John 16:5-15

The Farewell Discourse – Part 3

Many scholars believe that the rest of the chapter originally existed as a separate Discourse. It would repeat most of the points raised in Chapter 14, though it would cover them in different order and sometimes adopt different words. On the other hand, it may never have existed separately; and the repetitions may simply have further illustrated the already familiar technique of the Beloved Disciple to expound his vision, not logically, but by returning repeatedly to points already made. The issue has little pastoral significance. The final editor thought fit to include it where it is.

John 16:5-15     Fourth Promise of the Spirit

“I did not tell you this at the start
because I was with you.

The comment reflected the truth that much of the Farewell Discourse originated really from the risen Christ, and was not spoken to the disciples by the historical Jesus before his death. Indeed, most of what had been covered in the Discourse would have been incomprehensible before the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There was no way the disciples could have imagined the on-going communion between Jesus, the Father and themselves, other than by reflection on their actual experience of life in community after Jesus’ resurrection.

5 Now I am going to the one who sent me.
None of you is asking me,
‘Where are you going?’ 
6 but because I have told you,
sorrow has filled your hearts.

The Beloved Disciple returned to the literary device of dialogue, set in the historical time-frame of the final Solemn Meal – but he (or the Gospel’s final editor) was not really interested in the historical time-frame and saw no contradiction between Jesus’ reproach for the disciples’ lack of questioning and the enquiry of Thomas made earlier in the Discourse [14:5]. The over-riding concern of the Beloved Disciple was to encourage the disciples in his own community, and to persuade them to be in touch with their opportunities.

7 Still, I am telling you the truth.
It is good for you that I am going away,
because unless I go away,
the Paraclete will not come to you;
but, if I go, I shall send him to you.

Jesus wished to do more than address the sorrow of the bewildered disciples. He insisted that, as well as being to his advantage that he return to the Father from whom he had come, his departure would give them further reason to rejoice [14:28]. It would be good for them, in that it would allow him to send the other Paraclete as his replacement; and the Paraclete’s coming would provide a remarkably different complexion to their experience.

In Relation to the World

8 When he comes,
he will prove the world wrong about sin,
about righteousness
and about condemnation.
9 About sin,
in that they did not believe in me;
10 about righteousness,
in that I am going to the Father;
and you will no longer see me; 
11 and about condemnation,
in that the ruler of this world has been condemned.

The phrase, translated here as prove wrong, had appeared earlier in the narrative, where it had been translated as expose [3:20]. The purpose of the action of the Spirit would not be triumphalist, but illuminating; not humiliating, but humbling; not spiteful, but liberating.

The Spirit of truth, the Paraclete, would shatter the world’s illusions and reveal reality for what it was. It would address the world’s deceit and expose it as such.

Jesus’ critics had labelled as sin Jesus’ claim to his unique relationship with the Father [9:16; 10:33, 35; etc.]. The Paraclete would enable the world to see that Jesus’ death and resurrection gave the lie to his critics’ claims, and would, instead, reveal as the ultimate sin the world’s own refusal to believe. Consistently, the Gospel saw sin as a theological failure, rather than a moral transgression.

True righteousness can be sourced only from God. Through his words and works, Jesus revealed the righteousness and love of the Father. The Jewish leadership had seen as proofs of their own righteousness their tactic of averting the nation’s destruction by means of Jesus’ condemnation and violent death [11:50]. The Paraclete would expose their deceit, and allow people to see that Jesus’ death was the occasion for him to show his total love, and was the fulfilment of his mission as the one sent by the Father, enabling him to return to the Father from whom he had come, and whose righteousness he revealed.

The world had followed its legal procedures and formally condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion. The Spirit would enable people to see that, by their condemnation of Jesus, the ruler of this world was, in fact, the one who was definitively condemned. The stranglehold of death, violence and sin had been challenged and successfully broken.

Exposing Sin

Sin can be seen truly for what it is only in the light of God’s mercy. Until sin is seen as “that which can be forgiven”, it cannot really be grasped in its deepest reality. An inbuilt psychological survival instinct prevents people from seeing sin in all its perversity, which, without the accompanying certainty of God’s forgiveness, would simply dispirit and destroy them.

The Spirit’s illuminating activity leads to a kind of “Ah ha!” moment, that is experienced as deeply humbling, yet liberating, as it is accompanied always by the profound sense of God’s greater mercy. Any other experience is not the work of God’s Spirit.

The whole thrust of the Spirit’s action in the world is to lead people to that liberation, as they learn to surrender in genuine humility to the merciful God who loves unconditionally. Such humility calls for deep faith; it presupposes, and enables at the same time, an on-going dying of the self-constructed ego; it receives God’s love as sheer gift, and learns simply to relax trustingly into it.

In Relation to Disciples

The clarity of vision that exposed the world’s illusions worked very much to the disciples’ advantage [verse 7]. But the Spirit would do more than that. The Discourse moved to examine the Spirit’s effect within the community of disciples.

12 “I still have so many things to tell you,
but at the moment you cannot bear them.
13 When he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will lead you to the complete truth.

The content of Jesus’ message had been simple and uncomplicated; he had teased out the practical consequences of faith in a God of mercy and faithfulness, God’s love and truth [1:17], and applied them to actual life situations as they presented themselves. 

The role of the Spirit of truth would be to assist the disciples to remain faithful to the mind and heart of Jesus, wherever they found themselves. Through the Spirit, Jesus would have many things to say to you.

… He will not speak of his own initiative,
but he will tell you what he has heard,

Continuity in the truth would be assured. Jesus had claimed to be the way, the truth and the life [14:6], and had insisted: What I say, I say just as the Father has said to me. [12:50]; indeed: My teaching is not mine; it is from the one who sent me. [7:16]. The Spirit’s role would be exactly the same. The source of all truth would remain the originating Father.

Guiding into the Truth

The task of every human person is to come face to face with truth. For people to face the truth involves their seeing through the illusions that constantly cloud their vision. It means their uncovering the unrecognised motivations and impulses that colour their attitudes and actions. It requires their breaking free from the addictions and compulsions that develop across their lives. It calls for their recognising the psychological dynamics that are so often present when persons interact socially, and finding the power to dissociate from them.

All this captures the thrust of the action of the Spirit of truth.

The Paraclete helps disciples to grow in awareness and to develop a sense of the true and the real; essentially, to grow into the likeness of Jesus. But they need to cooperate whole-heartedly in the process, to cultivate openness to truth, to be ready to be surprised and to be willing to undertake the change involved in all growth.

… and he will make known to you things still to come.

A constant concern of the Beloved Disciple had been to ascertain the mind of Jesus in the changed circumstances of his community. He may have wondered about the community’s capacity for discernment after his own death. It was impossible to foresee the circumstances of the future. He took heart that the Spirit would do in the future what he had experienced the Spirit doing in himself and in the community while he was with them during the years that had followed Jesus’ departure. The Spirit would teach nothing new, because there was nothing more to reveal, other than the love and truth of God. What would be new would be the translation of that truth into the concrete circumstances of an ever-changing world.

14 He will glorify me
because he will receive from what is mine
and make it known to you.
15  Whatever the Father has is mine.
That is why I said he receives from what is mine
and will make it known to you

By making obvious and pertinent the love and truth of Jesus, the Spirit would glorify him. In the process, the Father would also be glorified, since Jesus’ love and truth found their unique source in the Father.

Through the action of the Spirit within the community of disciples, the fascination and beauty of Jesus would be declared to the surrounding world across history.

Discerning the Spirit’s Guidance

The Gospel did not address how the Spirit’s guidance would be established; it presumed that it would be obvious. This question has troubled disciples from the earliest years, and no unanimous answer has been forthcoming.

The Gospel of John prescinded from questions of Church structure and authority. It did not speak of any special group constituted as “The Twelve” – except in the negative contexts of Judas’s betrayal [6:67-71] and Thomas’s problem with believing [20:24]. No one group was delegated with special responsibilities for mission. Some individual disciples were named, and shown to have been particularly close to Jesus. Some of these were among “The Twelve” as listed in the other Gospels; some were not (for example, Nathanael and Judas [not the Iscariot]). The Beloved Disciple made no claim to belonging to a specially designated group.

History showed that an unstructured community could not cope adequately with the difficulties that soon presented themselves. Life was not black and white. Disciples were not all perfect; their faith development took time. Familiarity with the heart of Jesus was not given automatically with their initial conversion.

The final chapter of the Gospel may well have begun a process of accommodation to the need for community roles. Simon Peter would be given the commission to “Feed my lambs…”. The precise nature of the role would remain undefined. It would be real, but still with no more clarity than what could be deduced from the metaphor.

Next >> John 16:16-33