This passage takes place in the upper room where Jesus is with his disciples for the Last Supper before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus says in John 16:12, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” We see his compassion for the overwhelming emotions his words have brought to these much-loved companions around the table. With the perspective of time we have as readers of scripture today, we may wish Jesus had continued to speak! However, the promise of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit is comfort both to those first disciples and to us today.
What follows is a declaration of continuing revelation. Jesus tells us he will continue to communicate. The Holy Spirit will come and speak what is heard from Jesus. This Spirit, referred to as “Spirit of truth” (v. 13), will guide the disciples. This passage expresses the intimacy of the Trinity. Jesus reminds us everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus. And the Spirit will declare that which belongs to Jesus belongs to disciples.
Interpretation of this passage, with John 15:26, is also one of the sources of a controversy that divided the early church. The question concerned the source of the Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicaea, in 325 CE stated the Spirit “proceeded” from God alone. But in the eleventh century a council revised this to read that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son.” The disagreement over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit divided the church into the Eastern Orthodox (from God alone) and Western Roman Catholic (from God and Jesus) churches. Human words are frail containers for our understanding of God. Perhaps ambiguity and questioning are more important than our ability to be certain.
Shining through this text is the loving intimacy of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which is extended to us through the presence and witness of the Spirit. We have lived to experience the work and witness of the Holy Spirit throughout generations of disciples just as Christ promised. We are not alone to discern truth. Continuing revelation has been and will be witness to and hope in the journey as disciples.