Continuing our study of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus, we note that while our Lord’s teaching has ramifications for believers throughout history, the original disciples of Jesus were the first to hear this instruction. Practically speaking, this means that this discourse applies to the eleven disciples who heard it (as well as the other Apostles) in ways that it does not apply to us.
Today’s passage is a case in point. We read that Jesus told the disciples that He had more to tell them but that they could not yet bear it (John 16:12). Jesus then explained that the Holy Spirit would come and lead the disciples further into the truth, declaring to them the “things that are to come” (vv. 13–15). We have here a reference to additional revelation that the Spirit would give the Apostles after Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus was not promising that new special revelation would continue until His return, for that would miss the uniqueness of the Apostolic office. The Apostles were directly appointed by Christ to speak in His name, bearing His authority. And plainly, the Apostles understood themselves to have an authority that other disciples of Jesus do not. (All followers of Jesus can be called disciples—even us—but not all followers can be called Apostles. All Apostles are disciples but not all disciples are Apostles.)
With respect to the Apostles’ unique authority, we can point to passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:10–16, where Paul delivers binding teaching. He expects us to adhere to his instruction even though it is not grounded in actual words that Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry. But he could deliver such teaching because Apostles were commissioned to speak with the authority of the One who commissioned them. Paul’s teaching, thus, is a teaching of Christ given to him by the Holy Spirit, and it falls under the category of things Christ did not reveal to the disciples before His ascension, as John 16:12–15 speaks of.
Paul’s final words to Timothy also prove the uniqueness of the Apostles as bearers of special revelation. Shortly before his death, Paul told Timothy to guard the good deposit Paul and the other Apostles had entrusted to him, not to expect new revelation (2 Tim. 1:14). The Spirit’s work in giving new revelation was limited to the Apostolic era.
That does not mean John 16:12–15 has no application for us today. The Holy Spirit does indeed continue to guide the church into the truth, but He does so by helping us grow in our understanding of His special revelation—the Holy Scriptures.
By His Holy Spirit, God has continued to be with His church to lead us into all truth. However, special revelation such as we have in the Holy Scriptures has ceased. Until the return of Jesus, we should expect no new special revelation, and we should return to the Scriptures again and again to discover God’s truth for faith and practice.