The Holy Spirit in John

This is Part 7 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. Click here for the previous parts of this study


John’s account of the gospel gives special emphasis to Jesus’s teachings regarding the Spirit.

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one of born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:5-8

In John’s introduction, he spoke of the necessity of a “new birth” taking place in order to become children of God (1:12-13). This new birth is the theme of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, in which he tells him that he must be born of both the “water and Spirit” in order to see God’s kingdom. Just as the prophets had foretold, God’s Kingdom was coming by the work of Spirit, blowing like a wind in whatever direction God desires for it to blow (remember that the Greek word for “Spirit” and “wind” were the same). Just as no human organization can control the wind, or dictate the direction it should blow, so it is with how God was bringing his kingdom by the Spirit. You can’t see God’s Spirit, control God’s Spirit, or dictate to God’s Spirit the direction you want him to blow, let alone try to get into his kingdom on your own terms.

Words of the Spirit

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

John 3:34

As John contrasts Jesus who “comes from above” with those who are “of the earth” (3:31), special attention is drawn to Jesus’s words. Jesus speaks words from God. He does this because God “gives the Spirit without measure.” This is right in line with how we see God’s Spirit connected with speaking words from God in the Old Testament.

Living Water

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39

By referring to himself as the source of living, or flowing water, Jesus was identifying himself as the source through whom God’s Spirit would be poured out on the thirsty (see Isaiah 44:3-5). Through Jesus anyone who was faithful to him would be able to receive the Spirit. John notes, however, that this had not happened yet, and it would not happen until after Jesus was “glorified”, a phrase which John uses to refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 3:14; 12:23; 17:1).

The Helper

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him not knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you… These things I have spoken to you while I am still 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 have said to you.

John 14:16-17; 25-26

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he would be going away (14:2). But he promised them that they would not be left alone like orphans (14:18), because he would send the “Spirit of truth” as a “Helper” (sometimes translated as “Comforter” or “Advocate”) to dwell with them and be with them. Even though the world would not be able to see him, they would be able to see him (14:19). In this way, Jesus would be “1in them” (14:20). Jesus would show himself and make his home with those who would love him and keep his commandments (14:21-23). This would be accomplished by sending the “Helper”, the “Holy Spirit” who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all the things that he had said to them (14:26).

Observe that the Helper is described as the “Spirit of truth.” Through the Spirit, Jesus will be made manifest to those who love him and keep his commandments (14:21). Jesus says that the Spirit will “teach” and “bring to remembrance” all the things that Jesus had said to them. This concept of a spirit being connected to truthful ideas, commands, teachings, and memories makes sense. That’s what a spirit does. When people teach things, they do so with their breath. When people know things, or remember things, they do so with their mind, or with their “spirit”.

But Jesus’s disciples wouldn’t just have any ordinary human spirit, as a source of ordinary human teachings or memories. They would somehow be helped by THE Spirit. They would be taught teachings which originated with Jesus, as opposed to those created in their own mind. Just as in the Old Testament, when people were said to be filled with God’s Spirit as a way of saying that their actions and their words could be attributed to God working and speaking through them (Part 3), so the apostles would be given the Spirit, showing that their teachings had their origin with Jesus himself.

In this way Jesus would be present with his disciples after his departure. He was going to be with them in that the Spirit would continue to be with them.

When the World Hates You

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:26-27

Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted by the world (15:16-21). They should not be taken by surprise when this happens, for they hated Jesus without cause as well (15:22-25). But fortunately, according to Jesus, they would not be left alone. He reminds them that the “Helper”, the “Spirit of truth” would be sent from the Father. When he comes, he will (along with the apostles) bear witness about Jesus.

Once again we see that the Spirit will have something to say to the world about Jesus. The idea of a “spirit” having something to “say” makes sense given the Hebrew understanding of “spirit” (Part 1).

Guide Into All Truth

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judges.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will come to declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:7-15

Jesus consoles his disciples by telling them that it is to their advantage that he goes away. That’s because his death, resurrection, and departure are necessary events that must happen before sending the Helper, the Spirit of truth. Part of the job of the Spirit will be to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, to guide the apostles into all truth, and to glorify Jesus, taking what is his and declaring it to the apostles.

Once again we can observe that the Spirit’s work, as in the rest of scripture up to this point, is that of expressing or teaching God’s words. But here the message which the Spirit will speak is namely the teachings of Jesus himself (which of course came from the Father to start with).

In other words, the past work and teachings of Jesus will be continued after his departure through the work and teachings of Spirit.

Jesus, the Spirit, and the Disciples

John’s emphasis on Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit culminates in his interaction with his disciples in the upper room after the resurrection.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:21-23

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples by breathing on them. By doing this, he made them his agents through which sins would be forgiven. By giving them the Holy Spirit, he commissioned them to act on his own behalf. What Jesus had done previously on earth would now be accomplished through His Spirit, who was now embodied in his apostles.

Up to this point, Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit had always been forward looking. But now that Jesus had been glorified through his death and resurrection, the anticipated time had come.

Observe that the point of Jesus “breathing” on his disciples and giving them the Spirit was not to give them some moving or emotional experience. Surely following Jesus can and should be deeply moving and emotional, but that’s not what Jesus giving the Holy Spirit was all about. Nor is the point that Jesus’ disciples were now free to follow whatever kind of intuition they might feel tugging at their hearts. Part of the point of giving the Spirit is that they would be led and taught by Jesus Himself through the Spirit, not by their own spirit, their own feelings, or their own emotions. The apostles, now having received the Holy Spirit, would be acting on Jesus’ own behalf, teaching things that originated with Jesus Himself.

2 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit in John

  1. Pingback: The Holy Spirit Raised Jesus From the Dead – The Christian Exile

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