There are two final mentions regarding the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse that reflect some of the greatest truths of His being and presence in the Church Age. First, we must address the surrounding context before reaching John 16:7-15.
One of the greatest hindrances to an accurate understanding of the Scriptures can be found in the “mental break” that occurs when we venture from one chapter of the Bible to another. This difficulty is more prominent than what we may initially realize. Instead, we must formulate our understandings based on the flow of thought as the biblical author has recorded them so that we are embracing each subject in its given order without allowing for the introduction of 16:1 (for example) to cause us to think that a new subject has suddenly been introduced. While this may happen in regular books, this is often not the case with the Scriptures.
In John 16:1, Jesus reveals the reason for His exposition of the reality and nature of the Holy Spirit as seen in 15:26. The confidence that should accompany the knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s presence among them should help keep them from “stumbling.” This word is mē skandalizōwhich upon pronunciation will cause one to think of the English word “scandal,” and rightly so. The mē (pronounced may) is a “particle of negation” that “denies the thought of the thing, or the thing according to the judgment, opinion, will, purpose, preference,of someone.”Putting this together we have the rationale behind Jesus’ words and the desired effect that He sought for them to have on His disciples. This teaching on love, persecution, and the Holy Spirit would rid them of any stumbling block, impediment, or scandal if they would only heed them. His promises were enough to sustain them through the turmoil that would soon transpire. The Spirit of truth is who will guide and comfort them amid persecution, hatred, and affliction (John 15:18-25), all while testifying through them concerning the oracles of God (John 15:26b-27).
Jesus then continues the theme of persecution, explaining the social and religious rejections that they will undergo (John 16:2), even stating that those who murder them will do so under the guise that their actions are a means of glorifying God (John 16:2b). Such actions, and the skewed justification that accompanies their violence, will be the result of their genuine ignorance of the truth, not having known the Father or the Son (John 16:3). “Persecution is certain, but there is not the slightest hint that the disciples should retreat into safe havens and cease witnessing about Jesus. In fact, just the opposite is expected. And to make their witnessing effective the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth or authenticity, is promised to them to support them in their witnessing.”While not every believer will be called to give their very life for the sake of Jesus Christ, some will, and in doing so will be greatly rewarded for their faithfulness (Matt 5:10-12).
Jesus’ comment in John 16:4 is meant to instill confidence in His disciples, though their surrounding conditions would seem bleak. Constable gives a better understanding, writing, “The memory that Jesus had forewarned His disciples would enable them to realize that things were not out of control when they seemed to be. This remembrance would really strengthen their faith in Jesus rather than weakening it.”Any who have ever experienced persecution can relate to the fear and anxiety that accompanies the choice to stand for Jesus. The Master’s words were meant to comfort them in this time, giving them a steadfast “rock” to cling to. Jesus also notes that He did not tell His disciples these things at the beginning due to His physical presence. This comment foreshadows His absence, as will be seen in His crucifixion, but also leaves the reassurance of His Word with them, which never passes away (Luke 21:33).
Jesus understands that His time to depart is drawing near (John 16:5) and that this news has filled His disciples with grief (16:6). It would seem that Jesus’ remark that the disciples had not asked Him where He was going shows that their sorrow had overwhelmed them in their present situation. How would they continue on without Jesus? Could they? Who would guide them? Teach them? Answer their questions? Provide for them? They would be without Him and their relationship with Him was seemingly coming to an end. The disciples’ present emotion had eclipsed Jesus’ promise to provide them with power.
Jesus was not content to let this line of thinking continue, though He knew that their emotions would get the best of them and lead them in a direction of denial (in Peter’s case), distance (in John’s case), and absence (the other nine disciples). Such sorrow brings Jesus’ words to the antidote that He had been holding up before them this entire time: The Paraklētos!
John 16:7.Jesus’ statement in v.7 seems almost beyond comprehension. In light of persecution (John 15:18-16:4), and that being coupled with the fact that He would be leaving them, Jesus reveals that His absence is an advantageous change for His disciples. The word used for “advantage” is the Greek word sympherō,which is a compound word with sym being used as a prefix that denotes “togetherness, to be coupled together, or assembled,” and pherōmeaning to “bring, carry, brought.” This gives the meaning of something that is “profitable,” “expedient,” or “beneficial.” “What a statement!” writes John Van Gelderen. “Jesus said it is more advantageous for us if He departs so that His Spirit could come and be our personal companion. For us to ignore this personal relationship with the Spirit is to despise our Savior’s throne gift: the gift of the Spirit that He sent from His throne on the Day of Pentecost.”
No doubt that Jesus’ statement would be met with unbelief. The disciples’ minds were probably still fixated on His words that He Himself would be absent (“sorrow”-John 16:6). But this is what must happen in order to place the disciples (and us by extension) into a more “beneficial” position. This advantage is Holy Spirit power, the Supernatural working through the temporal, the Blessing blazing forth through the mundane. The Spirit of truth is the central source of positioning us in such a way as to be pleasing to God in our thoughts and actions, operating in perfect harmony with the Scriptures that He has inspired (2 Pet 1:21).
It must be noted that there is a divinely set timeline and progression in place that must transpire for the Spirit to come. This can be understood from John 7:39 where we read, “the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus’ “glorification” is a process that was ignited in John 13:31-32 after Judas had left to betray Him. This “glorification” is contingent upon timing, a pivotal moment that Jesus addresses in John 17:1, 5, noting that the hour had now come (17:1) and that the glory that would be bestowed upon Him at this time was the same glory that He had enjoyed with the Father before the world was created (17:5). From this, we can conclude that the “glorification” in mind is Jesus’ death for sin, His resurrection, and His ascension to the Father, seeing that the Holy Spirit brings about a dispensational shift in Acts 2:3-4 by coming uponthe disciples, filling them, and residing in them from that moment forward.
The “Helper” must come. Since we have the progressive revelation of the New Testament, we understand fully that all that must be done in establishing the Church must be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what the book of Acts is all about. Many Bibles have given this book a title like “The Acts of the Apostles,” but this is misleading to say the least. The book of Acts is about the acts of the Holy Spirit as the empowering God, who grows His Church through His indwelling and supernatural work through believers in Christ. The “sending” of the Spirit is once again in complete alignment with God’s intended plan for history, with a people (The Church) who are “producing the fruits” of the kingdom, though the kingdom has been postponed as a result of Israel’s national rejection of their Messiah (Matt 21:43; 12:24, respectively).
John 16:8-11.Jesus now unfolds the Spirit’s convicting ministry. This is what the Spirit is doing in the Church Age. The explanation also provides a better understanding of the “advantageous” opportunities that the Spirit affords beyond simply residing in the believer.
Of first observation, Jesus states “when He comes,” which obviously speaks of the events of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4), being the birth of the Church, the Body of Christ. This is the time that the Spirit will begin this special ministry.
Second, we see that the action of the Spirit will be that of “conviction.” This word iselenchō, meaning “to convict, refute, confute, generally with a suggestion of the shame of the person convicted,”with “convict” being the overwhelming choice of many major English translations (NASB95, NKJV, ESV, HCSB, CSB, NIV84).
Finally, the audience that will receive this convicting work of the Holy Spirit is identified as “the world.” This word (kosmos) has a wide arrayof meanings, but due to the surrounding context, we can understand this as the Spirit’s work of conviction in relation to unbelievers. This is a sound conclusion when noting that the areas of conviction are going to be in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8b) with each area being expounded upon by Jesus in John 16:9-11. This clearly shows the recipients of such messages as being those who are in need of divinely-imparted Life. These three areas must be carefully considered, for when the Spirit comes, He will indwell the believer in Jesus Christ from that moment forward (John 14:16b). This means that these three areas of conviction will be addressed through the believer in Christ.
Every believer is indispensable to the administration of the convicting work of the Spirit. This work can manifest itself in many ways through the believer, but all will be brought forth with the goal of bringing the deeds, philosophies, and plans of the world into full exposure as works of evil and unrighteousness. The Holy Spirit is a light through the believer, and when the believer is walking in the Spirit, this light pierces the darkness of this present age, holding it accountable for its unbelief, and projecting a beacon of hope that is answered in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us consider each one.
First, we have the area of “sin” in John 16:9. Sin is the problem. It is always the problem. It has always been the problem. Many people have thought, and with good intentions, that something else is the issue, whether it be poverty, disability, insignificance, race, creed, work environment, spouse, kids, in-laws, etc., and so this is where the time, attention, money, focus, and energy goes with feeble attempts to try and “make a difference” so that life, work, and relationships will be improved. This is exactly what Satan wants within the Church because it completely avoids the central pitfall of sin.
The issue, every issue, regardless of what it is, finds its nucleus in sin! Satan wants us polishing the leaves and pruning the branches rather than focusing on the root. He wants us instituting programs and formulating plans to give people a better life, rather than identifyingand bearing down on their ongoing sin and its origin in the sin nature that is successfully flourishing within them (Rom 5:12, 19). He delights in us prescribing people with a checklist for achievement rather than shining a light on the quicksand that is devouring them.
Q: Why is sin the first area in which the Holy Spirit will bring conviction upon the world?
A: Unbelief (John 16:9b). This is how we know that the word “world” in John 16:8 is referring to those who are unregenerate. They are lost and they do not have Life, and we know that they do not have Life because they do not believe. The greatest sin that one can have is unbelief. Jesus states it plainly: “because they do not believe in Me.” Seeing that the Gospel of John uses the word “believe” 98 times, and that by his own admission, John wrote his gospel account with the goal of leading the lost to faith in Christ (John 20:30-31), it should be no surprise that he is emphatic about the main problem that needs to be addressed. The whole human race is guilty before an Almighty Creator of whom they must give an account (Rom 3:19-20). The world is “judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Condemnation is already certain for those who do not believe.
How does this concern the saint in whom the Holy Spirit dwells? This is the first point that needs to be addressed when discussing spiritual matters with a lost person. As with the other two areas that will be discussed, this is the first matter presented where the Holy Spirit will bring conviction. Our evangelism should seek to be in alignment with where the Spirit is working. Since Jesus has revealed this wonderous truth to us, we know that this is the perfect place to start. We cannot work apart from Him and “hope” that He will overlook our denial of where He is already actively working, expecting Him to bless us in spite of our “alternate” approach.
Our time should not be wasted in looking for “someone to come in and do something.” The Holy Spirit works through the believer in Christ. This means you and me. This is an important opportunity that has been afforded to us by God. Reverend George C. Grubb writes, “the most awful thing that a man can do is to have a doubt about the credibility of Jesus, to wander on in the darkness of his own delusions. How the world needs that conviction today; and the world can only get it through seeing Christ shining out of you. The Holy Spirit does not act immediately on the world; He always acts mediately through the members of the Body of Christ. Why is the world not convicted of sin? Because the Spirit of God has come in such little power to us. Do not be blaming the world; do not be finding fault with the world always. ‘People are so Gospel-hardened,’ you say; they are not Gospel-hardened: they have not seen the shining Jesus in you.”
The issue is “sin,” being the destitute position that lost individuals are currently in due to their unbelief about Jesus. The Spirit’s work will always be through the born-again believer, for it is out of His residence that He seeks to address these matters. This leads us to the second area of conviction.
“Righteousness” is listed with the explanation that Jesus will “go to the Father and you no longer see Me” (John 16:10b). The idea of Jesus going to the Father is something that has been occasionally referenced throughout this discourse (John 13:36; 14:1-6, 19, 28; 16:5), so the theme is not unusual. What does Jesus mean in stating that the reason for this second avenue of conviction is because Jesus is going to the Father?
To answer this, we must slow down and meditate upon what Jesus is communicating to the eleven. The Son of God is leaving Earth. He will be crucified, buried, resurrected, and then will ascend before their eyes into heaven (Acts 1:9). If we will recall, the timing of the beginning of the Spirit’s convicting ministry is noted in John 16:7. Jesus must first “go away,” which clearly speaks to the events that will shortly transpire. Having “gone away,” the Spirit of truth will then“come,” and His coming will be advantageous because of the convicting ministry that He will give the disciples in the world upon His indwelling of them. Thus, we see that Jesus’ comments about going “to the Father and you no longer see Me” (John 16:10b) speaking to the time of His absence and the Spirit’s presence. We can conclude that the Spirit of God, residing in the believer, will be the representative of righteousness in Jesus’ place through us. This becomes increasingly clear when we think back to Jesus’ initial comment that the Spirit would be “another Helper” (John 14:16), being one that is like Him.
We, as vessels who have the Spirit of God within us, are the instruments of righteousness in this world, as we walk in the Spirit and abide in Him. Such submission allows for the Spirit’s conviction of righteousness to be displayed as something wholly different than what this sinful world would consider “right” or “true.” An example of this can be seen in Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 2:13-15. It reads, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
Such selfless submission is the “will of God” because it is in alignment with “doing right,” and “doing right” will become a convicting display of righteousness that will silence the Church’s critics. Deep down, they recognize “right” when they see it, and such a display, being in alignment with the Holy Spirit, causes a conviction that results in their having nothing to say. Does this not preach today! Our culture is all about independence and individuality, which are used as excuses to be defiant and unruly. Sadly, I am speaking of many of the attitudes that permeate the American Church. How the Spirit of God would speak if we would simply understand that He is looking for opportunities to convict the world of what is truly “righteous” so that such conviction would amplify the world’s need for a Savior. Are weas those who have the Holy Spirit, a help or a hindrance in the mission that God is desiring to do in the world?
Our third area of conviction is “judgment” (John 16:11). The reason given is the fact that the “ruler of this world has been judged.” This is an astonishing statement seeing that the death of Christ had not yet occurred, and yet here is Jesus speaking already of the Devil’s certain condemnation. The words used for “judgment” and “judged” are krisis andkrinō respectively. Each holds the understanding of “a separating, sundering, separation; a trial, contest, judgment; i.e. opinion or decision given concerning anything, especially concerning justice and injustice, right and wrong.”Judgment is a separation that takes place based on a standard that has been set, but not met.
Having been instrumental in plummeting the human race into sin (Gen 3), Satan has assumed the right of rulership over this present age, as confirmed by the mouth of the Lord Jesus (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11b). The original call was for man to “have dominion” (Gen 1:26, 28), but sin caused a forfeiture of the right to rule as God’s representatives on Earth. This world is now governed by principalities and powers that will give an account for their stewardship over the Earth in due time (Ps 82). “That great enemy of truth is now living on borrowed time. Judgment will come, but the focus here is on an awareness that the prince of this world now stands condemned.”The judgment of Satan is a foretaste of the judgment that will come upon all who do not respond in faith to Jesus Christ (remember, this convicting ministry has its audience in the “world”- John 16:8b).
The judgment that will come upon this world is a legitimate promise with the condemnation of Satan as evidence. Just as he is already judged by God, being an invisible, celestial being, so will the world be judged who has had the greater opportunity to hear and respond tothe Gospel of Jesus Christ. The already-judgment of the greater being guarantees the certain judgment of the lesser beings.
This, being the third area in which the Spirit will convict the world, also finds the believer in Christ as the channel by which this conviction will come. The judgment of the unbelieving world is a certain event that will transpire at a future time for those who are without the Life of God in them. This judgment is deserved because such Life has been freely provided for all (John 1:29; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2). This judgment is to the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15).
Many have objected to this in stating, “How could a good and loving God send anyone to a place of eternal torment? He doesn’t seem so loving.” This question misses the point entirely. Everyone, regardless of who they are, was already destined for the Lake of Fire because of sin. God, being under no obligation, provided a certain rescue from this otherwise unavoidable destiny. God does not send anyone to the Lake of Fire. He alone has provided the way out of the Lake of Fire. Jesus Christ is His answer to the sin problem that had guaranteed our eternal destiny in the Lake of Fire, and faith in Christ cancels our appointment for this judgment and places us in a position of full acceptance before a righteous God. God is the Rescuer of people from the Lake of Fire. People are already condemned because of their unbelief (John 3:18). God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to rescue the lost and give them Life!
Sin, righteousness, and judgment are three indispensable points that must be explained when sharing the Gospel with the lost. It is the three areas in which the Spirit is already working. It is the three topics that need to have the greatest understanding so that the unregenerate person can better grasp their bankrupt condition before a holy God (sin), the standard of righteousness that exists and that is made freely available to them by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (righteousness), and the judgment that awaits those who do not receive the free gift of Life that Jesus Christ offers (judgment).
John 16:12-15.Jesus cannot tell the disciples anymore because they cannot bear them now (John 16:12b). Surely the idea of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit upon the world was enough to occupy their thinking for a lifetime. Instead, Jesus returns to some familiar language, reinforcing what He had previously conveyed about the Spirit’s identity and coming. The Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” who will guide the disciples (and us by extension) into all truth, seeing that truth is who He is and the standard by which He abides. This “guiding into all truth” is in complete harmony with Jesus’ words in John 14:26 where He will “teach you all things,” speaking of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In the same form and fashion of Jesus’ approach (John 5:19-23, 26-27, 30-32; 10:31, 37-38; 14:7-12), we are told that the Spirit will not say anything that is not in total harmony and submission to the Father (John 16:13b). Both Jesus and the Spirit are in subjection to the Father’s will. Just as Jesus’ earthly life demonstrates what it is to walk by faith (in the Spirit), so the Spirit is in complete compliance with these truths, seeing that all truth comes from God.
We are also told that the Spirit will “disclose” what is to come to them. This word “disclose” is not the same as “disclose” in John 14:22, but is a different word, being anangellowhich is a form of what we commonly understand as “angel,” which means “messenger.” The word anangellomeans “an announcement” or “making something known.” The Spirit will make what is to come “known” to them. This is not speaking to the crucifixion and resurrection, because the announcement of His resurrection was met with unbelief (Mark 16:11, 14). Borchert writes, “wide-ranging speculation is eliminated by remembering that these words were written as a Farewell message to anxious disciples who feared the imminent loss of Jesus, their physical companion and guide. But the future was also an unknown page for them, since these Paraclete passages indicate that the coming times would be traumatic for them and that in such times the disciples would need the truthful and authentic Spirit to guide them through their forthcoming wilderness.”Such pain would still have Jesus’ promises.
The Spirit always points to Jesus Christ (John 15:26b-27). Those things that belong to Christ will be “disclosed” (anangello- “announced, made known”) to the disciples (John 16:14b). Again, this is in keeping with truth. Reading further, we see that those “things” are such that the Father has shared with the Son, giving Him “first-rights” ownership of them. The Spirit, being perfectly God, in turn reveals them to the disciples. All of this is in perfect compliance with explaining the truth about Jesus Christ.
What has Jesus taught us about the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel?
· He is a “Helper” in the same manner as Jesus (14:16)
· He is sent from the Father by request of the Son (14:16; 15:26)
· He will be with us forever (14:16)
· He is the Spirit of truth (14:17; 15:26; 16:13)
· The world cannot receive Him (14:17)
· He was “abiding” with the disciples in Jesus’ time (14:17)
· He will be “in” them at a future time (14:17; 7:39)
· When He resides “in” them, streams of living water will flow out from their innermost being (7:38)
· He will be sent in the Name of Jesus (14:26)
· He will teach them all things (14:26)
· He will bring to their remembrance all that they had been taught (14:26)
· He will testify about Jesus using believers to do so (15:26-27)
· Jesus must go away for the Spirit to come (7:39; 16:7)
· The Spirit’s arrival is “advantageous” for believers (16:7)
· The Spirit will convict the word of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8-11)
· The Spirit guides us into all truth (16:13)
· The Spirit speaks only of what He has heard from the Father (16:13)
· The Spirit will disclose the things to come to us (16:13)
· He will glorify Christ (16:14)
· He will disclose those things that come from the Son, and that were given to Him by the Father, to us (16:14-15)
Are we in step with what we have learned about the Holy Spirit?
His ministry tous is revealing things about Christ, leading us and teaching us in all truth, and bringing to our remembrance the things about Christ in the proper time.
His ministry throughus is the conviction of the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Are we in step with these things? Does our own personal sin hinder the conviction of the world’s sin that the Spirit is seeking to convey?
What was Jesus’ reason for sharing all that He did about the coming Holy Spirit? Though we are on the other side of the crucifixion, the disciples were not. They were being told that their beloved friend and mentor, the One whom they believed to be the Christ of God (Matt 16:16), was leaving them. Yet, they did not understand how He would leave them, even though He told them plainly (Matt 16:21; Luke 18:31-34). Imagine the looks on their faces when Judas’ kiss set off a firestorm of hostility. One of their own had betrayed the Son of God.
The Spirit was given to be a Friend, Helper, Comforter, and Counselor who never leaves (John 14:16). He is always there and He can keep us from stumbling (John 16:1) if we rely upon Him. He is a Teacher of truth and a Guide who leads us and makes us effective in ministry (John 14:26; 16:13) Most importantly, He is God; and isn’t it just like God to give of Himself for the love and care of His people.
Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 408.
Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), p. 162.
Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible(Galaxie Software, 2003), Jn 16:4.
John Van Gelderen, Friendship with the Holy Spirit (Ann Arbor, MI: Revival Focus Ministries, 2015), p. 42.
Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 202.
Keswick’s Triumphant Voice, ed. Herbert F. Stevenson (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd./Zondervan Publishing House, 1963), p. 376-377.
Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 361.
Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 300.
Borchert, John 12–21, p. 170.