Lesson Focus:  The Holy Spirit points us to our need for salvation and the truth of how we can receive that salvation through Christ.

The Counselor is Sent:  John 16:5-7.

[5]  But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ [6]  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. [7]  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  [ESV]

[5-7]  Jesus has not earlier spelled out the full dangers of persecution because He was still with them, and could largely protect them by absorbing all opposition Himself, thus deflecting it from them. Indeed, His arrest proves to be the last time He serves them in this way. The disciples have not asked thoughtful questions about where Jesus is going and what it means for them. They have been too self-absorbed in their own loss. Moreover the drift of all four Gospels assures us that none of the inner ring of disciples entertained the idea, before the cross, that the Messiah would simultaneously be conquering king, suffering, dying servant, and resurrected Lord. So how much of Jesus’ talk about His departure to the Father did they understand at this point? What is undeniable is that the disciples are filled with deep grief over their impending loss. What they need to hold on to is this: it is to your advantage that I go away. The reason for this judgment is then made clear: unless Jesus departs, the Helper (Paraclete) will not come to them. But if Jesus goes, He will send the Helper to them. The thought is not that Jesus and the Holy Spirit cannot simultaneously minister to God’s people, or any other such strange notion. Rather this saving reign of God cannot be fully inaugurated until Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and been exalted to His Father’s right hand, returned to the glory He enjoyed with the Father before the world began. Therefore it is better for His followers that He departs. Before the triumphant in-breaking of God’s saving reign, before the inauguration of the new covenant, millions ignored the claims of the true God. Pentecost transformed that limitation, and millions have been brought to happy submission to the Lord Jesus Christ and to growing obedience by the power of the Spirit whom He bequeathed. That is why the final two Paraclete utterances [verses 8-11 and 12-15] are introduced at this point.

The Counselor Reveals Our Need:  John 16:8-11.

[8]  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: [9]  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; [10]  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; [11]  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  [ESV]

[8-11]  Verse 9-11 constitute an expansion or explanation of the statement in verse 8 which tells us when the promised Helper comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to several things. The Greek verb means to convict the world in the personal sense, i.e. not arguing the case for the world’s objective guilt before God at the final judgment, but shaming the world and convincing it of its own guilt, thus calling it to repentance. The concerning clauses of verses 9-11 provide a reason why the Helper is engaged in this convicting work. The meaning, then, is as follows. Just as Jesus forced a division in the world [15:20] by showing that what it does is evil [7:7; 15:22], so the Helper continues this work. Indeed, He most commonly does so through the witness of disciples [15:26-27]; He always does so in connection with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, since His whole purpose is to bring glory to Him [16:14]. By His departure, His death/exaltation, Jesus fulfills the conditions that must be met before He can send the Helper; and the gift of the Helper is so great that Jesus’ departure must be seen as for the disciples’ good [6-7]. When the Helper comes, He extends the ministry of Jesus in ways the disciples could not have foreseen. In particular, He convicts the world of its sin, its righteousness, and its judgment. He convicts the world of its sin because the people who constitute the world do not believe in Jesus [9]. If they did believe in Jesus, they would believe His statements about their guilt and turn to Him. As it is, their unbelief brings not only condemnation [3:18,36] but willful ignorance of their need. The world’s unbelief not only ensures that it will not receive life, it ensures that it cannot perceive that it walks in death and needs life. The Holy Spirit presses home the world’s sin despite the world’s unbelief; He convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus. This convicting work of the Helper is therefore gracious: it is designed to bring men and women of the world to recognize their need, and so turn to Jesus, and thus stop being the world. He convicts the world of its righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father [10]. It might be objected that it is strange to speak of convicting the world of righteousness at all. This is in fact the only place in the Fourth Gospel where righteousness occurs, and the context must determine its exact force. John loves to quote or allude to Isaiah who says in 64:6 that all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Thus the righteousness which the Helper will convict the world is its own false righteousness which is shown to be hopelessly inadequate. The reason why the Helper convicts the world of its righteousness is because Jesus is going to the Father. One of Jesus’ most startling roles with respect to the world was to show up the emptiness of its pretensions, to expose by His light the darkness of the world for what it is [3:19-21]. But now Jesus is going; how will that convicting work be continued? It is continued by the Holy Spirit who drives home this conviction in the world precisely because Jesus is no longer present to discharge this task. 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. That this work of the Spirit is accomplished through the disciples is probably the reason for the shift to the second person in verse 10: you will see me no longer. The point is that Jesus was the paradigm, the model of behavior, the master who was to be followed. Now the Helper so empowers the disciples, taking Jesus’ teaching and making it known to them [15], that they continue to follow Jesus and thus convict the world of its empty righteousness. Finally, the Helper convicts the world of its judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The judgment of which the Spirit convicts the world is its multifaceted spiritual blindness, supremely displayed in its treatment of Jesus. Earlier Jesus had exhorted the world to not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment [7:24]. Jesus’ judgment is righteous and true. The world’s judgment is profoundly wrong and morally perverse. And now, the Helper convicts the world of its false judgment, because in the impending triumph of Christ the prince of this world stands condemned. All false judgment is related to him who was a liar from the beginning, whose children we are if we echo his values [8:42-47]. If the ruler of this world stands condemned by the triumph of the cross, the false judgment of those who follow in his train is doubly exposed. The need for conviction of this false judgment is all the more urgent; the world is condemned already [3:36] and in desperate need to learn of its plight.

The Counselor Points to Jesus:  John 16:12-15.

[12]  "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [13]  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14]  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15]  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  [ESV]

[12-13]  This fifth and final Helper passage is a suitable climax to the series, since it focuses on the completion of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are to understand that Jesus is the center point of revelation, God’s culminating self-disclosure, God’s final self-expression, God’s Word. All antecedent revelation has pointed toward Him, and reaches its climax in Him. That does not mean He himself provides all the details His followers will need; it does mean that the additional information the Holy Spirit provides after He is sent by Christ Jesus, consequent upon Jesus’ death/exaltation, are nothing more than the filling out of the revelation present in Jesus Himself. The same thought is presented in different form in Hebrews 1:1-4. Because of this theme of the finality of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the church has always been rightly suspicious of claims of still further definitive revelation that is binding on the consciences of all Christians. The Spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth. Jesus Himself is the truth [14:6]; now the Spirit of truth leads the disciples into all the implications of the truth, the revelation, intrinsically bound up with Jesus Christ. The notion of guidance in all truth has to do with understanding God as He has revealed Himself, and with obeying that revelation. Just as Jesus never spoke or acted on His own initiative, but said and did exactly what the Father gave Him to say and do, so also the Spirit speaks only what He hears. As Jesus’ absolute but exhaustive obedience to His Father ensures that He is not to be taken as either a mere mortal or as a competing deity, but as the very revelation of God Himself, so also the Spirit, by this utter dependence, ensures the unity of God and of the revelation God graciously grants. The Spirit tells the disciples the things that are to come. This has often been understood to refer to revelation about the later stages of the kingdom. But there is nothing in the context that demands an essentially futurist eschatology. On the other hand, it makes sense to suppose that the Holy Spirit is unpacking some of the significance of the event of Jesus’ death and exaltation. This includes the Helper’s own witness to Jesus, His ministry to the world primarily through the church, and the pattern of life and obedience under the new kingdom.

[14-15]  Just as the Son by His ministry on earth brought glory to His Father [7:18; 17:4], so the Helper by His ministry brings glory to Jesus: that is His central aim. His means is the unfolding of Jesus’ person and work. The Holy Spirit not only passes on what Jesus taught but also takes this revelation bound up in Jesus’ person and mission and presses it home in the hearts and minds of the disciples. Of course, all that Jesus said and did is nothing more and nothing else than what the Father gave Him to say and do. Therefore if the Spirit takes what is mine and makes it known to the disciples, the content of what is mine is nothing less than the revelation of the Father Himself, for Jesus declares, All that the Father has is mine. That is why Jesus has cast the Spirit’s ministry in terms of the unfolding of what belongs to the Son: this is not a slighting of God, or undue elevation of the Son, since what belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the Spirit’s ministry be designed to bring glory to the Son [14]. The Father Himself has declared that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father [5:23]. And the Son, for His part, is no less concerned to bring glory to His Father [14:13; 17:1,4]. It is important to recognize that the disciples who will directly benefit from these ministrations of the Spirit are primarily the apostles. In two of the other Helper passages, explicit reference is made to reminding the disciples of what Jesus said during the days of His flesh [14:26] or to the fact that they had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry [15:27]. Both references rule out later disciples. Here, too, the primary focus of the Spirit’s ministry is doubtless on those who could not, when Jesus spoke, bear more than He was giving them [16:12], but who would need to be guided in all the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus that they had been privileged to witness. At least part of the consequence of that unfolding is this Gospel of John. Derivatively, we may speak of the Spirit’s continued work in the disciples of Jesus today. But that is not the primary emphasis of these verses; and in any case it is impossible to think of such continuing ministry of the Spirit leading men and women to stances outside the enriching and explanatory ministry He exercised among the first witnesses, which is crystallized in the Bible. That the emphasis is so transparently on the first witnesses, on how they came to what we would call a fully Christian understanding of all that Jesus is and did, drives our attention to Jesus Himself, and away from subsidiary themes like discipleship, the continuing work of the Spirit and the like. The primary focal point of biblical truth must always be the glory of Christ and not on all the subsidiary benefits that flow out of that truth.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why was it to the advantage of the disciples that Jesus leave them? Why was it necessary that Jesus leave before the Spirit is sent? (Of course, this does not mean that the Spirit was not active before Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It just means that after Jesus left the Spirit took on new responsibilities in the new covenant.)

2.         One of the new responsibilities of the Spirit is to convict the world of its guilt. What does sin, righteousness, and judgment mean in 16:9-11? How does the Spirit accomplish this work of convicting the world?

3.         A second new responsibility of the Spirit is to guide the apostles into all the truth. How does the Spirit accomplish this work for the apostles? How does the Spirit accomplish this work in all believers? Note the important truth here that the purpose or goal of the Spirit’s work is to glorify the Son. This provides us with an essential yardstick by which to measure any teaching claimed to be from the Spirit: Does it glorify the Son?


John, Andreas Kostenberger, ECNT, Baker.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

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