The promised Comforter precedes Christ’s return
We live between the historic time markers: “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)1 and “I will come again and will take you to myself” (verse 3, ESV).2 In Jesus’ farewell message to His disciples these key moments are only an instant apart, a comma in the record of Scripture. To us, the comma is a gaping interlude of more than 2,000 years, a growing tension between Christ’s departure and His return. Yet into this tension Jesus promised the Comforter. How do we connect His promise to our faithfulness? How do we understand the drama of the Christian church signaled by a small punctuation mark? How do we communicate hope to those living in an endless in-between world? This was Christ’s concern for His disciples at the Last Supper.
Jesus’ empathy for His friends is expressed in the language and context of a revered Rabbi who at His passing is so greatly mourned that His disciples consider themselves fatherless. But here is the exceptional in Jesus’ farewell. No rabbi has ever been able to make this promise: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18). How will this be? the disciples may have wondered. Jesus replies: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (verse 16).
Pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit, is multifaceted in John’s Gospel. The Spirit descends on Jesus as a dove; He is the giver of life; generates new creation; quenches spiritual thirst; and permeates true worship. In Jesus’ words: “God is Spirit” (John 4:24, NKJV).3
But there is a unique identification of the Spirit when He is promised as Jesus’ successor. The Spirit is the paraclete; even more, He is another paraclete. Jesus was the first. In fact, John identifies the Spirit five times as paraclete (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; and 1 John 2:1).
The original Greek word, parakletos, is difficult to translate because of its wide range of meanings. English versions variously translate the word as comforter, advocate, counselor, and helper. Literally, the parakletos is “one who is called along” to help out in any situation where there is a need. The paraclete is an advocate in the courts and an agent of peace between two parties. For a devout, first century A.D. Jewish believer, a good deed—including a sin offering at the temple—was called a paraclete, and a transgression was an accuser.
Jesus’ promise of the paraclete is given in response to Philip’s request, “Lord, show us the Father” (John 14:8). What a strange request at the end of three years with Jesus, we may say. But here are some reasons Philip’s request may show the disciple’s deeper need and not, as many commentators describe, his lack of faith.
First, among the 12 disciples, Philip is the only one who is without a father, brother, or other relationship. He is not like Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the others, who each have a reputation attached to their names. There is no record saying, “Philip, “son of” or “brother of.” Philip is the strange one. Second, there was no one to point Philip to Jesus. Rather, it was Jesus who intentionally went, searched, and found Philip (John 1:43, 44). Third, the only two conversations between Jesus and Philip reveal the disciple’s inner struggle with deficiency in life. “Money is not sufficient,” Philip responded when Jesus challenged him with the feeding of the 5,000 (see John 6:5-7). This struggle is also revealed in the statement “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8, NKJV). Philip is the man who had not enough, did not belong, and lived without the honor of a father’s name. How humiliating this must have been in his world. He surely knew of lack, dishonor, and an absent father.
Jesus levels Mount Gerizim and the Temple Mount as low as a riverbed in the valley so that everyone is able to look up to Mount Calvary.
How did Jesus respond to Philip? “Don’t you know me, Philip? . . . Who has seen me has seen the Father. . . . I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (verses 9, 10, NIV).4 Theologians refer to this text when they discuss Jesus’ deity, and, indeed, it is one of the best texts dealing with this topic.
But to confine Christ’s words to a doctrine is to miss their personal appeal to the disciples, mostly to Philip, who had been specifically called by Jesus. “So long I have been with you, and you don’t know Me, Philip?” The question evoked the moments when Jesus had spoken of the Father and done the works of the Father. For whenever Jesus noticed the dishonored and the lonely, when He cared for and comforted them, He was their paraclete. His works were done “in the Father” or “in the name of the Father.” Like a Jewish son who was identified by his father’s name and represented his father in all he did, so Jesus represented and personified His Father.
But again: How will one like Philip—fatherless, shamed, lonely—see the Father? UNICEF estimates that approximately 150 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents. Millions more have dads that are physically absent; then there are the countless whose fathers are emotionally absent. A fatherless humanity! What a miracle that some still plead: “Show us the Father!”
Jesus’ solution is “another paraclete,” the “Spirit of Truth.” How will the Holy Spirit change the situation of the disgraced? How will He transform loneliness into fellowship? “He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). His abiding in us is not partial. There are no divisions between the Spirit, the Son, and the Father (verse 20; John 17:11, 21). It is in our human world and way of expression that we place commas, make distinctions, and assign rankings to the sphere of God. In God the word “one” is the ultimate for all that is unbroken, undivided, and free of isolation. “One” is wholeness, a call for our love-likeness with Him aimed at one another (Deut. 6:4-9; John 14:21).
Jesus, Paraclete for the Lonely
The particular passion of the promised paraclete will be to point us to Christ and to His ways with the broken and lonely (John 14:26; 15:26). A look back into John’s Gospel shows just how Jesus lived as a paraclete, and how He revealed the Father’s kindness.
To Nicodemus, a prestigious Jewish ruler, Jesus spoke of God and His kingdom. There, under the dark sky, the searching Pharisee heard an amazing message: God loved the entire world (John 3:16)! People received a second chance because of the Spirit’s moving. As a judge in the Jewish Supreme Court, Nicodemus used to focus on the law, and separate lawkeepers from lawbreakers. Jesus pointed to the sovereign Judge: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [separate/condemn] [Greek: krino] the world, but that the world might be saved [made whole] through Him” (verse 17).
For the woman of Samaria it was midday when she heard a simple request: “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7). It triggered a far-reaching conversation with a life-changing message: With Jesus, there are no longer insiders and outsiders. In the true sanctuary there are no walls; geography and religious traditions are of no importance. Jesus levels Mount Gerizim and the Temple Mount as low as a riverbed in the valley so that everyone is able to look up to Mount Calvary. Even class and gender vanish, for Jesus engages a woman, a socially lesser human being, to be the message-bearer. Loneliness and shame lose their power when an entire village rejoices about the good tidings.
In the story of the paralytic (John 5:1-18) at the Bethesda hospital loneliness is plainly stated: “Sir, I have no one” (verse 7, NIV). For 38 years he had been overlooked. “Rise, take up your bed and walk!” (verse 8, NKJV). And because it was Sabbath when the man carried his mattress, he was noticed for the first time in years. Later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, “You have become well; do not sin anymore” (verse 14). His words revealed the Healer, and the man reported Him to the authorities. Some have suggested that Jesus healed one who did not deserve it. But is anyone worthy?
How isolated the woman must have felt in the midst of the Temple court (John 8:1-11). The religious leaders had the law on their side. Note how Ellen White describes the scene: “A group of Pharisees and scribes approached Him, dragging with them a terror-stricken woman, whom with hard, eager voices they accused of having violated the seventh commandment. Having pushed her into the presence of Jesus, they said to Him, with a hypocritical show of respect, ‘Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest Thou?’ . . . Jesus looked for a moment upon the scene—the trembling victim in her shame, the hard-faced dignitaries, devoid of even human pity. His spirit of stainless purity shrank from the spectacle. Well He knew for what purpose this case had been brought to Him. He read the heart, and knew the character and life history of everyone in His presence. These would-be guardians of justice had themselves led their victim into sin, that they might lay a snare for Jesus.”5
What follows next is an extraordinary act, even for Jesus. He did not respond to the question. Writing in the dust of the Temple court, He spoke: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (verse 7), followed by more writing. When Jesus stooped down, He came eye to eye with the frightened woman. Down in the dust, she was His concern. He did not pay attention to the accusers.
We are allowed to listen in, but only with utmost confidentiality:
“Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I.”
“Go. Sin no more” (see verses 10, 11).
The blind man in John 9 is one of those invisible to the seeing. Day by day he sat at the Temple door begging. When Jesus applied a mixture to his eyes, John calls it an anointing (John 9:6, 11, NKJV). We like to pay attention to the off-putting, the mud mixed with saliva, while losing sight of the sacred. The “anointing” (epichrio) of the blind man’s eyes is unique in the New Testament and related to the Anointed, the Christ (christos). What a sacred communion the blind man experienced, as his parents abandoned him (verses 20-23).
Finally, there is Mary (John 12:1-8). She is well-known by name, family relations (sister of Martha and Lazarus), and location (Bethany). She is among the disciples, but alone. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet with the most precious perfume is recorded as a rather mundane act. Judas goes so far as to degrade her deed as something useless. “Let her alone,” Jesus calls out. “She may keep it for the day of my burial” (verse 7). That which the disciple despised, the Lord honored. The embalming of the feet for His burial will become the anointing of His head as King of kings.
John’s Gospel tells us that there is no loneliness where Jesus is. In Gethsemane, Jesus is not alone, even when the disciples leave Him, for the Father is with Him (John 16:32). At the cross there is no cry of a forsaken Christ. “It is finished” (John 19:30), the Victor shouts. From now on there is the abiding of the Comforter, and the Son, and the Father until I “come again and . . . take you to myself” (John 14:3, ESV). “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (verse 27).
- Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), pp. 460, 461.