The Presence of the Truth
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (14:25–26)
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had been the source of truth for the disciples (cf. v. 6). “These things (the Father’s word; v. 24),” He reminded them, “I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” But just as He would not leave them without a source of comfort, so also He would not leave the disciples without a source of truth. He would send the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (v. 17), to guide and teach them. Apart from His revelation, there is no way to know spiritual truth. Since “the world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (1 Cor. 1:21), fallen mankind is “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). It is only when people are “saved [that they] come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
Even the disciples, before Pentecost, found it difficult to understand all that Jesus taught them. According to John 2:22, it was not until after the resurrection that they understood His teaching in verse 19. Nor did they grasp the full significance of the triumphal entry until after Jesus had been glorified (John 12:16). Because of their obtuseness, Jesus told them, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). They needed instruction, so Jesus promised them, The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name (cf. Acts 2:33) He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you (cf. 16:13). The phrase, in My name, means “on My behalf,” as it also does in verse 13. Just as Jesus came in the Father’s name (5:43), so also will the Spirit come in Jesus’ name. As another Comforter like Jesus, the Spirit will always act in perfect harmony with Christ’s desires, purposes, and will. “He will glorify Me,” Jesus would later tell the disciples, “for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (16:14). In the divine plan, the Spirit’s ministry is to testify about Christ (15:26), not draw attention to Himself (cf. 16:13).
The Spirit is the believer’s resident truth teacher (1 John 2:20, 27); by illuminating God’s Word to their understanding, He thus grants Christians the knowledge of God that leads them to spiritual maturity.
But Christ’s promise that the Spirit would bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them was primarily a promise to the apostles of divine inspiration. The Holy Spirit’s supernatural guidance granted them an inerrant understanding of Jesus Christ’s person and teaching. The apostles (and their close associates) recorded that divinely inspired truth in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
Peter described the process of inspiration in 2 Peter 1:20–21: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The apostle Paul declared, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (lit., “God-breathed,” 2 Tim. 3:13). The Holy Spirit inspired the very words of Scripture, not merely the thoughts of the writers (1 Cor. 2:13). The Bible is therefore inerrant and authoritative, and thus the only infallible rule of faith and practice. It alone contains “the sacred writings which are able to give [one] the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). For the redeemed, the Bible is “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Armed with the truth and accompanied by the presence of God, the disciples and their contemporaries would soon be those who “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 kjv). But in this moment of distress, just hours before the cross, the situation looked desperately hopeless. Aware of the disciples’ distress, Jesus pointed them to the ultimate and only sure source of hope—the triune God. In the same way that the promise of God’s presence heartened them two millennia ago, it should still bring confidence and courage to believers today, since it provides comfort both now (2 Cor. 1:3–4; cf. Pss. 23:4; 86:17; Matt. 5:4; Acts 9:31), and forever (Isa. 25:8; 2 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 7:17; 21:4).
The Holy Spirit as Teacher
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 14:26 is the shortest of those sections of the final discourses dealing with the Holy Spirit, yet it is probably true that it gives us the fullest definition. The Holy Spirit is described as the “Counselor.” We have already seen what this means in our discussion of verses 16–18. He is described as being “holy”—the Holy Spirit. Finally, he is described as being a “teacher.” Here are three definitions: the Counselor, Holy One, and Teacher. Yet when the verse is looked at closely, it is undoubtedly the last of these, the fact that the Holy Spirit is a teacher, that is emphasized. The role of the Holy Spirit as Counselor is emphasized in the earlier verses. The matter of holiness is emphasized in 16:7–11. But here (as also at 15:26–27 and 16:12–15) the special ministry of the Spirit as teacher is brought forward.
When the Lord says that the Holy Spirit is to “teach you all things,” the reference is primarily to the apostles. These were those whom Jesus had chosen to be authoritative spokesmen for the truth he had revealed. They were to remember it and then record it in the pages of what has become the New Testament. Moreover, this teaching was to become normative for the church. This same idea is clear in that verse in which the Lord says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all [the] truth.” Jesus did not mean that all that could possibly be known would be revealed to them. All things that can possibly be known are known only to God. But he did mean that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them the full truth of the gospel centered in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And this he did. This was a unique ministry of the Holy Spirit to the apostles.
At the same time, however, there is a secondary sense in which these words apply to Christians who are living today. The Holy Spirit teaches us as well, and the Holy Spirit is the One who brings these things to our remembrance.
Need for Teaching
We need to look at the disciples first, however. Clearly, here were men who needed to be taught. They had been with the Lord Jesus Christ for three years. One might think that they would have understood the essence of his ministry and the gospel. He had spoken to them about these things. But the truth is that, although he had spoken to them about this, nevertheless they had not understood him. It is significant that verse 25 says, “All this I have spoken while still with you.” He had spoken to them, but that is not quite the same thing as saying that he had taught them. Obviously he had tried to teach the disciples, and had taught them many other things, but they had not yet really learned the great truths of the gospel. Actually, they were confused men who needed the Holy Spirit’s teaching.
They also had a particular problem with learning in this instance, for the Lord had announced his departure to them, and this had so seized upon their minds that they were not really hearing what he was saying. He had spoken about another Counselor, but they were not interested enough in the other Counselor even to learn about him. All they could grasp was that Jesus was to be taken from them.
So the Lord tells the disciples, “You need teaching; you really do. You have heard a lot, but you do not understand it. You need to be taught. I am going. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is coming, and one of his roles (a very important role) is to teach you.”
The second interesting thing about the teaching of the Holy Spirit is that God himself earnestly wanted to teach the disciples. We see this in the fact that the entire Trinity is mentioned in this verse: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you.” In other words, the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is sending the Holy Spirit to teach the disciples, so much is he interested in having them come to the knowledge of the truth concerning Jesus.
I suppose that if we had been the Lord Jesus Christ, we might have said at this point, “Oh, these dull, dull disciples!” We could even have boasted about the quality of our instruction. We could have said, “It is impossible to imagine a better teacher than they have just had. Furthermore, they have gone through an entire seminary course in three years and have combined formal teaching with on-the-field experience. They have had the advantage of a first-class example. So if they still do not get it, I will flunk them.” We might have said that. But this is not the attitude of God. The God who recognizes, on the one hand, that the disciples needed teaching, is the same God who, on the other hand, sends the Holy Spirit in order that they might be taught.
If we ask at that point, “Were they taught?” the answer is yes; of course they were. The proof of it is our Bible. Furthermore, once the Holy Spirit had come, they began to get it quickly, because on the day of Pentecost, Peter, who on an earlier occasion had said when the Lord announced his crucifixion, “Far be it, Lord, that such a thing should happen to you,” who did not understand Jesus at all, this same Peter stood up and announced with great understanding that what had occurred in Jerusalem six weeks before had been by the foreordination of God. In other words, the crucifixion of Christ had fallen out in accordance with God’s perfect plan and was the heart of redemption. Then Peter preached Christ to the very men who had crucified him, and the Holy Spirit blessed the message so that many came to faith on that occasion. The disciples did learn through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the Holy Spirit guided them to write these things in the books that became our New Testament.
These books record what the Lord Jesus Christ said and did, explain it, and draw conclusions. In this sense the critics are right when they say that these books are not pure biography, that is, objective historical biography. They are biography with an interpretation attached. But the interpretation, as well as the biography, is that which the Holy Spirit gave.
Our Teacher Too
All this applies primarily to the disciples, but it also comes down to us in a much closer way. For we need to be taught also, and the Holy Spirit, who taught the disciples, is our teacher as well.
Paul writes about it to the Corinthians. He talks first of the fact that in ourselves we are unable to understand spiritual truth, even when it is recorded in the pages of Scripture. But he tells us in addition that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who inspired the Bible, speaks from its pages to bring us understanding. “As it is written, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we many understand what God has freely given us. This is why we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spritiual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:9–13).
Here the ministry of the Holy Spirit as teacher is explained. It was exercised, in the first instance, when God revealed truth to the apostles and they recorded it in what would later become canonized as the pages of the New Testament. It is then exercised, in the second instance, when this same Holy Spirit teaches us from the truths that they have recorded.
The first part of John 14:26 speaks of the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, but there is a second part that speaks of remembrance. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” Why, if they were taught all things, does anything need to be brought back to mind? As we begin to reflect on this word, we see that a ministry of the Holy Spirit in helping us remember is necessary because of what we are like and because of the inability of our minds to retain important teachings. It is possible to be well taught, even brilliantly taught, and still forget; or, in the disciples’ case, to be taught the meaning of Christ’s ministry but forget that upon which it is based.
The Lord’s emphasis on remembering teaches us two separate truths. First, it teaches us that the wisdom of God is not a new thing. It is that which God has revealed in the past and that is the same because he is the same. We have a tendency, especially in America and in our age, always to be inventing theology. Churchmen speak about “process theology” today. It means “evolving” theology. But this is not the outlook of the Scriptures. Some of our contemporaries seem always to be searching the Bible in the light of newspapers and popular books in order to come up with something that no one has ever heard before. When they do and when they write a book about it, they get a hearing. This is the nature of The Passover Plot, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, and some other popular religious books. People buy them and say, “We never heard that before! Therefore, it must be true!” But it is not true, nor is it a product of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The Holy Spirit does not give us new doctrines. Rather, he brings old truths to our remembrance.
So what we preach is not new doctrine but the old doctrine once and for all delivered to the saints. It is the doctrine of man’s total inability to help himself spiritually, God’s grace in Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit who takes these truths and brings them home to our hearts and minds so that we understand them, and God’s unfailing perseverance with his people. We preach that God does not abandon us, that God who has begun to save us in such a marvelous way, giving us a new spirit and creating a new soul, will persevere to the end, at which time he will give us a new body and make us like the Lord Jesus Christ forevermore. These are not new doctrines. They are old doctrines. They are the doctrines that the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance.
The second truth the word “remind” teaches is that we tend to forget these doctrines, even though we have heard them many times. The history of the church is the history of great blessing through the Holy Spirit, a time of reformation and revival, followed by a gradual forgetting of the message. This happens again and again; so one of the jobs of the minister is to remind the congregation of the old truths. One of the jobs of Christian people is to remind each other of them, and one of the jobs of the Christian church is to remind the world of these old doctrines, even though the world may reject them.
He Shall Testify of Me
This verse also says something else, and we do not want to miss that either. It says that the object of the teaching is Christ. This is true in this text: “He will remind you of everything I have said to you.” It is also true in the verses about the Holy Spirit in John 15 and 16: “When the Counselor comes, whom I well send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (15:26–27). “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (16:12–14).
We have a danger, even as evangelical people, of making the Scriptures an end in themselves. We study the Bible as we would a textbook. We memorize the data. But we are always in danger of forgetting that the purpose of the Scriptures is not to exist as an end in themselves, though they will endure forever—“heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away”—but to reveal Christ to the seeking heart and mind.
There is a final point that belongs with what we have been saying. The Holy Spirit is also the One who enables us to teach these truths to others. Teaching spiritual truths cannot be done in the power of the flesh. Paul writes about it in 1 Corinthians in the verses that come just before the ones cited earlier. “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. … My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (2:1–2, 4).
Three things are necessary if God’s truth is to be properly communicated. First, there must be the revelation of the truth to the apostles by the Holy Spirit. This has been done. Second, there must be the teaching of the Holy Spirit to our hearts, so that, as we read their words, we come face-to-face with the Lord Jesus Christ about whom they wrote. Third, there must be the continuing work of the Holy Spirit to take our testimony concerning this Word and carry it home to the hearts of those who have not yet heard or understood it. Three stages!
But there can be error in each. There are some who do not begin with the Scriptures. They consider the Bible to contain the words of men rather than the very words that the Holy Ghost taught to the apostles. Having thrown out the base, they have nothing on which to stand, and their theology becomes mere speculation. There are others who accept the Bible as the Word of God but who do not allow the Holy Spirit to teach them. They study the Bible in an academic way. Although they may have a high doctrine of Scripture, they do not strive to see the Lord Jesus Christ in its pages. Then there are those who accept the Bible as the Word of God and who do meet with Jesus Christ, but they testify in their own power in a way that brings glory to themselves, and few are won.
We do a farmer’s work. First, we prepare the soil. Then we take a seed and plant it. We water it, and we wait for it to grow. But we do not give life to the seed. The seed already has life in it. Moreover, we can scratch a furrow and put the seed in it, but the ground must have the nutrients that God has placed there. And even then the work of God is not finished, for the seed will not grow unless the sun shines upon it. The Holy Spirit must be the sun in our witnessing. We must be faithful in scratching the furrows, watering, even pulling out weeds. But we must look to God to give life.
26 The instruction of the disciples, however, will not cease. The Father will send the Holy Spirit to remind them of all that Jesus has said and help them understand the full meaning of his teaching. Apart from this teaching role of the Spirit, there never could have been a reliable gospel or, for that matter, a NT at all. As Peter put it, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pe 1:21).
The Counselor who is to be sent by the Father is the Holy Spirit. (Only here in John is the title in Greek given in its fullest form: to pneuma to hagion, GK 4460, 51). For the early Christians the title would emphasize the holiness of the Spirit rather than his might and power. In his vision of the exalted Lord, Isaiah saw the seraphs as they circled the throne and called out, “Holy, holy, holy [hagios, LXX] is the Lord Almighty” (Isa 6:3). As God is holy so also is his Spirit. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father “in [his] name,” i.e., his task will be in accord with the character of Jesus.
If we take the last two clauses of v. 26 as synonymous parallelism (so Brown, 651), the teaching work of the Spirit will be to “remind” the disciples of all that Jesus taught. It will not consist of new revelations. The Spirit will take the words of Jesus and make them known (cf. 16:13–15). He will help the disciples grasp the full meaning of what Jesus was teaching while he was with them in person. It is one thing to understand a statement as being true; it is something quite different to grasp the full meaning and significance of that truth. The Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry belongs in the latter category.
Calvin, 2:88, calls the Spirit “the inward Teacher (interior magister)” and points out that God has two ways of teaching: first, the words that fall on our ears, and second, the inward action of the Spirit. It is still the case that biblical truth may be heard and understood without its more profound meaning laying hold of the mind and heart of the listener. Theology as an academic discipline is not the same as truth about God understood from the heart. Obviously, the “all things” taught by the Spirit does not include matters irrelevant to God’s purpose in sending Jesus to be our Savior.
A revealing teacher who conveys the truth (vv. 25–26)
While most of the promises given to the disciples at this meal are applicable for all followers of Jesus Christ at all times, this particular promise was specific to the disciples who were there in that upper room. You can imagine their concerns—how are we going to remember everything he said to us? How can we tell others what he said? Jesus comforted them by telling them that one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit would be to remind them precisely and accurately of everything he had said. That accounts for the remarkable accuracy and consistency of the New Testament record. It was supernatural that various men could naturally and personally record the life and teaching of Jesus and at the same time be entirely consistent with one another.
14:26 / Will remind you of everything I have said to you: Such language was used especially of warnings about trouble and persecution (cf. 13:18; 16:4; and perhaps 14:29), but memory also played an important part in the interpretation of Jesus’ deeds (cf. 2:17, 22; 12:16). The writer of this Gospel probably saw himself as one to whom the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, had given special insight and perspective, after the fact, on the words and deeds of Jesus as he wrote them down.