John 16: 1-33 Going Away

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

The key to this chapter is "It is to your advantage that I go away" (16:7) We might paraphrase: "It is good for me to go away; in fact you will be much better off without me." At one level this corresponds to birds pushing their offspring out of the nest to fly on their own. A baby bird is safe and well-fed inside the nest, but it is not made to sit there for ever. The day comes when a mother bear who has raised and trained her cubs now forces them out into the forest to forage and fight on their own. The difference with us is that we are not on our own, the Holy Spirit will be with us to empower and guide us.

We can see that when Jesus was physically at hand as their teacher, the disciples could turn to him to know this and that. But the Son of Man could only be in one place at one time. Now they would learn to depend, wherever they were, on the inspiration of the Advocate (Latin advocatus meaning one called alongside to help, as in 14:16-17). Every disciple now has direct access to the same Spirit who had guided and inspired the Messiah when he was on earth.

Jesus is already speaking of the disciples' work on their own. "They will put you out of the synagogues" (16:2). "Those who kill you will think that by so doing they are offering worship to God" (16:2). "So that when their hour comes you may remember" (16:4). "Now I am going to him who sent me" (16:5). "You will see me no longer" (16:10). "A little while, and you will see me no longer" (16:16). "You will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice" (16:20). "You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy" (16:20). "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (16:28). "In the world you face persecution, but take courage" (16:33).

16:1 Jesus' words were to keep the disciples from being stumbled. Presumably because he was not listening, just a day later (18:25-27) Peter would deny he ever knew his Lord. In every church congregation people get miffed, complain about the way they are ignored, leave in a huff. Earlier John had described how this happened with many of Jesus's own disciples (6:66).

16:2 In addition to the worship of the temple, Jews could belong to one of a variety of synagogues (Acts 6:9, as happens to this day in every large city). The members of each synagogue gathered every sabbath day for teaching and fellowship. For each person the synagogue was their spiritual family and supporting community. So the threat of excommunication was very serious (see 9:22, 34, 12:42). In the case of Stephen, persecution ended in his martyrdom (Acts 6:11-15, 7:54-60).

The break with the Jewish synagogues did not happen quickly. As Paul went to each new city, he first joined himself to the local synagogues, and tried to get a hearing for the good news of the Messiah (Acts 13:5, 14, 14:1, 17:1, 10, 17, 18:4). In most places he was driven out.

The early Christian congregations were synagogues that recognized Jesus as the Messiah. In some cases a whole synagogue would become Messianic (as in Beroea, Acts 17:10-11). There is only one example in the New Testament of what some think is an early church excommunication (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). In most cases excommunication turns out to be hypocritical, heartless, and unjust (see chapter 7 on Fellowship in Go Make Learners). What happened in Corinth was a case of incest, which was a criminal act, and it seems Paul recommended handing the person to the city magistrates to assign the usual civil penalty. This has to be done in a Christian church if for example someone is found abusing children, or selling drugs on church property. Criminal consequences is one thing, but being excluded from the family table is another.

16:3-4 Those who advocate excommunication and killing for religious reasons are often those who care more about politics than knowing the Father and the Son. Jesus wanted the disciples to remember what he had said when this happened. And the Apostle John himself was unjustly sent into exile on the Island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).

16:5-6 The disciples have a sense of foreboding, but they dare not ask where Jesus is going.

16:7 Apprentices, having learned with a teacher, need to go out and apply what they have learned on their own. Jesus had said "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12). By the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit the disciples would fan out all over the world, face totally new situations and opportunities, and be empowered for exploits which they could never have done when they were still in training with Jesus by their side to help them.

Jesus has spoken twice (14:15, 15:26) about the coming of the Advocate (Latin advocatus meaning one called alongside to help). The coming is not in the future, as if the Holy Spirit had not been active in Jesus' ministry. The point is that the disciples will not learn to look to the Holy Spirit to come alongside and help them till Jesus has left them

16:8-11 The way we translate these three functions of the Spirit will depend on the model we use to explain his work among us. The primary meaning of the Greek verb elengcho, unhelpfully translated as "convict the world" (KJV) or "prove the world wrong" (NRSV), is "bring to light, expose, set forth." Jesus is referring to three things that people in the world are in darkness about, and only the Holy Spirit can enlighten them. People imagine that they will be judged and rejected at the pearly gates for their sins and lack of righteousness. But what the Spirit longs to do is :

a. First enlighten us about the sin (wrongness) that holds us in its grip and permeates the world around us. People know that there is a flaw, something evil, that keeps making life ugly. This is something much more wrong and pervasive than drink, meanness, lies, and bad language.

b. Righteousness is often treated as a state of being counted righteous (justification as in a Roman law court). Righteousness (being made right) is the main work of the Holy Spirit in us. As Paul explains, we are unable to put ourselves right (Romans 7:14-24), and it is useless trying to beat down our unruly instincts (the flesh). It is by setting our mind on the Spirit that we experience freedom and change (Romans 8:4-8).

c. Forgetting that the Christian message is good news, many people imagine that our proclamation is mainly the day of judgment. But Jesus has already made clear that "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world" (3:17). The Messiah's work was to condemn, defeat and finally destroy the power of Satan (as in 1 John 3:8). And the Spirit's work is to overcome Satan's power to deceive us, fill us with guilt and despair, and persuade us to choose eternal death, darkness, and separation from the love of God.

16:12-13 In a previous chapter Jesus had said that he was "the way, and the truth, and the life" (14:6). Now he adds that the Holy Spirit will "guide you into all the truth." What does this mean? Scientists are interested in knowing the truth about the world around us. Often we are nosily curious about others. But we may not be immediately ready to know the truth about ourselves, about the purpose of our life, about our eternal destiny. That is why the Spirit has to guide us gently into as much truth as we are ready to receive.

The leading into truth is by illumination to see things we had never seen before. By inspiration to be empowered for new forms of creativity. By invitation into forms of service we had never imagined dreamed possible.

16:14-15 Here is one of the mysterious Trinitarian texts of the New Testament. We have noted the meaning of glorification as showing forth the true nature of something or someone (see 12:23, 14:13) In the interrelationship of the three Persons the Holy Spirit never glorifies himself, but delights in glorifying the Messiah. And the Son of God has his identity from the Father. The function of the Persons is different but they work in perfect oneness.

16:16-19 Now Jesus has to prepare his disciples for his imminent departure. They will not see him again till the resurrection appearances (see 20:1-21:23). But this idea is obviously puzzling and upsetting for them.

16:20-22 As he warns them of the mockery of their enemies, and the terrible pain they will feel, the most appropriate image is of a woman in labor. When the Messiah appears to them after the resurrection, the pain will turn to joy. In the synoptic Gospels Jesus on three different occasions had warned the disciples that he will be killed but that he will be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:30, 10:33, Luke 9:22, 18:32-33). So here Jesus' words "I will see you again" (16:22) indicate that even before the betrayal that evening and the crucifixion the next day he knows that death is not the end.

16:23-24 The disciples had been used to having Jesus with them and asking any questions that bothered them. But now he wants them to address the Father directly (see 16:26). Here "in my name" is not a formal "We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." In spiritual warfare the name of Jesus gives us the authority we need to defeat the powers of evil. But the name of Jesus is often a more intimate conversation : "Father, when Jesus was with us, he said so and so. What do you think?"

In the previous chapter Jesus had said "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (see comment on 15:7). The "abiding" in the Vine is an essential part of our relationship to the Messiah, and it is meditation on what he said that enables us to pray the prayers that the Father loves to answer. And we should pray "that our joy may be complete," which suggests that if we are lacking in genuine joy we need to clarify our concern and talk it over with the Father. Joy does not mean absence of pain (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Philippians 2:17-18).

16:25-27 Much of Jesus' teaching was in parables, which the disciples often failed to understand (see Matthew 13:10-13, 29, Mark 4:10-12, 33). Now they will have direct access to the Father, and the Holy Spirit will interpret the meaning of much that was not clear to them (for asking in Jesus' name see 15:7, 16:23).

16:28 The key to Christian faith is knowing that Jesus is the Messiah who came among us from the Father, and returned to continue his reign through the Holy Spirit (15:26, 16:12) at the Father's right hand. In his Epistle John tells us that any one who denies this truth is a false prophet (1 John 4:1-3).

16:29-33 The disciples now claim that they have got it clear. But Jesus knows that their head knowledge will not take them through the events of the next two days. But in spite of their imminent denial and failure, and the future persecutions they will suffer, he offers them a quiet peace (as in 14:27). They need the courage to believe he has conquered the powers of evil (12:31, 14:30). As he faced his own death he was confident the Father and the Spirit would be with him. And it is the same confidence that enables Christians to face persecution and know his inner peace in the worst of circumstances.

17:1-26 Jesus' Prayer