John 15:18—16:4, The Spirit’s Testifying

[June 12, 2011] Today is Pentecost Sunday and in our service of worship we will probably discuss the significance of the Holy Spirit descending on the church on Pentecost and the difference between that and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel according to John. These are not the same; the Spirit comes twice. In the Gospel according to John, the Jesus comes to us as the indwelling Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, however, the Spirit comes upon the church as power—and not just the church but upon “all flesh”—equipping the church with the gifts it needs but also effectuating these gifts, and effectuating the outward life of the church and its witness to the world. The Holy Spirit comes upon the church as a communion, not upon the individual except in relation to that communion. The Gospel according to John, in contrast, is about the interior life of the church within the believer. For example, even baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not spoken of explicitly but are seen, as it were, from the interior. This contrast between exterior and interior is not a choice, as if one were at the expense of the other. The disciple John is not chosen over the apostle Peter. Even though we might say that the interior is ontologically prior to the exterior, the two go together and require each other.

For now, however, we will put this discussion aside and for the sake of continuity continue our meditation on the Gospel according to John, picking up in chapter 15.

Review

In chapter 14 Jesus speaks of Himself as the Father’s House. When He goes away in His dying and death it will be to prepare a place for us within Himself, that when He comes again in resurrection and gives us the Holy Spirit, He and the Father can make an abode with us. In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes to abide in us, He Himself will be in us and the Father with Him, and we will be in Him, who is in the Father. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell mutually in each other, by the coming of Jesus as the Holy Spirit (by the coinherence of Son and Spirit) they will dwell in us and we in them.

In chapter 15 Jesus says that our union with Him in this mutual abode will be an organic oneness, but in that organic oneness our life will be completely dependent on His. In other words, though the indwelling is mutual, the relationship is hierarchical. He is the Vine and as branches we must actively abide in Him if we are to know His abiding in us. 1 John 3:23-24 says, “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, even as He gave a commandment to us. And He who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And in this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He gave us.”

To abide in Him then, means to believe in Him as He is revealed to us through the Gospel by the Holy Spirit; if we do this, it means we will love one another, that is, we will love our siblings, or our fellow believers. “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the siblings” (1 John 3:14). The analogy of the Vine and the branches teaches us that the branches are part of the Vine and the Vine cannot be considered without the branches. The expression of the Vine, its leaves and fruit, is in the branches. So, to love the Vine requires that we love the branches, for they are an organic—not a mere organized—unity.

The World’s Hatred of Us (15:18-19)

If however the believers are an organic unity with one another in Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit, this unity is something real in our living, and since others do not (yet) share in it, it sets us apart from them, that is, from the world.

The word “world” (kosmos) has several meanings. It can mean the people of the world, as we ordinarily speak. In this sense the meaning is akin to creation as a whole, though the creation is much more inclusive. The word also means “our” world, that is, the universe as we perceive it. It also means the collective soul, that is, the beliefs and perceptions and assumptions that we share with others, the world as a shared mental (soulical) construct. It is culture, but it also goes deeper than that; and both socially and at this deeper level, it is systemic. The world, in this sense, acts as a gestalt and as such it acquires powers (archons) that are beyond and greater than the individual soul and which capture and enslave the soul.

In these verses, the “world” is used in this last sense, since we are obviously still part of the human race and therefore part of the world in the first sense. The world though, even in this sense, does not exist apart from people. If the world hates you, it is the world as a collective soulical construct that hates you; but people nevertheless embody this hatred. They may act as mindless slaves of the world (however sophisticated they may be when they rationalize their actions), but they are still the ones acting this hatred out.

Christ has chosen us out of the world. His revelation and the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit liberate us from the powers of the world. “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). As long as this is true, there is that in us “already” that does not participate in the world and can, in fact, have no part in it. “His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin because he has been begotten of God” (1 John 3:9).

If people intuitively recognize something in us that does not participate in the world, that is utterly foreign to it, inasmuch as they are enslaved to the world they will react against us.

The world is not a neutral entity when it comes to God. It arises out of our rebellion against God. That rebellion, which attempts to free us from dependence on God, causes us to rebel against reality itself. This is inevitable if we are to resist God; to put God on the outside is to divorce ourselves from reality. The world as a construct, then, is a delusion, supposedly an alternate “reality” but in fact something that substitutes for reality. It is a mental system that thinks it hermetically seals out God in its attempt to be sufficient to itself. In doing so, it closes out spirit and personhood (theologically understood). It is this with which we identify: our world, our soul and our (de-spirited) flesh. It is in this realm that we see ourselves and think we exist. Actually, it does not exist at all except as our shared delusion (though the harmful things we do as a result of our belief in it certainly exist). Reality, of which creation is a part, is outside of this sphere, this bubble in which we live our lives.

Christ, as the revelation of reality, if He is truly (even if only intuitively) perceived, is an absolute threat to the world. It cannot be but that the world would hate Him. Inasmuch as we are branches abiding in the Vine, the world hates us too. Inasmuch as we express Christ, we are a threat to the world’s continuity and survival. The world as a system has to be believed; if its lie is perceived, its ability to enslave is undermined. Its reaction to the threat that we pose can be fierce and murderous. Inasmuch as people are unwitting slaves of the world, they will express this hatred. This hatred may or may not be emotional. It might be institutional, political, religious or bureaucratic. It may love or hate “Jesus.” It will manifest itself, however, by its opposition to the Gospel and to us. Christians such as John Henry Newman and Søren Kierkegaard in different ways have masterfully exposed the hypocrisy of worldly Christianity.

Because of Christ’s Name (15:20-21)

Verses 20-21 reiterate this. If we are branches abiding in the Vine, then however the world has treated the Vine is how it will treat the branches. They will do this because of “My name, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” The world does not know the Father, for it is constructed with the intention of excluding the Father. Inasmuch as we all contribute to this construction, we choose not to know God (see Romans 1:18-32). We no longer remember this choice, but when the light of the Gospel shines on us, it becomes clear that we made it, and day by day continue to make it, though we do this on a primal level not immediately accessible to consciousness. The people invested in the world, who identify their existence with it, are threatened by the “name” of Jesus. The name is His self-revelation. What threatens them is not the revelation of His name, for that would overcome their resistance, but the “intuition” of this revelation. The “world” unconsciously recognizes Christ on a higher—or more primal—plane than the individual soul can. Nevertheless, inasmuch as people are enslaved to the world, they will act out on the basis of the world’s intuition of Christ. In doing so, they are still acting out on the basis of their primal rejection of God (and of reality as a result), and incur this guilt.

Even though people are enslaved to the world, they are enslaved by choice. That is, we give up our choice by our choice. The prior or more primal choice to believe in the world is a forfeiture of our freedom to escape the world, of our ability to choose once we are a participant in the world. This primal choice continues to be our choice even as we despise our enslavement. Despising our slavery does not annul that choice (or it would annul it, and we would be free—but this does not happen). Our problem is that we are blind to this choice that we have made and continue to make; or rather, we are in denial of it. We are, therefore, not innocent inasmuch as we act with and according to the world. We incur its guilt and its judgment.

But, Jesus says to His believers, “I chose you out of the world.”

The Coming of Christ Condemns the World (15:22-25)

Jesus says that His coming exposes the world for what it is. Its rationalization falls apart. “They have no excuse for their sin.” The world’s hatred of Jesus exposes that it hates the Father, for Jesus as the Son is the revelation of the Father. In other words, the world rejects the Personhood of God, though it can heartedly believe in many God-substitutes (many of which it names “God,” even the Christian “God”). In doing so it rejects the divine nature. In doing this, it rejects all personhood and the creation as well, for it rejects reality.

When Jesus says that “they would not have sin” (verse 22 and 24), it is not that the world changed but that He became a provocation for the world to express its hatred, which exposes its true nature. Sin is rebellion against God, though people are used to thinking of sin as the infringement of “rules.” Sin is this primal rebellion. Certainly Jesus does not mean that the world was sinless or innocent before He came. Rather, the quintessential sin, the sin that expresses the true nature of all sin, is overt hatred of God. The threat of Jesus’ presence and self-revelation brought this out. When the world persecutes believers it exposes its true nature.

Christians have often provoked ridicule and even persecution because of their foolishness. For example, when Christians’ reject the science of climate change or forecast the end of the world. It is understandable that society and culture thinks them fools. But when the Chinese government, for example, attacks Christianity, the vehemence and hypocrisy with which it does so exposes that it is afraid of more than its “Western” (sic) origination or its use as a tool of imperialistic oppression. If it were not for the foolishness of American civil religion in its conservative and fundamentalist forms, capitalism would also attack Christianity (it does in principle). Any ideology, given the opportunity, would express its hatred of Christianity. In an innocuous form we sometimes see this in the pseudo-Hindu (or shall we say neo-Hindu?) distain for Christianity in the yoga community, but more generally by the vehemence with which the various currents of the New Age philosophy attack Christianity.

Ironically, Marxism is an intentionally secular version of Christian millenarianism; and New Age is the descendant of New Thought which was a repackaging of Christian Science, an esoteric (gnostic) and heretical offshoot of individualized (pietistic) Protestantism.

The One Who Testifies (15:26-27)

On Easter, when Jesus—in His divinized humanity—ascended to the Father as the Lamb of God (to present the blood of His atonement, in the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews), He then returned with the Holy Spirit whom He then breathed into the disciples. “When the Paraklētos comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of reality, who proceeds from the Father, He will testify concerning Me.” He calls the Holy Spirit a Helper or Patron, one who stands alongside as a Comforter or Advocate. We usually interpret this as the one who advocates on our behalf, who helps or comforts us. But this “Advocate” represents the Lord Jesus to the world; He testifies to the world concerning Jesus. He is the Lord’s Patron who “advocates” for Him from within us. When Jesus is no longer manifest except through us, the Holy Spirit stands alongside Him (referring to their coinherence) as His “Advocate,” and testifies concerning Him. The Holy Spirit stands in as His proxy, but the Spirit does this from within us.

The Spirit is sent from the Father, but Jesus also says that the Spirit also proceeds (ek-poreuomai) from the Father. The Holy Spirit is sent from with the Father but also goes out of the Father. In other words, the Holy Spirit also stands in for the Father as well as the Son, and as the Spirit “carries” the Son within Him (or Her), the Spirit also “carries” the Father.

Jesus calls the Spirit the Spirit of reality. The Holy Spirit is the realization of Jesus within the believer, the One who is the reality of Jesus to the believer. Because this is so, the Holy Spirit is the reality of the Father to the believer as well.

The Spirit of reality as the One who testifies to Jesus is the One who also awakens the unbeliever to reality—generally and specifically to the reality of the Triune God, which is the reality that the unbeliever has rebelled against that causes the unbeliever to reject the reality of creation as well.

“And you testify also, because from the beginning you have been with Me.” These words give special place to the eyewitnesses of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus through the testimony of the Gospel (John 20:31). John, for example, was with Jesus from the beginning. We were not. It is his testimony that the Holy Spirit uses, rather than our own. His testimony is the Gospel according to John (John 21:24). The testimony of the others is contained in the other gospels and in the rest of the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit uses their testimony to testify concerning Jesus.

Remember (16:1-4)

The earliest persecution against the believers came from the chief priests and the Sadducean establishment in Jerusalem; after that it was the “zealous” of the Pharisees, probably the school of Shammai, those called “Judaizers” because they could not tolerate Gentile Christians who were not circumcised or converted to Judaism. After that, Gentiles began to persecute Christians because these “God-fearers” refused to patronize the civic and family gods.

Religion was the basis for persecuting Christians. Today it is still civil religion but also all the substitutes for religion (usually various beliefs and ideologies, like scientism and atheism). This is hardly surprising considering that the world is what it is. Religion exists mainly to protect the soul, and the world, from the revelation of God. Revelation comes from outside the world and outside the soul. In this sense, it is experienced as utterly new; it also puts everything about the world into question. Religion exists to placate the uneasy conscience; it exists to make any hints of God’s reality fit into what people are already familiar with. It exists to legitimate the words of revelation so that the revelation cannot be heard. The main function of religion, therefore, is to preserve the world and to protect it from revelation. That religion would persecute those who are “abiding in Christ,” the branches of the Vine, is totally what we should expect.

Jesus says this so that we may remember that He said this, so that we would not be taken by surprised and therefore be caused to stumble. If we expect this reaction, it will not confuse us.

The word “remember,” used here and in verse 20, was also used of the Holy Spirit in 14:26. Jesus did not need to say these things when He was with the disciples, but now that He was leaving—that is, He would no longer be manifest as He was then—the Holy Spirit would continue His presence among them by reminding them of what He said. It is this reminding function of the Holy Spirit that operates in the Lord’s Supper. We do not just “remember” Jesus with our minds and memories. The Holy Spirit enables us to remember Him, as if we ourselves heard Him. When we thus remember Him, the Holy Spirit makes Him present and real among us. To “make” Him present and real does not mean that the Holy Spirit makes Him seem that way. The Holy Spirit actually causes Him to be present and real, or rather, the Holy Spirit is His presence and reality, not in a representative way but inasmuch as Christ dwells in the Spirit, which is completely. His presence is in our spirits, and the Holy Spirit enables us to recognize Him in the words that we hear and in our midst. In the Lord’s Supper we “remember” Him—His words and deeds—through the Gospel and receive Him—truly—through faith.

“Remember” Jesus says, so that you will not be stumbled. As we abide in Him, He will abide in us and enable us to remain faithful.

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