We have seen how the Lord was well aware of the distress his apostles would suffer when, as they would think, they had lost him. Their world would seem to have collapsed. Hence his words of reassurance: they would see him again and their joy would be unbounded and unquenchable (John16:22).
The comforting message continues in the following verse: “in that day ye shall ask me nothing” (or “ask me no questions”). We can see there are two ways of interpreting what the Lord says: in that day they would no longer need to ask him any questions or they would be able to present their requests directly to the Father being ‘in him.’ It is surely the latter part of the verse which appears to shed light on this matter: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name.”
Jesus demonstrated to be the Messiah
Yet once more the Book of Acts comes to our aid. The case of the healing of the man lame from birth has earlier attracted our attention. On that occasion, we find Peter acting upon his Lord’s words: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (3:6 all quotes RV unless noted). The result was dramatic: the man leapt to his feet.
It was the invocation of the full name of our Lord which proved so effective. While the name “Jesus” was certainly familiar to the apostles and others, its meaning had not been apprehended; yet, it had been revealed and stands at the forefront of the New Testament. The angel said to troubled Joseph, “And thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins” (Matt.1:21).
As we well know, the apostles abandoned all to follow the Lord because of their conviction he was the Christ, the anointed Messiah of Israel (see John 1:41, Matt. 16:16). It was precisely because of their limited understanding of the Lord’s mission that they left him when he fell into the hands of his enemies. The apostles entered into a different world, however, when they found that, so far from having lost their Lord, he was alive for evermore. This transformation is powerfully conveyed in Peter’s testimony: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Acts2:36).
Henceforward it is the full name of our Lord, “Jesus Christ,” that we constantly encounter in the Acts and epistles. John 16:24 surely confirms our reflections upon the preceding verse: “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
So we take note again of one of the great concepts of John chapters 13-17: “joy.” It us when we consider all that happened to the apostles that we can begin to enter into their feelings, if only in part. Dispirited, in disarray, their world had fallen apart – but only briefly. Their risen and glorified Lord, so far from rejecting them for their desertion, graciously called them his “brethren” (see John 20:17; Matt. 28:10). This surely was grace abounding, and an example to all his followers of all generations. As for the apostles, they were to be his representatives, endowed with the Holy Spirit, and carrying the message of salvation to the world in his name. What a sense of supreme privilege, of joy must have been theirs.
In the following verse (John16:25) the Lord recognizes that much of what he had said to the apostles was enigmatic, spoken in paroimoiais. This must be distinguished from the term for parables (parabole), because these had been used to convey the Lord’s teaching to his disciples, and they had understood, whereas to others they were meaningless. Thus, at the end of the long chapter containing an array of parables, the Lord asked his listeners whether they had understood, and they replied in the affirmative (see Matt.13:51).
To what then do the obscure, enigmatic sayings relate? An outstanding instance of that is in John 6, where the Lord develops his discourse on the bread of life and says, to the confusion of many, that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood (see John 6:52, 60). This was too much for some, but to the credit of the apostles, although they must have been baffled, they would endorse Peter’s response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (v. 68).
There were other of the Lord’s sayings which had left the apostles confused. Prominent among these were his declarations he was leaving them and going to the Father, and of those we have already taken account (see John7:33-36;8:21;13:33). The Lord is fully aware of the problems his followers had encountered with his teaching, and now, in the words of reassurance he is giving them, he tells them the time was to come when all would be made clear, and so it gradually proved after he rose from the dead. Even then, however, clarity of understanding came in stages, for we remember that the extension of the gospel of salvation to uncircumcised Gentiles was in every sense a revelation to Peter (see Acts 10:7-9). This is a reminder to disciples of all ages that at times aspects of the divine purpose may be obscure; but if we wait patiently, God’s hand will be revealed.
The protocol of prayer
The following two verses (26 and 27) are a reaffirmation of the promise already given, that the apostles will be able to invoke the Lord’s name, and that, in itself, will suffice. The latter part of verse 26, taken in conjunction with verse 27, appears to exclude the need for the Lord’s intercession, spoken of in Romans 8:34. Perhaps the explanation of this apparent paradox lies in the fact our spiritual life is complex. There are situations when we are at a loss as to how we should pray, a situation referred to by Paul in Romans 8:26. However, we also have the assurance of boldness as we draw near to the throne of grace (Heb.4:16).
Moreover, and this can surely be no coincidence, in the preceding verse of Hebrews, we are reminded that in the Lord Jesus we have a high priest who understands our infirmities. Thus we are sure of our Lord’s empathy and the Father’s love on our behalf. John tells us we have an advocate (“comforter”) with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1). Yet, in one sense, and this seems to be the meaning of John16:26, 27, any intercession by Christ with the Father scarcely seems to be necessary. [N.B. Lord willing an extensive consideration of this matter will be offered in future issues of the Tidings by the editor and by Bro. John Launchbury.]
The Father loves (NOTE 1) the followers of Jesus because of their love for him. Briefly then, it seems the ground of our acceptability with the Father is our love for our Lord, and our conviction that he has come forth from the Father. Our love for the Lord Jesus is therefore a fundamental matter, so serious in the Apostle’s view that if a disciple does not love the Lord Jesus he is anathema (I Cor.16:22). As for Paul himself his love for his Lord was a constraining influence (II Cor.5:14). Love may at times be inarticulate, but it is the love of the heart expressed in obedience that finally matters. We reflect, too, that the Father and the Son are truly of one purpose and mind, and to the degree in which we are in Christ, we are also in him in the very presence of the Father.
His origin is of God
In John16:28, Jesus declares what he has said so often. He has come forth from the Father and has revealed himself to human society, but he is going to the Father. In the response of the apostles, we can find convincing evidence of psychological truth. It is the first part of this declaration which evokes the apostles’ response. They recognize the Lord is using no paroimia, no riddle, but is pronouncing a truth they can accept, namely that his origin is of God. Moreover, they declare he knows all things. This is a humble acknowledgement of the great truths their Master has so often presented to them and which at times they have failed to comprehend. However, and this is where the evidence of psychological truth shows itself, there is no mention of his going to the Father. This was to remain beyond their comprehension even after his resurrection, until indeed he ascended to heaven in their sight (Acts1:10-11).
Is the Lord surprised by this declaration? Perhaps this is the case: “Do ye now believe?” (v. 31). It may be so; but he is all too aware of the inadequacy of their understanding, for when he is arrested they will desert him – “every man to his own” (v. 32). The death of their Lord temporarily shattered their unity as a band of disciples.
As for the Lord, despite the desertion of his followers, he will not be alone, and these are truly wonderful words: “and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” So it was that in Gethsemane, with all its agony, his Father sent an angel to sustain him (Luke 22:43). On the cross he could pray for his persecutors (Luke 23:34) (NOTE 2), and as he died he could entrust his life to the One who had brought him into the world. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke23:46).
Peace in Christ
The final words of John 16 are wonderful in their own way. After foretelling the desertion of his intimate followers, he tells them they will find peace in him; “peace” being one of the recurring themes in John 13-17. Yes, as he has already told them, they will experience tribulation at the hands of men (see 1:1-1; 16:1-3). But the Lord assures them they can be of good cheer, for he has overcome the world.
What a triumph this was, against truly incredible odds. It is the Lord’s victory which was the necessary preliminary for his followers have a part in a triumph over sin. Paul in a passage of great eloquence and no little emotion exclaims: “…we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom.8:37). Our Lord’s love was, and is, an invincible force.
So we come to the end of John 16. We are privileged to be able to listen to the prayer preserved in chapter 17. There will now be no interruption, no asking of questions, for the apostles will listen surely in awe to all they will hear.
Tom Barling, Teignmouth, England
1. John here uses the verb phileo of the love the Father bears to those who love His Son. In John’s frequent usage there is no distinction between that verb and agapao.
2. There is a discernable echo of the Lord’s words in Paul’s. When speaking of his life as a persecutor, he says he did it in ignorance (I Tim. 1:13). He was thus within the scope of the Lord’s Prayer.