Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

John 16:12-15




Jesus said, “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.” (16:7). These words provide essential background to this Sunday’s Gospel lesson. From the disciples’ perspective, Jesus’ imminent departure seems catastrophic. Earlier, Peter said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). The disciples will witness Jesus’ death, which will seem to extinguish “the words of eternal life.” Following the resurrection, Jesus will ascend into heaven. Once again, the disciples will face life without the Lord—without “the words of eternal life.”

However, Jesus reassures the disciples that he will provide for their needs. They will not be alone but will actually gain by Jesus’ departure and Spirit’s arrival. The incarnation imposed limitations on Jesus. He is bound by time and place. He can travel only slowly and teach only those within range of his voice. The Spirit will not be subject to these limitations, but will be present everywhere—throughout the world and throughout history.


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 (Greek: ekeinos—that one) 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 thing to tell you, but you can’t bear them now” (v. 12). Jesus has pointed to the cross, but the disciples have not been able to understand. They expect a warrior-king, and cannot imagine a suffering servant. They are not yet ready to bear the burdens that lie ahead—to see their Lord executed alongside common criminals—to be jailed, beaten and crucified for their faith—to propagate the church by the sacrifice of their own blood—to see the influence of Gentiles grow in the church. But Jesus does not ask the disciples to face such issues now, while they are weak, but instead leaves them to a time when the Spirit will be present with the disciples to guide and strengthen them.

Paul puts it this way: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Or, as an old English proverb says, “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.”

“When he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth” (v. 13a).  Just as Joshua inherited Moses’ mantle and took responsibility for leading Israel into the Promised Land, so also the Spirit will inherit Jesus’ mantle of leading people to the truth (Lincoln, 421).

The Spirit of truth will not lead us wrongly, but will show us the right pathway. That path might be narrow and rough, but the Spirit of truth will help us to walk with confidence.

• Wise beyond wise, the Spirit of truth will not lead us into foolishness.

• Fully loving, the Spirit of truth will not be tempted by conflicts of interest or jealousy.

• Always present, the Spirit of truth will be there for us in every dark night and every remote, hellish place.

“for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak” (v. 13b). Jesus did not speak his own word, but said, “everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you” (15:15). In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus will say, “the words which you have given me I have given to them” (the disciples) (17:8). In like manner, the Spirit will not speak his own word, but will speak “whatever he hears.” There is a direct line from the Father through the Son and the Spirit to the disciples. Every word of Jesus and the Spirit is rooted in the truth of the Father.

“He will declare to you things that are coming” (v. 13c). While “what is coming” could refer to the gift of prophecy, it more likely extends to the whole realm of Christian truth (Morris, 622; Kostenberger, 473-474). At present, the disciples are babes in the faith, understanding little. Later, when they are able to handle it, the Spirit will reveal more and more.

We will see this principle illustrated in the book of Acts, in particular with regard to Gentiles. In the beginning, the church will be run by Jews for Jews headquartered in the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem. Not until Peter’s vision in Acts 10 will the church welcome Gentiles, except as proselytes. It is not that God will reveal to Peter a new truth regarding his love for Gentiles—that revelation goes back to the book of Jonah and beyond—but rather that the church will only gradually be able to appreciate the ancient truth.

Jesus is addressing apostles—those who heard his words while he was still with them (14:25-26) and who were with him from the beginning (15:27)—but the Spirit continues to guide the church yet today. Our circumstances change daily with new technologies and politics, but the Spirit of truth stands ready to help us to relate God’s truth to new situations. In every new circumstance, the same faithful Spirit guides us to re-learn old, faithful truths and to apply those old truths in new and faithful ways.

“He (ekeinos—that one) will glorify me” (v. 14a).  The role of the Son is to glorify the Father. The role of the Spirit is to glorify the Son.

“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. 14b-15). The Spirit will declare to us “what is mine” (v. 14b), but John reminds us that the Father has given Jesus “all things” (13:3) and Jesus reminds us that “all things whatever that the Father has are mine” (v. 15). Thus it follows that the Spirit will reveal to us “all things” and “all that the Father has.” These truths have been revealed earlier, in some measure, through Moses, the prophets, and Jesus, but people were not always prepared to understand them. As we grow in our capacity to understand, the Spirit “will teach (us) everything, and remind (us) of all that (Jesus has) said” (14:26).

Such growth—such ability to appreciate the fullness of God’s truth—is a lifelong process. Never in this life will we be prepared to understand all of God’s truth, but the Spirit is a faithful guide, so it behooves us to become faithful followers.

In another context (Matthew 3:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-15), Jesus talks about the seed of the Gospel falling on four different kinds of soil—the hard-packed soil of the pathway, where the seed finds no purchase and where Satan quickly steals it away—rocky ground, where a thin layer of soil allows the seed to sprout, but the underlying rock prevents it from developing roots—thorn-infested soil, where worldly concerns choke out the Gospel seed—and good soil, which bears fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

In like manner, receptiveness to the Spirit’s guidance varies widely. Some people shut out the Spirit, and derive no benefit from his teaching. Others seek the Spirit’s help in times of trouble, but pay no heed in normal times. Still others hear the Spirit’s voice, but only faintly through the din of competing voices. But others receive the Spirit’s counsel gladly, and produce abundant spiritual fruit—become spiritual giants.

Some of the spiritual giants are famous—Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham—but most congregations include at least a few. Most come in the guise of common folk, but radiate uncommon spiritual maturity. We admire, perhaps even envy, their quiet confidence. What we might never have considered is that the Holy Spirit has the power to bring that kind of spiritual vitality to life within us if we will open our lives fully to the Spirit’s guidance and teaching—if we will become good soil.

While we might be tempted to accept our current spiritual state as immutable, traditional spiritual disciplines (worship, Bible study, prayer, association with Christian friends, and faithful obedience to what we already understand) enhance our receptiveness to the Spirit’s teaching—prepare us for spiritual growth in the same way that tilling, weeding, watering, and fertilizing prepare a plant for growth. By choosing whether or not to practice such disciplines, we decide whether or not we will grow into robust, fruitful disciples—whether or not we will benefit from our association with the Spirit. The Spirit offers faithful guidance. Everything, then, depends on whether we are open to that guidance.

While the Spirit helps us to address issues about which Jesus did not provide specific guidance, the Spirit’s word will always be consistent with that of the Father and the Son. That gives us a standard for judging the word of those who claim to be led by the Spirit. Is their word consistent with the word of the Father and the Son? If not, their word does not come from the Spirit of truth. It is important that Christians be able to make such judgments. “Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

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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Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan