Rebuild & Renew: The Post-Exilic Books
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Sermon on the Mount
27. The Spirit of Truth (John 15:18-16:11)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
"Pentecost," stained glass window, St Aloysius' Catholic Church, Somers Town, London. Photo: Fr. Francis Lew, O.P. Used by permission.
In this part of the Farewell Discourses, Jesus prepares his disciples for the persecution that they will surely face after his departure. In addition he explains more about how the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit will help them in Jesus' absence.
The entire thought runs from 15:18 through 16:32. But because of the richness of these chapters, we'll break this lesson arbitrarily into two parts so you can consider it carefully.
We'll spend most of our time in these two lessons examining what Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit.
"18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (15:18-19)
Many people become Christians today who aren't aware that they'll be hated by some for their faith. Jesus was loved by some and hated by others. We'll be hated by some for the same reasons.
Difference. Jesus chooses "out of the world," the kosmos. The Greek word here has the connotation, "the world, and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, that is, lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved." From elementary school through adulthood, people tend to bully and persecute those who are different from them. Yes, it's perverse, but it is true. The Pharisees hated Jesus because he broke their cherished (but misguided) rules concerning the Sabbath.
Contrast. Closely related is the contrast in morals and values between disciples and people who have adopted the relative standards of society. If your values become honesty and putting in your full work day in a culture where people take sick days when they're not sick and come in late, you'll make others angry because your good behavior highlights their bad behavior. If Christians challenge society in issues such as abortion, it tends to focus on the evil of others. People often deride Christians as being "holier than thou," but the problem is often that believers are becoming through Christ's power, "blameless and pure ... without fault in a crooked and depraved generation," people who "shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:15). When we refuse to go along with others' sins, we make them look bad. Jesus' humility and purity stood in sharp relief to the Pharisees' legalism and self-serving attitude, and they hated him for it.
Control. People, particularly leaders, often hate what they can't control. Jesus represented a threat to the Jewish leaders' authority because he was attracting more and more followers, thus reducing their influence. When worldly people find that Christians can't be seduced and controlled by money, sex, and power, they sense a loss of power themselves. Christians are viewed as "loose cannons" and are hated for it.
"20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." (15:20-21a)
Being a follower of Christ isn't "safe." Jesus reminds us that they will treat us the same way as they treated him. Yes, some will come to faith and have their lives transformed, but others will hate and persecute us, to one degree or another.
In most Western countries, the persecution usually takes the form of social ostracism. But in countries with majority Hindu or Muslim populations, persecution can include loss of jobs, burning of churches, and even "honor killing" of those who convert to Christ.
Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples then -- and now -- so we won't be surprised when we see persecution. Rather we will remember that he told us it would be this way, so we won't be tempted to fall away (16:1).
Q1. (John 15:18-21a) Why are Christians persecuted even
if they haven't hurt others? What about a faithful Christian's life threatens
non-Christians? Why does Jesus warn his disciples that persecution will come?
What happens to our testimony if we give in under mild persecution? What does it
say to persecutors when we don't react to their persecution? Do they see us as
weak or as strong?
I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now,
however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well.
24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of
sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and
25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason. '" (15:22-25)
People sin whether or not they know the full truth. The Pentateuch talks about "unintentional sin," that is, transgressing laws that people don't know about. Western culture in our day, for example, thinks nothing of a couple living together without being married, though it is contrary to the Bible. Some of my ancestors were slaveholders. Probably all of our ancestors who fought in wars raped the women when they conquered a city. The sin was "unintentional"; the culture of the time wasn't particularly aware that it was sinful. Nevertheless, even people who don't know God's laws commonly go contrary to their consciences, and thus sin against what they believe to be right (Romans 2:12-16).
In verse 24, Jesus isn't saying that the Pharisees have no sin at all. Rather, if Jesus had not come they wouldn't be guilty of the terrible sin of rejecting Jesus the Messiah. But since Jesus worked miracles in their midst, they are held responsible to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah. The truth is, since Jesus represents the Father's words and deeds with extreme accuracy, it is a fallacy to say that they love God, but hate Jesus. If they hate Jesus, then they certainly don't know or love his Father!
Now we come to one of the Paraclete passages that instructs us about the Holy Spirit. (For more on these teachings, see Appendix 8. The Paraclete.)
"26 When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning." (15:26-27)
This passage teaches us several things about the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus will send him from the Father.
- He is called the "Spirit of truth" (also 14:17 and 16:13).
- He is spoken of as a person (14:26; 15:16, 26).
- He will testify or witness concerning Jesus.
Points 1 and 2 we've discussed above in 14:15-17 and 14:25-26 (Lesson 25), and in Appendix 9 The Sending of the Holy Spirit. But points 3 and 4 are new teachings on the Holy Spirit that we need to discuss.
In many languages (Spanish, French, German, etc. -- including Greek), words have masculine, feminine, or neuter genders or inflections that have no real counterpart in English. While the "Spirit" is often referred to by a neuter Greek pronoun, since the pneuma has a neuter gender in Greek (such as in 14:17, 26; 15:26), on several occasions Jesus uses the masculine pronoun, apparently to emphasize the Spirit's personhood. Observe these verses.
"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit (neuter noun), whom (neuter pronoun) the Father will send in my name, he (masculine pronoun) will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (14:26)
"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit (neuter noun) of truth who (neuter pronoun) goes out from the Father, he (masculine pronoun) will testify about me." (15:26)
"When he (masculine pronoun), the Spirit (neuter noun) of truth, comes, he (no pronoun in Greek) will guide you into all truth." (16:13a)
C.K. Barrett observes, "The Spirit is thought of in personal terms."
I emphasize the Holy Spirit's divinity and personal nature because some groups specifically deny that the Holy Spirit is a divine being. The Jehovah's Witness New World Translation, for example, sometimes even omits the word "Spirit" and substitutes the phrase "God's active force" in its place (hardly a faithful translation!), a phrase that strips away any sense of personhood.
There is solid biblical evidence that points to a conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person in his own right and performs functions we attribute to personhood. The Holy Spirit appoints missionaries (Acts 13:2; 20:28), he leads and directs them in their ministry (Acts 8:29; 10:19-20; 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 2:13), he speaks through the prophets (Acts 1:16; 1 Peter 1:11-12; 2 Peter 1:21), he corrects (John 16:8), comforts (Acts 9:31), helps us in our infirmities (Romans 8:26), teaches (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3), guides (John 16:13), sanctifies (Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11), testifies of Christ (John 15:26), glorifies Christ (John 16:14), has a power of his own (Romans 15:13), searches all things (Romans 11:33-34; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11), works according to his own will (1 Corinthians 12:11), dwells with saints (John 14:17), can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), can be resisted (Acts 7:51), and can be tempted (Acts 5:9). These are functions we attribute to persons, not to impersonal forces. John sees the Holy Spirit as a Person, sent by the Father to replace Jesus' physical presence to be the Paraclete with his disciples.
The personal nature of the Spirit is confirmed in the foundational creeds of the Church. The Nicene Creed uses personal terms to explain our belief in the Spirit.
"And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets."
Q2. (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13a) Why do we believe that
the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or power, but a Person? What kinds of
functions that we attribute to persons does the Holy Spirit do? Why is it so
easy to refer to the Spirit as "it" rather than "Him"?
"26 When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning." (15:26-27)
The Spirit's function of testifying about Jesus is closely related to reminding the disciples what Jesus taught (14:26b). Since the word paraklētos has a legal flavor, it is particularly appropriate alongside another word from the legal realm, martyreō, "to confirm or attest something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness, offer testimony." The Spirit presents Christ's case for him before the believers and the world.
Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what to say when they are brought into court.
"Do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." (Luke 12:11b-12)
The Paraclete will serve as your legal advisor as needed when you are persecuted.
In verse 27, Jesus reminds the original apostles that they must testify also, to tell what they know from personal experience (21:24; Luke 24:48) -- which the apostles certainly did. Though we are not eyewitnesses of the historical Jesus, we too must bear witness of what Jesus has done in our lives.
Q3. (John 15:26-27) What does it mean to "testify"? In
what way does the Spirit testify about Jesus? Can you testify from personal
knowledge about Jesus, or only the apostles who were eyewitnesses?
Don't Go Astray When They Persecute You (16:1-4)
In a similar way as in 15:18-21a, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for persecution.
"1 All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you." (16:1-4)
Jesus' intent is to keep his disciples from falling away in time of persecution (16:1). "Go astray" (NIV), "keep you from stumbling" (NRSV), "keep you from falling away" (ESV), "be offended" (KJV) is the verb skandalizō, "to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin." Skandalizō is also used in the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus warned that those whose seed fell on rocky ground that these "surface believers" would fall away in time of persecution (Matthew 13:5, 20-21).
Jesus hadn't spent a lot of time preparing them for persecution previously, because at that point he personally bore the brunt of the persecution. But with him gone, they will face the persecution head on, relying on the Paraclete to help them.
"5 Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'" (16:5)
Technically, Peter had asked this, but his question was really, "Why are you going?" and wasn't really a serious inquiry about where Jesus was going (13:36). Peter seemed interested only in the consequence for him and the other disciples, not for Jesus.
"6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (16:6-7)
The disciples are confused and grieving to hear about Jesus' imminent departure. But Jesus tries to console them with the truth that this will be for their own good. In what way does this benefit Jesus' disciples? In at least two ways:
- Jesus' going to the cross and being raised from the dead is God's plan for their redemption, and that of the whole world, though this is unspoken here.
- The Holy Spirit will be poured out on them after Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
Though the disciples didn't understand until later, God's timing in sending the Spirit was much-anticipated, even in the times of the prophets, but according to God's schedule, Jesus must be "glorified" first. As John had commented on Jesus' prophecy of the Spirit as a spring of living water, welling up in them:
"Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." (7:39)
The Holy Spirit will not only guide, encourage, teach, and remind them, as Jesus had done, but he will also empower them.
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (14:12)
After the resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples:
"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Q4. (John 16:5-7; 14:12) What benefit is there to the
disciples that Jesus goes away? What promise do we have in John 14:12 concerning
the Spirit's power in believers?
So far, Jesus has told his disciples how the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, will benefit them. But now he explains how the Holy Spirit will affect the world.
"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." (16:8)
The role of the Holy Spirit convicting sinners is clear. "Convict of guilt" (NIV), "convict" (ESV, NKJV), "prove wrong" (NRSV), "convince" (RSV), "reprove" (KJV) is the verb elenchō, "to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince someone of something, point something out to someone." The word occurs 18 times in the New Testament, in each instance having to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance.
Oswald Chambers wrote,
"Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes a man. It is the threshold of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin, and when the Holy Spirit rouses the conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with men that bothers him, but his relationship with God."
In what ways does the Holy Spirit bring conviction, according to Scripture?
Miracles. One way conviction came in Jesus' ministry and the early church's evangelism was through the miracle power of the Holy Spirit that brought a glimpse of God's immense power and holiness. After witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, for example, Peter falls to his knees and exclaims: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8). This was true in Paul's ministry as well.
"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a)
Dear friends, in our day we need the miracle power of the Holy Spirit, for it is one way that he convicts people of their sins and of Christ's power. If you've read reports of world evangelism, you probably are aware that one of the causes of the spread of evangelical Christianity in Latin America and the growth of the church in China is signs and wonders. If you aren't aware of this, you need to research this yourself.
Prophetic words. A second way we see conviction coming in the New Testament is through a prophetic word.
"But if an unbeliever or someone who does not
understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all
that he is a sinner and will be judged by all,
25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
If we avoid spiritual gifts because they might be controversial, we cripple the evangelistic power of the church.
Preaching and Testimony. A third way the Spirit brings conviction is by taking a sermon, lesson, or an individual's testimony and convincing a person of the truth of it in their heart of hearts. For example, after Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost, "they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). When we preach out of our mind, we have little power. But when we preach relying on the Holy Spirit to take our words and use them, we have great power.
Our righteous lives. A fourth way that the Holy Spirit uses to convict people is through our righteous lives. Peter tells us:
"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:12)
Peter exhorts Christian wives:
"Be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Instruction and prayer. A fifth way mentioned in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit brings conviction is through patient instruction with prayer. Paul counsels Timothy concerning the role of a servant of God.
"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
Notice the importance of God's intervention, which is necessary because:
"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Evangelism is not only declaring the word, but also earnestly praying for the salvation of unbelievers, for God to intervene and open their blind eyes and deaf ears (Acts 26:18). Both are vital! This is a spiritual battle. In a number places were are told to pray for the lost and for ministry to them (e.g., Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:19-20; 1 John 5:13-15).
Q5. (John 16:8) Through what means does the Holy Spirit
convict unbelievers? Is it our job as preachers or lay Christians to convict
unbelievers or backslidden people? If not, why not? What damage do we inflict on
people when we try to do the Holy Spirit's job?
"8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." (16:8-11)
Because of the compressed explanations of the Spirit's convicting power in verses 9-11, it is sometimes difficult to arrive at an exact interpretation of them. Here's the sense I make of them:
Sin. The Spirit will convict unbelievers of sin -- graciously -- so that they might recognize their need and turn to Christ.
Righteousness. The Spirit will convict the world of its false self-righteousness, because when Jesus goes to the Father. He sends the Spirit who empowers thousands of disciples to follow Jesus and, by their lives and faith in the Righteous One, they convict the world of its empty righteousness.
Judgment. The Spirit will convict the world of its spiritual blindness and false judgments of Jesus, since the chief slanderer of Jesus, "the prince of this world," has himself been judged and stands condemned by the triumph of the cross.
We need to stop here, though there is no natural break. We'll pick up Jesus' teaching on the Holy Spirit in the next lesson.
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.
But there is much to ponder in these verses. Here are some lessons for us disciples to grasp and incorporate into our own lives.
- We will be persecuted by the "world" because we are different. Our righteous lives make sinners feel uncomfortable, and people can't control us.
- When people hate or reject Jesus, they also hate and reject his Father, for Jesus accurately portrays the Father's words and actions.
- Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a person. In the New Testament, the Spirit's actions and functions are those we would ascribe to a person.
- From his personal experience, the Spirit "testifies" about Jesus. We are to testify about Jesus also from our experience of him.
- Jesus tells us not to fall away when we suffer severe persecution. We should expect it (16:1-4)
- The Holy Spirit's coming is contingent upon Jesus going to the Father. Even though Jesus won't be with us in person, the Spirit's presence is for our good, and will empower us to continue Jesus' ministry.
- The Holy Spirit will convict or convince the world through miracles, prophetic words, preaching and testimonies, our faithful lives, and instruction and prayer.
Father, help us to get acquainted with the person of the Holy Spirit. Help us to enjoy his fellowship and learn to hear his voice. Thank you for the power and joy of your Spirit. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John 15:20, NIV)
"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." (John 15:26, NIV)
"I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16:7, NIV)
"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." (John 16:8, NIV)
 Kosmos, BDAG 562, 7b.
 "Because of my name" (NIV), "for my name's sake" (KJV) uses the preposition dia with the accusative case, "the reason why something happens, results, exists, because of, for the sake of" (BDAG 225, B2a); and the noun onoma, "name." Here, onoma substitutes for the Jesus himself = "because of me."
 "Let not those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye...." (Psalm 35:19). "More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause" (Psalm 69:4).
 Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:18; Numbers 15:24-29.
 Though in English we sometimes refer to ships with a feminine gender as "her sails."
 Barrett, John, p. 482, commenting on John 15:26. See also George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1974), p. 295.
 See Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah's Witnesses (Harvest House, 1993), chapter 8. Citing the New World Translation of Genesis 1:2.
 This is the revised version of the original Nicene Creed (325 AD), which was adopted at the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD).
 "About" (NIV, ESV), "on my behalf" (NRSV), "of" (KJV) is the preposition peri with the genitive case, "about, concerning." Peri with the genitive denotes "the object or person to which (whom) an activity or especially inward process refers or relates" (BDAG 797, 1a).
 Martyreō, from the legal sphere (BDAG 612, 1aα). "In John, witness is especially the witness that is given, not specifically to the facts of Jesus' history, but to the person of Jesus." H. Strathmann, martyr, ktl., TDNT 4:474-514.
 Morris, John, p. 684.
 Acts 1:8, 21-22; 3:15; 4:33; 10:39-42; 18:5; 23:11; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:16-18; Revelation 1:9.
 Skandalizō, BDAG 926, 1a. The sin may consist in a breach of the moral law, in unbelief, or in the acceptance of false teachings. Originally, the word has the idea of striking or catching in a trap or snare, later it can have the meaning "offense, reason for punishment." In the New Testament the noun skandalon is an obstacle to faith and hence a cause of falling and destruction (G. Stählin, skandalon, ktl., TDNT 7:339-358).
 "Good" (NIV), "advantage" (NRSV, ESV), "expedient" (KJV) is sympherō, "to be advantageous, help, confer a benefit, be profitable/useful," here impersonal, "something is good (for someone), something is useful or helpful." (BDAG 960, 2a).
 Elenchō, BDAG 315, 2. The focus in classical Greek is on "putting to shame, treating with contempt, cross-examining, accusing, bringing to the test, proving, refuting" (Carson, John, p. 534).
 Carson, John, p. 534, citing Friedrich Büschel, elenchō, ktl., TDNT 2:473-474.
 Oswald Chambers (1874-1917), My Utmost for His Highest, devotion for December 7.
 Plērophoria, "state of complete certainty, full assurance, certainty" BDAG 827).
 "Sin" is hamartia, "a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness, sin" (BDAG 50, 1a).
 "Judgment" is krisis, legal process of judgment, judging, judgment," here, "judgment that goes against a person, condemnation, and the sentence that follows" (BDAG 569, 1aβ).
 "Stands condemned" (NIV), "condemned" (NRSV), "judged" (ESV, KJV) is krinō, "to engage in a judicial process, judge, decide, hale before a court, condemn," also "hand over for judicial punishment," frequently as a legal technical term (BDAG 569, 5bα).
 I am following, for the most part, Carson, John, pp. 536-537. Of course, there are many different interpretation of these cryptic verses.
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