John 15:26-27; 16:4-15
JOHN 14-17. THE PARACLETE
Parakletos (the word translated “Counselor” in verse 26 below) is used only five times in the New Testament, four times in this Gospel to refer to the Spirit (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and once in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus. Parakletos can mean a lawyer who pleads your case or a witness who testifies in your behalf. It can refer to a person who gives comfort, counsel, or strength in time of need. The literal meaning is “someone called in; but it is the reason why the person is called in which gives the word its distinctive associations…. Always a parakletos is someone called in to help when the person who calls him in is in trouble or distress or doubt or bewilderment” (Barclay, 194).
Parakletos has been translated Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, and Intercessor, but each of those expresses only one facet of parakletos. The original readers of this Gospel would have heard the full richness of its various meanings. Some Bibles use the word Paraclete, which is not an English word but a transliteration of the Greek word. The problem is that most people don’t know what a Paraclete is, so using Paraclete without explanation will probably convey less meaning rather than more.
The Paraclete, of course, is the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit dwelling in and among God’s people. Two of the Paraclete sayings (14:16-17 and 14:26) are found prior to today’s Gospel lesson. The other three (15:26; 16:7-11 and 16:13-14) are part of this lesson.
Note that the various translations of Paraclete (Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, and Helper) all point to the helping, supporting role of the Spirit. In our culture, we are accustomed to paying expensive professionals for these services. We speak of lawyers as Counselors or Advocates, because they advise and defend us in legal matters. We depend upon psychology professionals to comfort us—to help us through life’s difficult times. Not only are such professionals expensive, but they are available only by appointment and are subject to error. The Paraclete is with us always, and offers power and wisdom that are simply unavailable elsewhere at any price. This is not to say that we should not consult lawyers and psychologists, but it gives us an appreciation for the ever-present and powerful help that God makes available to us through the Paraclete.
This was good news to those early Christians, whom the world would hate, the synagogues would excommunicate, and Rome would persecute (15:18-25; 16-1-4). They had no access to professional counsel, but they did have each other—and they had the Paraclete. This is also good news for us. Neither our lawyer nor our psychiatrist will welcome a phone call in the middle of the night when terror jolts us from our slumbers. The Paraclete, however, is always present and ready to help.
JOHN 15:18-25. THE CONTEXT
In these verses, Jesus talks about the persecution that his disciples can expect to experience—about a world (Greek: kosmos—the realm opposed to God) that will hate them for not belonging to the kosmos. He talks about kosmos-people who hate the Son for exposing them to the light and making them accountable for their sins. He says that these kosmos-people hate both the Father and the Son. He said, “They hated me without a cause,” (15:25) thus fulfilling the prophecy of scripture (either Psalm 69:4 or 35:19).
JOHN 15:26-27. WHEN THE COUNSELOR HAS COME
15:26“When the Counselor (Greek: parakletos) has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify (Greek: marturesei) about me. 27You will also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
“When the Counselor (parakletos) has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (v. 26a). See above for information about the parakletos.
The language suggests a courtroom setting. Jesus outlined the problem in verses 18-25 (see above), and now outlines the response that the disciples can expect.
“he will testify (marturesei) about me” (v. 26b). The Spirit will serve as a witness for Jesus, who has been wrongly accused.
“You will also testify, (marturesei) because you have been with me from the beginning” (v. 27). The church must also serve as a witness for Jesus. The testimony (marturesei) of the Paraclete and the testimony of the church go hand in hand. The Paraclete’s testimony came first, and provides the power without which the church’s testimony would fall flat. The church’s testimony, steeped in personal experience and bathed in the Spirit, makes the witness visible to the world. Jewish Law requires two witnesses to convict (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The two witnesses, the Spirit and the church, will convict the world of its sin and its need for Christ.
JOHN 16:1-4a. THEY WILL PUT YOU OUT OF THE SYNAGOGUE
1“These things have I spoken to you, so that you wouldn’t be caused to stumble. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God. 3They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4aBut I have told you these things, so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them.“
In these verses (not included in this Gospel lesson) Jesus warns the disciples that the world will respond with great hostility to their testimony. The Paraclete will not only strengthen the disciples for the trials that lay ahead, but will insure the eventual triumph of the Gospel message. The disciples need not fear, because Christ has already overcome the world.
JOHN 16:4b-11. IT IS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE THAT I GO AWAY
16:4 “But I have told you these things, so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them. I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have told you these things, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Counselor won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he has come, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment; 9about sin, because they don’t believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to my Father, and you won’t see me any more; 11about judgment, because the prince of this world (Greek: kosmou) has been judged.”
“I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you” (v. 4b). Verses 1-4a tell of the coming persecution. Jesus did not tell the disciples of this persecution while he was with them, but is telling them now “so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them” (v. 4a). The world’s hostility should not come as a surprise, because the disciples have been warned. Now Jesus is “going to him who sent me” (v. 5a), with the result that “sorrow has filled (the disciples’) heart” (v. 6b). Not only will the disciples face terrible opposition, but they will face it without Jesus. It is no wonder that they are sad.
“and none of you asks me ‘Where are you going?'” (v. 5b). This seems like a peculiar statement in view of 13:36, where Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” and 14:5, where Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Much scholarly ink has been spilled in an attempt to resolve this.
• Some have suggested that it reflects weak organization on the part of the author or weak editing on the part of a redactor (an editor).
• Lincoln says that Jesus is not saying “none of you has asked me,” (past tense) but rather “none of you is asking me” (present tense) (Lincoln, 418).
• Morris says that Peter had made no serious attempt to understand where Jesus was going (Morris, 617).
• Borchert says that trying to read this Gospel “within sequential time and space frames” doesn’t work (Borchert, 164).
This diversity of proposals, none of them compelling, suggests that we won’t resolve this issue this side of heaven. There is nothing to be gained by airing this kind of unresolved issue in our preaching.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Counselor won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (v. 7). The disciples are sad that Jesus is leaving, but he gives them reason to rejoice. He is leaving so that the Paraclete might come. The net result will be a gain for the disciples.
The Paraclete is not subject to the limitations of humanity that Jesus took upon himself. Jesus could be only in one place at a time, while the Paraclete can be present with believers everywhere. Jesus, however, does not call attention to that advantage but to the fact that the Paraclete will “convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment” (v. 8).
The setting is a courtroom where the Paraclete is the prosecutor and the world—the kosmos-world that is opposed to God—will be the accused. Jesus predicts the outcome. The Paraclete will expose the world for what it is—will convict the world—will prove the world wrong (elengcho) on three counts—about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Paul uses the Greek word elengcho in Ephesians 5:11 to talk about exposing “the unfruitful works of darkness”—to show them to be wrong—to make public their disapproval of such works. This word elengcho, then, suggests stripping away the veneer that makes sin look sophisticated or pleasurable—revealing the ugliness and misery that lie just beneath the surface.
• “about sin, because they don’t believe in me” (v. 9). The world’s sin is to reject Christ in favor of “the ruler of this kosmos” (v. 11).
We usually think of sin as some sort of moral impropriety, such as adultery or theft or murder. However, in this verse, Jesus defines sin as unbelief rather than as immorality.
• “about righteousness, because I am going to my Father and you won’t see me anymore” (v. 10). The world judged Jesus guilty, and condemned him to a sinner’s death. Jesus, however, has overcome the death sentence and is going back to the Father. His resurrection and ascension not only vindicate his life and ministry, but also stand as judgment on those who condemned him. —
• “about judgment, because the prince of this world (kosmou—from kosmos) has been judged” (v. 11). In this Gospel, the kosmos (world) is the sphere of evil that is opposed to God. It has given its heart to the ruler of the kosmos—the devil (6:70; 8:44; 13:2) or Satan (13:27) instead of God. God has condemned the ruler of the kosmos, but still loves the world and seeks to save it (3:16). The kosmos, however, cannot be saved as it is, but must be redeemed—must accept the Christ that it has rejected. Otherwise, it can expect to suffer the same judgment as the ruler of the kosmos—the ruler whom it has chosen to follow (Lincoln, 420).
JOHN 16:12-15. THE SPIRIT WILL GUIDE YOU INTO ALL TRUTH
12“I have yet many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. 13However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. 14He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. 15All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you.”
“I have yet many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now” (v. 12). Jesus has pointed to the cross, but the disciples were not been able to see it. They expect a warrior-king, and cannot imagine a suffering servant. They will have to walk the walk—to make the journey—to experience the darkness—before the light will begin to break through.
Jesus will ascend to the Father a short time after the resurrection, and the Paraclete will assume responsibility for the disciples’ enlightenment. The Spirit of Truth “will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak” (v. 13). Jesus has spoken what he heard from God (7:16-18; 8:26-28, 40; 12:49-50), and now the Spirit of Truth will speak what it hears. The faithfulness of Jesus and the Spirit in proclaiming what they heard guarantees the truth of their proclamation as well as its continuity.
The Spirit of Truth “will declare to you things that are coming” (v. 13b). Every generation of Christians faces new challenges to its faith and practice. What is the right Christian response to cloning? To euthanasia? To abortion? To economic systems such as capitalism and socialism? The Spirit of Truth keeps God’s word alive and fresh through every changing circumstance.
“He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you” (vv. 14-15). Earlier, Jesus had declared that his teaching was not his own but was from the one who had sent him. He continued, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory, but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (7:18). Jesus has been faithful in glorifying the Father, and the Spirit will be faithful in glorifying the Son.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Borchet, Gerald L., New American Commentary: John 12-21, Vol, 25B (Nashville: Broadman Press, 2002)
Cousar, Charles B., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R. and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993).
Gossip, Arthur John and Howard, Wilbert F., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)
Lincoln, Andrew T., Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John (London: Continuum, 2005)
Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995)
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Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)
Williamson, Lamar, Jr., Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)
Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan