The Spirit of Truth

by Joel Ramshaw (2008)

The discourse of John 16 is filled with many crucial theological truths that reveal Christ, the Holy Spirit, and effective prayer. To begin with, in John 16 Jesus begins by giving His disciples (and indirectly, Christians worldwide) instruction for how to live after His departure. He opens by introducing another Helper that will take His place. This is the Spirit of truth, another name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls Him the Spirit of truth in this passage, because the focus is on His role in revealing truth. The disciples had formerly been able to rely on Christ for all their spiritual guidance, but now that Christ was departing they needed a new guide. This is where Christ introduces Him.

“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 depart, I will send Him to you.”[1]

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, he will guide you into all truth; . . He will tell you things to come.”[2]

The disciples had not previously heard of the Spirit of truth. A new dimension was being added to their spiritual lives. Jesus even said that it would be advantageous that He leave the earth, so that the Spirit of truth could come. The disciples probably disbelieved this at first. That the one to whom they had committed their lives would leave them did not seem advantageous. The disciples did have some consolation though. Jesus had told them that He was not abandoning them permanently. “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”[3] Jesus thus showed the disciples that they would see Him again, in the resurrection. Until then though, the disciples needed to adapt to the new way of hearing from God. As the book of Acts shows, they quickly learned how true Jesus words about the Spirit of truth really were. Acts records them constantly hearing things from the Spirit of truth. There are several advantages to how Christ revealed Himself through the Holy Spirit. First of all, Christ could only be in one place at a time and could only speak one thing at a time. The Holy Spirit could bring God’s word to Christians worldwide though, and He could speak to many Christians all at once.[4] Jesus was not forsaking the disciples. He could have stayed on earth in His resurrected body, and began a worldwide evangelism campaign. Rather, He saw it as advantageous that He withdraw His physical presence so that He could come back by means of the omnipresent Spirit.

            The disciples would have understood the Spirit of truth in a slightly different aspect than modern readers sometimes take Him as. The word “spirit” in the Greek is “pneuma”[5] it does not simply mean “spirit,” but rather it is often used to describe wind or breath. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew “ruach” which was used to describe the breath of God. To the disciples, Jesus was not just introducing them to their conscience. He was showing them that they would be able to hear the direct breath of God. It is not often realized that when the Bible refers to the “breath of God” and the “Holy Spirit” it is in fact referring to the same person.

            Besides the basic introduction to the Spirit of truth, Jesus also reveals that this Spirit is not only a force, or a conscience, but also a personal being. “. . . whatever He hears He will speak; . . .”[6] If He was not a personal being He would not be able to hear or speak. It is true that in the Greek the Spirit of truth is almost always called an “it” rather than a “he” in the pronouns. This is because in Greek the gender of a pronoun must agree with the gender of the noun it replaces. Pneuma is a neuter noun and thus its pronouns are also neuter. This does not bear any significance on the actual gender of the subject though. The Biblical context throughout the Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is a personal being with real emotions.[7]

            All Christians should ask God to fill them up with more of the Holy Spirit. The degree to which one is filled with the Holy Spirit is directly proportional to the degree to which they can hear from God. As Christians we are called the temple of God. Paul wrote, “. . . do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, . . .” The Israelites temple was previously the only way that man and God could relate closely. That all changed with Jesus though, who prophesied the destruction of the temple, and foretold the indwelling of humans with God’s Spirit.

After instructing His disciples about the Spirit of truth, Jesus then turns the subject of His discourse onto prayer. The disciples were used to asking Jesus for things directly, but Jesus made it known to them that they should talk directly to the Father, rather than the Son, when they pray. “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”[8]

This was preparing them for when Jesus would leave earth, and the disciples would no longer be able to ask Him anything. They were being taught to pray to the Father, and listen to the Holy Spirit; they would no longer be able to relate to the Son the same way, until the resurrection.

            Jesus reassured the disciples though, that the Father truly did love them. They did not have to worry about being perfect before God would listen to their prayers. Jesus made it clear that the Father loved them simply for them committing their lives to Jesus. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”[9] Because the Father loved them, it naturally follows that He would listen to their prayers, even if He decided to not always answer them the way they hoped.

            Jesus then made a prayer for both Himself and His disciples, revealing truths while praying.[10] The first part of the prayer was for Himself; that God would glorify Him just as He had glorified God. Jesus was not being selfish by praying for God to glorify Him. He had served as God’s humble servant for His entire life and thus deserved glory, besides that fact that He was God’s Son. Also, the purpose behind Christ’s desire to be glorified, is that Him being glorified would end up glorifying the Father also.[11]

The glory Christ asked for was not a new glory, but one He had already experienced previously. He had been in glory with the Father for all of eternity, before coming to earth and giving it up to save humanity. “(Jesus), being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”[12] Jesus prayer to be glorified with God again, just as He had been previously, was answered. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, . . .”[13]

            After praying for Himself, Jesus next proceeds to pray for His disciples. He does not specifically say that it is His disciples that He is praying for, but it is easy to deduce that it could be none other than His disciples, “those who You have given Me.” He asks God to not translate them from the earth, but rather to leave them on the earth and keep them on the path of righteousness. Jesus wanted to be with the disciples in heaven, but He knew that there was work that still needed doing on earth. Jesus could have simply prayed for the universal church, and His disciples would be included. Jesus kept them as two separate prayers though, because the disciples needed extra prayer. This is because the disciples were to be the representatives of Jesus to the world, and it was crucial that they stay in righteousness.

The last part of Jesus prayer is for the universal church. He emphasised the necessity for unity in it.[14] “that all may be one, as You Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, . . .”[15] Jesus made it clear that He was one with God, and in the same way, Christians are to be one with each other, with Jesus, and with God. The verses all focus one the concept of oneness. If the church is not one, then there is no coherent bride of Christ. Christ wants one cohesive bride, not many “brides.” Thus He naturally wants Christians to be united. Christ, in another passage of scripture, said that as Christians we are His body. No body can survive without being united. As Christ’s body we must be united as we follow Christ.

Christ lastly prays that God would let His followers into heaven to be with Him forever. He made this prayer knowing that He would soon die for all the sins of the world. People could then receive salvation by entrusting their lives to Him. By dying on the cross, Jesus not only took away the sins of the world, but He also modeled a new way of thinking. Christ showed that believers should be willing to make sacrifices for others. Since He made the ultimate sacrifice, we should at the very least be helping one another.

            Christ’s discourse of John 16-17 has been full of many important theological truths, and also simply by reading the passage, the character of Christ can be more clearly seen. It is in this discourse that Christ details the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also reassures His disciples that He will be with them in their trials, and tribulations. This passage in addition contains the longest prayer Christ made. It can thus be seen that this is an essential part of scripture for understanding Christ, the Holy Spirit, and prayer.

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[1] John 16:7 All Bible citations are taken from the NKJV.

[2] John 16:13.

[3] John 16:17.

[4] Beacon Bible Commentary, volume 7, 1965 Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, Mo, pg 182.

[5] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 680.

[6] John 16:13.

[7] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1996, 338.

[8] John 16:23.

[9] John 16:27.

[10] John 17.

[11] Siegfried Schatzmann, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, notes on John 17:1-5, pg 1475.

[12] Philippians 2:6-7.

[13] Philippians 2:9-11.

[14] Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Volume 9 The Gospel of John, 167.

[15] John 17:21.

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