The Biblical Basis for a Speaking God, Part 3
To this point I’ve offered some facts that point strongly to a God who still speaks. But we’re not left to mere inference in deciding the issue. Notice what Jesus explicitly says to His disciples the night before His death.
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. (John 14:26)
Later in the same discourse He adds this:
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-15)
Jesus is telling the disciples they are going to experience the Holy Spirit—and Jesus’ own presence via the Holy Spirit—in a new way following His physical departure. This new experience began, of course, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. And the Lord specifically states that the work of the Holy Spirit in the church age will include teaching, reminding, speaking, and revealing.
Clearly Jesus doesn’t here envision the Spirit accomplishing these tasks by means of inspired scripture, though now He can and does do these things through the written New Testament too. Rather, in this context Jesus promises the Spirit will do these things personally by actually living in the disciples (14:17). This revealing work would result directly from the coming of the Spirit to indwell Jesus’ followers (16:13), not from the writing of the New Testament documents, the earliest of which was still more than fifteen years in the future.
So the only question is, are these promises for us? I realize some insist that these promises were made to the apostles only and don’t apply to anyone but them. But I disagree completely. Notice how Jesus begins His discussion of the Holy Spirit:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
There are at least three reasons not to limit the promised help of the Holy Spirit in this context to the apostles alone.
- The promises (14:26; 16:13-15) are predicated on the Spirit’s coming to indwell the apostles, and this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a gift to all believers (Acts 2:38-39; 5:32; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 12:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; Titus 3:5-6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; etc.).
- Jesus tells them the Spirit will “be with you forever” (14:16), indicating He had in mind not just the apostles but all future disciples, “into the ages” (the literal meaning of the Greek phrase rendered “forever” ).
- This new giving of the Spirit (which would result in the revelatory work noted above) is the very thing that would eradicate their orphanhood, the unfortunate condition into which Jesus’ imminent physical departure would inevitably propel them.
The term “orphan” was sometimes used in a figurative way in Greek to describe disciples bereft of their master.1 Jesus warns his disciples that He’s going away, but He assures them the separation is only temporary: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Many understand these words (along with the next two verses, 19-20) to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. That is, He will soon leave (die), but He will quickly return (be raised from the dead), and as a result they will see Him again in His post-resurrection appearances.
This interpretation is extremely problematic. As Tim Woodroof notes,
How does the resurrection not leave the disciples as “orphans” when Jesus’ resurrection appearances will be infrequent, brief, and painfully temporary? Forty days past the empty tomb is the ascension, when Jesus will leave the earth for good. Are a few fleeting glimpses of a risen Christ enough to rescue the disciples from the status of “orphans”?2
It makes little sense to think Jesus is all of a sudden changing subjects, jumping from the Spirit’s coming, to His own resurrection appearances, then back to the Spirit again. No, when Jesus says “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” He still has His eyes on Pentecost. He will come to them through the Holy Spirit. They will “see” Him again (v. 19) by virtue of the Spirit’s presence. He and the Father will make their abode with them (v. 23) as the Spirit comes to live within them.
All this has important implications for you and me. If the promised presence and help of the Holy Spirit Jesus speaks of in John 14 and 16 are gifts enjoyed by the apostles only, and if these blessings were the very thing that kept them from remaining “orphans,” then you and I are in the unfortunate position of being permanent spiritual orphans ourselves.
Is that what the New Testament teaches? Who could possibly think that is the condition of Christians today—those who have been “blessed…with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)? We to whom Christ is closer than the clothes on our back (Galatians 3:27). We who have been called into intimate fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9). We whose lives are so intertwined with His that He is living His life through us (Galatians 2:20). “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).3
Granted, it is difficult to read John 14:26 and 16:13-15 and not see in these words an allusion to the apostles’ ability to speak and write inspired, authoritative words. There’s no question the apostles were unique. The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the apostles, whose teaching was authoritative, and other Christian teachers.
But for the reasons already noted, these promises cannot be restricted to the apostles alone. It’s possible Jesus’ words describing the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit have a special meaning for the apostles. Still, they must have at the same time an application to all disciples, even if we experience this help in different ways or to a lesser extent than the apostles did.4 To deny this and limit these promises only to the apostles is to wreak havoc with the Lord’s words and make spiritual orphans of us all.
So what Jesus is saying here is meant to encourage all Christians, not just the Twelve. Because we all have to face the world and carry on with God’s mission without the benefit of Jesus’ physical presence. But we aren’t left to go it alone, relying on our own feeble strength and limited wisdom. We, too, have the Helper. And one of His functions is to teach, remind, speak, and reveal to us the things of God.
1 Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 439.
2 Tim Woodroof, A Spirit for the Rest of Us: What Jesus Said About the Holy Spirit and How It Applies to Your Life (Abilene TX: Leafwood, 2009), p. 87.
3 For further discussion of why the promise of the Spirit in John 14 and 16 applies to Christians today, see Woodroof, Chapter 13.
4 Some students are thrown off by the extent of the promised revelations: “He will teach you all things” (14:26); “He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13). Surely we shouldn’t think these promises are ours.
But reason requires us to understand these phrases in a qualified way: “all things that you need to know,” or something along those lines. Even the apostles were not omniscient. So these expressions are not evidence that only apostles were in view. Compare 1 John 2:27, which unquestionably applies the same terminology to Christians in general: “His anointing teaches you about all things….”