We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. Yesterday, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to those who love him and obey his teaching. But who is the Holy Spirit, and what is his role?
Back when my eldest was in Kindergarten, I came home one day to be told by my wife that he had been the “star of the day” at school. (Apparently everyone got a turn at being the “star of the day” at some point. I guess it was to prepare them for life in the real world, where everyone at some stage has their turn at being a reality TV contestant.) So I went in to see him, and started off by saying “I hear you were star of the day.”
“How did you know?” he replied.
Never one to miss an opportunity to mess with my kids’ heads, I said, “You know that new video phone I got? It gives me a live video feed of what’s happening in your classroom.”(It was 2006, and this was still new technology, making it almost believable for a five-year-old.)
“Could you really see me?” he gasped. “What was I doing?”
Feeling confident after a successful Dad-troll, I took a gamble: “I saw you picking your nose.”
He laughed, “Yeah, I did it when the teacher wasn’t looking.”
Fortunately for him, my wife intervened. Otherwise I’d still have him convinced that although I wasn’t there with him physically, my presence was still there at school, all-seeing and all-knowing.
The Spirit is a substitute for Jesus’ physical presence
Now while this would have to be one of the worst Holy Spirit illustrations ever given, it introduces our first point: that the Holy Spirit serves as a substitute for Jesus’ physical presence. He can no longer be with them in the body, but he has provided someone else to continue his presence with them, so he can fulfil his promise to be with them always:
John 14:16-17a And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.
As I said yesterday, this is probably the most significant statement about the Holy Spirit in all of Scripture. Why?
There are two Greek words that we can translate using the English word “another”. One means “another of a different kind” (as in the sentence, “I don’t like this drink – I want another one.”). But the Greek word used here means “another of the same kind” (as in, “That was a nice drink – I’ll have another one.”) The significance here is that the Holy Spirit will be an advocate of the same kind as Jesus. His role will be similar to the one Jesus performed while he was living with his disciples. In fact, he will perform many of the functions which Jesus himself did during his ministry – as we’ll see in a few weeks when we look at chapter 16. The Holy Spirit will be like Jesus in what he does.
In short, by using this word another, we’re told that a lot of what we’ve learned about Jesus also applies to the Holy Spirit.
Notice, too, that he’s described as another advocate. Now the Greek word for this is parakletos (usually Anglicised to “paraclete”), and is difficult to express using one English word. Literally, it means “someone who comes along side,” and it has courtroom connotations. Various translations go for: comforter, helper, companion, or counsellor, but I think the NIV’s “advocate” is the best, as it communicates the idea of a person who encourages us, advises us, and even defends us in court. Yet it’s much broader than just that, which is what the other translations were trying to express.
At any rate, by describing the Spirit as an ‘advocate’ or ‘counsellor’, Jesus is drawing attention to his role as one who gives us support, and who fights alongside us. In the Old Testament God was often portrayed as a warrior who fought with and on behalf of his people:
Deuteronomy 20:4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
The Spirit is similarly God-with-us, on our side, fighting for us. Although Jesus could no longer be with us in person, he has sent a substitute – the advocate, who is always with us. And, says Jesus, he can only be given when Jesus goes:
John 14:18-20 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
He says it even more explicitly in chapter 16:
John 16:7 “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Jesus is saying that he will die, and then he will come back from the dead. And that is when he can send the Spirit. We read that it did indeed happen in John chapter 20, after he had appeared to his disciples:
John 20:21-22 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
Jesus’ work on the cross removed the barrier between us and God that was caused by sin. We can now have God dwelling with us, which he does in the person of the Holy Spirit. But that’s what tomorrow will be about…