John 14:16 – The Spirit as Counsellor
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you foreverJohn 14:16
It is in the gospel according to John where we find the words of our Savior about the Holy Spirit as the Comforter or Counselor. We still hear a lot of misunderstanding about these words. Many people are inclined to think here of the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s children. Does the church not confess in Lord’s Day 20 of the Heidelberg Catechism that the Holy Spirit comforts us? Is it not the Holy Spirit who in our difficult times directs our heart to God’s promises and opens our eyes for the riches of the gospel?
However, when we carefully read the texts in which the work of the Spirit as Counselor comes to the fore, we have to conclude that they deal with a very special work of the Holy Spirit. It is a work that we may not, just like that, lump together with what the Spirit does in the heart of God’s children.
It immediately catches our eye that we find all the statements of the Lord Jesus about the Counselor in the gospel according to John. More than once it has been pointed out correctly that this gospel has its very own special background.
In the gospel of John we find unmistakably the thought that God has a lawsuit against mankind. This terrible court case is about the question: Is Jesus of Nazareth the Christ or not? Does he have to be accepted or rejected?
When we read the fourth gospel attentively, it strikes us how often the word “witness” is used. In this great lawsuit of God versus mankind, witnesses take the stand, witnesses who prove convincingly that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The first witness is John the Baptist who testifies of Jesus: “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:34.) John stands on the threshold of the old and the new covenant and pointing with his finger, he calls out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29.)
As the second Witness we see Christ him self come to the fore in the gospel according to John. He comes from the Father and testifies what he has seen and heard (Jn 3:32). After healing the invalid in Bethesda, Jesus emphatically points the Jews to the works that he does. These works testify that the Father has sent him (Jn 5:36). In this context Jesus calls his heavenly Father him self as witness: at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the Father has given his testimony. For a voice sounded from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17b.)
God has a lawsuit against the world. In that court trial several witnesses take the stand: John the Baptist, Jesus and the Father. It is against this background that we have to understand the words of Christ about the Spirit as the Counselor. In this great lawsuit that God has against the world, the Holy Spirit will take his turn as Witness, as Counselor to plead Jesus’ case.
Literally the Savior says, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete....” The translation “Comforter” is not quite correct. A better translation is: Witness, Counselor, Advocate.
Soon Christ will go to heaven. But another Counselor is coming, to plead his case. God’s lawsuit continues. Christ will pray to the Father. And the Father will hear him. For Christ can soon plead on the basis of the work he completed on earth. The Father will send another Counselor, even the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. This is the Spirit who will let God’s faithfulness in Jesus Christ sparkle and will show that in Christ all God’s promises are Yes and Amen (cf. 2 Cor 1:20).
Oh, the apostles receive an enormous task. They will have to speak of what they have heard and seen. They are to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). This commission will evoke resistance and enmity. They will not escape suffering (Jn 16:2), but they will not face this worldwide task like defenseless orphans (cf. Jn 14:18). They will receive a powerful Helper. Christ will pray to the Father and the Father will send them the Holy Spirit as Helper and Counselor. The apostles may know that it is the Spirit him self who speaks and who through their witness convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8). This Spirit will glorify Christ (Jn 16:14).
Indeed, a careful reading of the words about the Counselor in John 14 and 16 leads to the conclusion that the Paraclete-promises are not about a work of the Spirit in the hearts of God’s children. Other passages in the New Testament speak about that. The words about the Counselor refer clearly to the apostles and their witness.
The Counselor comes to witness of Christ but he uses men for that. As Christ’s authorized ambassadors the Twelve are involved in this work of the Spirit. Presently the apostles will expressly declare before the Jewish council, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32.) When the Sanhedrin in unbelief rejects Stephen’s preaching, we hear the awful accusation, “You always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51.)
The book of Acts is truly the book of the Spirit of Christ. The apostles preach and boldly testify to Jesus’ resurrection. But it is the Spirit who acts as Christ’s Counselor, to seek the world with his testimony (cf. Acts 13:2).
This testimony of the Spirit we have today in the New Testament. Therefore the apostles could depart peacefully when the New Testament was completed. They had a unique task in the tradition of salvation. This task was completed when the last book of the New Testament had been written.
When we speak of the authority of the New Testament, the words about the Paraclete should also always be mentioned. This book indeed has divine authority. It may and must engage and govern our whole life; for it is the book of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the Counselor who wants to glorify Christ. It is the Counselor who guided the apostles in the truth and made them speak of the great works of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
Whoever in unbelief bypasses the New Testament does a terrible thing. He resists the Holy Spirit. He makes the great Witness of Christ a liar!
The words of the Lord Jesus are profoundly serious but also full of rich comfort. With these words Christ has wonderfully encouraged his apostles but also his church of all ages. The Counselor is not only the Witness but also the Helper, the Assistant. The church looks so small, so powerless in a big hostile world. But she has a powerful Helper, God the Holy Spirit! A Helper who watches over and surrounds her with his divine powers. A Helper who makes sure that the powers of death will not prevail against her.
In and through this Helper, Christ fulfills his promise that is full of comfort, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20b.)