In 15:1-17 Jesus taught the disciples about relationships within the community of believers and instructed them it would be characterized by love. In 15:18-16:4 He taught about the relationship between the community of believers and the world, saying that it would be characterized by hate. Here he returns to giving practical instruction about the coming era that includes more specific information about the working of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 5 raises the question in the mind of the casual reader of whether or not Jesus is mistaken in saying that they have not asked Him where He was going before, for Peter had asked more or less directly, and Thomas had also done so by implication. It would seem that Jesus was not considering these instances because they were mouthed without understanding of what they were asking, for they had no clue that His journey would be a spiritual one. He explains to them that He must go away before the Holy Spirit can come to them. This is not because they cannot be there at the same time, but because He must pay the penalty for their sins on the cross before they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this is the eternal purpose of God and His primary mission on this earth. Put another way, Jesus came to the earth to go to the cross; only then does the Counselor come to the redeemed.
In chapter 14, Jesus presented the Counselor as the defense attorney for the disciples. Here He continues the legal analogy with the Counselor being portrayed as the prosecuting attorney against the world. He portrays this in three ways: First, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its unbelief. Second, the Spirit will convict the world concerning the righteousness of Jesus. Third, the Spirit will convict the world of its own guilt and coming judgment. Just as the “Prince of this World” is defeated and destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, so the world will be convicted of coming judgment because light has come but they preferred darkness.
In verses 12-15, Jesus continues to teach the disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding them in the future, here discussing three more works. First, the Spirit will guide them “into all truth.” In the coming apostolic community, truth would not be determined by mere human logic or recollection, but guided by the Holy Spirit. Consider this: God has sent His Son to the earth to teach and testify to the truth. Then the Son must die on the cross for our sins. Will God trust the telling of this story and the teaching of the truth to the faulty memories of men? No, He will provide the Holy Spirit to ensure that the story of Jesus’ life and recitation of His teachings are secure and accurate. Second, the Spirit will pass on “only what he hears” to the disciples (apostles). Only what comes directly from God will be given to them as the truth. Third, the Spirit will continue the work of glorifying Father and Son by revealing Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This provides a unity of purpose between Father, Son and Spirit with a strong link to God’s original purpose of sending His Son to the earth, a linkage that continues into the eternal future and coincides with our purpose for being born and redeemed as well.
Verse 16 is a transition into the next section which will be our subject for next time. Jesus will shortly be arrested and crucified and they will see Him no more. It is as though He is saying to them that they should take heart and have courage, for He will be back very shortly to confirm all that He is telling them, and of course this promise is borne out by history.
Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (16:16)
Verse 16 is the transition between two topics of discussion in our text, but even as it sets a transition, it creates a problem for those of us who read this in English: “see” versus “see”.
Although I always try to avoid discussing Greek words and grammar in these lessons, it is unavoidable here, for the English translation in the NIV (and most other English translations) does not note the fact that while we see the English word “see” twice in this verse, two different Greek verbs are used and translated “see.” We need to recognize that in English, the word “see” can mean two different things. It can mean to comprehend as in “…oh yes, I see what you mean.” Or it can mean that I physically see something as in “…do you see that house over there?” In verse 16, the first “see” is the Greek verb theoreo from which we get our English word theory. It generally means to observe or to experience visually. The second “see” is the Greek word horao which means to see in a broader sense. John has used it several times already in this Gospel (1:18,34,51; 6:46; 11:40) more in the sense of ‘seeing spiritually’ or comprehending. While these two words are reasonably close synonyms, the difference here is telling; it’s as though Jesus were telling them that they soon would not be able to see him with their eyes (death, burial) but shortly they will realize who He is and what He has done (resurrection). This double meaning will continue through this passage; it will continue along the lines of He will then be taken from their sight for a time (ascension) and then will return to sight (Second Coming) where even unbelievers will “get it.”
The disciples are buzzing; they are not caught in any great eschatological debate for they still are confused about His imminent departure. Jesus doesn’t wait for the question and asks it Himself. Notice that this is the third time it is repeated in a very short span of verses; this is no coincidence, for it would appear that John is putting great emphasis on the statement. Even today we take comfort from the fact that we will see Jesus in a little while.
In verses 20-22, Jesus combines two contrasting emotions: Grief and joy. Their grief will result in a paralyzing fear that causes them to scatter and hide, but not for very long. They will then be filled with a joy that will remain with them even in times of severe trial, for they will understand His promises. Going a little further, He illustrates this by reminding them of the pain and agony that a woman endures during childbirth. Upon the arrival of the child, her grief and pain are all but forgotten, so filled with joy is she when she sees her baby.
Now, in 23-24, we again have a little problem with English. This time the confusion is in the word “ask.” The first “ask” is translated from a Greek word meaning to ask a question while the second three “asks” are from a Greek word that means to make a request. In the first case, they will not ask Him questions because a) they will comprehend much more, and b) the Holy Spirit will be in place to provide understanding. In the second three cases, He is once again making reference to the fact that they will enjoy a very powerful prayer life. He also mentions the aspect of joy, a joy that will remain with them. It is important to notice the connection between “joy” and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Jesus is admitting to them that He has often spoken to them figuratively, but that time is coming to an end. The Father will not answer their future prayers as a favor to Jesus, nor will they ask Jesus and Jesus will ask the Father. Their petitions will be going directly to the Father, for the Father loves them Himself. After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, they will have a relationship with the Father. Please understand that this is a revolutionary statement. For those who respond in love to their belief in Jesus Christ, relationship with the Father is restored, thus completing the circle of Redemption History that began in the Garden of Eden. Before the Fall, Adam had fellowship with God: the redeemed in Christ have fellowship with God.
It seems from verses 29-30 that the disciples have finally understood that Jesus is in fact the Son of God, but Jesus still isn’t so sure. Most translations make Jesus’ statement in v. 31 a question, as does the Greek. He then once more points out that they will have a very rough time, but expresses the hope that they will find peace because of His warnings. He ends the discourse with the great statement that He has overcome the world. Theologically speaking, Jesus overcame the world because He overcame death itself. He arose from the dead, never again to die and in so doing defeated Satan. This is something that we say over and over in Sermons, books, lectures and classes… but how did this defeat Satan? Isn’t Satan still very busy even now?
Here is how Jesus defeated Satan: When He died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins; so far so good, right? Then He arose from the dead… yes, we all know that as well. Here’s the critical point: Because He paid the price for sin and established a New Covenant between Man and God, He paved the way for us to receive the gift of eternal life. Have you entered into the New Covenant? If so, you have received the gift of eternal life which means that even though you will die one day, you will live forever because the limitations of our physical bodies will not limit our ability to live, we will simply be transformed at the point of separation from our bodies to a new kind of existence. As Paul put it: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Satan maintains his influence and control over men because they fear death. When a people love God and have no reason whatever to fear death, Satan has no means by which to control them, for even if governments or empires murder and torture, they have no particular reason to change their beliefs or teachings, for death has no hold on them. When I was a youth and I read the Gospel accounts, in the back of my mind was the thought that it was all well and good for Jesus to bravely endure the cross because He knew in advance how the story ended. Well, what Jesus is telling us in the last verse is that we also know how the story ends. The result is that even under persecution and death, the community of believers would grow so large and become so influential that the Roman Empire itself would be transformed to Christianity. The same is true today, for even though the world may oppose the church, it cannot destroy it, because we know that the grave itself will never be able to hold us. This is how Satan’s grip is lost on Mankind; there will always be a remnant that will refuse to follow him in rebellion against God. Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him, so have we.