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The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (6)

J Gibson, Derby

John 16

This chapter revisits the following subjects:

Persecution (vv.1-6)

The Lord Jesus lovingly alerted His disciples to the harsh treatment they would receive from the world. This He did to prevent them from being stumbled by persecution (v.1). Instead, by remembering His words (v.4), the disciples would be reassured that He knew all about it. Since the Lord Jesus had hitherto shielded them from open hostility, they had not previously needed such clear teaching on suffering for His sake (v.4). However, soon after Pentecost the Lord’s warning rang true: the apostles were assailed (Acts 4.1-3; 5.17,18,26-28), godly Stephen was slain (Acts 7.57,58), and there arose "a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8.1). Religious fanatic Saul of Tarsus led the assault on the church (Acts 8.3; 9.1,2; 22.4,5; 26.9-11; Gal 1.13), so fulfilling Christ’s words: "They shall put you out of the synagogues [excommunication] : yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you [execution] will think that he doeth God service" (v.2; Phil 3.6). One reason for such intense hatred was straightforward ignorance: "they have not known the Father, nor me" (v.3). The world’s gods are idols created by human rationalisation and logic, not the true God of Biblical revelation. Him they do not know.

The statement, "But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, whither goest thou?" (v.5), is at first glance perplexing in view of Peter’s previous question, "Lord, whither goest thou?" (13.36), and Thomas’ concern, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (14.5). However, with hindsight, Peter’s question was merely a forward display of self-confidence, while Thomas’ expression focused more on their ignorance than the Lord’s final destination. In the present case, it was neither forwardness nor ignorance but grief (v.6) which prevented them from showing more interest in Christ. Preoccupation with ourselves is always harmful, for it blinds us to the bigger picture of God’s plan and the Saviour’s glory.

Pentecost (vv.7-15)

The disciples were saddened by news of the Lord’s soon departure. However, it was going to be to their advantage as the Comforter, who reproves the world (vv.8-11) and educates believers (vv.12-15), would then be given (v.7). The "whole world lies in the wicked one" (1 Jn 5.19, JND) and cannot receive the Holy Spirit "because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him" (Jn 14.17). In spite of this, His very presence continually reproves this evil world system that is utterly opposed to God of its gross sin, final judgment, and Christ’s incontestable righteousness:

The Holy Spirit is also an exceptional teacher. The fact that He permanently indwells believers means that He is always available. In addition to revealing truth, by working from the inside, He actually increases a believer’s capacity to understand God’s Word (v.13). Unlike every other teacher who must be rigorously examined to ensure reliability (1 Thess 5.21), "the Spirit of truth" (16.13) is totally trustworthy. Further, the Spirit’s teaching comprehensively embraces every facet of "all truth" (v.13) necessary for the child of God. This He did in the past by inspiring the New Testament writings, so filling up God’s self-revelation, and completing the canon of Scripture (2 Pet 1.21; Jude v.3). Now He continues to interpret these same writings to subsequent generations of Christians (1 Cor 2.9-11). By teaching in full submission to everything He hears from Father and Son (Jn 16.13), always glorifying the Son (v.14), and increasing the Christian’s appreciation of Christ’s greatness (v.15), the Holy Spirit serves as a perfect role model for every budding Bible teacher. Authority and accuracy characterise His predictions of "things to come" (v.13). For example, the book of Revelation provides a coherent unfolding of God’s future plans for the earth. Indeed, only with the Spirit’s enlightening can believers comprehend the prophetic Scriptures.

The Lord Jesus is Himself a perfect teacher. Knowing the disciples’ limitations, He taught them in a step-wise manner, "for precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Is 28.10). Although initially they were incapable of bearing the full force of this teaching He now gave them, with the Spirit’s coming they would be able to: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (v.12).

Resurrection and return (vv.16-22)

Christ’s somewhat cryptic expression, "a little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father" (v.16), generated the disciples’ humble confession: "…we cannot tell what he saith" (v.18). Their accurate verbatim quotation (v.17) relayed a reverent view of Christ’s words that should mark every diligent student of Scripture. Since not only the general flow, broad concepts, and story-lines of Scripture are inspired, but the very words themselves, every Bible student requires a reliable Biblical text translated from the original languages, where possible, word for word.

"Jesus [knowing] that they were desirous to ask him" (v.19) graciously explained His words to the perplexed disciples (vv.20-22). Strong’s Concordance shows that "a little while" translates mikron meaning "a small space of time [always in John’s Gospel] or degree [e.g. ‘He went forward a little’ (Mk 14.35)]". "A little while, and ye shall not see me" (v.16) referred to the short period up until Calvary. While this resulted in intense weeping and lamentation (v.20) for the disciples – comparable to a woman’s labour pains (v.21) – the world, in contrast, rejoiced (v.20; cp Rev 11.10). Be not deceived, however, this world’s joy is very short-lived (Job 20.5; Lk 6.25).

"A little while, and ye shall see me", primarily alluded to the Lord’s post-resurrection appearances which filled the sorrowful disciples with immense joy (Jn 20.20). It can also quite legitimately be applied to the "little while" of our earthly sojourn, and the unspeakable joy that will fill our hearts at the Saviour’s return.

Prayer (vv.23-30)

Strictly speaking, "that day" (v.23) was the day of the Lord’s resurrection. However, as this inevitably led on to His ascension and physical departure, these directions regarding prayer apply to us today. "Ye shall ask me nothing" (v.23) was not a strict prohibition – Stephen (Acts 7.59) and Paul (Acts 9.6) addressed Christ directly – but rather an indication that during His absence, prayer would generally speaking, as never before, be addressed to the Father. This pattern is consistent with the New Testament letters (Eph 3.14; Col 1.3) which additionally explain the important role of the Spirit (Rom 8.26; Eph 6.18; Jude v.20). Each member of the trinity plays an active part in the prayers of saints (Eph 2.18). While such prayers have limitless possibilities – "Whatsoever" (16.23) – they must tightly conform to Christ’s own character and cause – "in my name" (v.23). These spiritual prayers will be made unceasingly, for "ask" (v.24) is present continuous tense; they will receive answers – "ye shall receive" (v.24) – with the aim "that your joy may be full" (v.24). The Lord’s words, "I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you" (v.26), do not deny His present intercession, but rather emphasise an unrestricted access to the Father who gladly answers the prayers of those who love His Son (v.27). This new era, on the threshold of which they stood, would also bring clearer revelation: "I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father" (v.25). And so, effective prayer also requires an intelligent appreciation of who God the Father is, as revealed in Christ.

Peace (vv.31-33)

The disciples’ faith may falter, their courage fail them, and they forsake Christ, but the Father remained His faithful companion (vv.31,32). In spite of the facts that believers will face tribulation in this world (Acts 14.22), in Christ who has overcome it they can enjoy supernatural peace (16.33).

To be continued.

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