Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth…and he will show you things to come.

JOHN 16:13

The continued neglect of the Holy Spirit by evangelical Christians is too evident to deny or impossible to justify.

Is it not strange that so much is made of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and so little in Christian writings supposed to be based upon the New Testament? One of the church fathers, in a treatise on the Trinity written in the third century, defended the deity of the Spirit yet said twenty times as much about the Father and the Son as about the Spirit.

It is only fair to admit that there is more in the New Testament about the Son than about the Spirit, but the disproportion is surely not so great as in the writings referred to above, and certainly the all but total neglect of the Spirit in contemporary Christianity cannot be justified by the Scriptures.

In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is necessary. There He works powerfully, creatively. In popular Christianity, He is little more than a poetic yearning or at most a benign influence. In the Scriptures He moves in majesty, with all the attributes of the Godhead; here He is a mood, a tender feeling of goodwill.

Everything that men do in their own abilities is done for time alone: only what is done through the Eternal Spirit will abide eternally![1]

16:13 The work which the Lord began was to be continued by the Spirit of truth. He would guide them into all truth. There is a sense in which all truth was committed to the apostles in their lifetime. They, in turn, committed it to writing, and we have it today in our NT. This, added to the OT, completed God’s written revelation to man. But it is, of course, true in all ages that the Spirit guides God’s people into all the truth. He does it through the Scriptures. He will only speak the things that are given to Him to say by the Father and the Son. “He will tell you things to come.” This, of course, is done in the NT, and particularly in the book of Revelation where the future is unveiled.[2]

13. But when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth.

Jesus does not indicate the exact time when the Spirit is going to come. He says, “When” or “whenever.” Though the word for Spirit is neuter in the original, the pronoun which refers to this Spirit is masculine. Hence, it is clear that the Spirit is thought of as a person. See also on 14:16. For the meaning of the expression “Spirit of truth,” see on 14:17.

The function of the Holy Spirit in the Church is described as that of guiding, literally: “leading the way.” The Spirit does not use external weapons. He does not drive; he leads. He exerts his influence upon the regenerated consciousness of the child of God (and here, in particular, of the office-bearers), and enlarges upon the themes which were introduced by Jesus during his earthly sojourn. Thus, he guides into all the truth, that is, into the whole (with emphasis on this adjective) body of redemptive revelation. The Holy Spirit never rides a hobby. He never stresses one point of doctrine at the expense of all the others. He leads into all the truth. Moreover, in the carrying out of this task he stands in intimate relationship to the other persons of the Trinity. We read: For he will not speak of himself, but whatever he hears he will speak. Father and Spirit are one in essence. What the Spirit hears from the Father he, in and through the Word, whispers into the hearts of believers. He is ever searching the depths of God. He comprehends them and reveals them to God’s children (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). In saying what he hears the Spirit is just like the Son, for the latter also speaks what he has heard from (and seen while with) the Father (3:11; 7:16; 8:24; 12:49; 14:10, 24). And he will announce to you the things that are to come. The Spirit will come (16:8); he will lead into all the truth (16:13a); and he will announce the things that are to come (16:13b). For the first, see the book of Acts (particularly chapter 2); for the second, see the epistles; for the third see the book of Revelation. Not as if these three could be so sharply divided. Epistles and Revelation constantly assume the presence of the Spirit; the epistles contain much revelation with respect to the things that are to come (for example, 1 Cor. 15; 2 Thess. 2). But by and large the distinction which was made is a good one. Of course, when the Spirit declares the things that are to come, he does not begin to enumerate a long list of specific, day-by-day occurrences, but he predicts the underlying principles.[3]

13 Though Jesus was unable to tell them more right then, they would learn what he wanted them to know when the Spirit of truth came. This is the fourth time in the discourse that the emphatic demonstrative pronoun ekeinos (“that one,” “he”) is used (14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13), and it will occur again in the following verse (16:14). That the masculine pronoun is used in direct juxtaposition to the neuter to pneuma (“the Spirit,” GK 4460) is strong evidence that the evangelist understood the Spirit as a person rather than an abstract force.

The Spirit’s role is to “guide [the disciples] into all truth.” The verb hodēgeō (GK 3842) is frequently used in the LXX of the guidance and instruction of God (e.g., “He guides the humble in what is right,” Ps 25:9). The context indicates that the Spirit will continue the revelatory work of Jesus. He is the one who will now become the disciples’ guide and lead them “into all truth.” Sadly, this phrase has often been taken as a validation for all sorts of contemporary truth claims. But the words of Jesus that immediately follow define “all truth” in a less than universal sense. It is not new truth but “the truth that is in Jesus” (Eph 4:21) that will be the focus of the Spirit’s revelatory work.

The Spirit “will not speak on his own” (RSV, “on his own authority”) but “only what he hears.” On a number of occasions Jesus made this same claim about himself (8:26–28; 12:49; 14:10). As the Son spoke only what he heard from the Father, so will the Spirit limit his teaching ministry to “whatever he is told” (Moffatt). We are not to expect new (in the sense of additional) truth from the Spirit but a fuller understanding and appreciation of truth already known. As Paul put it, we have received the Spirit so that “we may get an insight into the blessings God has graciously given us” (1 Co 2:12 Williams).

Not only will the Spirit speak what he hears, but he will also “tell you what is yet to come.” The verb anangellō (GK 334) in earlier Greek meant “to carry back a report.” Brown, 708, notes that in the context the prefix ana suggests repetition and the verb carries the classical meaning of saying over again what has already been said. This would strengthen the case for the Spirit’s work as drawing out the implications of and deepening insight into the truth already proclaimed by Jesus. But what is it that is “yet to come”? Calvin, 2:120, thought the reference was to “the future state of [Jesus’] kingdom, which the apostles saw soon after His resurrection but were then quite unable to comprehend.” Others see a reference to the gift of prophecy that before long would be exercised in the early church (Ac 21:10–12; cf. 1 Co 12:10). More often, it is taken either as the final eschatological events that bring history to a close or as the unique events that would shortly come to pass (the death and resurrection of Jesus). The second option is supported by the subject under consideration in vv. 16–24 and is in keeping with the understanding of anangellō as discussed above.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1553–1554). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 328–329). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 588–589). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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