The Comfort of the Upper Room: The Promise of the Holy Spirit

In John 13-17, the stairs to the upper room lead us from the Lord’s Supper in the dining room (recorded in the synoptic Gospels) to a classroom (recorded here in John) where the Lord Jesus announces His hour of departure “out of this world” (13:1).[1] His startled pupils, having had their feet washed by Him, are perplexed at His going away. But they need not be troubled, for the Spirit of God who moved upon the face of the waters in creation and in a virgin’s womb at the incarnation is going to move again in the evangelisation of the world “so loved” by God.

Comfort in Trouble

As the teacher unfolds His divine curriculum, Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?” (14:5). Jesus had just told them where He was going (“the Father’s house”) and the way to get there (“I will come again”), but they had forgotten that all the time they had known Him and seen Him they were also seeing His Father. Jesus answers emphatically, “I am the way” (v6), that they might grasp by faith this Father-Son union. Jesus must ascend to His Father before requesting that His Father give them “another comforter” (v16). The word “another” means another of the same kind, a divine person who holds equality with the Father and the Son. In God’s glorious purpose, nothing less will do as a perfect substitute for Christ than deity Himself.

The title “comforter” is the Greek parakletos. The beauty of the paraclete is his position and occupation. Learning to drive, you need a paraclete, one who instructs you, who sits alongside you as your encourager. While the functions of the Holy Spirit and Christ are distinct (the Spirit never became incarnate), the Lord Jesus is drawing alongside the disciples while instructing them in John 14. Furthermore, the word “comforter” is used of the Lord Jesus as our “advocate” (1Jn 2:1). In John 14:17, they learn that the Holy Spirit dwells “with” them and “in” them, providing reassurance to His “little children” (13:33) that they would not be left orphans, because of the promise that “we will come unto him” (v23). This is proof of the care and fellowship of the trinity for God’s people.

However, the truth of the Spirit’s dwelling in the Church corporately and the believer individually was not fully appreciated by the disciples until Pentecost. It was a clear answer to the OT hope of men like Solomon, who pondered, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” (1Ki 8:27). No earthly structure could contain God, yet He promises to dwell with men in a unique manifestation of His presence. Its consummation is “that where I am there ye may be also” (Joh 14:3). In verse 23, Christ balances the teaching of comfort in trouble with individual responsibility to obey: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This Comforter is more than a “spiritual soother,” for He will enable them to do “greater works” than their present teacher (v12).

Communicating All Things

The title “Spirit of truth” occurs three times (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and lifts the minds of the disciples to even higher ground than the comfort of God’s presence. The Lord Jesus, who claimed, “I am … the truth” (14:6), is going away, and the fear of being bereft of the truth is real. How was a fisherman like Peter going to preach the truth of the gospel to over 3,000 souls at Pentecost? The answer lay in the communication of the Spirit of truth who would facilitate “greater works.” At Pentecost alone the Spirit would spearhead a spiritual revival where 3,000 souls would be saved (Act 2:41). Some mocked and accused the disciples of being drunk, but Peter points out that the gift of tongues was a direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit and a partial fulfilment of the OT prophet Joel. The Spirit will not only teach them “all things” (Joh 14:26) but bring to their memory things that Christ had already taught them. There will be no bumpy transition as the new teacher takes over, because John says He is the “Holy” Ghost (v26), and sinless means seamless. Dwelling with Christ means suffering, and at the end of the chapter, with a lesson on ampelography (the study of vines), the Lord Jesus promised that He who dwells in Christ (the true vine) and brings forth fruit will be hated as Christ was. But even in this next challenging stage, the Comforter will be at work as the lead witness, a comfort to all who engage in the gospel.

Convicting and Testifying

Sometimes we come across “charismatic” believers who place great emphasis on the Spirit and rarely mention Christ. They are all fizz with little substance because the true manifestation of the Spirit is missing – the Spirit must testify of Christ (15:26). We must beware of any gospel whose purpose is not to glorify Christ (16:14). The Lord Jesus taught them that without Him they could do nothing (15:5), and now He outlines the Spirit’s threefold role in evangelising the world (16:8-11).

1. “Reproving” the world of sin means “to convict,” so that when the gospel is preached, the Spirit convinces a sinner of his sin and unbelief. His guilt and condemnation already stand (3:18), but the Spirit awakens him to a realisation of being lost and Christ as His only hope.

2. The Spirit convinces that same sinner of his false righteousness, so that he might be made the righteousness of God in Christ (2Co 5:21).

3. The Spirit convinces the world of judgment to come because the prince of this world, Satan, was judged at the cross and dethroned by a risen Christ. The advent of the Holy Spirit promises a new order when Christ will reign supreme and the unbelieving world will face eternal judgment.

Commentary on All Truth

As the Lord Jesus lifted up His eyes to pray for them (17:1), there were many things they could not understand until the day of Pentecost, but He assured them the Holy Spirit would be their personal commentary on all truth for “he will guide you into all truth” (16:13). They did not have a complete Bible, e-Sword or Vine’s dictionary, but the Spirit would explain things they didn’t understand at the time they were uttered, which would also be a down payment on things to come. “All truth” includes the whole gamut of NT doctrine and the fulfilment of outstanding OT prophecies in relation to Israel, along with the Apocalypse of John, bringing to completion the canon. This commentary will be trustworthy, for He will not speak independently but what He hears in unison with the Father and Son (v13).

Christ reveals the ultimate purpose of the Spirit – “He shall glorify me” (v14) – but for now, as they sing a hymn and cross the brook Kedron, they must first go to Golgotha. Before the Spirit of truth comes down, the Son of man must be lifted up.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.