Jesus—His Life and Message: John 16:1–12

July 20, 2021

by Peter Amsterdam

In John chapter 16, Jesus continues the discourse which began in chapter 15. There, He had spoken of the world hating Him and His disciples and touched on the persecution the disciples would face in the future.

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.1

Jesus told His disciples what they were going to face in order to keep them from falling away, from abandoning their faith when times became difficult. He wanted them to be aware of the dangers of discipleship. Those who opposed the early Christians would excommunicate them from the synagogue, meaning that they would be cut off from their community’s religious fellowship. Jesus foresaw a time when some people’s values would be so far off that they would even kill believers and think they were doing the right thing. It wasn’t so long after this that Saul of Tarsus (who later converted and became known as the apostle Paul) would be involved in causing the persecution and death of some Christians.2 Jesus stated that those who will persecute and kill the disciples would think they were doing God’s will; however, they would be completely wrong, as those who do such things do not know the Father nor me.

His purpose for telling His disciples these things was to forewarn them so that they would not be overcome and fall away when they faced persecution. It hadn’t been necessary to say these things earlier, as He was with them and able to instruct them and give them guidance on a regular basis. Another reason was that Jesus Himself had so far been the target of His opponents; however, once He was gone, the focus would shift to His disciples, resulting in their becoming targets. Preparing them for what was coming would also strengthen their faith, as when these things happened, they would remember that Jesus had forewarned them.

The Work of the Spirit

Jesus didn’t tell His disciples these things before this time because He was with them, but that was about to change.

“Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’”3

He was about to go to His Father, the One who had sent Him, and His imminent departure changed the situation. Jesus commented that none of His disciples were asking Him where He was going, while earlier in this Gospel they had done so. Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”4 One author explains: That question had not really been a serious inquiry as to Jesus’ destination. Peter had been diverted immediately, and he made no real attempt to find out where Jesus was going. He had been concerned with the thought of parting from Jesus, not with that of the Master’s destination. He had in mind only the consequences for himself and for his companions.5

But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.6

Because of what He told them, the disciples were filled with grief. When He would be arrested and separated from His disciples, they would be full of sorrow, which would remain with them until the joy of His resurrection was made known to them.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.7

Jesus explained to the disciples that it was expedient that He depart from them. He emphasized this point by saying I tell you the truth. From the disciples’ point of view, it was a disaster that Jesus was going to be taken away from them; however, His departure made it possible for the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to come upon them. While they wouldn’t have Jesus’ physical presence with them, they would have the presence of the Spirit. Earlier in this Gospel, it was mentioned that it was necessary for Jesus to be glorified before the Spirit would be given to believers. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.8 Jesus’ promise to His disciples was that He would send the Spirit to them once He had departed.

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.9

This is the one place in Scripture where the Spirit is said to perform a work for “the world.” We’re told that the Spirit puts the world under conviction.

Generally the word translated as Helper10 refers to someone who pleads a case in a court trial on behalf of the accused, like a defense lawyer. However, here the meaning points to the Holy Spirit acting as a prosecuting attorney who exposes the world’s sin before God.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world in two senses. The Spirit shows the world that it is culpable and secures a “guilty” verdict against the world. The Spirit also brings people’s guilt home to them, convicts their conscience, and in doing so causes them to see themselves as sinners in need of forgiveness.

Jesus speaks of going to the Father and says that when He does, they will no longer see Him. Earlier, He had said that the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.11 He now acknowledges that His disciples will also not see Him for a time. Shortly, He will more fully explain what this means, as He wasn’t stating that His disciples were going to be left in a position that was no better than that of the world. His point was that He would literally be leaving the world by going to the Father, and would therefore be hidden from human view.

Jesus then mentioned judgment: concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Jesus is referring to the defeat of Satan. Earlier in this Gospel Jesus also referred to Satan’s defeat. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.12 Justice will be done as the evil one is overthrown. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, reference is made to judgment in connection with the coming of Jesus and as something which He has been given authority to carry out. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.13 He [the Father] has given [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.14 I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.15 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.16

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”17

Pausing briefly before continuing to describe the ministry of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples that He had much more to say to them, but that it would be too much for them to bear at the time. Until they received the Holy Spirit, they would be unable to absorb and apply all that Jesus had yet to tell them.

(To be continued.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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1 John 16:1–4.

2 Acts 8:1–3, 22:3–5, 26:9–11.

3 John 16:5.

4 John 13:36–37.

5 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 617.

6 John 16:6.

7 John 16:7.

8 John 7:39.

9 John 16:8–11.

10 Counselor in NIV and CSB; Helper in ESV, NAS, NAU, and NKJV; Comforter in KJV; Advocate in NLT and TNIV.

11 John 14:19.

12 John 12:31.

13 John 5:22–23.

14 John 5:27.

15 John 5:30.

16 John 8:16.

17 John 16:12.