During the course of restoration work on Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper, the leader of the project, Dr. Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, discovered that the face of Jesus in the painting had been distorted by five hundred years of grime, glue, and plaster. Her work with high-powered microscopes, surgical scalpels, and special solvents has revealed the face of Jesus as Leonardo portrayed it.
The Holy Spirit does that kind of work, too. Our image of Jesus is distorted, but the Spirit shows us Jesus as he truly is so that we might appreciate our Savior.
In John 16:5-15 Jesus says that the Spirit leads his followers to see him. He also says the Spirit convicts the world, those who don't follow him. As it turns out, the Spirit's leading believers to see Christ has a transforming effect in their lives, which has a convicting effect in the lives of those who make up the world. The Spirit's work, then, is to our advantage.
This text is part of what is commonly referred to as Jesus' Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), given when he and his disciples have gathered before he is arrested.
THE ADVANTAGE OF THE SPIRIT
(5) "But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' (6) But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. (7) But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you."
Jesus tells his disciples, as he has earlier in this discourse, that he is departing to the Father, whom he calls "Him who sent Me." But he observes that none of them asks him where he's going. In John 13:36 Peter asked Jesus where he was going. In John 14:5 Thomas' words contained within them a question as to the Lord's destination. At this point, however, interest seems to be completely lacking.
In verse 6 Jesus explains the reason the disciples don't ask where he is going: They are sorrowful because he has said "these things," which pertain to his departure. In fact, sorrow has filled their hearts, and they have no capacity to ask a question that, from their perspective, may generate an answer that provokes even more sorrow. Jesus doesn't chastise them; he knows he is giving them truth that is difficult to accept on the spot. Truth often has a percolation period.
The answer they would have received if they had asked, however, would have filled their hearts with joy, not sorrow. That answer is what Jesus tells them in verse 7. Before he gives them the answer, Jesus says he is telling them the truth. The circumstances look dire, but it is Jesus, not the circumstances, whom they should trust. He is confronting their potential disbelief in what he is about to tell them. The truth is, believe it or not, that his departure, the object of sorrow so deep that it has filled their hearts, is to their advantage.
Let's put ourselves in the position of the disciples. Nothing more devastating than the departure of Jesus--and the method of his departure, execution as a criminal--could befall them. It's the worst thing that could happen. Yet it's the best thing that could happen. It's good for us to keep in mind that what seems like the worst thing may actually be the best thing.
Jesus explains that if he doesn't leave, "the Helper," who is the Holy Spirit, will not come. Now that would be the worst thing. If the Holy Spirit doesn't come to them, they won't receive his wonderful life, which centers on creating and nurturing relationship with God in people ultimately throughout the world. The Holy Spirit will come only when Jesus leaves them for the Father--via the cross--clearing the way for the long-anticipated outpouring of the Spirit of God.
For faith's sake, we may tend to think that it would have been more advantageous for us to have lived when Jesus lived, to have seen him, touched him, and heard him. But it is actually to our advantage that he left and sent the Spirit. These are the best days of all. Jesus is here. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and he dwells within everyone who believes (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11). Jesus with everyone who believes is better than Jesus in one place, and Jesus in you is better than Jesus outside you.
In this passage Jesus speaks of two major advantages of the Spirit's coming. The first concerns the Spirit's involvement with the world.
THE CONVICTION OF THE SPIRIT
(8) "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; (9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; (10) and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; (11) and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."
Jesus speaks of the Helper's coming. In verse 7 he spoke of the Helper's coming to the disciples. In John 14:7 he said the world was not able to receive the Spirit. Therefore, the Spirit or Helper carries out his ministry to the world through followers of Jesus. Romans 10:14: "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" We are the preachers, so to speak, who proclaim and live out the gospel.
Don Richardson, in his book Eternity in their Hearts, cites examples of hundreds of primitive cultures that had never heard the gospel yet were prepared for it through various traditions. They got close to the gospel, but none of them got all the way. (1) God certainly could have revealed the gospel to them apart from any outside influence, but apparently he wants to use "preachers"--that is, us. He wants to involve us in his plan of redemption. The Spirit, though, is the one who convicts.
The Helper convicts the world of three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. He convicts the world that the sin of not believing in Jesus disqualifies it from righteousness, which is the state of belonging to God, and that such disqualification incurs God's judgment. Jesus gives the disciples reasons for this conviction by the Holy Spirit that explain the appropriateness and necessity of this action in light of the impending crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
First, the Spirit will convict the world concerning sin. The world needs to understand that its failure to believe in Jesus is its fundamental sin, because God justifies those who believe in Jesus and declares them to be members of his family.
Second, the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, because Jesus will return to the Father. Jesus' returning to the Father vindicates him as the one through whom God's righteousness is conferred. But it also means that the disciples will no longer behold him. Jesus not only is the truest and best example of what it means to be righteous, but he also, by his very presence in the lives of the disciples, transforms them into men who more accurately reflect their state of righteousness. The disciples might think, "How is the world going to be convicted of righteousness when Jesus, the righteous One, the One who leads us into righteousness, is no longer with us?" But because the disciples no longer behold Jesus, the Spirit will come to them and reveal Jesus to them (John 14:17-18; 16:14-16, 22).
Third, the Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, because "the ruler of this world," who is Satan, has been judged. The world needs to understand that because it is outside God's righteousness, outside his family, it will be judged, inasmuch as Satan has been judged. Although the verb tense places Satan's judgment in the past, the timing of it is in the immediate future. It will take place at the cross, and it is so certain that Jesus says it has already taken place. Similar language regarding Satan's demise appears in John 12:31 in the context of the impending crucifixion. Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, absorbing evil and winning our redemption. Satan's biggest weapon was taken from him: fear of death, which involves fear of judgment (Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 4:17-18). If Satan, the ruler of this world, has been judged, the people of the world will be judged as well. The evidence is in: Satan's rule is over. Evil's day is up. The world has nothing to offer. The time is now for the Spirit to convict the world regarding the judgment it will incur.
Although final judgment for the people of the world is yet to take place, judgment is happening even now. God judges the people of the world simply by giving them the self-destructive things they want (Romans 1:28-29). The Spirit impresses upon them that the ensuing deterioration of life is attributable to their unbelief, which leaves them outside God's family. They are guilty, and the Spirit convicts them.
God's case against the world, then, is prosecuted by the Holy Spirit. It is a mission of mercy. If it weren't, God would have put an end to the world long ago. But he loves the world (John 3:16). He is patient, "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). The Spirit convicts the world not to condemn it, at least not yet, but to hold forth the possibility of redemption, to liberate it. The three thousand people convicted by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost were pierced to the heart, but they were also baptized into the kingdom (Acts 2:37, 41).
The main character in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, murders two women and is eventually convicted and sentenced to hard labor. But he has difficulty coming to grips with the fact that what he did was a crime. On a purely intellectual level, he reasons, the murders seemed justifiable. As long as he clings to this belief, he remains in his own personal prison. Dostoevsky writes of Raskolnikov:
"How happy he would have been if only he could have considered himself guilty...If only he could feel remorse--searing remorse, shattering the heart, banishing sleep--the kind of remorse with terrible pangs that conjure up the noose and the whirlpool! He would have rejoiced! Agony and tears--that, too, is life! But he felt no remorse for his crime." (2)
Happy is the one whom the Holy Spirit convicts and who believes the truth of the conviction.
Since the Spirit convicts, that takes the pressure off us. We don't have to prosecute anyone, convince any jury, or render any judgment. We don't need to convince people that they are sinners; we don't need to convince people of our righteousness or even of the righteousness of Christ; we don't need to convince them that they are being judged by God. Thankfully, we have no part in the conviction.
But when Jesus sends the Helper to us, the Helper convicts the world. So we have a part. What part is that? Earlier, Jesus said his disciples would testify to the world (John 15:26-27). The Helper's involvement in our lives, then, somehow testifies to the world.
What is that testimony? It is our belief in Jesus. It is the righteousness we have been given by God based on that belief that manifests itself, through the work of the Spirit in us, in lives that more accurately reflect our status as the people of God before the eyes of the world. As we will see in verses 12-15, the Spirit does this in our lives by enabling us to see Jesus, even though he has returned to the Father. That has a transforming effect on us. By showing us Jesus, the Spirit nurtures our relationship with God, which conforms us to the image of Christ.
What was Christ like? Above all, Jesus loved. On the cross, he absorbed all the world's hatred and returned love. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright writes:
"And this pattern, acted out uniquely on the cross, becomes then for us, by the Spirit of Jesus working within us, the pattern we are commanded to live out, as we give back good for evil, blessing for curse, prayer for persecution. One might say that this is the vocation of the church: to take the sadness of the world and give back no anger; the sorrow of the world, and give back no bitterness; the pain of the world, and not sink into self-pity; but to return forgiveness and love, blessing and joy. That is what Jesus was doing on Calvary." (3)
And that is what we do, as the Spirit works within us.
That is what two Catholic sisters did years ago in a story related by a man named Bashir Abdol Massih in the September 1982 edition of Muslim World Pulse. A Muslim by the name of Nassim, traveling on a train, was listening with an open heart as a missionary spoke of Christ. The missionary asked Nassim why he was so open to the gospel. Nassim, with deep emotion, replied, "Years ago, a Muslim friend and I saw two Catholic sisters holding out their hands to receive money for a new hospital building. As we passed them, my friend, in contempt, spit in the extended hand. Thoughtfully, the sister pulled out her handkerchief and wiped off the spit. Then smiling at my friend, she said, 'All right, that was for me. Now, what will you give Jesus?'" Nassim looked at the missionary who was sharing Christ with him as they rode together on the train. With tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice, he said, "Can anyone forget love like that?" (4)
The world is not quite sure what to do with love like that. It has no category for people who absorb hatred and give back love. Love like that is arresting, convicting. The Spirit produces love like that in our lives, in our fellowships and in our churches, and uses it to convict those who make up the world.
Not only does the Spirit use our love for the world to convict it, he uses our love for each other. Just a few moments earlier in his discourse, Jesus told his disciples, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:35).
A few years ago about twenty-five people, mostly college students, descended on the home of Dorman Followwill, who was then the PBC college pastor, while he and his family were on vacation. They built the family a new picket fence, installed new dry wall inside, and conducted various other repair and cleanup projects. Several people in the neighborhood took note, dropped by, and asked questions. The love that the Spirit had nurtured in these college students and that manifested itself in this way was something with which the neighbors were unfamiliar.
Many of us were first drawn to Jesus because we saw something in the people of Jesus--their love for the world, their love for each other, or their love for us.
And, of course, the Spirit uses us to speak. But who should we speak to, and what should we say? Listen to Wright again:
"Jesus commissions us, then, to follow him: to where the hungry sit on the ground with distended stomachs; to where the dispossessed lie on the ground, past anger and past hope; to where the old people are forgotten, and the young people brutalized, where innocent villagers have their legs smashed with clubs and innocent passers-by get blown up in car bombs. 'Follow me,' he says: 'to where the rich people buy unhappiness in expensive wrapping-paper, to where the poor people fight for the crumbs that the rich drop by accident; follow me, to where the religious people are using their religion as a screen to shut out the pain of the world, to where the unbelieving people are using the world as a screen to shut out the pain of God; follow me, to the villages and the towns, to the squatters' camps and the refugee compounds, to the bright lights of the city and the sad darkness of the depopulated countryside, to the corridors of power and the alleyways of despair, to the married people who have forgotten how to love and the unmarried people who long for the chance to learn how, to the businessman and the prostitute, the camel-driver and the taxi driver, the security force officers and the little boys throwing stones at them. Follow me: and tell them that I love them; tell them that I died for them; tell them I am alive for them; tell them that there is a new creation; tell them that there is a new celebration; tell them that there is a God who made them and yearns for them, and that if they find me they will find him.'" (5)
Perhaps you haven't yet begun to follow Jesus. Perhaps you are feeling something that you may have felt before. There is this feeling of guilt that you just can't shake. Maybe you're feeling what Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov needed to feel: You consider yourself guilty, and you feel remorse. And right now, it is almost palpitating. You're in the presence of the people of Jesus, those in whom the Spirit of God dwells, who are worshiping God and becoming more like Jesus, though they make a mess of things at times. Maybe what you're feeling is the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If this is what you feel, that guilt can be wiped away in the blink of an eye. In your own heart, first acknowledge that you have turned your back on God. Second, accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers you. Third, follow Jesus. And you'll come out from among those of the world, so to speak; you'll become a follower of Jesus; and you'll become one who testifies to the world.
The Spirit convicts the world. He does something different for followers of Jesus. This is the second major advantage of the Spirit's coming.
THE LEADING OF THE SPIRIT
(12) "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (13) But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is coming. (14) He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose to you. (15) All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you."
Jesus wants to tell them more, but they're not ready to hear it. This unpreparedness to hear is evident throughout the Upper Room Discourse, most recently in this passage, when fear of potential sorrow has silenced them (verses 5-6).
However, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will say what he wants to tell them when they're able to hear it. Here Jesus calls the Holy Spirit "the Spirit of truth." Jesus will communicate to them through the Holy Spirit, who will lead them into all the truth.
Notice here the distinction between the way the Holy Spirit interacts with the world and the way he interacts with followers of Jesus. He convicts the world, but he leads the disciples. Nowhere else does the New Testament link conviction with the Holy Spirit, which leads me to believe that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is for the world, not believers. The Spirit disrupts the lives of believers, certainly, but he doesn't convict, at least not in the judicial sense that is the intent of this passage. That's because the guilt we deserve is heaped onto Jesus. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). (The same word that is translated "convict" [elegcho] here is applied to believers in the non-judicial sense of "reprove" in 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 2:15; and Revelation 3:19.)
In verse 13a, Jesus states that the Spirit will lead the disciples into all the truth. In verse 13b, he says how the Spirit will lead them: by communicating what he hears. In verse 14, he reveals the purpose of the Spirit's leading: to glorify Christ.
The Spirit will not speak on his own initiative. Instead, he will "hear" and then speak. This concept is carried through verse 15, in parallel structures. The Spirit speaks the things he hears (verse 13), discloses the things that are coming (verse 13), discloses the things he receives (verse 14) and again discloses the things he receives (verse 15).
Verse 13 contains the words, if translated literally, "the things that are coming." This could be a reference to future events that the Spirit will disclose to the apostles (NASB renders it "what is to come"; NIV, "what is yet to come"). If that were the intended meaning, however, it would be the lone departure from the receive-disclose theme, which appears in the other three pairings. More likely, "the things that are coming" are things that are coming to the Spirit--the "things" that the Spirit hears in the first pairing in verse 13. (The verb "come" is also used in verse 7 in the sense of coming to something else--in that case, the Spirit's coming to the disciples.) The Spirit then discloses these things to the disciples, just as he does in verses 14-15.
The word for "takes" in verses 14-15 can equally correctly be translated "receives." The concept is introduced with the word "hears" in verse 13, which is a receptive operation. In all four pairings in verses 13-15, then, the Spirit receives things and then conveys them. This is how the Spirit leads the disciples.
How does the Spirit lead us into all the truth? Before he led us, he led the disciples, who became apostles and authored the New Testament. All the truth Jesus wants us to know, then, is in the Scriptures. The Spirit leads us into the truth contained in the Scriptures and shows us, when we're able to "bear" it, the truth we need to believe.
What purpose does the Spirit have in leading us by revealing truth to us? To glorify Christ. The Spirit, through the word of God, reveals Christ to us in such a way as to show him for who he is so that he might be glorified.
Up until verse 14, Jesus has said that the Spirit will hear and disclose, but Jesus has not said who it is who speaks to the Spirit. In verse 14, he tells us: He is the one who speaks to the Spirit. This tells us the nature of the truth Jesus wants us to know. It's truth about him! Jesus earlier had the downright audacity, in words recorded in this gospel, to tell his disciples that he is the truth (John 14:6). The Spirit receives from Jesus and tells us about Jesus. As the Spirit reveals Jesus to us, Jesus is glorified.
When the Spirit shows us Jesus, he shows us the Father. Jesus says in verse 15 that "all things that the Father has are mine." Because Jesus is related to the Father in this way, Jesus tells the disciples that the Spirit will receive from him and disclose to them. In other words, Jesus wants us to know that when we see him, we see the Father. We see a great deal, then: We see God.
When we think of the Spirit's leading us, or when we ask for his leading, it often concerns circumstantial leading. We speak of the Spirit's leading us to particular people, places, or conclusions. And certainly this kind of leading is within the sphere of the Spirit's ministry. This is evident in Acts 8:29, where the Spirit leads Philip to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, and in Acts 16:7, where the Spirit leads Paul and others away from Bithynia. But in seeking such spiritual guidance, we forget about the most important spiritual guidance, which is contained in this passage. In John 16:12-15, the Spirit leads us to Jesus. He shows us who Jesus is, in all his majesty and all his tenderness. He leads us into deeper and more worship-oriented relationship with Jesus. This is the most important guidance we can receive. The Spirit leads us right into the arms of Jesus.
Even in the Spirit's circumstantial leading, when he leads us to people, places, or conclusions, he's leading us to Jesus. We face difficult decisions and pray for guidance. In the prayer, first of all, not in the guidance, we draw close to Jesus, which is what is most important. And then when we do see how the Spirit has led us circumstantially, we rejoice not so much over the circumstance, but for the chance to see, once again, in ever-deepening fashion, that Jesus is faithful.
Jesus communicates the truth about himself to the disciples, and they will record this truth in the New Testament. Even the Old Testament is about Jesus. Jesus told the Jews seeking to kill him, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me...." (John 5:39). From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures tell us about Christ. So we come to the Scriptures, we come to life, looking for Christ. And the Spirit shows him to us.
A few years ago I attended a high school reunion. One of the women from our class, named Barb, is blind. Near the end of the reunion, I was conversing with my friend Holly, who was one of the organizers of the event. Barb was on her way out and addressed Holly by name in order to thank her. At first I was taken aback. I didn't know how Barb knew where Holly was and how she had recognized her. Then I noticed that Barb's husband had her by the arm, and he had led her right to Holly. Holly then gave Barb a gigantic hug. That's what the Holy Spirit does for us: He leads us right into the arms of the one we want to thank, Jesus, who is waiting with a gigantic hug.
LEADING AND CONVICTION
When we understand and appreciate any aspect of God and are drawn into worship because of it, we are changed. Simply, we become like that which we worship. Psalm 115:8 says that those who make idols and everyone who trusts in them "will become like them." Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that the Spirit transforms us as we "behold as in a mirror," as we scrutinize, the glory of the Lord. In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says "the mystery of godliness," or how a person becomes godly, involves appreciating truth about Jesus. John says, "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). John is telling us that one day our transformation to Christlikeness will be complete and that it will happen when we see Jesus "just as he is." And seeing Jesus as he is has a transforming effect that is happening now as the Spirit shows us Jesus.
The leading of the Spirit, then, brings us back to conviction. The Spirit leads followers of Jesus, but he convicts the world. He convicts the world through his presence in the followers of Jesus. He leads us to see Jesus, which conforms us to the image of Christ. As we become more like Jesus, as we love the way Jesus loved, the Spirit convicts the world so that it, too, might follow Jesus.
1. Don Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts, © 1981. Regal Books.
2. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, translated by Sidney Monas, © 1968. New American Library, Times Mirror, New York, Scarborough, Ontario. P. 521.
3. N.T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire, ©1992. Eerdmans. Pp. 52-53.
4. Bashir Abdol Massih, Muslim World Pulse, September 1982.
5. Wright, P. 68.
Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION are identified as such herein. © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All other Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE. © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Catalog No. 4567
April 19, 1998
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