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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Explains the Twofold Work of the Paraclete in More Detail (16:4-15)
Jesus Explains the Twofold Work of the Paraclete in More Detail (16:4-15)

Jesus now comes to his final teaching about the Paraclete. Jesus' departure, the talk of which has caused the disciples so much distress, is necessary in order that the Paraclete might come (vv. 4b-7). When the Paraclete does come he will continue the work of revelation begun in Jesus, both his judgment of the world (vv. 8-11) and the revelation of God to the disciples (vv. 12-15).

Jesus has been speaking of his departure, the persecution the disciples will soon meet and the coming of the Paraclete. These topics were not part of his teaching from the beginning because he was still with them (v. 4). His revelation has unfolded as was appropriate at the various stages of his ministry. Now that he is about to depart to the Father he is preparing them for what comes next, both the blessing and the danger.

He upbraids them for not asking where he is going (v. 5). This is puzzling because Peter had already done exactly that (13:36) and Thomas also had expressed ignorance of where Jesus was going (14:5). This could be a seam in the garment of the Gospel (see comment on 14:31; Brown 1970:710). If this is not a seam, then there must be some distinction between Peter's question and what Jesus is referring to here. Perhaps Peter's earlier question was not really a serious one, since he was immediately distracted from it and did not follow up on it (Morris 1971:695-96). Or perhaps the clue is in the present tense—none of them asks him. They had asked earlier, but now they are grieving instead of asking (v. 6; Barrett 1978:485). Perhaps Jesus is saying that they lack trust, that they are grieving when they should be taking into account where he is going (Calvin 1959:115).

Whatever the solution, the main point as it now stands is the disciples' focus on themselves rather than on Jesus. Earlier Jesus had said it is a blessing for him to return to the Father (14:28). Now he adds that it is also for their good that he is going away, for then he will send the Paraclete (v. 7). The Spirit is already present (see comment on 16:25), but Jesus cannot send the Spirit in his role as Paraclete until he himself has returned to the Father. Why is this? Earlier John had explained that the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus "had not yet been glorified" (7:39). Jesus' glorification is his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, and these provide both the climax of his revelation and a testimony to the truth of his life and teaching. The role of the Spirit is to interpret and bear witness to Jesus and his revelation of the Father (vv. 12-15). So until Jesus has completed his revelation, the Spirit is not able to do his job, for he does not have the full revelation to work with.

Thus it is better for the disciples that Jesus go, because this will be the completion of his own work on their behalf (and on behalf of the whole world) and because he will then send the Paraclete, who will lead them into all that Jesus has revealed. But more is involved since this work of the Paraclete is not simply intellectual. The Paraclete is the Spirit of God, and union with God is accomplished by being born of the Spirit (3:5). Thus, the Spirit will deepen their knowledge of the Father through the Son in the sense of both understanding and relationship. Through the Spirit the disciples will share in the very life of God that they have seen in Jesus. Their intimacy with Jesus himself will be far deeper than before. This union with God is accomplished by Jesus' glorification, and thus the glorification must take place before the sending of the Paraclete.

The coming of the Paraclete is not some automatic, impersonal response. He is personally sent by Jesus, and he is sent not to the world but to the disciples (v. 7; 14:17). Before explaining further what the Paraclete will do for the disciples, Jesus describes the effect that the Paraclete's presence among and within the disciples will have on the world (vv. 8-11). When the Paraclete comes to the disciples he will convict the world (v. 8). In the New Testament this word (elencho) means "to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance" (Büchsel 1964:474). The emphasis can be on either exposing (cf. 3:20) or condemning and convicting (cf. 8:46). As we will see, the exposure of the the truth about the world is clearly in view in our present passage. Whether Jesus is also saying that the world will be convicted by this revelation is not clear, though certainly some within the world will be convicted since the disciples' witness will be received by at least some (17:20).

There are three parts to the exposure of the world's errors (v. 8). First, the world is wrong about sin because it does not believe in Jesus (v. 9). Here, as throughout this section (15:18—16:15), the Jewish opponents are understood as representing the world. The opponents had condemned Jesus as a sinner, which is both explicitly stated (9:16, 24) and implicit in all their accusations. But they are really the ones who are guilty before God, because the work of God is to believe in the one whom he sent (6:29) and rejecting Jesus is the most basic sin (1:11; 3:19; 5:45-47; 8:24; 15:22).

Second, the world is wrong about righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father (v. 10). The word righteousness (dikaiosyne) probably includes its sense of "justice." His opponents did not judge with right judgment (7:24), and this is seen especially in their condemnation of Jesus for his claim to be God's Son (19:7). Jesus' return to the Father will expose their justice as unjust. Jesus adds, "And you will no longer see me" (paraphrased in the NIV), which reinforces it is to the disciples advantage that Jesus go to the Father (v. 7).

Third, the world is wrong about judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned (v. 11). The opponents had condemned Jesus, but the Paraclete will reveal that it was the evil one who was judged and condemned at Jesus' glorification. This judgment in turn condemns the world itself (12:31), since they have the devil for a father (8:44).

Each of these terms—sin, righteousness (or "justice") and judgment—were quite familiar to the Jewish opponents. But now they are redefined around Jesus: "Sin is rejecting Jesus; justice is what God has done for Jesus; judgment is what Jesus has accomplished already by his death" (Michaels 1989:283). The conflict with the Jewish opponents is therefore put in perspective. These opponents represent the world itself, that which is in rebellion against God. The conflict reflected in this rebellion is here seen in cosmic terms, with the Son of God and the prince of this world as the leading actors, each desiring the allegiance of the world. The main characteristics of each actor in the drama are here revealed: the world consists of all who fail to believe in Jesus, Jesus is known as the just or righteous one (cf. 1 Jn 2:1), and the devil is judged. Thus the Paraclete will reveal the verdict of the trial that has been in session throughout the Gospel.

The Paraclete exposes these realities to the disciples and to the world itself through the disciples (15:26-27). This witness will be through oral and written proclamation, of which this Gospel is itself a supreme example. But the primary witness will be in the quality of life that the Paraclete produces within the community as the new birth brings them into union with God. First (cf. v. 9), faith in Jesus brings a new freedom from sin (8:32-36; 1 Jn 1:5—2:2; 3:4-10), though not sinlessness apart from the cleansing of Jesus' blood (1 Jn 1:7-10). Second (cf. v. 10), they are able to live the pattern of righteousness and justice that was present in Jesus because they have his Spirit, which he sent to them after his return to the Father. The world may not see Jesus, but the disciples continue to be close to him (16:19). Third (cf. v. 11), the defeat of the evil one by Jesus is now evident in the lives of his disciples, who also overcome the evil one (1 Jn 2:13-14; 5:4).

More generally speaking, it is primarily the community's life together that witnesses to Jesus and, by the same token, exposes and condemns the world, in particular by their love (13:35) and unity (17:21). Such love and unity reveal that they are sharing in God's own life, and, consequently, their rejection and persecution show that the opponents are acting against God. The very judgment that Jesus brought into the world continues through his disciples and elicits the same hatred (7:7).

Jesus has been speaking to them of matters that were not appropriate to share earlier because the time was not right (vv. 4-5). Now he says there are still more things he has to say to them, but they are not yet ready to hear them (v. 12). Their grief makes it hard enough for them to follow what Jesus is saying. But on a deeper level, until the Spirit comes and they receive the new birth they will not be able to understand Jesus or the things of his otherworldly kingdom (3:3; 18:36; cf. 1 Cor 2:10-16). Jesus himself is passing on to them all that he has received from the Father (15:15), but they are not yet able to grasp it.

So the Paraclete will take over as their teacher and will enable them to grasp the richness of the revelation of Jesus. Jesus said earlier that the Paraclete will teach the disciples "all things" by reminding them of "everything I have said to you" (14:26). Now he develops this thought further when he says the Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth (v. 13). Such guidance by God's Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament (Ps 24:5 LXX; 142:10 LXX; Is 43:14 LXX) and is also associated with God's Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon 9:11; 10:10, 17). But although the Spirit guides (hodegeo), it is Jesus who is the way (hodos) itself, indeed, the truth itself (14:6). So the Spirit will focus on the Son and will not speak on his own but will speak only what he hears (v. 13). The Son has done exactly the same with respect to the Father (3:32-34; 7:16-18; 8:26-29, 40; 12:47-50; 14:10; 15:15). The Son has revealed the Father, and now the Spirit will reveal the Father by revealing the Son.

When Jesus says all truth he does not appear to be referring to truth in all areas of knowledge, though indeed all truth is God's truth (see comment on 14:46). Rather, the Spirit is going to guide them into all the truth in Jesus, for he is going to glorify Jesus by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (v. 14). The reference is to insight regarding the historical ministry of Jesus (cf. 2:22; 12:16; 13:7; Brown 1970:714) and to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and of his revelation of the Father. For all that belongs to the Father is mine (v. 15), and "everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you" (15:15). Jesus' knowledge of the Father is complete (cf. also 5:20; 17:10), and he has held back nothing from his disciples.

But the disciples cannot grasp much of this at this point, both because the ultimate revelation has not yet occurred, namely the crucifixion and resurrection and ascension, and because they have not yet entered into the divine life, the eternal life, through the new birth by the Spirit. But when the revelation is complete and when they do receive the Paraclete, he will guide them into all the truth that is in Jesus, which means all the truth of the Father. As always in this Gospel, the Father is the ultimate source and focus (v. 15). The Spirit will focus on the Son, who is focusing on the Father. Jesus' staggering claim to have complete knowledge of God is the foundation for the Christian claim that Jesus is the unique and only way to the Father. But how are we mere mortals to appropriate such knowledge of God? Jesus provides the way by sending the Spirit of God. The "all" of Jesus' revelation is matched by the "all" of the Paraclete's instruction, an instruction that is not merely cerebral, but that involves a sharing of the very life of God.

The passage's focus on Jesus helps us understand what Jesus means when he says the Paraclete will tell you what is yet to come (v. 13). This is often taken as a promise that the Paraclete will give the disciples predictions of the future, presumably at least what will take place in and through the church. Such prediction is indeed a divine activity (for example, Is 42:9; 44:7; 46:10; 48:14; see comment on Jn 13:19), but it is probably not what is referred to here since the idea of prediction does not fit this passage. The expression what is yet to come is paralleled in the next two verses by the phrase what is mine, suggesting the future events have to do with Jesus. The reference would be to the glorification—the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension—which still lies in the future at this point. This complex of events forms the climax of Jesus' revelation and thus will play a central role in the Paraclete's instruction of the disciples; he will glorify Jesus (v. 14) in large measure by declaring to them the truth revealed in Jesus' glorification.

So Jesus' promise is not of new revelation but of insight into the one revelation found in him. Throughout the history of the church, leaders within the church as well as groups on the fringes of Christianity have appealed to this passage to justify new teachings. Any such new teaching must, however, be true to the revelation received in Jesus. The flower will continue to unfold, but it must be the same flower—the genetic code must be the same. The Scriptures, including the apostolic witness of the New Testament, has been the touchstone for this continuity throughout the life of the church. Indeed, the present passage speaks primarily of that apostolic witness, since Jesus is promising this work of the Paraclete to those who have been with him from the beginning (15:27), whom the Paraclete can remind of what Jesus has done and said (14:26). The idea of further revelation to others besides the eleven is not here addressed (cf. Carson 1991:542).

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