The Promise of the Helper

(John 16:5-16)

 John 16:5 “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 will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 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 see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 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 to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it 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. 16 A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”

 This instruction was given at a particularly significant point in Christ’s ministry. Just before He was betrayed by Judas into the hands of the Romans, Jesus spoke to His disciples regarding what they could expect as they continued to serve Him once He returned to His Father in heaven. These words of Jesus appear in that particular context—that of preparing the disciples for the challenges ahead. These verses contain three primary points, all of which have to do with the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

First, in verses 5 through 7, Jesus speaks of the connection between His ministry and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Savior teaches that the ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot commence until He has concluded His mission on earth and returned to heaven. Specifically, Jesus says that He must return “to Him who sent Me.” This is, of course, a reference to God the Father. (v. 5)

In a few short hours, Jesus will have been betrayed, arrested, interrogated, abused, and nailed to the cross. There will be no grand transformation of the landscape, no coronation of a new King, and no vanquishing of the oppressors. The battle that Jesus waged was one of a spiritual nature. What He was about to do would be the most wonderful and meaningful act ever witnessed in human history.

Far from being a sad defeat, Jesus teaches that His departure will be of great advantage to these men. The Savior adds: “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (v. 7) Provision has been made for the ongoing edification and guidance of the disciples once Jesus has left the earth. Appropriately, therefore, He describes the Spirit as the “Helper.”

The Greek word, which is translated “Helper,” is parakletos. This term refers to one who serves as a comforter or an advocate. It was used to identify someone who might be called to one’s side in a time of great need. The word was also used to designate one who pleads the cause of another before a judge. Although Jesus will continue and give a more detailed explanation of the Helper’s role, the definition of parakletos already tells us much about the Spirit’s involvement with the disciples of Christ after Jesus returned to heaven.

Jesus is facing an unbearable experience, yet here He is ministering to His disciples so that they will be encouraged and hopeful as the events of the night began to unfold. He will be leaving this world, but He will not be leaving the disciples on their own. They will not be abandoned or left to fend for themselves. God the Spirit is coming to their assistance.

Following His ascension, the record of Scripture will focus on the arrival of the Helper. The book of Acts opens with the dramatic portrayal of the Spirit’s arrival and subsequent equipping of these same disciples for the work of the gospel. Jesus knows what has been ordained and He is giving the disciples a glimpse of what God has prepared for them. They soon will understand that the cross was necessary and that the death of Jesus had set in motion a plan by which all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

At this moment, these men could do little more than try to process what was happening and Jesus, of course, understood that this was the case. He does not chastise them, nor does Jesus demonstrate any frustration with the disciples. As I indicated, they could not see beyond that night and their fear temporarily robbed them of the ability to exercise discernment. That will come in time and the primary element that will allow the disciples to understand more clearly the plan of redemption is the Helper, the Holy Spirit who is being promised to them.

Eventually, the disciples will have no fear and no doubt about their calling. The transition that will occur in the thinking and conduct of these men will be undeniable testimony to the presence of the Helper and the transforming power of God. Instead of hiding themselves for fear of persecution, these disciples will soon stand in the streets of the same city where their Master has given His life so that sinners may be saved. When that time comes, the disciples will be wise, bold, and confident. And there will be no stopping the movement that is about to commence.

As already pointed out, Jesus establishes a connection here between His ministry and that of the Helper. One does not replace the other, but the ministry of the Helper will be a continuation of the ministry of our Savior. He will send the Spirit who will take what Jesus accomplished on the cross and apply it to the world, beginning with these few disciples.

Second, in verses 8 through 13, the Savior explains in greater detail what the Spirit will do once He arrives. As these verses indicate, the Holy Spirit will be active in revealing the righteousness and judgment of God. He will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (v. 8) All of this has to do with the revelation of God’s will in light of the sinfulness of mankind.

The Spirit will establish a definitive distinction between the lawlessness of the human race and the holiness of God. He will enable men to discern between good and evil, and between rebellion and living according to the will of God. That which the Spirit will reveal will be man’s true spiritual condition and what man faces as a result of his transgressions.

In particular, Jesus indicates that the Spirit will be responsible for revealing the truth about the Savior. He will disclose that those who do not believe in Christ are committing sin. (v. 9) Opinions about Jesus will matter. Rejection of the gospel will matter because Jesus is not just another man or teacher, but is God in the flesh. To refuse to believe in Him, therefore, is an offense to God.

Moreover, the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, Jesus adds, “because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” (v. 10) Although this saying is a bit puzzling, I think it has to do with the vindication of Christ. He declared Himself to be the Son of God when He walked among men. But He was accused of blasphemy for such statements and eventually put to death.

As the Spirit works in the hearts of sinners, the true nature of Christ and His mission will be made known to them and the proclamations of Christ will be verified. Scripture does, in fact, teach that God’s acceptance of the atonement provided by His Son was vindication of His claims. Jesus said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many and that He was here to do the will of God. Upon the completion of His mission, Jesus was received back into heaven amid much glory, which spoke of the Father’s approval.

Paul, for example, wrote that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:20, 21) In another place, the writer of Hebrews says: “When [Christ] had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .” (Heb. 1:3) Again, the honor that Jesus received when He returned to heaven verified that He was who He claimed to be and did accomplish what He was sent to accomplish.

The ministry of the Helper will also involve revelation of God’s judgment against the ruler of this world. (v. 11) Through the followers of Christ, the Spirit will make known the defeat of Satan and the termination of his sway over fallen man. Through the preaching of the Church, the Holy Spirit will proclaim to the world that the devil has been subdued, just as God promised at the beginning of human history.

At this point, Jesus indicates that His instruction of the disciples is coming to an end, but the Spirit will continue educating the disciples once the Savior has completed His mission. (v. 12) The day will come when these men are ready to receive and act upon what remains to be revealed to them. It will be the Helper’s responsibility to provide that guidance and complete the equipping of the disciples for their labors for Christ’s kingdom. (v. 13)

Note in particular what Jesus says about the Spirit’s work in the second half of v. 13: “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This statement reinforces the notion that the Helper will be sent by Christ to serve the Savior’s interest. He will not come in order to reveal knowledge about Himself and thus bring glory to Himself. On the contrary, just as Jesus came to do the will of His Father, so the Holy Spirit will come to apply to sinners what Christ accomplished so that they might be saved.

Third, in verses 14 through 16, Jesus describes the manner in which the Spirit will relate to the Savior. This passage has already indicated that the Spirit will come as One sent from Christ to continue the work of the Savior. And in that capacity, the Spirit will serve the cause of Christ by applying the atonement to the fallen world. Now, in the last three verses of this passage, Jesus gives more specifics concerning how the Helper will relate to Christ.

The first thing that Jesus says is “He will glorify Me.” (v. 14) This statement alone clearly defines the role of the Spirit in relation to Christ. The Spirit will not come in order to draw attention to Himself. The Spirit will come in order to point sinners to Christ in whom they will find eternal life.

This is where we run into some controversy concerning how the Church has incorporated the doctrine of the Holy Spirit into our belief system. It seems perfectly clear that the Spirit should not be expected to promote Himself, yet this is precisely the point on which some ministries are based. They emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit to the point where His role as a servant of Christ is obscured. The result in many cases is that the Holy Spirit becomes the focus of ministry. This is clearly contrary to what Jesus teaches in this passage.

There are several negative consequences to be faced when a church or some other organization builds its ministry around the Holy Spirit rather than around or upon Christ. For example, those who count on such an organization for their spiritual instruction are going to be out of balance, so to speak. Christ and Christ alone is to be the foundation and focal point for Christian ministry. But an undue emphasis upon the Holy Spirit naturally eliminates that possibility. This kind of  faulty instruction can easily warp a person’s theological understanding.

Another regrettable consequence is that an unbiblical preoccupation with the work of the Spirit can easily lead to conflict with other bodies in which the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ are kept in proper balance with one another. This is what we have witnessed in the evangelical Church in the past century. Churches and even denominations have been torn apart because one group insisted that the Holy Spirit must be predominant in that organization’s confrontation with the world, while the other group insisted that such an approach is not supported by Scripture.

To be clear, let me say that I am not implying that churches should rarely mention the Holy Spirit. I am saying that the person work of the Holy Spirit should be kept in proper balance with other major doctrines. We should be careful to follow the pattern of Scripture itself when it comes to how we incorporate the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, both as congregations and as individuals.

The role of the Holy Spirit as a servant to Christ is further emphasized when Jesus adds: “for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has our Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (vv. 14, 15) As I said previously, this sounds much like the manner in which Jesus described His relationship to His Father who sent Him into the world. The Savior understood that He had been sent to do the will of the Father. And so the Holy Spirit will be sent to do the will of Christ by teaching us all that our Savior desires us to understand.

Jesus closes this section with a word of encouragement to His disciples. Soon, as He has been telling them, they will no longer see Him. But that is not the end of the Savior. After the passage of time, He adds, “you will see Me.” (v. 16) Christ is referring to the post-resurrection encounters that these disciples will have with their Savior before He ascends to heaven.

It is worth noting that Jesus made provision for the spiritual welfare of His redeemed so that they would not be without reliable spiritual guidance once He returned to heaven. This unique ministry of the Spirit will continue until He has fully and perfectly applied the atonement attained by our Savior.