John 16:1 – “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”
‘All these things’ is a reference to all of the teaching Jesus has given his disciples since the Passover meal (aka John chapters 14 & 15).
- Some of his teachings were very comforting – Jesus was preparing a place for them in heaven, Holy Spirit was coming to abide with them, etc.
- Some of the teachings were instructional – the disciples were to keep the commands of Christ in order to abide/live in him as a branch lives by connection to a vine.
- Some of the teachings were informative – there was going to be opposition, hardship and danger involved for those who chose to follow Christ.
It’s great to see that Jesus doesn’t hold anything back. He doesn’t ‘gloss over’ the hardships of Christianity. He fully discloses to his disciples that the road to heaven is not an easy garden path; it often involves suffering of one kind or another. It can be a road full of pitfalls and dangers.
One of the most imminent dangers to the twelve apostles was offense or scandal.
The Law was the very foundation of the Jewish life, and people were extremely passionate about it. They had their preconceived (and inaccurate) ideas of who/what the Messiah would be, and their ideas did NOT include a suffering Messiah who would die on a cross at the hands of Rome.
So the crucifixion of Christ was about to become a major offense/scandal in the Jewish religious world. It was going to cause great division within the nation. In fact, it will be the most divisive event ever to occur not only in Jewish life, but in the history of the world. And in the aftermath of this great division, the apostles are supposed to begin preaching grace/salvation through Christ. That was a tough and dangerous path to tread!
We can see how the scandal of the cross would tempt the apostles to turn aside from the whole truth, or find some way to soften (sugar-coat) the gospel message in order to avoid further offense.
We can also see how the violent opposition of the Jews might cause the twelve to give up and not share the gospel at all. After all, who wants to sign up for certain persecution?
But Jesus prepares his followers for victory. He has forewarned them of the coming conflict/opposition and promised them supernatural assistance. Jesus has done this so that the disciples will not stumble or fall in their Christian walk; Jesus does not want their faith to fail.
John 16:2 – “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
As they preach the gospel, the apostles are going to be targeted by the current leadership. The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, elders, etc were not going to just give up and hand over religious leadership of the nation to the twelve followers of Jesus. They were going to fight to the death to keep Israel under the law and to retain their positions of power in the religious life of the nation.
This put the apostles right in the ‘cross hairs’ of persecution and death.
The first attack against the apostles (and all Christians in that era) would come in the form of excommunication from the synagogue.
What exactly was a synagogue?
First of all, let’s remind ourselves that the temple was different from a synagogue. As you know, there was only one temple, located in Jerusalem. The original temple was a very ornate and lavish structure built by King Solomon during the fourth year of his reign (I Kings chapters 6-7). It was destroyed by the Babylonians when Judah was taken captive. (It was later rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra/Nehemiah, and remodeled by Herod.)
During the time of their captivity, the Jews instituted the concept of the synagogue. The synagogue was a meeting site used for religious services. Typical synagogue services included prayer, the systematic reading of scripture, and the exposition of what was read (Acts 13:14-15, Luke 4:15-22). Additionally, the synagogue was used as a public school for Jewish males. Occasionally, it also served as a courthouse and place of judgment/punishment (Matthew 10:17, Luke 12:11, Acts 22:19).
It took a minimum of 10 Jewish males to open a synagogue. The luxury of the building was dependent upon the wealth of the men who formed it. The internal arrangement of the structures often varied; however, there were certain traditional or common formations.
These included a separate women’s gallery (often behind a partition of lattice work), a desk in the center where the reader and speaker sat, a carefully closed ‘ark’ on the side of the building nearest to Jerusalem (in which the rolls or manuscripts of the law were kept), and seats all around where the men sat. There would also have been reserved seating or ‘chief seats’ for the rulers of the synagogue.
The synagogue became one of the cultural, religious and social centers of the Jewish society. To be banned from the synagogue was synonymous with being cut off from the community; it would have been a devastating punishment to the Jews. Just the threat of being banned caused many Jews to conform to the orders of the Pharisees, even if they didn’t agree with their decisions (John 9:22-23).
If that were the extent of the persecution by the religious leaders, it wouldn’t be so bad. But excommunication was just the beginning.
The apostles (and other believers) were also threatened (Acts 4:21 and 29), beaten (Acts 5:40, II Corinthians 11:25) and eventually martyred for the cause of Christ (Acts 12:1-3, Acts 7:56-60). And just as Jesus predicted, there were those who believed they were doing the work of God by killing Christians (Acts 9:1).
John 16:3 – “And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
Jesus repeats once again that ignorance of God is the cause of the world’s hatred and persecution of Christians.
Those who think they do God a favor by killing men and women made in his image clearly know nothing of the true nature of God. They fail to realize that God is long suffering and compassionate; he loves each sinner so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only Son for their redemption.
Jesus does not say this to make Christians feel guilty for not reaching/converting every sinner. Rather, he makes this known to them so they may boldly continue to proclaim the gospel in the face of the blind fury of their adversaries.
It also reminds Christians that they should rise to a level of compassion and love toward their enemies which Jesus himself exemplified by forgiving those who hung him on the cross (Luke 23:34).
All in all, this is tough news for the disciples. They are probably beginning to finally understand that the journey they have been on with Christ is not going to end with the overthrow of the Romans and Jesus being crowned as an earthly king.
But there is good news too – Jesus is not going to let his disciples fail; he is preparing them to stand firm when the storms of life hit them (Matthew 7:24-25).
John 16:4 – “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.”
‘These things’ may be understood as the Jews’ ignorance of God’s plans/purposes as well as their willful rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Because of their ignorance, they will wind up persecuting the apostles and other Christian converts as well.
Jesus has predicted these things so that when the persecution occurs, his followers will remember his words. It would strengthen their faith to remember that the Lord’s divine wisdom had foreseen all of this trouble/opposition. The actions of the religious leaders were not a surprise to God!
Furthermore, because they had prior warning of these trials/calamities, they will not be caught off guard; they will remain strong in their faith and be victorious. Had they not been expecting this kind of opposition, they may well have given up on their commission, thinking that Jesus had either abandoned them or that he was not the Messiah.
The apostles might well have wondered why Jesus never mentioned this before. The reason is simple – all the time Jesus had been with them, he had personally taken the brunt of the hatred of the Jews. His followers were safe as long as he was bodily present with them. But now that he was leaving, the religious leaders would focus their hatred on the apostles (and any other Jew who became a Christian).
John 16:5-6 – “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Jesus again reminds the disciples that he will be returning to Father God almost immediately. How are the disciples to react to this statement?
Theologically speaking, there was cause for rejoicing. When Jesus died and rose again it meant that death was defeated, sin could be atoned for, the power of Satan was broken, the kingdom of heaven had invaded earth and Holy Spirit was soon to come. Lots of incredibly wonderful things happened when Jesus returned to heaven!
But as humans, we sometimes react out of emotion rather than reason. The disciples had a very close/intimate relationship with their master for the last few years. They have traveled together, eaten together, learned together, ministered together, experienced both joy and sadness together, worshiped together, etc. The thought of losing the companionship of Jesus was devastating to the apostles.
Emotionally speaking, it hurts whenever death breaks the bonds of love between people. If you have ever lost a friend or loved one, you have experienced this yourself; you know how painful it can be.
Nevertheless, Jesus wants the twelve to encourage themselves by focusing on the comfort and victory he has provided for them in this life. He wants them to react based on his promises to them, not on their emotions. This was evident when he lightly rebukes them for not asking where he was going.
If they took the time to think it through, they would realize that when Jesus went back to heaven, it was for his good – having fulfilled his commission, he returned to the glory he had before. They would also have realized it was for their good too – Holy Spirit was scheduled to come after Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father where he made (and still continues to make) intercession for us.
John 15:11 – These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
Yes, there were going to be some challenges in the future, but there was no reason for the disciples to walk through life being full of sorrow. Jesus had given them many gracious gifts and promises to make them victorious.
It was up to them to stop concentrating on their sorrow and to begin counting their reasons to rejoice.
John 16:7 – “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 go, I will send him to you.”
The biggest advantage of Jesus returning to heaven was the gift of Holy Spirit. This raises an interesting question. Why was it more advantageous to have Holy Spirit on earth, rather than Jesus?
The great plan of redemption called for each member of the Trinity to perform a specific role. It was the work of Jesus to provide atonement; it was/is the work of the Spirit to apply it to mankind. Therefore, it was advantageous for Jesus to ascend to heaven so Holy Spirit could now come and perform his unique role in the salvation of mankind.
Holy Spirit helps believers in producing godly fruit in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23). He also brings gifts to the body of Christ in order to make the church victorious and to assist us in our mission to spread the gospel message around the world:
1 Corinthians 12:8-11 – For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another various kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But in all these works that one and same Spirit, dividing to every man individually as he will.
Furthermore, while in bodily form, Jesus could only be in one place at one time. This limited his ministry and influence in the world. Obviously, Holy Spirit does not have a flesh-and-blood body, so he is not controlled by space and time.
He can move throughout the world at will, assisting Christians to share the gospel while simultaneously convicting sinners and bringing them to repentance. He is often compared to the wind, which blows all over the earth.
The disciples were sorrowful that Jesus was leaving, but Jesus was right – it was to their advantage for him to depart and send Holy Spirit to earth.
John 16:8 – “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:”
To convict (your translation may say ‘reprove’) commonly means to demonstrate by argument; to persuade through reason, to demonstrate by proof or evidence.
- Sin – As we have already mentioned, it is the role of Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin. In other words, he will apply the truth of the gospel to men’s hearts and minds in such a way that they will be convinced they are sinners in need of the blood of Christ (Acts 2:36-37). This was/is particularly true regarding the sin of unbelief.
- Righteousness – Holy Spirit will convince or persuade people that their own righteousness is insufficient to save them. In order to be justified before God, they will need the righteousness that only Christ can provide (Philippians 3:9, Romans 3:20-22).
- Judgment – Holy Spirit will demonstrate that Jesus is Lord and that by his death/resurrection he judged, condemned and overcame Satan and his kingdom of darkness.
The concepts of sin, righteousness and judgment are all interwoven – when men are convicted of sin, they will either turn to Christ and receive his righteousness, or reject Christ and be judged with the prince of darkness.
John 16:9 – “… concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;”
Sin is defined as any violation of the law of God, but the particular sin being discussed here is that of unbelief or rejection of Christ. This was the main sin of the Jews who crucified Jesus.
When the apostles preached the gospel message, it was this sin of unbelief/rejection which filled the Jews with remorse and caused them to repent (Acts 2:22-38, Acts 3:13-19, Zechariah 12:10, etc).
Taken in a broader sense, Holy Spirit will convict men/women of all sin in order to show them the necessity of a redeemer who can atone for their sin.
John 16:10 – “…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;”
This seems to refer to the righteousness or innocence of Jesus himself. He was rejected and persecuted by the Jews. He was shortly to be arrested and accused of heinous crimes against God, condemned/declared guilty by the highest authority in the land, and sentenced to death. By all accounts he was guilty, not innocent.
However, once Holy Spirit came to earth, he would convince men/women that Jesus was not guilty; he was completely righteous in the sight of his Father. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to God provided a clear demonstration of his innocence that would satisfy Jews and Gentiles alike.
John 16:11 – “…concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Make no mistake – God is both holy and just; he will execute judgment upon his enemies.
The death of Christ was a judgment against Satan. And just as Jesus vanquished Satan, he will subdue all other adversaries in due time. Sinners can expect to be condemned on the Day of Judgment, at the end of this age, unless they repent.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Although the disciples were called upon to tread a difficult path during the course of their Christian lives, they did not walk alone.
As we noted in today’s post, Jesus had prepared his followers for victory. He gave them his word/doctrine. He warned them about what was to come. And he promised to send them Holy Spirit to provide supernatural assistance in every situation.
We still enjoy the same benefits. The word of God is available to us in numerous ways, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. God still speaks through modern day prophets to encourage and lead the church. And Holy Spirit is still just as active today as he was back in the days of the disciples.
So no matter what path you find yourself on, you too can be victorious, just as the disciples were.
Let me offer you some relief:
The disciples were facing a task that seemed impossible to them – they were to continue preaching the gospel after Jesus was crucified. I am sure they felt inadequate or not fully prepared to take on that challenge.
But they needn’t have worried. Through Holy Spirit, they received all of the wisdom, strength and boldness they needed. What task has God given to you? If it seems impossible, don’t worry – Holy Spirit is right here to help you too.
Let me offer you some strength:
In our lesson today, we noted that Jesus had promised many good things to his disciples, but they were so busy concentrating on future difficulties that they missed the reasons they had to rejoice.
If we are not careful, we could end up doing the same thing.
There is no doubt that life can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be full of joy! Remember, joy doesn’t come from our outward circumstances; it springs from our relationship with God.
The joy of the Lord gives you the strength you need to get through each day. And that is the best way to live life – one day at a time (Nehemiah 8:10)!