12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” – John 16:12-18 ESV
Verse 12 almost sounds as if Jesus is feeling pressed for time. He has so much He wants to tell His disciples, but with His death just hours away, He won’t be able to. Yet, that is not what John is trying to convey. Jesus is not running out of time. His disciples have run out of capacity. They can’t handle any more information because their brains and emotions are on overload.
For three years, Jesus had been revealing Himself to His disciples. By means of His messages and miracles, He had displayed His glory “as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). Everything He had said and done had been intended to reveal His identity as the Son of God and to help bolster the disciples’ belief in Him. But even though His death was imminent, Jesus wanted them to know that His self-revelation was not coming to an end. There was so much more they needed to know about Him, but they were not yet ready to receive it.
That led Jesus to return to His discussion of the Holy Spirit. His own death and eventual departure would pave the way for the Spirit’s coming. And Jesus assures them that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 ESV). Jesus does not promise His disciples that the Spirit will give them an encyclopedic knowledge of all things. He lets them know that, with the Spirit’s divine assistance, they will know the truth about the Son and the Father. All their questions regarding the Kingdom of God will be answered. Their confusion about Jesus’ identity will be cleared up. Because the Spirit will pick up where Jesus left off, revealing the glory of the Son “by telling you whatever he receives from me” (John 16:14 NLT).
One of the primary roles of the Spirit of God is to reveal the truth concerning the Son of God. Because it is only through the Son that we can know the Father. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the indwelling Spirit of God makes it possible for believers to grasp the deep truths concerning the will and the ways of God, including the redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”
But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NLT
And Jesus attempts to comfort His disillusioned and dispirited disciples with the same reassuring news concerning the Spirit.
“All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:15 NLT
All the while Jesus had been with them, He had been speaking the words of God. Every word He had spoken to them had come directly from the Father.
“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.” – John 7:12-16 NLT
“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” – John 12:49 NLT
“…remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT
Ultimately, Jesus had come to reveal God to mankind. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). His incarnation had been intended to make the unseen God seeable and knowable.
No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT
The author of Hebrews states that, in His incarnation, Jesus revealed the very glory and character of God. But when His work was done, He returned to His Father’s side.
…in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews 1:2-3 NLT
But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that when He returned to heaven, He would be sending them special assistance in the form of the Holy Spirit. And, as He had told them earlier, the Spirit would not just be with them, He would take up residence within them (John 14:17). And in Jesus’ absence, the Holy Spirit will take over the role as the revealer of all truth. He will provide the disciples with divine insight into everything, including the deep thoughts of God. For the first time, they will be able to discern the truth behind all that Jesus had said during His time with them. They will recall His miracles and messages and, for the first time, comprehend the deep truths they contained. And, as a result, their faith in Him will increase all the more.
Sadly, these words of comfort went over the heads of the disciples. They were still struggling to take in all that Jesus was telling them. And His words continued to leave them confused and conflicted. And the somewhat cryptic manner in which Jesus spoke didn’t make things any easier for them.
“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.” – John 16:16 NLT
This statement would have sounded like a riddle to them. Was He leaving and then returning? Was He really going away? Had all the talk about His death been some kind of metaphor or analogy?
John had been there that evening, so he knew from personal experience just how perplexed the disciples had been by Jesus’ words. And he records exactly what they were thinking at that moment.
Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.” – John 16:17-18 NLT
“We don’t understand!” That just about sums it up. They were literally and figuratively “in the dark.” They were most likely standing somewhere outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. They were tired and confused. Their minds were reeling from the tsunami of information Jesus had dumped on them over the last few hours. Their hearts were heavy as they thought about the possibility of their friend dying. And to make matters worse, with His death, all their hopes that He was their long-awaited Messiah would disappear.
None of this was what they had expected. Their concept of the Messiah had not included His suffering and death. The triumphal entry had been the highlight of their time with Jesus. The shouts of the crowds, the victory parade, the pomp and circumstance surrounding Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem had raised their hopes to an all-new high. In those glorious moments, they had assumed that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth. But in no time, their hopes had been turned to despair. Their joy had given way to sorrow. And there they stood, in the darkness of night in the company of the Light of the world, wondering what had happened to their hopes and dreams. But little did they know that their gloom would soon be replaced by gladness. Their confusion would be replaced by a Spirit-inspired clarity and confidence. Their sorrow would be transformed into unspeakable joy. And their fear would give way to unshakeable faith.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.