John 16:5-11

Flames and tongues of fire descending on five disciples.

 "Flames and tongues of fire descending on five disciples." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


John 15:26-16:4 is the Pentecost Gospel reading for Series C in the three-year series. It speaks of the testimony of the Spirit and of the disciples in a world which hates Christ and the Gospel and therefore will persecute those who preach the Gospel. Christ came to tell the truth, both about sinful man and a gracious God. To this point Jesus had said little to His disciples about the enmity which they would have to face. Now He is about to leave them and speaks about this. In the text for today Jesus speaks about His going away and the coming of the Paraclete.

John 16:5  "Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'

"Now" is plainly "but."  In the previous verse He spoke of the time (three years) in which He had been with them.

Lenski: When saying that he is returning to his Sender, Jesus makes a basic statement, one that governs all that follows in this chapter.
Luther: We have now often heard what it means 'to go to the Father'; which indeed is not a common expression, such as men usually employ and as they generally understand it, but is the language of the Lord Christ and His Christians. That Christ went forth from, or was sent by, the Father means nothing else than that He, the true Son of God from eternity, became a true man, and revealed Himself on earth in human nature, essence and form, permitted Himself to be seen, heard, and felt, ate, drank, slept, worked suffered and died, like any other person. Again, that He goes to the Father, that means that He will be glorified by His resurrection from the dead, that He sits at the right hand of God and reigns with Him in eternity, as eternal, almighty God. For by His coming down or going from the Father He revealed and proved Himself a true, natural man; but by His return to the Father He declares Himself to be true, eternal God and man, and should be thus known and believed.

On this expression look at 14:12; 16: Jesus' farewell address is permeated with the thought of His going to the Father which denotes the completion of His saving work for mankind.

"Not yet you ask Me" or "but" does not contradict what is said at 13:36 and 14:5. Here at 16:5 Jesus means that, for the moment, the disciples are insensible to His true mission.

John 16:6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.

They should have been happy. However, they were not. The article with "grief" denotes a specific pain or grief. They were obsessed by this grief.

John 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

 "But" here means "nevertheless," or "be that as it may."  The verse lays stress on what Christ, the Speaker, says and will do.

"Truth" is that which is true, genuine and beneficial. He is the origin of THE Truth which is that His going away (suffering, death, resurrection, ascension) is to their advantage, an understatement.

The verse is explanatory. It gives the reason. The point of this future more vivid condition is that the Spirit cannot and will not attest to the great redemption of Jesus until the latter has completed it. Pentecost must be preceded by Calvary and the open tomb. Look at Romans 4:25.

"But" in the sense of "on the other hand."  Jesus carefully and patiently explains in detail. Note that with reference to His redemptive work, Jesus uses three verb synonyms in verses 5-7.

By the way, the two "if" in verse 7 do not denote uncertainty but logical sequence, vividly stated in future more vivid conditions. In the first sentence in verse 7 Jesus laid stress on His person. In the two conditional clauses He lays emphasis on the sequence of event, purest Gospel.

John 16:8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

Some commentators insert a subparagraph here.

Ylvisaker: But this Comforter shall have a twofold task when He comes, one in relation to the world (8-11) and the other in His attitude to the believers (12-15).

Likewise Lenski and Kretzmann. Perhaps also Hendriksen. That is caused, in part at least, by the question as to whether "world" refers exclusively to the unbelieving world or means "all people," both believers and unbelievers.

Furthermore, what does "convict" mean? AV "reprove," NEB "confute," NIV "prove wrong," NASB and AAT "convict."  Does it refer primarily to the world which has perverted ideas as to what sin, righteousness and judgment are? Thus Lenski, Ylvisaker and Kretzmann. Or does it include Christians, in so far as they have a flesh? Thus the  Formula of Concord , S.D., V, Law and Gospel, Tappert p. 560, where these verses are applied to all, not only the world. Luther is quoted. Also in Art. VI, Tappert p. 566, where this passage is applied to the rebuke which the Holy Spirit must administer to Christians inasmuch as they still have flesh. These notes prefer the application of the Formula of Concord as opposed to that of Lenski, Ylvisaker and Kretzmann. In other words, verses 8-11 refer to ALL men as in John 3:16, but verses 12-15 are spoken specifically to believers.

John 16:9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;

John 16:10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;

John 16:11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." 

The sin of sins is to reject the person, Word and work of Jesus Christ. Unbelief is the mother of sins. Where that sin prevails there is no hope. Where there is repentance of that sin there is nothing but hope. Christians, too, have their troubles with this sin. Very often they do not trust their Savior as they should. They come to church for the strengthening of their faith.

Jesus speaks of the forensic righteousness of God in Christ for all men attained by His going to the Father. Look at Romans 4:25 and especially Romans 5:12-21, the sedes doctrinae on original sin and objective justification. Both sin and the forensic righteousness of God in Christ are universal. But it involves also an argument from the lesser to the greater. Note the expression "all the world" in verses 15 and 17. If original sin is universal, how much more is not the universal righteousness of God in Christ! A beautiful passage.

The greatest judgment of all is the defeat of Satan. Look at John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2; Hebrews 2:14; Luke 10:18. Genesis 3:15 was truly fulfilled in Christ Jesus. This world lies in the tight grip of Satan. But Jesus conquered him, with lasting results. The testimony and work of the Holy Spirit, for all people, centers in these three items. The first involves the Law, the second and third the Gospel. If this testimony be constantly rejected, obduracy sets in.

What Jesus here foretold and promised happened, with precision, on Pentecost, throughout the Book of Acts and is still going on. Read Acts 2:1-42. In verses 17-21 Peter quotes Joel 3:1-5. Vs. 17 reads: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh." In all simplicity that means: "Christ died, rose and ascended into heaven for all men. The sins of all men have been atoned for." Verse 21 reads: "And everyone who shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Everything between verses 17 and 21 should be understood thus. The Holy Spirit came to testify about Jesus. Then Peter preaches his well-known sermon in verses 23-39. He brought his hearers to a knowledge of their sins, verse 37. Then he preached the Gospel in verses 38-39. The forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, mentioned in verse 38, are not two separate things, but one and the same thing.

Justification by faith is the article of faith which is central to all others. In his  Commentary on Galatians,  Luther (American Edition, vol. 26), has some pertinent things to say with reference to Pentecost and the Book of Acts. We quote several excerpts:

Luther: The Holy Spirit descended in a visible form upon believers. By this sign He testified clearly that He was present in the proclamation of the apostles. He also testified that those who heard the Word of faith from the apostles were righteous in the sight of God, for otherwise He would not have descended upon them. Therefore this powerful argument must be diligently considered. It is repeated often in the Book of Acts, which was written to substantiate this argument. That entire book (Acts) treats of nothing else than that the Holy Spirit is not given through the Law but is given through the hearing of the Gospel (p. 204). ...
Therefore in the entire Book of Acts, taken as a whole, nothing is discussed except that Jews as well as Gentiles, righteous men as well as sinners, are to be justified solely by faith in Christ Jesus, without Law or works. This is indicated both by the sermons of Peter, Paul, Stephen, Philip, and others, and by the examples of the Gentiles and the Jews. For just as through the Gospel God gave the Holy Spirit to Gentiles who lived without the Law, so He gave the Holy Spirit also to the Jews, not through the Law or through the worship and sacrifices commanded in the Law but solely through the proclamation of faith. (page 205).
Thus in Acts you will find the comments, the experiences, and the sermons of the apostles, as well as examples in support of this argument against the notion of the righteousness of the Law. For this reason we ought to love this book more and read it more diligently; for it contains very firm testimonies that can comfort and sustain us against the papists, who are our Jews and whose abominations and pretenses we attack and condemn by our doctrine in order that we may make clear the blessings and the glory of Christ. (pages 207-208).
But we set against them (the papists) the Book of Acts, that they may read it and consider the history contained in it. They will discover that the summary and the argument of this book is: We are justified solely by faith in Christ, without works; and the Holy Spirit is granted solely by hearing the message of the Gospel with faith, not by the message of the Law or by the works of the Law. (page 208).

Luther makes these comments with reference to his exposition of Galatians 3:1-5 (pages 186-226, vol. 26, American Edition). No Pentecost sermon ought depart in the least from Galatians 3:1-5. There, in verse 1, Paul states that he had clearly preached Christ crucified to them. In verse 2 he speaks about their receiving the Holy Spirit, which is synonymous with the message about Christ crucified, by law-works or by faith-hearing? In other words, did it come through human endeavor or through the means of grace? Was it by works or by faith? The answer is obvious.

You can depend on Him who calls you--He will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (AAT)


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 108-110. Used with permission.

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