Depend on the Spirit

John 15:26–16:15

The disciples have been commanded to love one another (15:17), because the world will not love them (15:18, 19). Their position of being loved by Christ and by the Father guarantees that they will be hated by the world. In this passage we see both the utter hopelessness of the world and even the possibility of altering the worlds’ disposition toward God, truth, the gospel, righteousness, and holiness. This very impossibility from the standpoint of the world in the way it is shows the necessity of a supernatural intervention. God Himself undertakes for the success of the mission of his Son and does not rely on any goodness of will in man. Left to his fallen freedom, sinful humans will without exception resist every overture of gospel truth, even when it comes from the very mouth of the Son of God Himself. The necessity, therefore, for the effectual power of the divine Spirit is emphasized in this discourse of Jesus. The success of his work of redemption is, as it were, put into the hands of the Spirit for the effectual completion of all that the Son came to do.

I. The radical fallenness of the world is seen in its hatred of Christ (15:18-25; 16:1-4a).

A. There can be no question about the world’s hostility to God as revealed in the exclusivity of the work of Christ.

1. Verses 18, 24, 25 – The world hates Christ. It does not hate their own reconstruction of him, and there are many of these. The reconstructed Jesus has many forms. To classical liberalism he was a mild ethicist. To many social dropouts of the mid-twentieth century Jesus looked like the care-free hippy, the anti-establishment radical, or the mystic spiritualist. Radical biblical critics have figured him as the virtually non-existent mythical figure who was the product of the disappointed imaginations of a group of first century messianic delusionaries. Any of these will do for the contemplation of the modern world; but the real gospel picture of the God from heaven who took on human nature, the judge of the world that refused to defend himself in a human court, the forgiver of prostitutes who consigned lustful thought to the category of adultery, the one that highlighted the power of mercy while engaged in extended public deconstructions of the religion of the prevailing doctrinal teachers of the day, the one that pointed to his death as a ransom for sinners and the only path to forgiveness of sins, the one that claimed to be the way, the truth, the life and that the only path to the true knowledge of God must go through him, and, in fact, be in him, this picture is too disturbing to be received. This Christ is hated. 

2. If the world hates Christ, it hates the Father, who sent Christ, and as revealed by Christ. Verses 21b, 23, 24, 16:3 – The Son of God who became incarnate in Christ is eternally indivisible from the glory of the Father as the express image of his character and the radiance of his intrinsic glory (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15, 19). We cannot have Jesus unless we have the Father also, and we cannot have the Father unless we have Jesus as he is in his incarnational, reconciling work. One who hates that Jesus—rejects the exclusivity of his cross-work as the only means of forgiveness and right-standing before God—hates the Father also. Jesus claimed that he is “sent” by the Father, and thus, no Father as God can be known without embracing the mission of Jesus as he expressed it as a matter of full—even punctilious—obedience. Because of their hatred of this God, many will construct another god from their own desires. They consult as authoritative what is acceptable in modern culture. Important input will come from their sensitivities about what offends them and their friends, and they will develop a spirituality consistent with this freshly fabricated god. After all, who wants a god that rejects their self-satisfied pleasure with themselves as really nice people far removed from the description of sinners under condemnation so thoroughly exposed by this Jesus of the Bible. But their god will have no revelational basis other than their own flat uni-dimensional desire for approval by the world of the fuzzily supernatural. The message of the Bible and the consistent message of Jesus as recorded by those that heard him and were commissioned by him is that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have see his glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth” This God, “who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14, 18). When it sees him as he is, and its affections remain as they are, the world hates this Jesus.

B.  If the world hates Christ, it hates those that present faithfully his message and the message of him.  (15:18, 19, 20, 16:2) –

Those that uphold this message given by Jesus of the character of God and the exclusive path to the Father through Him, will be hated similarly.

1. Verses 18, 19. If these words were not spoken by Christ himself—“because of this the world hates you”—they would seem to in the realm of indefensible paranoia. Jesus has profound reasons, however, for his assertion based on his perfect knowledge of the world’s sinful rebellion against God and his righteousness and that his message of love cannot be isolated from the reality of our enmity toward God (Romans 5:6-11).

      • Witnesses for Christ will find that the world can tolerate many things, even overt acts of evil and immorality, more than it can tolerate a word spoken in defense of the absolute truth of the gospel and its universal claims. When this happens, we must know that the world hates the Christian witness because it hates Christ.
      • Believers, in this case the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking, are hated by the world because God has chosen them out of the world. They are not of the world. If they merely imitated and defended the values of the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—the world would love them and celebrate them, it would “love you as its own” (19a). Religionists that embrace and defend this present fallen order are the favorites of the world. The followers of Jesus, however, these disciples to whom he is speaking, cannot expect that acclaim. Their view of the world, its sin and rebellion, the nature of sin and judgment, the character of eternity, are all molded by their years with Jesus and will soon be expanded by the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit. Election marks out people for separation from the “rest” of mankind that will not be redeemed; instead, they will be left to their own free will—as they so ardently argue for and desire—to pursue the prevailing affections of their depraved nature. The natural reflex against true holiness generates accelerating dislike for those that argue for the objective existence of a standard of holiness and righteousness.

2. Their message comes from their witness of him and their faithfulness to his words. 

      • Verse 20 – “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” If those to whom disciples speak see in their message the true glory of Christ, they will believe their message and desire to hear and experience its riches.
      • Verse 27 – The Disciples in their apostolic commission present a message that is not of their own making, but one that arises from their personal knowledge of what Christ has done (See 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-4). This first-hand, eye-witness knowledge will be secured in its accuracy by the power of the Holy Spirit [see below]. Such messengers, even those that follow the apostolic message in the centuries since the apostles will find rejection where Christ is hated and reception where Christ’s glory burns into the conscience.

C. The context of this hatred is peculiarly onerous and creates a greatly aggravated condemnation (Verses 22, 24, 25) –

Jesus refers to both his words and his works and the fact that there is no cause in any of them for hatred. In this he reiterated to his disciples what he had said previously to his enemies (John10:31-39).

1. Jesus clearly says that their hatred arises from within them as a trait of their nature and not from anything in him that is worthy of hatred. He is not surprised by this—though grieved at the reality—but sees it as a fulfillment of prophecy, “They hated me without cause” (Verse 25). This is a reiteration of his hard conversation with the Pharisees in chapter 8:45f. “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth why do you not believe me?” It also confirms the claim of Jesus in 14:30: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus’ perfect love for the Father, made it impossible for any of the most rigorous religious pundits to accuse him of sin, made it impossible even for Satan to lay any claim on him as a proper subject of death [see Hebrews 2:14], and justified his claim to be hated “without cause.” 

2. They hate him because he has spoken to them (verse 22). We have seen how, though Jesus promised eternal life through his words [5:24], his words agitate the hatred that is in them (John 8:39-47; 9:40, 41;).His words of truth have revealed the hypocrisy of their hearts and their true ignorance of the need for repentance. Jesus is not saying that before his appearance they were innocent and would not have come into condemnation; he is saying that the specific sin of direct rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after having seen and heard the most immediate revelation of him possible would not have been laid to their charge, had they believed him. But now, they must concede that the God they profess to worship is actually the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they will not do it. They preferred to say, “You are a Samaritan and have a demon.” There are degrees of heinousness to sin, but this sin seems to have been one that had unique possibilities of commission during the incarnation in the very presence of Christ and his teaching. This sin they could not have committed had Jesus not come to them and spoken to them, revealed his authority to them, and claimed before them the uniqueness of his knowledge of and relationship with the Father—a claim that he verified on multiple occasions. But he has spoken plainly to them, and they have turned all the hatred of their hearts toward the one that is speaking the truth to them. (See also Matthew 11:20-24 for this dynamic of enhanced opportunity bringing more heinous sin.)

3. They hate him for his work (verse 24) –  Since all of his works indicated that he carried the personal authority and power of God in himself, their attempt to sidestep the implications of this demonstrated that they did not know, much less love, the God they professed to represent in their  teaching. This is pointed out very clearly in the dialogue between the healed blind man and the religious leaders in John 9:24-34 and then the contrast between their attitude and his in 9:35-41. We see again the implications of his work in John 5:1-8 compared with the Jews’ reaction in 5:10-18.

II. The Help of the Spirit (15:26, 27; 16:4b-15) –

If the words and works of Jesus Himself do not convince during his lifetime, then what hope of success has the one commissioned to tell this message to the world? In compassion, Jesus first recognizes their confusion and their sadness at his continued instruction that he is going away (16:5). They have asked before (14:1-18), but the answer was too advanced, far beyond their ken, so they now merely stand puzzled and saddened. Again, therefore, Jesus assures them his going away is to their benefit. He will have completed the purpose of his coming, and now the work of the Holy Spirit will put into execution his work and make successful their work.

A. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will bear witness about Jesus.

1. He is a helper in this case in that he does what mere human witnesses could not do. For the commission they have received and will be made more specific, the coming of the Spirit is the guarantor of their success. They do not perceive the goodness of Jesus’ leaving for that purpose immediately, but they will soon see the necessity of such a Helper (7). His help is not ineffectual as if he were simply another witness of mere human strength, observation, and knowledge. He gives an entirely new dimension to this help that is needed in the proclamation of the truth about Jesus. 

2. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. Trinitarian relationships are intimately involved in every aspect of the great purpose of redemption. While the apostles witness to what they have seen and heard, the Holy Spirit witnesses to the internal and eternal truth of the purpose of the Son’s coming as a provision of the eternal covenant of redemption. In fulfillment of these Trinitarian dispositions, the Son sends the Spirit from the Father.

3. The perfect verity of the Spirit’s witness arises from his character as the “Spirit of truth” (16:13) It is impossible for the Spirit to have any false understanding of what Christ has done for his knowledge and will is intrinsically involved in the entire conception of the work of redemption. Nor would he speak or effect anything out of accord with that covenant, for it is the fullest and fittest expression of all the perfections of the triune God. To speak untruth in this area would be essentially to deny Himself. 

4. Not only does the Son send the Spirit from the Father, but he sends him on this temporal mission in accord with his eternal mode of existence, that is, as proceeding from the Father. This makes the help, the sentness, and the truth of the Spirit even more impressive as well as immutably necessary, for he performs these works as a part of the fitness of his eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Recall that in 14:26 said, “The helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things etc.” Just as his being sent is dual, so is his procession in eternity dual. That which he is from Father to Son, so He is from Son to Father. The Father will send Him in the name of the Son; the Son will send Him from the Father; for He proceeds eternally from Father and Son in the perfectly symmetrical manifestation of love, knowledge, communication, and joy.

B. The Spirit comes because the Son returns to the right hand of the Father – verses 4b-7.

1. Jesus now reveals to his disciples that he is returning to him that sent him, having completed the work. They are sorrowful for they fear the loneliness and the emptiness of their lives in the absence of this one who has brought them to a knowledge of the Father and has Himself been the very presence of God with them, truly Emmanuel.

2.  His completion of that which he was “sent” to do mandates his return. His coming was not as in the purely spiritual state of each of the Persons of the godhead, but as taking to himself the visible, tangible material of the human nature, and expressing himself in all the rational and affective faculties of that same nature. He will have accomplished this task for which he was sent, and as one of the aspects of his complete triumph will ascend back to heaven where our nature will have an eternal presence with the Father. For this reason, they should be joyful that he is returning. His reception to heaven as the completed Messiah is at the same time the victory of all of those given Him by the Father before the foundation of the world (17:2-4). He cannot stay with them in that state, for the wholeness of the redemptive work is complete only when he ascends to heaven where the Father “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23). For this reason, “It is to your advantage that I go away.”

3. His going away means that now the Spirit, as the Helper, comes. The work of Christ in the covenant of redemption, as far as his work on earth during the state of humiliation is concerned, has been finished, and he now sends the Spirit.  It is now time for the operations of the Spirit specifically connected with that completed work to begin. The Spirit already has been operating, as it were, under cover; he has been giving the new birth and indwelling the chosen under the Old Covenant, but now he comes to give a full display of the completed work of Christ and to form and indwell the entire New Covenant community and to give all the gifts commensurate with this new work.

C. Verse 8 –

In order to perform his work, He must operate toward the world, that is, the world that Jesus has just testified stands in a posture of hatred toward him. This work is summarized by the word “conviction” in verse 8 and points to three things. Each of these embraces an extensive part of biblical theology in itself.

1. Convict the world of sin – “Because they do not believe in me.” In the prologue, John stated, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:10). Likewise, “he came to his own and his own did not receive him” (1:11). The action that shows the absolute dominance of sin over the minds and hearts of all men lies in the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. This is the culmination of their entire history of idolatry and refusal to honor Yahweh with their hearts. The prophesied Messiah was among them, they had the expectation of his coming and they did not accept his message of repentance. All the sins of the ages piled up together do not amount to this one, that they did not believe that Jesus was sent by the Father. It is this sin that shows that our hearts are stone-cold dead and bound up in sin, original and by personal action. It is not that this alone is sin, but that this is the greatest and most irrefutable manifestation of general human sinfulness and bondage. This, this hardness of soul, shows the necessity of a work of the Spirit to bring the world to know its sin.

2. Righteousness – “Because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The point seems to be two-fold. 

      • First, Jesus in his teaching and his actions demonstrated the standard of true righteousness. His life was an ongoing display of the fulfillment of the Law and his teaching showed its expansive power and its comprehensive scope. Even then his teaching was resisted; thus, we see powerfully the necessity of the Spirit’s internal conviction to show the nature of righteousness and how far short we fall from it. 
      • Second, his going to the Father proves that his teaching and his life were righteous, for, far from being under the curse of God (as it appeared to his contemporaries, and indeed as he was for our sake), his work has been accepted as righteous and he has been received at the right hand of the Father. Supremely in the completed work of Christ do we see the purity of his righteousness and the only standard that is pleasing to God. The work of the Spirit is to convict the world of righteousness by the exaltation of Christ as the crowning commendation of the Law’s goodness.

3. Judgment – The promise to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 has been fulfilled. This world has been given over to corruption, subjected to vanity and the one that is the “Prince of the power of the air,” (Ephesians 2:2), the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the one that Jesus called “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30 and this present verse), has found all his efforts to interrupt God’s purpose of glorifying Himself utterly to have failed. The completion of this redemptive work shows the complete destruction of the satanic scheme. Sin, death, and the devil are cast down. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them” in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:15).

D. Verses 12-15 –

In order to perform his work, He, the Spirit, must give special privileges to the apostles. The world could not receive him and even the disciples who would be the apostles did not understand all that they needed to. This they could not grasp until Jesus had ascended and was enthroned. So, the Spirit would perform several necessary functions for them.

1. The Spirit would guide them into all truth. They would receive revelation from the Spirit and also would be inspired to write this revelation in words fit for such spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). 

2. He will “not speak on his own authority,” or initiative (13), but only what he hears. This is not an independent operation of the Spirit, but a work perfectly consistent with his eternal procession from Father and Son communicating all the infinite excellence of love and knowledge and joy of the eternal world of love. He faithfully discharges his part of the eternal covenant of redemption. As the Spirit of truth, he executes the completion of the revelation of the meaning of God’s own “purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:8, 9).

3. The things to come (13c) – This refers in part to future events in an eschatological way, but mostly points to the future work of the apostles in their preaching before different groups of people—Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, governors, philosophers etc.—at which events they will be given what they are to say by the Spirit. Also, their responsibility of establishing the perpetuity of the knowledge of this revealed truth through writing will be superintended by the Spirit. 

4. Verses 14, 15 – The Spirit does not glorify Himself, but he glorifies the Son. In the procession of the Spirit from the Son, as, in eternity he communicates from the Son to the Father, so in the covenant of redemption he takes from what is the Son’s and declares it to us through the apostles. As this procession in eternity is from Father and Son, so his revelatory work in showing the glory of the Son in his redemptive undertaking is received, not from the Son to the exclusion of the Father, but as a manifestation of all that the Father has given to the Son. “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The patristic doctrine of perichoresis is richly implied in this fully Trinitarian participation in the unfolding of the glory of the Son.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

For further commentary see article here

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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