Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit in the Teaching of Christ
by Thomas H. Matthews, Brazil
All who are familiar with the four gospels will know that the Gospel of John gives much prominence to the "Holy Spirit in the teaching of Christ". The rich unfolding concerning the coming of "the Comforter" will come readily to mind. It is to this Gospel as it develops the subject in hand, that the reader’s attention is directed in this chapter.
Although no teaching was given by the Lord Jesus on the occasion of His baptism, it seems opportune to take account of that most wonderful and deeply significant occurrence. The writer does not mention the Lord’s baptism but draws attention to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the occasion. John the Baptist’s testimony was: "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove and it abode upon Him". The words: "and it abode upon Him" are not found in the corresponding portion of the synoptic gospels. Just as the dove that returned to Noah’s ark with the olive leaf "pluckt off" in her mouth, heralded a new era to Noah, Gen.8.11, so the abiding dove, being in reality the Holy Spirit, heralded a new era to be brought in by the Lord Jesus. He would baptise in the Holy Spirit, v.33. John, and many others since his day, have performed baptisms in water, but to baptise in the Holy Spirit is something that only a Divine Person can do. Thus, very suitably, John "bare record" that this was the Son of God. That new era was "fully come" when in Acts 2.1 the day of Pentecost was "fully come". It is the marvellous era of the "one body" into which all believers since the day of Pentecost have been baptised. This signifies not only a uniting bond with all other believers, but an indissoluble union with the Head of the body Himself.
John F. Walvoord states: "From the nature of a dove when used as a type of the Spirit, it may be inferred that at least four aspects of the Holy Spirit1 are in view: 1) beauty; 2) gentleness; 3) peace; 4) heavenly nature and origin. The dove by its general characteristics is well suited to be a type of the Holy Spirit". As all these features were found in perfection in the Lord Jesus it could only be with evident pleasure that the Divine Spirit "abode" on the Son of God!
1 Walvoord, John F. "The Holy Spirit", Published by Zondervan, 1958: p.19.
On the next day at a certain juncture, "John stood" but as to Jesus, "He walked" vv.35-36. John’s ministry was coming to an end, but the Lord had further to go. John calls attention to Him as "the Lamb of God" v.36. The dove-like character of the Spirit combines so well with the lamb-like character of the Lord. The dove character suggests the sensitivity of the Spirit and the lamb character of the Lord suggests His submissiveness. But the reference to the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God has more than submissiveness in view. It brings thoughts of His death and of deliverance from sin.
The "master of Israel" was gently rebuked by the Lord for his ignorance of the new birth. In his position he ought to have known something of the subject through his reading of such passages as Ezek.36.25-27. As a result of that night’s interview, millions, from the illiterate to the academic, have come to know about the need and significance of the new birth. The Lord explained that it is a birth "of water and of the Spirit". Being born of water corresponds to the term "he that is washed ..." in Jn.13.10, and also the further comment "and ye are clean". It refers to that purification which is an essential part of the new birth. Indeed the two thoughts of being born of water and of the Spirit may well correspond to the "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" in Tit.3.5.
In the well-known words of v.8, the Lord presents the wind as a parable of the Spirit and His actions. In Greek the same word is used for both "wind" and "spirit". Men cannot control the wind; it "bloweth where it listeth" ("willeth", Newberry). So in the new birth brought about by the Spirit, it is above man’s power to effect or to understand it. The wind is invisible, though its effects are far from invisible. Thus birth of the Spirit cannot be seen in the moment it takes place, but, without doubt, its effects in terms of a new life are before the eyes of all.
In this verse it is stated "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him". It is true that the words "unto Him" do not form part of the original text, but the reference to the Lord Jesus is clear. God sent many prophets to His people. They experienced that measure of the Spirit that was necessary. But the Spirit abode on the Lord Jesus in full measure. "Jesus’ witness is God’s perfect truth. He is God’s perfect messenger and delivers God’s message perfectly"2. This triumphant passage takes the subject further by saying "The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hand" v.35. He is God’s perfect Envoy. Happy are they who have received His testimony, v.33, for theirs is everlasting life v.36.
2 Bruce, F. F. "The Gospel & Epistles of John", Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983: p.97.
It is evident that many passages in John’s Gospel have a distinct bearing on the future. The two passages now to be considered are examples. Addressing the Samaritan woman, the Lord said "... but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life". It would seem that words similar to those found in 7.39 are applicable to this statement, i.e. the explanation: "But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive ...". The "well of water springing up into everlasting life" is surely the result of being born of the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit in the newborn soul is an unfailing source of satisfaction. The delight of eternal life is the pleasure of the future life known and enjoyed in this life. The passage in chapter 7 implies not only the inward personal satisfaction but that the supply flows out to others. Perhaps an example of the early flow of the "rivers of living water" in a new-born soul may be seen in the exclamation of the Samaritan woman: "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" v.29. The present enjoyment of the "well of water" is but a foretaste of that which is presented in Rev.22.1: "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb". No one here on earth can form any adequate conception of the indescribable joys of life eternal as indicated in those words. J. N. Darby (1800-1882) sought to grasp the truth as he wrote:
- God and the Lamb! ‘tis well
- I know that source divine
- Of joy and peace no tongue can tell,
- Yet know that all is mine.
- But who that glorious blaze
- Of living light shall tell,
- Where all His brightness God displays,
- And the Lamb’s glories dwell?
- God and the Lamb shall there
- The light and Temple be,
- And radiant hosts for ever share
- The unveiled mystery!
God is truly the God of refreshment and the source of true satisfaction. From the last pages of the Bible, one may go back to the earliest pages, there to find an ever-extending river, enriching the soil from which came forth the wholesome fruits of the Garden of Eden. Later, in Psalm 46, in connection with the earthly Jerusalem, it is stated: "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" v.4. It seems clear that the reference is to God Himself in all His fullness: "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early" v.5.
In regard to the Jerusalem of Millennial days, Isa.33.21 states: "But the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams ...". The consistent picture presented in Revelation chapter 22, Psalm 46 and Isaiah chapter 33 forms a great contrast to the Jerusalem of the Lord’s days with its "feasts of the Jews" so lacking in spiritual content, Jn.7.2. To those who felt the dryness and barrenness of religion devoid of the power of God, the blessed Lord extended the offer of "rivers of living water", the full experience of which would come with the giving of the Holy Spirit.
In this verse, The Lord Jesus says: "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life".
The feeding of the 5000 in vv.5-13 forms the background to the conversation that the Lord had afterwards with the Jews and some professed disciples in Capernaum. He presents Himself as the "true bread from heaven" v.32. Thus He is seen to be the true manna. The Jews murmured because of His claim to be the true bread that came down from heaven, words which clearly implied his incarnation v.41. Later, in v.51 the Lord goes on to speak of His death, expressing it as the giving of His flesh for the life of the world. This is further expanded in v.53 where He makes the amazing statement: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you". Eating His flesh and drinking His blood is a more expressive way of explaining belief in Him. This becomes clear by comparing v.47; "He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life", with v.54. Both lead to the same thing. The hearty acceptance of the Lord Jesus as Saviour involves acceptance of His death as the great basis of salvation.
As they demurred because of the reference to His incarnation, so now they consider the reference to His death a "hard saying" v.60. The Lord replies by calling attention to His forthcoming ascension into Heaven, v.62. The question virtually presupposes their rejection of that too. Then come His words: "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing …". Only a suggestion can be offered as to the relevance of these words in the context. Their fleshly reasoning would maintain them in the darkness of unbelief for ever. Only in response to the Spirit’s pleading can they be brought to the spiritual meaning of His words and thus through faith in Him be born of the Spirit.
In respect of the Upper Room ministry, the late Mr. William Trew (1902-1971) made the following statement: "Chapters 13-16 contain the Son of God’s words of overflowing love to His own – a spiritual legacy of eternal wealth from which we may draw, and live upon it as fully as we will. We will be unable to exhaust the daily income". A careful pondering of the chapters will only serve to confirm Mr. Trew’s words.
The questions raised by the disciples in the early part of chapter 14 reveal how inadequately they had understood the revelation of the Father in the Son, and how hazy was their vision of His death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. How then would they fare in His absence? The promise of the Comforter is the answer. He is said to be "another Comforter". They already had one. The coming One would be equal to the One they knew. He would abide with them "for ever". That was an unfolding of truth of tremendous import to those dear men. One, equal to the One they had known was coming, and coming to stay! Thus rather than them being disadvantaged by the ‘going’ of the Lord Jesus they would have the advantage of a second Comforter.
The added dimension is important: "He … shall be in you". What does it mean to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Rom.5.5 explains: "… the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary has this to say concerning this verse: "And how can this hope of glory, which as believers we cherish, put us to shame when we feel God Himself, by His Spirit given to us, drenching our hearts in sweet, all-subduing sensations of His wondrous love to us in Christ Jesus?"3 1 Cor.2.12 states: "… we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." Reading verses such as these, the mind recalls the Lord’s words of Jn.7.38, "… out of his belly shall flows rivers of living water". What abundance of blessing and power for service were contained in the assurance that the Comforter would be "in" them!
3 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. "One VTolume Commentary", Published by Oliphants, Ltd., 1964: p.1149.
It is of note that the Lord designates the Comforter as "the Spirit of truth". What this involved will become clearer in chapter 16.13-15. The fact of three references to the "Spirit of truth" 14.17, 15.26, 16.13, together with the reference to "Thy truth" in the Lord’s prayer in chapter 17, makes very clear the importance, in the Lord’s view, of the truth for the maintenance of testimony in His absence. All the varying aspects of teaching come together to comprise "the truth". The Lord does not speak of "truths" but "the truth". Happy is the child of God who has found a spiritual home where the truth taught bears the test of all Scripture. Making use of the language of 2 Pet.1.3 it may be said that to such has been granted "all things that pertain unto life and godliness".
It is relevant to observe the word "And" at the beginning of v.16 and to note the previous verse, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments". Then the Lord says, "And I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter". The suggestion seems to be that loving obedient hearts will make a suitable home for the Spirit of truth. They still do.
The Lord’s comment: "whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him" makes it very clear that the presence of the Holy Spirit will underline their separation from the world. The world cannot receive Him. The attitude of the world towards the Holy Spirit and His manifestations is clearly seen on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. At best the world is mystified and exclaims, "What meaneth this"? v.12. At worst it mocks and says: "these men are full of new wine" v.13.
Having introduced the subject by speaking of "another Comforter" in v 16, the Lord in continuing His teaching keeps this title before the disciples. See 14.26, 15.26, 16.7. Only in the upper room ministry is the Spirit of God so designated. It is well known that the word "advocate" in 1 Jn.2.1 translates the same Greek word and refers to the Lord Jesus Himself. How this precious word must have engraved itself on the memory of the eleven through every phase of service until the journey’s end! For them it would ever be associated with that night of poignant memory! They would have understood the meaning of the term: one who comes to your side to help, indeed is with you and will never leave you.
Pondering the references to "the Comforter", there is much to be learned as to the perfect harmony of the Trinity. In Jn.14.16, the Son will "pray the Father", as being on equality with Him. There is no question as to the result of the request: "He shall give you …", neither is there any doubt as to the result of the mission of the Spirit. The perfect execution of His task is beyond question. Now in v.26 the Father is said to send the Holy Ghost in the Son’s name. The Trinity acts in perfect harmony for the maintenance of testimony.
The Holy Spirit will be the Divine Teacher and will perform a miracle on the memory of the disciples, thus bringing all things to their remembrance "whatsoever I have said unto you". This is surely a basis for the four Gospels. Matthew was present on that occasion, also John. We are informed that John wrote his Gospel in later life. Bibles with the Lord’s words in red print will show at a glance how fully the promise of v.26 was fulfilled in His case. Reliable sources say that Peter was the informant behind Mark’s Gospel. He was another to whom the promise was made, thus guaranteeing the accuracy of Mark’s work. Without doubt the apostles were amongst the number of "eye witnesses and ministers of the word," Lk.1.2, who helped to give Luke "perfect understanding of all things from the very first". The four Gospels present a Divinely inspired record of the Lord’s doings and words, and of associated events. There is before us then, in the Upper room ministry, clear teaching as to the importance of those precious records of the Lord’s life, death, and resurrection. Remove them from the Bible and it fails to make sense. They are at the very heart of Scripture. It is little wonder that the attack on them continues right into the 21st century. It is of paramount importance to study continually these four great pillars of Divine truth.
The context in which this verse is found is that of hatred and persecution. In v.18 the Lord had said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you". Scripture has been fulfilled, "They hated Me without a cause" v.25. Soon the disciples would be subjected to the hatred that the Lord experienced. He would be crucified as a malefactor Jn.18.30. How could that charge be rebutted and the Saviour’s name be cleared so that He could be proclaimed as the only Saviour of men? Here is the answer: "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness …". Acts 5.32 presents a fulfilment of this promise. With charges such as they fabricated against the Lord Jesus, the Council thought they had every right to command the apostles not to teach "in this name" Acts 5.28. But their case was weakening before the might of the Spirit of God in the remarkable cures Acts 5.15-16, in the miraculous deliverance from prison Acts 5.22-23, and further in the mighty defence of Peter whose witness to the exaltation of Jesus to God’s right hand was irresistible. Why was it irresistible? Peter explains: "We are His witnesses of these things, and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him" Acts 5.32.
There is before the reader in these verses a passage of profound significance and most precious truth. The disciples may well have questioned in their minds how it could be expedient for them that their Lord "go away". But His "going away" was an essential step in the onward march of God’s great salvation programme. They must see it to be expedient. The Gospel message was soon to be sounded in the city of Jerusalem with formidable results. For this the Spirit must come, and for Him to come, the Lord Jesus must die, rise again and ascend into Heaven.
Having come, the Spirit will convict the world of sin, "because they believe not on Me". It seems clear that the reference to "the world" has primarily in view the nation of Israel. All their pretence to believe in God was proved false in their rejection of Him Whom the Father sent. The Spirit’s power to convict of sin had an early manifestation in Acts chapter 3 when the grievous sin of unbelief in the Christ was charged home to the nation in the words of Peter: "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, Whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses" Acts 3.14-15. Observe the positive results of the Spirit’s convicting power in Acts 4.4, "Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed". No doubt the Spirit continues His work in the world convicting men of sin, and notably the sin of unbelief. Unbelief was behind Adam’s sin in the Garden. It accounts for the rejection of God, so common amongst men in these days. In conclusion it may be said that the rejection of the Lord Jesus by the Jewish nation epitomizes the long-standing rebellion against God in the human heart.
The Comforter will also convict "of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and ye see me no more". He was crucified as a common criminal. That verdict cannot stand! God has reversed it by the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Psalms 16 and 110 have been fulfilled. The amazing happenings of the Day of Pentecost confirm the fulfilment of Scripture not only in relation to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, but also in relation to the Coming of the Spirit. The evidence is conclusive. God raised up no common criminal, but His "Holy One", now made glad with the joy of the Father’s countenance and exalted to His own right hand. The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfectly Righteous One and as such is worthy of universal proclamation as the Saviour of men. "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God" 1 Pet.3.18. The careful reading of the early chapters of the Acts impresses the reader with the excellence of the Spirit’s convicting work. Inasmuch as He is still here, what encouragement there is in these chapters for those engaged in the spread of the Gospel.
There remains the third aspect of the Spirit’s convicting work: "Of judgment because the Prince of this world is judged". Two great facts (among others) have been established in the death and resurrection of Christ: 1) Satan’s virulent attack on the Son of God has been overcome in the triumph of the resurrection. 2) His contention, first seen in the Garden of Eden, that God was against man has been declared wrong in the death of Christ for poor sinners. "The most violent rebel can be forgiven and reconciled; the filthiest sinner can be justified and cleansed and all free and for nothing by God’s grace. None need perish. If any do, none, not even Satan himself, will be able to argue that it was God’s fault. Satan’s age-long lie has been shown to be what it is."4 In Esther 6.13, Haman’s wife said to him concerning Mordecai, "If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews before whom that hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shall surely fall before him". Similarly before the Lord Jesus, the "Prince of this World" has "begun to fall" and "shall surely fall before Him" Rev.20.10.
4 Gooding, David. "In the School of Christ",Published by Gospel Folio Press, 1995: pp 204-205.
There follows in the next section a most wonderful explanation concerning the source and transmission of the truth. The Spirit of Truth will guide into all truth. This He is said to receive from the Son, "for He shall take of Mine and shall shew it unto you" v.15. But the Son is the possessor of "all things that the Father hath". Who can comprehend the infinite wealth of these "all things?" It is the fullness of truth and the perfection of transmission!
If earlier in 14.25-26 there was given the promise that is the basis of the four Gospels, here, in 16.13-15, there is a promise that was to a great extent fulfilled to the apostles and especially through the unique ministry of the apostle Paul. Observing that in v.13 the Lord adds "and He will shew you things to come" the fulfilment of this part clearly points to the great prophetic parts of the New Testament, especially the book of Revelation.
It is evident then, that the truth to be revealed is that found in the New Testament and that the promise of Jn.16.13 is given to the apostolic band and their associates e.g. Paul, James (the writer of the epistle) and Jude. Thus in the New Testament all the truth has been communicated. Further supposed revelations of truth are spurious.
If it is asked where do believers of the 21st century come into the promise of these verses, the answer is both simple and precious. The great deposit of all the truth given to the apostles and their associates was "once for all delivered to the saints" Jude 3 (Newberry margin). Thus the saints of the present age can revel in the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God as seen in the great salvation plan in Romans. They can delight in a God to Whom there will be "glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages" while pondering the "unsearchable riches of Christ" in Ephesians. Spiritual enrichment awaits all in the measure in which "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are discovered in Christ, Col.2.2-3. In short, the entire wealth of Divine truth is before every believer as he meditates in the New Testament.
The final reference to the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel is found on that occasion when the risen Lord appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room and breathed on them saying "Receive ye the Holy Ghost".
The atmosphere amongst the Eleven was one of fear and apprehension that first day of the week. Suddenly, the doors being shut, "came Jesus and stood in the midst". Imagination would conceive of a sense of shock, but He not only spoke peace but in so doing brought peace to the company. By the print of the nails and the wound in His side He established His identity. The others recently crucified had nail prints, but only He had a side wound. Fear was banished. It gave way to joy. "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." Presently peace was again proclaimed and the well-known voice declared: "As my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you". There was a familiar ring about those words. See Jn.15.16, but especially 17.18. His action in breathing on them and saying: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" has presented difficulties that the present writer will not be able to resolve. The Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary has a brief note that is worthy of consideration: "… an earnest and first fruits of the more copious Pentecostal effusion."5
5 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. "One Volume Commentary", Published by Oliphants, Ltd., 1964: p.1077.
There ought to be no hesitation in defining the meaning of the following words, "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained". It is not the power to forgive sins. Even the Scribes and Pharisees knew that only God could forgive sins, Lk.5.21. F. F. Bruce says: "The two passives – ‘they are remitted’ and ‘they are retained’ – imply Divine agency: the preachers’ role is declaratory, but it is God Who effectively remits or retains. The servants of Christ are given no authority independent of His, nor is any assurance of infallibility given to them."6
6 Bruce, F.F. "The Gospels & Epistles of John", Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983: p.392.
The Lord’s teaching relative to the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel can be divided into two parts. First there is the teaching in the early part of the Gospel given at various stages of the Lord’s public ministry that ends with chapter 12. Then comes the teaching in the upper room that is given privately to the "Eleven". The references in the earlier part are 3.5,8; 6.63 and 7.37-39. The first three emphasise that the new birth is a work of the Spirit of God. The words of 7.38 take the subject further and show that the Spirit-wrought work results in "love and life and lasting joy". In a Gospel written that the readers may believe 20.31, this teaching plays a fundamental part.
There is a fullness in the teaching given in the upper room, not found in the earlier references. This is what one would expect seeing it is the Spirit–born disciples who receive it. The earlier teaching that new birth comes by the Spirit is basic to what follows. The Holy Spirit will come to stay and will indwell those who are born of Him. He will be the source of their power for witness and will guide them into all truth. As the teaching nears its conclusion, there comes the assurance of a future that will lead to everlasting glory, for the Spirit will show "things to come". John’s gospel may be sparse in its prophetic references, but how much there is in the Lord’s promise concerning Himself: "I will come again and receive you unto Myself" 14.3, and in His promise concerning the Spirit: "He will show you things to come" 16.13. What vistas of glory shine upon the path, emanating from these two "exceeding great and precious promises"!
No thoughtful believer can ponder the Lord’s teaching about the Holy Spirit as found in John’s Gospel without being stirred up in every sphere of His Christian life. Whether it be the maintenance of testimony in general, or more particularly the spread of the Gospel or the study and practice of Divine truth, the constant presence and help of the Holy Spirit is assured while the saints of the present era are here below.
- As dews that fall on Hermon
- Refresh the plains below,
- The Spirit’s holy unction
- Through Thee to us doth flow.
- Ah, then, how good and pleasant,
- As one, to live in love,
- Forgetting all things present
- In hope of joys above.
(Mary Peters 1813-1856)