The Person and Work of the Comforter
Daniel Rudge, Bracknell, England
John’s Gospel abounds with references to the Holy Spirit. There are nineteen in all: eight to the ‘Spirit’; four to the ‘Holy Spirit’; four to the ‘Comforter’ and three to the ‘Spirit of Truth’. John also employs four symbols. The Spirit descending from heaven ‘like a dove’ is a reminder of His heavenly nature and origin as well as a character of purity and peace, 1. 32. As the ‘wind’ He is sovereign and powerful in His activity, 3. 8. As ‘living water’ He imparts life and cleansing through the word, 7. 38, 39. Whilst probably referring primarily to John the Baptist, the ‘porter’ can also be taken as a symbol of the Spirit, 10. 13. As such, He witnesses faithfully to the Good Shepherd and presents Christ to the sheep, 10. 3. Whilst most instructive teaching can be found in relation to: water and the Spirit – John 3; worship in the Spirit – John 4; and witness with the Spirit – John 7, this article will focus on the person and work of the Spirit under the figure of the ‘Comforter’ in John chapters 14-16. The reader is strongly advised to carefully read the associated references in each section.
The Reason for the Comforter, 14. 12
The Lord Jesus was going to His Father, an action that would introduce a new order. As such, He would no longer be physically alongside His disciples. Nevertheless, they would continue the work He had begun as the miraculous ‘works’ of the Lord would also be performed by them.1 Indeed ‘greater works [things] than these shall he do’. William McDonald says: ‘Doubtless it was to the world-wide proclamation of the gospel, the salvation of so many souls, and the building of the church (comprising both Jew and Gentile) that the Lord referred to by the expression greater works’.2 How would these things be accomplished? Through the intercession of the Son, v. 13, and indwelling power of the Spirit of God, v. 16.
The Residence of the Comforter, 14. 16-17
The Spirit would be sent by the Father, at Pentecost, in response to the prayer [erotao, to pray as an equal] of the Son. The word ‘Comforter’ translates the Greek parakletos, which literally means ‘to call alongside’. Thus, the Spirit is a divine person who is called alongside the believer in order to help, encourage, strengthen and exhort. He is ‘another’ Comforter in the sense of the same kind [allos] as the Lord Jesus, thus emphasizing His divinity and equality with God. We must be clear in our minds that the Spirit is not another comforter instead of Christ, but another in addition to Him. Every believer has two Comforters! Using the same word, parakletos, John declares that whilst the Spirit is our Comforter on earth, Christ is our Advocate in heaven, 1 John 2. 1. The difference is just this. The Spirit ‘helpeth our infirmities’ to keep us from sin, Rom. 8. 26, but Jesus Christ is in heaven if we do sin. Then the work of Christ as Advocate is to make us conscious of such sin, convicting of it unto confession that communion might be restored. He is the heavenly Advocate alongside the believer, but towards (pros) the Father.
The residence of the Spirit would be permanent – the Lord says He will ‘abide with you for ever’, v. 16. In the present age, the Spirit of God makes His home with every believer perpetually, unlike Old Testament days. Thank God, no believer today needs to pray as David, Ps. 51. 11. The Spirit’s home would be ‘in’ every believer, v. 17 – what a blessed truth unique to the present age. The individual indwelling of the Spirit is mentioned in four New Testament scriptures. First, it is an evidence of divine life, Rom. 8. 9. Second, it demands a life of divine holiness, 1 Cor. 6. 19. Third, He enables the understanding and protection of divine truth, 2 Tim. 1. 14. Fourth, He is the means by which every believer experiences and enjoys the divine presence, John 14. 18-23.
The Reassurance of the Comforter, 14. 18-23
Even though the disciples would all forsake Christ and flee, He would never leave them ‘comfortless’ (abandoned as orphans). In fact, He was coming (present tense) to them. The context shows that this is not a reference to the resurrection or the rapture, but a spiritual coming through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual is about to replace the physical. When would this take place? ‘At that day’, v. 20, i.e. the day of Pentecost. Then the disciples would enter into the full consciousness of the spiritual relationships that govern the present age: ‘I am in my Father’ – intimacy; ‘ye in me’ – security; ‘I in you’ – vitality. Furthermore, they would enjoy a conditional manifestation (emphanizo, not a mere appearance])of the person of the Lord Jesus to their souls. As has been well stated, ‘this manifestation to us now by the Spirit is far greater than His manifestation to the disciples when He was with them physically and personally. Having the Spirit would reveal to them many things about the person of Christ that they could not understand or perceive when He was here’.3 What is the condition of such glorious manifestation? Fully comprehending the Lord’s commandments and integrating them into one’s life. Such living is plain evidence of love for the Saviour, which in turn will affect our own enjoyment of the Father’s love for us.
The Revelation of the Comforter, 14. 25, 26
Any reader of the Upper Room ministry must bear in mind that the Lord was speaking to the eleven disciples and thus some statements are apostolic in character. Verse 26 is a good example. Don Carson notes: ‘This verse . . . explains to readers at the end of the first century how the first witnesses, the first disciples, came to an accurate and full understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ’.4 The greatest of all teachers was present with the disciples, but He was necessarily restricted in His teaching, for without the Spirit they had no capacity to receive it.5 But when the Comforter was come, He would complete, or fill-out, the revelation that had been given in seed form by the Lord Jesus. This is the basis for the inspiration of the Epistles. The Comforter would also work a miracle on the memories of the disciples and ‘bring all things’ that the Lord had said to their ‘remembrance’. This is our assurance as to the inspiration of the Gospels. Matthew or John were not sat at the feet of the Lord Jesus with notebook and pen as He made His lengthy discourses, and yet we have them perfectly recorded, jot and tittle! What about Revelation? The Spirit of Truth would also ‘shew’ (announce) to them ‘things to come’, John 16. 13. Can the Spirit bring appropriate scriptures to our remembrance to help others in time of need, or speak a word in season to the lost sinner or gainsayer? Yes! But He cannot bring to our minds what isn’t there. Instead, the word of Christ must dwell in us richly (abundantly).6
The Reproof of the Comforter, 16. 7-11
It was ‘expedient’ (profitable) for the disciples that the Lord Jesus was going to the Father otherwise the Comforter could not be sent.7 No longer would there be a divine person physically alongside them – Christ, but a divine person spiritually and permanently indwelling every one of them – the Spirit. He would be the means by which Father and Son would make their abode with the believer, John 14. 23 – thus forging a permanent link with the risen Christ. This is profitable!
In verses which are often misunderstood, the Lord Jesus explains the objective, external witness of the Spirit to the world.8 ‘Reproof’, v. 8, carries the thought of ‘affording proof to’, or ‘bringing demonstration’.9 The Lord Jesus used the same word when He said, ‘which of you convinceth me of sin’ – who could afford proof, or demonstrate the presence of sin in the Lord? Impossible! Thus, in simple terms, the residence of the Comforter on earth is an indictment of the world in three particular aspects:
- ‘Of sin, because they believe not on me’, v. 9. The residence of the Spirit on earth declares that the world has refused the Son of God in unbelief. Their verdict of Him was a cross.
- ‘Of righteousness, because I go to my Father and ye see me no more’, v. 10. The residence of the Spirit on earth testifies to the personal righteousness of the Lord Jesus. The last the world saw of Christ He was upon a cross, condemned as a common criminal. The Jews claimed that He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God. They thought He was worthy of such a shameful death and had been smitten of God for His sins.10 Far be the thought! The fact that the Spirit is resident on earth proves that God has highly exalted Him! His personal righteousness is vindicated. God has reversed the verdict of mankind.
- ‘Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged’, v. 11. The residence of the Spirit on earth declares that Satan is a defeated foe.11 Satan is already judged, the sentence is passed, and will be executed in a coming day.
In summary, it is our blessed privilege to be used by the Spirit to testify to the majesty of a glorified Christ. As the word of God is preached by the servants of God, the Spirit of God speaks through it.12
The Resolve of the Comforter, 16. 13, 14
The great desire of the blessed Comforter is to elevate and glorify the person of the Lord Jesus. Our desire should be the same. Whilst verse 13 says, ‘He shall not speak of Himself’ the preposition employed is apo, thus ‘He will not speak from Himself’ is more the thought.13 Just as the Son did not speak independently of His Father, so the Spirit does not speak independently of the Son.14 After all, it was the risen Christ who dictated letters to seven churches, yet the Spirit who spoke those same words to each. In this way the Spirit of truth glorifies the Son, v. 14. This should render a clear challenge to us all. As the Spirit does not speak independently of the Son, so the saints should not speak independently of the Spirit. May we ever be guided by Him in our walk and words and thus bring glory to Christ.
1 See 2 Cor. 12. 12.
2 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers.
3 Albert Leckie, taken from an audio file of Bible Readings at Trimsaran, 1978. See also John 2. 22; 12. 16; 16. 12.
4 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. William B Eerdmans.
5 John 16. 12.
6 Col. 3. 16.
7 John 7. 39.
8 It is difficult to see how this could be a universal, internal and subjective conviction of every sinner. For example, how could it be said that every individual on the planet has been convicted of personal unbelief in Christ, when there are many who have never even heard the gospel?
9 William Kelly, An Exposition of the Gospel of John; T. Weston; John 16. 8 JND.
10 Isa. 53. 4.
11 Heb. 2. 14.
12 Read Acts 2. 36, 37 to see this doctrine in practice.
13 John 16. 9, Young’s Literal Translation
14 John 14. 10.