Below are my notes for John 15:21-27 which chiefly pertain to the mission of the Holy Spirit here on earth. I hope you find these edifying and encouraging!
15:21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
Jesus is saying that people will persecute His followers for a specific reason – that reason is because they have no fear of God. If their hearts believed that Jesus was sent by God the Father, then they would not have persecuted Him, nor would they persecute us.
So the problem, Jesus is saying, is not that they don’t believe in God. The problem is their lack of believe in me. They don’t believe that I am who I say I am. Therefore, you will be seen in that same light.
The Apostle Paul was a man whose life was heavily impacted by this truth. And he explains for us the situation in this extended quote from 2 Corinthians 4:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
It is not that Jesus is saying these men of the Jews were not sinners, but rather that in their rejection of Jesus as Christ they were rejecting the Father’s salvation and the Father Himself by extension – and this was a sin greater than any other (so MacArthur, Morris, Sproul et all).
F.F. Bruce says, “Had they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they would have recognized the Father in him; as it was, in repudiating the Son they repudiated the Father also.”
As Jesus said earlier in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23b).
The unity between the Son and the Father is brought home to roost here. Morris says, “The guilt of the Jews consisted in this, that they rejected the revelation of the Father that was made known in the Son” and then adds this sharp observation, “Jesus does not speak of ‘the Father’ but of ‘my Father.’ His special relationship to God is very much to the fore.”
In doing this they were heaping judgment upon themselves. The concept is similar to what we learn from John’s illustration of light and darkness in John 3:19-20. Those who reject Jesus are judged “already”, because they ran from the light and “loved the darkness.”
“He had come to show them the love of God, but the reacted to his love with hatred, just as, when the he came to them as the light of the world, they chose darkness rather than light (John 3:19). They thus passed judgment on themselves: if they rejected the giver of true life, they shut themselves up to the only alternative – death” says Bruce.
R.C. Sproul summarizes it this way:
Jesus reminded the disciples that the Father had demonstrated categorically that He was God’s Son. He did not just say it, He demonstrated it by the power that was entrusted to Him, by the miracles that He performed in the presence of eyewitnesses all over Israel. No one in that generation could claim ignorance as excuse for rejecting Him.
J.C. Ryle says:
They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing – absolutely nothing! They willfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.
The guilt is intensified with this generation because of the fact that they saw, they heard, yet they rejected the light of the gospel. Again Ryle is on point, “To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say ‘I know,’ and yet not to say ‘I believe,’ will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.”
By rejecting the Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) the Jews had completely undermined their life’s purpose and orientation – this reality would manifest itself physically for the Jews when God sent the Romans to destroy the Herodian temple in 70 AD.
A Final Thought…
What is perhaps most remarkable to me about this is that this all happened so that “their Law (would) be fulfilled.” And what is remarkable in this is that 1. Jesus fulfilled all of these OT prophesies (in this case probably Ps. 35:19 or Ps. 69:4 cf. MacArthur & Bruce) to the “enth degree” and 2. That He knew this would happen, and that He would be treated in such a way, and yet He still came.
Later, in his first epistle, John sums this up beautifully…
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)
15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
The Historical Background
I agree with Carson that there is a synthetic parallelism here that helps us understand both the unity of the Trinity (namely the Father and the Son) and the sending agent (both Father and Son) which has been the sources of much controversy in church history.
The issue was that the Eastern Orthodox church held that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, and saw the Son as not above the Spirit in hierarchy. They couldn’t seem to divorce ontology from mission, or ontology from role. As a result they saw verses like this as needing interpreted through the lens of their own Father-centric view, especially since they had a tendency to focus on ontology to the degree that they missed the main point of passages such as this, which are namely related to the mission of the Spirit (cf. Carson).
Eventually due to the heavy influence of Augustine on the Western Church the Latins (what I might call the Western Church in Rome) adopted what is known as the filioque. This is simply Latin for the term added to the Nicene Creed, “and the Son.” This was added and ratified at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 A.D.
It was this addition (along with many political and power issues between East and West) that led to the major church schism of 1054 A.D. between the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Western Latin Church based in Rome.
“Maintaining the Cause of Christ”
This passage, however, isn’t mainly concerned with the ontology of the Trinity, rather it is Jesus’ way of reassuring His disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit.
As Matthew Henry puts it, “It is here promised that the blessed Spirit shall maintain the cause of Christ in the world, notwithstanding the opposition it should meet with.” Indeed it is a comforting thought that we do not battle the world, the flesh and the Devil alone. We would utterly fail if this were the case.
I wonder, however, how we practically appropriate this each day. Do we push through a frustrating circumstance, or do we pray through the problem? Do we rest in Christ, or do we create anxiety in our hearts over that which we cannot control?
I do not think we spend enough time contemplating or grasping the power we have in the gift of the Spirit. I do not personally claim and special understanding either practically or intellectually in this realm, but I do endeavor to better submit myself to His comforts and wisdom in the days ahead.
As John Owen aptly remarked, “Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”
In His mission the Spirit is the primary witness of Christ, and we are secondary witnesses in that we are simply the instruments, and not the source (cf. Henry & Ridderbos). Therefore the Spirit uses His vessels (us) to do the Father’s will, which is to point men to Christ Jesus. He does this specifically in the following ways:
He saves us by regenerating power from slavery to sin
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)
He comforts us
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
He intercedes for us
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
He bears witness to our spirit/soul (giving us assurance of adoption and salvation)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)
He enlightens us with the wisdom of the gospel
He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)
He gives us words to speak
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
He uses His inspired word to sanctify us
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Summing it up, the Spirit’s Mission: Ultimately the Spirit’s mission is to save souls and sanctify the bride of Christ. The Spirit is God’s active hand in time and history, bearing witness to Christ, and working through human instruments in supernatural ways to accomplish God’s good will for God’s glory.
And this practically applies toward daily victory in Christ…Calvin explains:
And, indeed, when the world rages on all sides, our only protection is, that the truth of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts, despises and defies all that is in the world; for, if it were subject to the opinions of men, our faith would be overwhelmed a hundred times in a day.
We ought, therefore, to observe carefully in what manner we ought to remain firm among so many storms. It is because “we have received, not the spirit of the world, the but Spirit which is of God, what we may know the things which have been given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).” This single Witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain a glorious victory over the whole world.