Reading: John 16
What does it mean to say the Holy Spirit is our Counselor? Undoubtedly, there are many ways in which He is, but when we ask that we are usually referring to the specific references in John's Gospel, in the Upper Room Discourse of chapters 14-17 where this is mentioned. He is the paraclete (variously translated comforter, counselor); what does this mean? We tend to read our own culture into it and think therapeutic counselor. However, the common usage of the word in John's day, and the context both point to the meaning, Counselor-at-law (legal counsel).
There is a dual-trial that is occurring throughout John's Gospel. Jesus on trial before the world and the world on trial before Jesus. Jesus has been on trial before the world (the Jewish leaders), and he has had witnesses, starting with John the Baptist (John 1:7). The Samaritan woman testified about Him (John 4:39); the Father testified about Jesus; Jesus' works testified about Him; the Scriptures testified about Him (John 5:32, 36, 39). Of course, the trial of Jesus culminates before Pilate when Judah/Judas delivered Him over to Pilate (John 18:2, 5).
The world has been on trial before Jesus. While Jesus was here, He was testifying against the world (John 7:7). He did not come as the judge, but as a witness. There will indeed be a verdict (John 3:19), which is the outcome in a legal proceeding. Jesus came as a witness, indeed a witness who could not be bought by the Jewish leaders for their acceptance, but would testify to the truth (John 18:37). However, in John 16, Jesus is preparing to leave. Who will help the disciples carry on the trial? Who will bring their case to bear upon the world, and how?
7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:7-11)
The Spirit was to come and continue the legal work of Jesus. Jesus called him the Counselor who would testify about Jesus (John 15:26). Counselor and Testify (witness) are both legal terms. Counselor is a legal term that would be like our, “counselor-at law,” not like a therapeutic counselor. This Cosmic Prosecutor will convict the world of guilt. What does it mean to say He has come to convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment?
We often use the word “convict” as if the Spirit came to bring about a feeling of conviction regarding these things. However, that modern notion of conviction as a bad feeling about sin is not what is intended here at all. This is convict in the same way a person who is found guilty of a crime in a trial is said to be convicted.
“It means to pronounce a judicial verdict by which the guilt of the culprit at the bar of justice is defined and fixed. The Spirit does not merely accuse men of sin, he brings to them an inescapable sense of guilt so that they realize their shame and helplessness before God. …The Spirit is the prosecuting attorney who presents God's case against humanity.”1
The Spirit proves the guilt of the world in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is easy to understand how the world is guilty in its sin. No problem. But what about righteousness? What about its judgment? How is the world guilty in these? An episode of Law & Order I saw recently was about an escaped convict, who had been in for 10 years, but escaped so he could prove his innocence. It essentially turned in to a re-trying of a case where an innocent man had been convicted, and the accuser ends up going to jail. After His execution, Jesus escapes the grave, and comes back by His Spirit to “retry His case.” Andreas Kostenberger, regarding this passage wrote,
“The anticipation of the Spirit's work of convicting the world of its guilt in effect represents a retrial of the trial of Jesus who, despite the thrice-repeated "not guilty" verdict of Pilate, was put on the cross. When the evidence is properly weighed, it turns out that it is the world that is guilty...”2
But guilty of what? “in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me...” In convicting the only Purely Innocent One who ever came before a human court, to execution by crucifixion, the unbelief of men is revealed for what it really is. To not believe in Christ is to reject Him; to reject Him is to condemn Him to death. The leaders of the Jews in all their religious practice, and sense of doing right, did not believe in Christ and were therefore bent on killing Him. Man's sin is not an occasional lapse in judgment or a mistake here or there. Your sin and mine wasn't that we were basically good and messed up a few times, but we had good intentions. In Jesus' death we discover the essence of all sin and the work of all sinners. The inevitable outcome of Adam's eating from the forbidden fruit is that, given the opportunity, we would kill the Son of God.
“in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer...”
There is something about Jesus' presence which had already brought about an exposure of their guilt regarding righteousness. How did Jesus' presence expose the guilt of their “righteousness”? While Jesus was here, He demonstrated real righteousness. The Pharisees had a righteousness that wouldn't do good to a man on the Sabbath, and they were rather pleased with it. In fact, they kicked a man out of the synagogue for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Jesus exposed the wickedness they called righteousness. Now the Spirit will come and continue that work.
Isaiah speaks of the righteousness of Israel in the same way.
I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. (Isaiah 57:12)
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy [menstrual] rags...like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Just as Isaiah did with Israel, and Jesus while He was here, the Holy Spirit will expose the righteousness of the world for what it is: a self-serving, self-defined, self-determined right and wrong that is ultimately a rejection of true worship and the true God to whom we owe our very lives. It is a righteousness that is a cover-up for evil deeds.
…concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (ESV)
The world takes great pride in its ability to judge for itself, to bring everything into the courtroom of human reason and decide for itself the boundaries of right and wrong. Yet at the cross we see the real nature of the world's judgment, of its ability to judge right from wrong, and what do we find? The most heinous miscarriage of justice possible.
The cross of Jesus is the ultimate sham judgment in history. It is the apex of the world's judgment. In a garden at the beginning of our history, Adam set out to take the right of judgment away from God, the authority to discern between good and evil. Now, in a garden Jesus will be crucified (19:41) and there will be exposed man's inability to discern, to make right judgment. The cross convicts us of our guilt in this regard, for there man kills the only innocent One who ever lived.
And the world's judgment is tied together with the one whose ways they are following: the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit of disobedience (John 12:31). The world's capacity for right judgment is exposed and condemned along with their ruler, for in their ultimate act against God, God triumphs. The resurrection is the final judgment of Jesus for God declares Him righteous by raising Him from the dead! Death has no power over Him. The judgment of the world could not stick!
When God looks for right judgment, he sees bloodshed (Isaiah 5:7)! The faithful city is filled with murderers (Isaiah 1:21)! Jesus is now going to the Father, and man's religious judgment in the Jews, and secular judgment in Pilate, put God's Son on the cross. The resurrection and ascension are the re-trial, in which the One unjustly condemned becomes the Judge. The prince of the world has had his day, and He is judged by the resurrection and ascension of our Lord to Heaven's throne...and the world with Him. As we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, we begin with the fact that we, mankind, have rejected and disowned the author of life, indeed in our historic moment we handed the Holy and Righteous One over to death (Acts 3:13-15). The Spirit will work with us to reveal guilt to those in need of a Savior!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1The Expositor's Bible Commentary on John's Gospel.
2Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Whatever Happened to Truth.