John 16:12-16

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. “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. “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”

– John 16:12-16, NAU


Jesus was delivering His farewell discourse to the disciples. At the beginning He spoke about going away (John 13:33) to a place where they could not come. Then, in John 14:1, He said, “‘Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me.'” Clearly, Jesus wanted to comfort the disciples.

As Jesus later indicated (John 15:18-27), the world would be hostile to the disciples. They should not be surprised about this because the world was hostile to Jesus. If the world would persecute Jesus, they would persecute the disciples also (John 15:20). Jesus did not promise that it would be easy to be His disciple.

Then, in John 16:8-11, Jesus tells about the work of the Paraclete in confronting the world. Here, the Paraclete (the Helper) takes on the roles of prosecutor and powerful persuader. He will convict and convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The disciples will not be alone in their encounters with the world.

According to Keener (p. 1035), “Since the world could not be confronted with its sin apart from the Paraclete’s work in the disciples (16:7), it is quite natural for John to turn next to the illumination of the disciples.” As Jesus indicates, the Paraclete is the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of truth will lighten the disciples and guide them into all truth. Armed with the truth, the disciples can confront anyone.

Verse 12: More to Say

In verse 12 Jesus states: “‘I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.'” Although Jesus had been with His disciples for three years, He has much more to say to them. Some things He has not told them because they could not bear them.

First, Jesus has more things to say to His disciples. This does not stand in contradiction to John 15:15 where Jesus says, “‘for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.'” The “all” of this verse is not absolute. It may simply refer to “all things” that the Father wanted Christ to reveal up to this point. In any case Jesus has more things to say. He talks about these things in verses 13-14.

Significantly, the Father was the source of Christ’s teaching. Jesus said (John 14:10), “‘The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.'” Adding to this, He (John 14:24) declared, “‘and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.'”

Second, Jesus says,”‘but you cannot bear them now.'” What does Jesus mean by this statement? Morris (p. 699) presents the alternatives:

‘Bear’ is an unusual verb in this connection. It may mean that their experience thus far sets a limit to their ability to perceive. There are vistas of truth set before them which they cannot as yet enter, but they will enter when the Spirit comes. More probably it refers to their inability, until the Spirit should come, to live out the implications of the revelation.

Morris (p. 700) goes on to say, “This latter [view] is more in keeping with the meaning of the verb ‘bear.'” Similarly, Westcott (p. 230), says: “The Resurrection brought the strength which enabled believers to support it.” When the Spirit comes, the disciples will be able to live out the truth.

Verse 13: Into All Truth

In verse 13 Jesus declares, “‘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.'” Several points stand out in connection with this verse.

First, Jesus identifies the Paraclete (Helper) as the Spirit of Truth and refers to His coming. During His farewell discourse, Jesus speaks about the Helper four times (John 14:1614:2615:26; and 16:7) and, in the same contexts, about the Spirit of Truth three times (John 14:1715:2616:13). Thus, in the farewell discourse Jesus emphasizes the connection between the Spirit and truth. When the Spirit of Truth comes, something new happens concerning truth and the communication of truth.

Second, Jesus says that the Spirit of Truth “‘will guide you into [eis] all the truth.'” Based on Greek textual evidence, scholars discuss whether Jesus said eis [into] or en [in]. According to Morris (p. 700), the former [into, eis] signifies “bring you further knowledge” while the latter [in, en] may mean “lead you in the path of the truth already revealed.” Morris reaches the following conclusion:

In view of the difficulty of making a firm distinction between eis and en not too much, however, should be make of this. It seems that eis should be accepted as the right reading, but even if en be attempted the meaning will not differ greatly. (Transliteration Mine)

Actually, the Spirit guides us in the path of truth as well as leading us into new vistas of truth. Another way of saying this is that the Spirit guides us with regard to all aspects of truth. The truth can refer to the truth as opposed to falsehood, to the faithfulness of God, or to Jesus Himself. Here, Christ and His teachings are paramount. The truth refers to His teachings, including the things that He wanted to say. The truth deals with Jesus and what He says and does.

Third, we must consider both commentary on truth already revealed as well as new truth. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth deals with everything that has to do with the truth.

One, with regard to commentary, the Spirit of Truth will elaborate on established truth and illuminate our minds. The Spirit will interpret the words of Jesus. Most of us, for example, have experienced moments when the Spirit has enlightened us with the meaning of a passage of Scripture. These are great moments.

One form of elaboration is to clarify the figurative sayings of Jesus. In John 16:25 Jesus says, “‘These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.'” NAU Along with Jesus, the Spirit of Truth will speak plainly.

Two, the Spirit of Truth, however, is not limited to commentary. New truth will be advanced as well. However, as Burge says (p. 215), “these new revelations must not depart from the original revelation of the historical Christ.” The new truths will enrich and expand on the previously revealed truth. Very often the new truths have to do with applying truth to our lives.

The Spirit guides into new applications of truth to our lives. Obviously, not all applications could be included in a manual of instructions for living. The Spirit will help us apply principles. Sometimes this involves special illumination. Later, the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 12:8-10) will bring into focus the revelatory work of the Spirit through such gifts as prophecy, the word of knowledge, and the word of wisdom. The Spirit is still manifesting these gifts today!

Fourth, Jesus says, “‘for He will not speak on His own initiative.'” Like Christ (John 1:2612:; 14:10) the Spirit will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak what He hears. Jesus is referring to the source of the Spirit’s teaching. Jesus does not say that the Spirit will not speak “about” Himself. Obviously, the truth has to do with the Spirit as well as with the Father and the Son. Even so, as verse 14 makes plain, the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Jesus. He speaks what He hears in order to exalt Christ.

The Spirit speaks “whatever He hears.” In verses 14-15 Jesus emphasizes that the Spirit will “take of Mine” and disclose it to you. As Keener (p. 1014-1015) states: “‘Jesus passed on what he heard from the Father (5:20; 8:26); the Spirit would pass on to disciples what he heard form Jesus (16:13), just as Jesus heard and saw the Father (5:19-20; 8:38), his disciples would see and hear him.” This, of course, does not preclude the fact that the Spirit hears from the Father as well.

Fifth, the Spirit “‘will disclose to you what is to come.'” Various ideas are advanced concerning what Jesus meant. According to Roberton (p. 268), Jesus refers to “The things already begun concerning the work of the Kingdom (Luke 7:19ff.; 18:30) not a chart of future history.” Giving another view, Wescott (p. 231) says: “The reference is, no doubt, mainly to the constitution of the Christian Church, as representing hereafter the divine order in place of the Jewish economy.”

Jesus is not explicit as to what He meant. In my view it is best to not put limits on what He said. The comments of Swete (p. 163), for example, are much more inclusive. According to him, the coming things are:

The things of that great and untried life which was about to open before the Church at Pentecost and to reach its perfection at the Second Coming; the things of the new age, the dispensation of the Spirit; and, less distinctly seen, the things of the more distant future when God shall be all in all.

Verse 14: The Spirit Glorifies Jesus

Jesus declared, “‘He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The Spirit will glorify Jesus. He does this by disclosing the message of Jesus to the disciples. As Lenski (p. 1092) states: “The Spirit’s work is to place Jesus before the eyes and into the hearts of men, to make his person and his work shine before them in all the excellencies of both.

Verse 15: The Father and the Son

Jesus declares, “‘All things that the Father has are Mine.'” What Jesus has is not something apart from what the Father has. What they have together is identical. The Spirit, in turn, takes of what Jesus has and will disclose it to the community.

In verse 14, Jesus says the Spirit “will take” of Mine. Here, He says the Spirit “takes” of Mine. This is not a contradiction. According to Lenski (p. 1093), the verb “takes” is a timeless present. At all times the Spirit takes of what Jesus has to disclose it to us.

Verse 16: The Presence of Jesus

Early in His farewell discourse (John 14:1) Jesus comforted the disciples. Now, He comforts them with the assurance that they will see Him again.

Jesus declares, “‘A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.'” Jesus soon will go away, but He will see the disciples again. According to Keener (p. 1043), “the first ‘a little while’ . . . refers to the hours remaining before the crucifixion (13:33); the second ‘a little while’ refers to the brief interval between the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances (14:19; 16:19-20).”

Jesus will see the disciples again. In addition He has made it plain that the Helper will come to them. The next time that John will mention the Spirit is in John 20:22. Jesus was meeting with the disciples on Resurrection Sunday evening. With regard to this meeting, Keener (p. 1043) makes these insightful comments:

Jesus would return to them after the resurrection, and they would ‘see’ him (16:16; 20:20); the physical sight of 20:20 would give way to permanent spiritual sight on the part of the disciples (17:24). . .

Because Jesus imparts his permanent presence through the Spirit at the same time that he ‘returns’ to them (20:19-23), the Spirit revealing Jesus (16:13-15) essentially enables disciples to experience afresh the encounter of 16:16-24, including generations subsequent to the first, such as John’s own.


Our text focuses on how the Spirit would illuminate the disciples. Jesus has more to say. He will send the Spirit to guide them into all truth. As the Spirit guides, He will glorify Jesus. All that the Father has belongs also to Jesus. The Spirit discloses the truth that the Father and Son have with the disciples.

The Spirit will guide the disciples into all the truth. He will elaborate on truths already taught and will lead them into new truth that will help them apply the teachings of Christ to their lives. Some of the thing truths will have to do with things to come.

For Further Study

Barrett, C. K. The Gospel According to St. John. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1978.
Burge, Gary M. The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961.
Keener, Craig. S. The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.
Lenski, R. C. H. St. John’s Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1942.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1971.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Divine Comforter. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Wescott, B. F. The Gospel According to St. John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.

Copyright © 2004 By George M. Flattery

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