The Holy Spirit: John’s Gospel, Jesus’ Departing Lesson

Just before the crucifixion, John includes a lengthy discourse by Jesus to his disciples in preparation for the coming changes. Among the major themes of the discourse is the coming Holy Spirit of God. The meal at which the discourse occurs is with the “disciples,” and is not necessarily with just the 12 apostles, although they were certainly present.

(John 14:16-17 ESV)  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“Helper” can also be translated Advocate. In the New Testament, the word only appears as part of this discourse and in 1 John 2:1, where it applies to Jesus. The word’s primary meaning in secular usage is a defense attorney — someone who pleads your case before a judge. The word can be used of any intercessor or advocate or helper.

The idea is not so much that the Spirit will advocate for the disciples before the Father, but rather that the Spirit will supply their needs as they appear before kings and judges, as will become clear later.

(John 16:2-4a ESV) 2 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.  3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.  4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

The Advocate will help the disciples when they must testify about Jesus.

The Spirit will be with the disciples “forever” (14:16) — literally, “for the age,” that is, until the Eschaton, the coming of the new heavens and new earth. Plainly, this promise is not just for those then present.

Jesus calls the Spirit “the Spirit of truth.” Remember, “truth” is the truth about Jesus. As Jesus will make clear soon, the Spirit’s role is to point the world to Jesus — to show them the truth about Jesus.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, meaning only the saved have the Spirit. But, of course, Jesus’ disciples will receive the Spirit and he will be “in you” (14:17). The Spirit is now present but will becoming an indwelling.

(John 14:26 ESV) 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

“Teach you all things” shouldn’t be taken too literally. I doubt the Spirit taught the apostles partial differentials. Rather, “all things” seems to be the same thought as in —

(John 16:13 ESV) When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

The same word in the Greek is found in the phrase “all the truth,” which is what God has said and will say about Jesus.

Perhaps a closer parallel is —

(1Jo 2:23-27 ESV)  23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.  24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.  25 And this is the promise that he made to us–eternal life.  26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.  27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie — just as it has taught you, abide in him.

“What you heard in the beginning” is enough, so you have “no need that anyone should teach you.” The Spirit (the anointing) teaches us “about everything, and is true.” The Spirit affirms in us the truth — the gospel message — which we heard in the beginning, and it’s enough. “Everything” is everything that we need to know as God’s children: the truth.

(John 16:12-15 ESV)  12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus makes clear that the Father is ultimately in charge and will decide what is and isn’t revealed. The Spirit will reveal “the things that are to come.” Although some take this to be a reference to the Eschaton, Jesus is likely referring to the guidance that would be needed after his Ascension — the nature of the Kingdom in the Christian age.

“He will glorify me” tells us that the Spirit plays a supporting role in the new covenant. The Spirit is a co-equal member of the Trinity, but the Spirit’s role is to bring glory to Jesus.

“Receive the Spirit”

(John 20:21-22 ESV)  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There are several important parallels in Jesus’ action. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam, Jesus breathes the Spirit (=pneuma = breath) into his disciples. The coming of the Spirit will restore Jesus’ disciples to Eden — they will not only be reborn, they will be re-created, freshly in the image of God.

It’s an interesting debate whether Jesus was merely commanding that they receive the Spirit after his Ascension, or whether he actually gave the Spirit at this time. Or, perhaps, the degree or kind of indwelling received at Pentecost was different from what they received at this time. I’m not sure it makes a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

The more subtle and, to me, more important question is how did they receive the Spirit without baptism? In the midst of Jesus’ discourse on the vine and branches, he declares,

(John 15:3 ESV) 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

The subject is hardly ritual cleanness. Rather, the idea seems to be that they are already in the vine because of their association with Jesus. But the cleanness came by virtue of hearing (and receiving) the words of Jesus. The words effected the cleansing.

It would have been easy enough for Jesus to have taken the disciples to a nearby pool or bath and immersed them, but he chose to qualify them for the Kingdom by his word and his breath — “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Now, John’s Gospel also contains the discourse with Nicodemus, in which Jesus declares that to be born again, one must be born of the “water and the Spirit.”  And yet nowhere in scripture do we find any evidence that the apostles — or, for that matter, the 120 disciples in Acts 2 — were ever baptized.

Luke only records,

(Act 2:47b ESV) And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

In other words, those baptized at Pentecost were added to the 120, who were already saved.

Now, I believe that the scriptures teach believer baptism by immersion. I’m just unwilling to accept that there are no exceptions or that exceptions are necessarily limited to the apostles. That’s not what the text says. Indeed, Jesus breathed on his “disciples,” not the apostles. And it’s entirely likely, I think, that the disciples at this point in the Jesus’ ministry are the same disciples numbered at 120 in Acts 1:15.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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One Response to The Holy Spirit: John’s Gospel, Jesus’ Departing Lesson

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    Agree. I think it was only after the disciples actually saw with their own eyes the resurrected Christ that they really believed.

    That they did actually receive the indwelling of Spirit then squares with Peter's testimony when he defended baptizing gentiles. He said, "If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?" Acts 11:17

    And, I must always be asking myself, "Who am I to stand in God's way?"

    All of us know someone, have read about someone, or perhaps personally experienced encounters with God that don't fit our preconceived ideas of how things should be. I fear that sometimes I am like those religionists of Jesus day who were alarmed and offended when Jeusus and his followers again and again refused to fit into ther pattern of what was orthodox.

    May God help all of us to let God be God and to know He doesn't need our help to do it.


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