The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

“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” (v. 7).

- John 16:4b–11

During Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, our Savior spoke at length about the hatred His disciples would endure from the world (John 15:18–16:4). Today’s passage tells us that Jesus waited until that moment to tell His disciples this truth because He had been with them to that point (16:4). They did not need to know much about the coming persecution because His bodily presence meant He could comfort them, and because, until it was time for Him to lay down His life, they enjoyed a certain measure of protection. The world could hate Jesus and His followers, but it could not do its worst until Jesus willingly laid down His life (10:17–18). That time was not yet.

Things were about to change. Jesus was about to depart, and the disciples would be facing a new situation of enduring the world’s hatred without Jesus’ bodily presence among them. Thus, the teaching on persecution was also an opportunity to teach on our Lord’s impending return to the Father. Interestingly, in mentioning His departure, Jesus said that His disciples had not asked where He was going (16:5), which seems strange at first, because earlier on the same night Jesus spoke of the persecution to come, upon which Peter and Thomas both asked Jesus where He was going (13:36; 14:5). The solution to this apparent discrepancy appears to be that Jesus meant that the disciples were so absorbed by their grief at Jesus’ departure that they were not asking thoughtful questions about where He was going. John 16:6 would support this view. The disciples were so sad about His leaving that they inquired only about His destination and not the meaning of Jesus’ departure in the broader scope of God’s plan of salvation.

In terms of God’s larger plan of redemption, Jesus’ return to heaven would mean that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come (v. 7). Jesus had to die, be raised from the dead, and ascend to heaven before the Spirit could come, and the coming of the Spirit would mark the new covenant era as a time of powerful ministry on the part of God’s people and the rapid growth of the kingdom of God among the nations (Acts 2:33; see Ezek. 36:22–38; Joel 2:28–32). That is because the Holy Spirit would minister powerfully outside of Israel; He would be newly active in the world to convict people of their sin and call them to repentance, convict people that they cannot trust in their own righteousness, and convict the world that Jesus has defeated sin and Satan (John 16:8–11).

Coram Deo

The Holy Spirit was active in the world before the ascension of Jesus, but the outpouring of the Spirit as the result of Jesus’ ministry has meant a mightier work of the Spirit among the nations. People around the world have been streaming into the kingdom of God as the Spirit has given them new hearts to believe in Christ. Because of the Spirit’s work, we can be confident that He will use our proclamation of the gospel to grow the kingdom of God.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 4:2–6
Jeremiah 31:31–34
2 Corinthians 7:9
1 Thessalonians 1:4–5

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.