, for your eternal joy and comfort. So that, if it had not been for these, the Spirit, who is Christ’s messenger, would have wanted an errand of this comfortable nature to have brought unto poor sinners, yea, instead of a comforter, he would have been an accuser and a tormentor. He that now bears witness with our spirits for our reconciliation, adoption, and salvation, would have joined in a sad testimony with our guilty consciences against us, for our damnation and destruction.’ (Gurnall)

“He will tell you what is to come” – Does this refer to the immediate, or to the more distant, future?

Some think that this refers to the events at the end of the age, and to writings such as Revelation in particular.  Hendriksen’s summary is perhaps a little too neat: ‘The Spirit will come (16:8); he will lead into all the truth (16:13a); and he will announce the things that are to come (16:13b). For the first, see the book of Acts (particularly chapter 2); for the second, see the epistles; for the third see the book of Revelation.’

But it is more likely that ‘what is to come’ refers to ‘all that transpires in consequence of the pivotal revelation bound up with Jesus’ person, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation,’ including ‘the Paraclete’s own witness to Jesus, his ministry to the world (Jn 16:8-11) primarily through the church (Jn 15:26f), the pattern of life and obedience under the inbreaking kingdom, up to and including the consummation.’ (Carson)

Morris think it probable that this ‘is a way of referring to the whole Christian system, yet future when Jesus spoke.’

For Michaels, ‘what is to come’ is ‘the nature of the disciples’ mission and the world’s opposition to it, and the final outcome of all their efforts.’

Bruner thinks that this means that the Spirit will proclaim to the church the meaning and significance of the events surrounding Christ’s death and resurrection, and will enliven the church’s worship and witness.

Whitacre, similarly: ‘The expression what is yet to come is paralleled in the next two verses by the phrase what is mine, suggesting the future events have to do with Jesus. The reference would be to the glorification—the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension—which still lies in the future at this point.’

In view of various claims to post-biblical revelation, it is important to note that these words were not addressed to all Christians indiscriminately, but to the first disciples, who had been eyewitnesses of all that Jesus had said and done.  The Holy Spirit’s ministry today is to lead them to understand and apply the normative revelation that was given through the apostles.

‘Thus the proof of the inspiration of the New Testament is complete; and when once we have reached this point, the inspiration of the Old Testament immediately follows; for every book in the Old Testament is quoted, or referred to, in the New Testament as one of Divine authority, and with Divine approbation.’ (Ross)

16:14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 16:15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

“He will glorify me” – just as Jesus brought glory to his Father, Jn 7:18; 17:4.  This, says Bruner, is the most compact summary of the Spirit’s mission in any of the four Gospels.

The centre of revelation, God’s final self-disclosure, the divine Word, is Jesus Christ.  All that the prophets taught anticipated Christ (cf. Heb 1:1-4), and all that the Holy Spirit subsequently reveals is a taking of what belongs to Christ and making it known to us.  This is one reason why we regard with suspicion the claims to further definitive revelation made by Mormonism and other groups (Carson).

How does the Spirit glorify Christ?

‘We should not forget the Spirit preparatory work in relation to bringing glory to Christ.  ‘For in what does the Spirit’s preparation consist?  Not in bettering the sinner’s condition in his own experience, but in making it worse.  He humbles and uncrowns the pride of self before he glorifies Jesus.  He awakens grief, which none but Jesus can assuage; he inflicts a wound, which none but Jesus can heal; he creates a void in the soul, which none but Jesus can fill up; in a word, he brings the sinner to such a case that none but Jesus can meet the condition of his soul.’

‘But then the Spirit proceeds to glorify Jesus by showing just how suitable a Saviour he is for such a soul.  ‘All that the poor sinner needs he now finds in Jesus – a righteousness to meet the claims of God’s law and justice, before which he was utterly helpless – a covert to shield him from all the terrors of the Divine wrath – a supply for all his wants – a cure for all his diseases – and a deliverance from all his enemies.’

‘And, the Spirit glorifies Christ further.  ‘For in the day that he opens the blind eye to see his glory, he opens the closed heart to receive him…Verily, in the sinner’s view, and in his heart also, Christ has the pre-eminence.’ (Ross)

Then again, the Spirit glorifies Christ by enabling the believer to become more and more Christ-like, 2 Cor 3:18, and to render active service for Christ.

‘There are a thousand things in the world that claim to be of the Spirit of God.  There are doctrines, there are ministries, and there are experiences, that claim to be of God.  The single test that we would apply to them all is, Whither do they lead?  Do they tend to honour and exalt the Saviour?  Whatsoever is of the Spirit of God tends to glorify Jesus.’ (Ross)

“He will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” – Bruner thinks that our Lord is referring to the Spirit’s ‘heralding’ his entire mission and ministry.  The career of Jesus is not mere fact, but good news!

The Spirit’s work ‘is to take of Christ’s and show it to us, that is to take of his death, resurrection, ascension, yes, of his very present intercession in heaven, and show it to us. He can be with us in a moment, he can, (as one well observes,) tell you what were the very last thoughts Christ was thinking in heaven about you. It was he that formed the body of Christ in the womb, and so prepared him to be a sacrifice for us. He filled that humanity with his unexampled fullness. So fitting and anointing him for the discharge of his office.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)

“Everything that the Father has is mine” – ‘Jesus’ staggering claim to have complete knowledge of God is the foundation for the Christian claim that Jesus is the unique and only way to the Father.’ (Whitacre)

‘All that the Father has, as God, is his.  There is not a perfection of the Divine nature, natural or moral, that is not the Son’s as surely as it is the Father’s.  “I and the Father are one,” says he; and he also declares: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”  All that the Father has as righteousness t justify the sinner, Christ has.  He it was that assumed our nature, i order to work it out; he it was that wrought out and brought in an every lasting righteousness.  All that the Father has as the provision of his love for his people, Christ has; for “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.”  It is all the Father’s provision – the provision of his love and wisdom, and yet it is all laid up in Christ, to be dispensed by him to “the poor and needy”.’ (Ross)

As Carson says, we may speak derivatively of the Holy Spirit’s continuing ministry in believers today.  But the emphasis in this passage is very much on his revelation to those who were eyewitnesses and apostles.

This is a reference to Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection.

16:16 In a little while you will see me no longer; again after a little while, you will see me.”
16:17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What is the meaning of what he is saying, ‘In a little while you will not see me; again after a little while, you will see me,’ and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 16:18 So they kept on repeating, “What is the meaning of what he says, ‘In a little while’? We do not understand what he is talking about.”

“What is the meaning of…’because I am going to the Father’?” – An important theme in Jn 13:1; 14:12, 28; 16:10, 28; 20:17.

16:19 Jesus could see that they wanted to ask him about these things, so he said to them, “Are you asking each other about this—that I said, ‘In a little while you will not see me; again after a little while, you will see me’? 16:20 I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy.

Jesus could see that they wanted to ask him about these things – for he knew that was in people, Jn 2:25.

Your sadness will turn into joy – when he rises from the grave.

16:21 When a woman gives birth, she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world. 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” – These words were set by Brahms in the 5th movement of A German Requiem.

Wright comments on the sharp pain and extreme discomfort associated with childbirth.  But, once the baby has been safely delivered, the agony is largely forgotten.  Jesus is telling the disciples that they too are about to be plunged into a deeply painful period.  He will be taken away, but they will see him again.  His death and burial will be the necessary precursors to his going to the Father and to the sending of the Spirit.  But things will not return to the old ‘normality’: a new world will be born, and Jesus’ resurrection will be the first sign of it.

16:23 At that time you will ask me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete.

“In that day” – the day in which he will no longer be with his disciples.

“You will no longer ask me anything” – ‘In that day they will be able to ask God directly just as Jesus has so far done of their behalf, Jn 16:26f. They will pray in the place of Jesus as his representatives.’ (Tom Chester, The Message of Prayer, 173)

“My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” – Jesus says as much no less that six times during his final discourse. ‘What does it mean to pray as representatives of Jesus in his name? John tells us by allowing us to listen in to Jesus at prayer ch 17. Here is a model for our praying and when we pray in this way God will give us whatever we ask.’ (Chester)

‘The disciples’ relationship with Jesus after his resurrection, exaltation and the coming of the Spirit would be different from his relationship with them before these events. Then, instead of asking him for things, they would be able to ask the Father and he would give them whatever they asked.’ (Kruse)

‘Oppose to thy fears not only the greatness of the promises, but also the valuable consideration upon which they are made. Christ pays for what thou prayest. Thou, indeed, beggest alms, but Christ demands that same as debt. God is merciful to thee, but just to him. And therefore, Christian, though it becomes thee to sink thyself beneath the least mercy in thy own thoughts, yet it behooves thee to be tender of Christ’s credit, whose merit is far above the greatest mercy thou canst beg as thou art beneath the least. The Father will give you little thanks for casting any dishonourable reflection upon his Son, on whom himself hath heaped so much glory; yea, with whose honour his own is so inter-woven, that whoever dishonours the Son dishonours the Father that sent him. Now there are three privileges purchased for every believer; and none of them can be lost by us without dishonour to him.

(1.) He hath purchased a liberty to pray. It had been death to come on such an errand to God till he had by his blood paved a way and procured a safe conduct, Heb 10:17.

(2.) An ability to pray as he purchased the Spirit for us; called therefore ‘the Spirit of promise.’

(3.) The safe return of our prayers. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you,’ Jn 16:23. Indeed, it is his business now in heaven to own our cause there in open court, and to present his blood as ready money to be laid down for all his saints beg, that no demur be made to their requests. So that, either thou must blot this article of Christ’s intercession out of thy creed, or else put thyself to shame for questioning thy entertainment with God when thou hast so good a friend at court to speak for thee.’ (Gurnall)

‘When we pray according to the will of God in the name of Christ, our prayer is Christ’s prayer.  When you send a child or servant to a friend for anything in your name, the request is yours; and he who denies your child or servant denies you.  So God can no more deny a prayer put up in Christ’s name than he can deny Christ himself.’ (John Cotton, on 1 Jn 14,15)

16:25 “I have told you these things in obscure figures of speech; a time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in obscure figures, but will tell you plainly about the Father. 16:26 At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 16:27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 16:28 I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn, I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

“I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf” – This is not, of course, to deny the heavenly priestly intercession of the Son, but rather to emphasise that the Father is as willing to bless us as the Son is to seek that blessing.

16:29 His disciples said, “Look, now you are speaking plainly and not in obscure figures of speech! 16:30 Now we know that you know everything and do not need anyone to ask you anything. Because of this we believe that you have come from God.”
16:31 Jesus replied, “Do you now believe? 16:32 Look, a time is coming—and has come—when you will be scattered, each one to his own home, and I will be left alone. Yet I am not alone, because my Father is with me.

Or, “Do you now believe?” (so NRSV).

“I am not alone, for my Father is with me” – How is this to be squared with our Lord’s cry of dereliction, Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34?

Ryle: ‘We need not doubt that one great end of the sentence was to teach the disciples where they must look themselves in their own future trials. They must never forget that God the Father would always be near them and with them, even in the darkest times. A sense of God’s presence is one great source of the comfort of believers. The last promise in Matthew, before the ascension, was, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Mat 28:20)’

16:33 I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.”

Study of ‘me’ in John’s Gospel

  1. To meattraction, Jn 12:32
  2. Against metreason, Jn 13:18
  3. Through meaccess, Jn 14:6
  4. Without mefailure, Jn 15:5
  5. In mepeace, Jn 16:33
  6. With meglory, Jn 17:24

(Picking, 1,000 Subjects, slightly adapted)