Jesus has been speaking to the 11 disciples who will take the message of the gospel out into the world when the time comes. It’s the night of his arrest but his disciples don’t understand this yet. Jesus has told them that they must remain in him and that the world will treat them badly because they remain in him. Even so, they are told to go and testify about Jesus as witnesses who have been with him since the beginning of his earthly mission.
Chapter 16 are Jesus final words in this lengthy speech to the disciples. Besides being able to listen in on His prayer in chapter 17, these will be the last instructions from Jesus to his disciples before the great disaster takes place – the arrest of Jesus and the scattering of the disciples.
Being a lengthy section this week, you may want to ask your group how they would divide the text into sections – what would their structure look like? Take suggestions and discuss why they chose those breaks. Passages can be broken up in different ways. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not. Although there are certainly wrong ways of dividing the text, there are usually options in parts. Here is how I’m dividing up the text based on themes or messages in each section:
- 1-5a – Be strong and courageous
- 5b-15 – I must go so that the Spirit of Truth can come to you
- 16-24 – Your grief will turn into joy
- 25-33 – Jesus speaking plainly
Verses 1-5a – Jesus warns the disciples that what is coming is a time of persecution. It’s important to recall two things here: 1) that Jesus is talking specifically to 11 men about their future and 2) that what Jesus teaches these 11 men is the same principal for us. That is, we do not need to see a prediction for us but we do need to listen to the same lesson of encouragement: to be strong and courageous in a world that has rejected the love of the Father.
“…so that you will not fall away.” How do they avoid falling away? By listening to Jesus words! By “remaining” in him! (John 15:7). Can Christians fall away? Yes. They fall away when they stop giving Jesus their attention. When they “walk in the way of sinners” (Ps 1). But the word of God is what prevents us from falling away. It is the power of God (Romans 1:16-17). God keeps us for eternity by his word and with his Spirit. This is the distinction between those who are truly called by God and those who enjoy the benefits of grace but do not remain in Jesus. 1 John 2:19 (the same writer of John’s gospel) says that those who depart from Jesus show that they were never really saved to begin with. Are you nervous that you might fall away? Good. Keep listening to Jesus and the word of God.
“I did not tell you this from the beginning…” Jesus has in mind the beginning of his ministry with the disciples – back when he called them from their fishing boats (some of them) to become fishers of men. Back then, Jesus had a three year education in store for them. They didn’t need to worry about the specifics of their future and Jesus’ departure back then, but Jesus now tells them everything they need to hear to prepare them for what is next. We can learn from this same idea when we teach others about Christ. Every one of us continues to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Christ. We must be patient with one another and also not be anxious if we don’t have the same depth of understanding as others.
Verses 5b to 15 focus on the Holy Spirit who will come when Jesus departs. It’s helpful to realize that the disciples are growing in their grief as Jesus says that he is departing. But it’s for their good that he goes. In this section, we learn that it is good because unless he goes, the Spirit cannot come. In the next section, 16 onward, Jesus tells them that they must grieve before they see joy.
“When he comes he will…” three things Jesus says that the Spirit will do (specifically).
- The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about sin because people do not believe in Jesus. This is the conviction of the Spirit. Sin will not be reduced to small occurrences of lies, stealing and adultery (not that any of these are minor) but the guilt of sin will land on where you stand with Jesus. The Father will come and make a home with anyone who loves Jesus and obeys Jesus’ commands (Jn 14:23-24). People that very night will show their ignorance of Jesus and will nail him to a cross. This will be the world’s ultimate act of sin.
- The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father. Righteousness is not found in our works because nobody can please God by their own righteousness. Righteousness is not found through the Jewish laws and religion because they will turn on Jesus and crucify him. The Spirit will show their actions to be wrong when Jesus is raised from the dead and returned to the Father (Romans 8:11).
- The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned. Jesus had mentioned the ‘prince of this world’ back in Jn 14:30 and said that he has no hold over Jesus. The person being referred to is commonly understood as Satan – the deceiver. A great moment occurred at the cross, which the Spirit of Truth has ever since been speaking into this world: Jesus has died for our sins and we need not ever listen to the lies of Satan again. He was wrong to deceive Adam and Eve in the beginning and wrong to deceive every human ever since. He cannot, ever more, stand and tell any of his holy ones that they are guilty and must pay for their crimes. We stand with the Holy Spirit and say back, “I am with Jesus who died for me so that I do not have to listen to your lies any more!”
“The Spirit of truth…will receive from me what he will make known to you.” Verses 12-15 center on the Spirit serving the Father and Jesus to make known to the disciples the truth. This truth captures what we’ve already looked at above and everything that the Father has revealed to Jesus. Notice again the language here that has made up the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not a man-made myth or something that the church has adopted on its own but a way of taking the words of the bible and giving that relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit a name. “All that belongs to the Father is [Jesus’]”. “…the Spirit will receive from me…” “[The Spirit] will glorify [Jesus]” “The Spirit will not speak on his own.” Add these words to the description in chapter 14 and 15 and you build a great vision of the Godhead from Jesus’ lips alone! Notice too how integral the Spirit is to the word of God. His role is focused on truth and sharing the words of the Father. The Spirit of God and the word of God cannot be separated.
Verses 16 to 24, describe a passing event which will begin with grief but then be replaced with joy. Compare verses 16, 20 and 22. The illustration of the woman in labour describes the comparison of the two moments: great pain will give way to great relief and excitement – such joy that the pain will be overlooked. Jesus is surely talking about the cross and resurrection. That is what has been on his mind over these past few chapters and he has been telling the disciples that he must go away. The pain they will face will begin at his arrest (chapter 18) and continue beyond his death right up until they hear and see that he has been raised from the dead! Then they will bring back to memory all that Jesus has said to them about this event (John 16:4).
“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him…” (v19). Jesus and John (the narrator) draw attention to this little phrase quite a bit. Perhaps more than seems natural. The words of Jesus could have simply continued as John reflects back at this conversation without the little issue of the disciples not understanding. Why does John tell us what the disciples were thinking and then have Jesus know what they were wanting to ask? You could say that any perceptive person may have known what the disciples were wanting to ask, but even the disciples are amazed when in verse 30 they are convinced that Jesus knows what they want before they ask it! Furthermore, Jesus talks about being asked things in verse 23, 24, and 26. It’s like he takes the “unasked question” and converts it into a lesson about asking for things but no more asking Jesus, but asking the Father. What draws all of this together? Firstly, that the disciples are convinced of Jesus’ truth because he was able to know what they wanted without being asked but secondly, that he came to earth in the first place to give his disciples something that they didn’t necessarily ask for: “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” This was all the initiative of the Father and Jesus. This is grace. Not that we asked God but that he saw what we needed and came to deliver. Now that we have been given access to the Father even before we asked for it, we are invited to talk directly to the Father about anything we desire. Perhaps my words have not been clear here, but seeing how Jesus plays with the idea of “not asking” is kind of awesome and impressive – and it teaches us about grace.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What a great way for Jesus to end his dialogue with his disciples. It’s a solemn and serious way to end his ministry with them but an important one. They are promised PEACE and TROUBLE at the same time. The first will come from God and the latter will come from the world. But take heart! Don’t be discouraged. Grasp onto this truth: that Jesus has overcome the world. He is superior. He is the boss. He is the one who has returned to the Father with a mission accomplished! If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)!
The disciples will truly need to remember these words. Even with the conviction that they share in verse 30, they will be scattered before the night is over (verse 32). When we are confident in our faith, be careful, because there are times when we may feel very weak. But when we feel weak and failing, take heart because Jesus has been strong for us.
Jesus’ mission on earth is almost complete. He will go to the cross and see the disciples scattered before he conquers death and replaces their grief with joy. As Jesus prepares to leave, he promises that the Spirit of truth will come and bring clarity to the events that are about to take place. Sin, and righteousness and judgment are all seen at the cross as Jesus’ mission is accomplished. Sin is exposed. Righteousness revealed. And the prince of this world is stripped of all his power. The disciples declare their understanding and belief over who Jesus is as Jesus warns them to stand firm and not fall away.
- Negative influences from the world that we live in will bring us trouble. It might be silent or audible sniggers from family or acquaintances. It might be public shame from a position that makes no sense to people outside of Christ. But Jesus says to us: don’t fall away. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. Listen to the Spirit of truth and not the spirit of this age. The world can judge us all it likes, but God has sent his Son into the world to give us grace and peace! So take heart!
- Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that it was crucial that he go away, otherwise the Spirit could not come. Jesus thinks very highly of the Spirit when he puts it that way: “it’s better that I leave”, he said. The Spirit has upheld the 11 disciples to bring them clarity on all that Jesus did and said and so that they could deliver this message to the world. The role of the Spirit is to testify, or bear witness, or reveal to people everything in truth about the Father and the Son. Thank God for his gift to us! We are not alone.
- Although Jesus spoke of this death and resurrection as the time of pain which gives way to joy – surely we can see the similarity between our lives which endure trouble and hardship while we wait for the joy of our own resurrection and of seeing God in glory! Suffering, in the bible, is seen as part of the process leading to great joy. James said, consider it all joy when you face trials of every kind. This is not because the Christian loves pain, but because we know that this pain will give way to liberty, freedom, eternal peace, joy and rest. The memory of the pain of this world will pass away as we celebrate with excitement the very real deliverance into glory.
Father God, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, into this world in order to set us free from sin and shame. Keep us, we pray, in your love and teach us to serve you through good times and poor. Keep our hearts from despair as we live our lives listening to the Spirit of your word. Amen.