We learned two weeks ago that the conversation between Jesus and his disciples had moved from the Upper Room in Jerusalem (see 14:31) and was heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane. As was suggested, perhaps Jesus stopped every so often and offered additional comments for the benefit of his quiet and somber disciples. In fact, scholars see the benefit of calling this part (chapters 15-16) the Farewell Discourse. Earlier, beginning with the departure of Judas as recorded in chapter 13, Jesus began what we called the Upper Room Discourse. Now, it is the Farewell Discourse.
It is interesting to note that so many of the themes begun earlier in chapters 13 and 14 are revisited in these verses. For instance:
1. Struggles with the world
2. The need for the Spirit’s assistance
3. The coming trauma of Jesus’ death and departure
4. The reassurance of Jesus’ imminent return
These are all definitely revisited here but they will not be fully understood by the disciples until sometime after his resurrection and ascension.
So closely does this chapter follow chapter 14 that some have suggested that actually the order of the chapters has gotten confused over the centuries. They love to point to the finality of the words in 14:31, “Rise, let us leave” which would indicate a natural end to the teaching. Critical scholars think that over the years either the order of the chapters here has gotten rearranged or some materials have been unnecessarily duplicated. With our high view of the promises related to the inspiration and preservation of Scripture, we don’t find ourselves drawn to such conclusions. It seems more profitable to ask why these matters are repeated? Would there be a strategic reason why the Apostle John would want his congregation in Ephesus to wrestle with these matters?
There also seems to be some confusion over the fact that in this chapter Jesus declared, “None of you ask, ‘Where are you going?’ ” even though we know that both Peter and Thomas asked precisely that question in 13:36 and 14:5. This has also led to numerous rearrangement theories but this is not necessary. For one thing, even though the question of “Where are you going?” has been asked and answered, their understanding was still greatly lacking. This could have provoked our Lord to push further on this issue. Also, there is benefit in repeating previous truths given the troubled state of mind that the disciples were in. What we will see in today’s text is that Jesus intentionally returned to two basic themes to emphasize and underscore his previous teachings. The disciples would eventually remember these as some of his most important last words. They were very profound.
Following this emphasis we notice that the text divides, then, into these two distinct and helpful themes: 1) the promise of the coming Holy Spirit, and 2) the promise of the Lord’s return.
I. The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 5-15)
A. His convicting role
1. As we noted earlier, one of the repeated teachings of Jesus had to do with the believer’s adversarial relationship with the world. The world hated Jesus and his followers would be left to face that hatred as an ongoing challenge. He knew that he would not physically be with them to absorb the hostility. But even though he would not be present with them physically, he would be present with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. They would be left to bear the brunt of this persecution but they would not be left on their own. This is the fourth out of five times that he would bring up the subject of the purpose for sending the Holy Spirit. As we might suspect, he had something special to tell them.
2. The Greek word translated as the person of the Holy Spirit is the word paraclete. We have discussed this before. It technically has to do with a defender standing along side of us in a court of law defending us against the charges of the court. In this case, the charges and hostility directed against us are represented as coming from the world. The world could not know Jesus because of their rejection of his miracles and his teachings. For much the same reason, the world cannot know the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit knows the world! In an amazing change of roles, the defender suddenly becomes the prosecutor and judge! The Holy Spirit will have a convicting role!
3. Note carefully that Jesus has already claimed this role for himself in this gospel. We saw that in chapter 9:35-41 when Jesus personally came to the aid of the man who had been born blind. In that situation it was really Jesus, not the blind man who was on trial. They were rejecting Jesus’ words and his signs. But Jesus became the judge of his accusers.
4. As we might suspect, understanding this description of the Holy Spirit’s convicting role has been challenging. It boils down to our understanding of the Greek word “elenchos” which could be translated “prove wrong about” but here it is simply translated “convict.” This word is found 17 times in the New Testament and generally is used to describe the action of exposing sin. For instance, John the Baptist exposed and convicted Herod of his sin of immorality (Luke 3:9). Prophecy has the power to expose and convict of sin (1 Corinthians 14:24). We are even charged with the responsibility to declare God’s truth and so convict sinners of their sin (1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9; James 2:9; and Jude v. 5).
5. In Jesus’ day the world had already judged him and found him guilty and deserving of death. Certainly, the Jewish religious leaders were convinced that they were doing God’s work! Well, actually, they were! It was God’s will that the Son be crucified. But they were not doing God’s work in the way they understood it. But now would come a reversal. The Holy Spirit would judge and sentence the world.
6. Some of the debate has to do with how we should translate these phrases into English. Convict the world about its sin, righteousness, and judgment? What righteousness does the world have? Better is the idea that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit unveils to the world the real nature of sin, righteousness, and judgment. This seems to make more sense.
7. To summarize, the world has been put on notice: Its guilt will be exposed. The Spirit will bring to light the true meaning of sin and righteousness and judgment and thereby expose the world’s fatal errors. As in the drama in the courtroom, the verdict of guilt will be announced with absolute clarity. And the church will be a part of this process. As the “pillar and ground of the truth” the church will witness against the world. Although rejected by the world, God will vindicate believers.
a. Error 1: “they did not believe in me” (v. 9) and this is sin. (see 1:11, 3:19, and 15:22)
b. Error 2: “I am going to my Father” (v. 10) and the world will not see him because they did not recognize his inherent righteousness. They condemned him to die thinking he was unrighteous but his resurrection will prove him accepted by the Father and possessor of true righteousness while the world, including the religious leadership are the ones found to be unrighteous. (see 3:19-21, 7:7, 15:22-24)
c. Error 3: “the ruler of this world has already been judged” (v. 11) and the world has been judged along with him. That’s why Jesus called him the “prince” of this world (12:31 and 14:30). With the judgment of Jesus on the cross, he was found righteous while the world was found to be sinful and guilty.
B. His revelatory role
1. The last four verses in this section actually frame the fifth promise concerning the Holy Spirit. This completes the full description of his ministry. In addition to his abiding presence, his empowerment, his comfort and convicting roles, and his ability to help bring to remembrance things that the disciples already knew there seems to be one more activity. The Holy Spirit would provide supplementary revelations that the disciples had not yet heard.
2. As we might expect, abuses of these verses have occurred throughout the history of the church. Charismatic preachers love to use these verses to claim authority for ongoing revelation even to this day. But those views undermine the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. Do we need more today than the written Word of God? No. God’s Word is sufficient for our every spiritual need.
3. Actually, this aspect of an ongoing revelatory work of the Holy Spirit would be realized in the ministry of the Apostle John. Through John, the powerful Revelation of Jesus Christ would be recorded. Also, just as Ezra the scribe was used in his day to help gather the canon of the Old Testament manuscripts, so too, the Apostle John would play a very significant role in approving and collecting the corpus of New Testament documents as they were being considered. Everything that the Father willed that we have, we would have. God’s Word is complete.
II. The Promise of the Lord’s Return (vv. 16-33)
A. His imminent return
1. Seven times in this text Jesus said, “in a little while.” He purposefully meant to influence the disciples to expect something to happen quickly. Just as certainly as he had declared to them that he would leave them, he also declared to them that they would see him again. In a little while!
2. We must be careful to not read into the text our own ideas. Jesus was not speaking here of his ultimate coming in glory at the end of times. He was speaking of his resurrection following his death. How do we know this? Consider:
a. His opening words in v. 20, “Truly, truly I say to you.” Although the world would celebrate his death thinking that good had triumphed over evil, his disciples would be the ones to eventually rejoice. At the time of his death they would be devastated. But he was promising them something. Truly, truly. “What I say is the truth.”
b. Twice in this text Jesus said, “You will see me (vv. 17 and 19).” This would literally be true of Mary in the Garden (20:18), of the disciples (20:20, 25), and of Thomas (20:25). Later the Apostle John would use the same language to open the Epistle of First John, “That which we have seen.”
c. The analogy of a woman in labor was used frequently in the Old Testament to illustrate the anguish Israel would endure while waiting for the blessings promised by God (Isaiah 21:2-3, 26:16-21, 66:7-10; Jeremiah 13:21; Hosea 12:13; Micah 4:9-10). Both the cross and the resurrection represent deliverance. The cross—ours. The resurrection—his.
B. His spectacular return
1. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave would be a spectacular source of joy for the disciples. While they loved him intimately they could hardly comprehend how powerful his resurrection would be.
2. But there is more! The joy at seeing Jesus would result in a renewed relationship between him and the disciples. This would include two notable effects.
a. Understanding (v. 23, 25-30)
i. Jesus had often taught his disciples figuratively. He knew that it would not be until after his resurrection that they would begin to really understand. In conjunction with the coming “hour,” that time when his glorification would include his going to the Father and his sending the Holy Spirit, the disciples would begin to understand.
ii. With the growing understanding would come a dispelling of their apprehensions and in its place would come boldness and selfless sacrifice even to the point of death. This spectacular return, the resurrection, would ignite the early believers to totally give themselves over to the work of representing Christ.
iii. While vv. 29-30 represent the disciples celebrating this new clarity there were still trials ahead. The actual events of the crucifixion would devastate them and they would be scattered. But eventually, a complete understanding would be theirs. The correction of vv. 31-32 was gentle and timely.
b. Efficacious prayer (vv. 23b-24)
i. Through their growing understanding of all that Jesus had taught them, and with the indwelling Holy Spirit, a new boldness came in their prayers. Their prayers, in fact the very desires of their hearts, were in line with the ways of God.
ii. V. 33 is an amazing conclusion both from the sense of their assurance of being in Christ and in God as well as the sense that a new peace would be theirs. Why? The Overcomer was with them. Victory was already within his grasp. The outcome of the trials and tragedy would be glorious.
Conclusion: Discipleship is about learning how to discover peace when surrounded by threat, how to possess tranquility despite those who are hostile to our faith. Grief turned to joy. The solution is courage. That’s why Jesus exhorted his disciples, “Take heart.” His exhortations had gone from, “Don’t be troubled in your hearts” to “Take heart.” Jesus had already demonstrated this kind of calm courage when they were caught in the dangerous storm on the Sea of Galilee. “Be not afraid.” No matter what our circumstances, we always have the promise that Jesus is greater than our problems. “I have overcome the world.” Jesus’s proclamation of victory always outweighs the jeopardy of our crisis. In the Christian faith we can always expect that our grief will be turned into joy when we see Christ in all of his power and glory.