John 16 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of John 16)
2. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

[They shall put you out of the synagogues.] This, I presume, must be understood of a casting out from the whole congregation of Israel, because I know the Jews always proceeded in that manner against the Samaritans; and certainly the disciples of Jesus were full as hateful to them as the Samaritans could be. Nay, they often call the Christians by the name of Cuthites, as well as those.

Those that were cast out of the church they despoiled of all their goods, according to Ezra 10:8: which they also did to those that were shammatized. Whence it may be a question, whether shammatizing did not cast out of the whole congregation; and again, whether one cast out of the whole congregation might be ever readmitted.

We may take notice of what is said in Avodah Zarah. No one that relapseth may be received again for ever. The Gloss tells us that the passage concerns the plebeians or laics, who having taken upon themselves any religious rule of life, go back again from that profession: they do not admit them into that order and society again. Whether therefore those that fell off from the gospel, returning to their Judaism again, were ever admitted into the Jewish church after they had voluntarily forsaken it, might be an inquiry. But these things only by the by.

There was, in truth, a twofold epocha of the persecution of the apostolical church, namely, both before that apostasy of which we have such frequent mention, and also after it. Our Saviour had foretold the apostasy in that tremendous parable about the unclean spirit cast out, and returning again with seven worse. "So shall it be also (saith he) unto this wicked generation," Matthew 12:45. The footsteps of this we may discern almost in every epistle of the apostles.

It is worthy observation, that of 2 Thessalonians 2:3: "The day of the Lord shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed." The day of the Lord here spoken of was that wherein Christ should come and reveal himself in that remarkable vengeance against Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, of which kind of expression we shall say more on chapter 21:22. The 'apostasy' or 'falling away,' and revelation of 'the man of sin,' was to precede that day: which might be easily made out by a history of those times, if I were to do the business either of a historian or a chronologer.

When therefore the severe and cruel persecution was first raised by the unbelieving Jews before this falling away of Christians, it must needs be greatly increased afterward by them and the apostates together: which distinction we may easily observe out of this verse.

[Will think that he doeth God service.] So the zealots, of whom we have mention in Sanhedrim; the zealots kill him. Gloss: "These are those good men who are endued with zeal in the cause of God." Such who with their own hands immediately slew the transgressor, not staying for the judgment of the Sanhedrim. So in the place before quoted, "The priest that ministers at the altar in his uncleanness, they do not bring before the Sanhedrim; but they bring him out into the court, and there brain him with the pieces of wood" provided to maintain the fire upon the altar.

What infinite mischiefs and effusion of blood such pretexts of zeal towards God might occasion, it is easy to imagine, and very direful instances have already witnessed to the world. Hence was it that they so often went about to have stoned our Saviour. Hence those forty and more that had conspired against St. Paul. And those zealots whose butcherly cruelties are so infamous in the Jewish story took the occasion of their horrid madness first from this liberty.

From such kind of villains as these the disciples of Christ could have little safeguard: indeed, they were greatly endangered upon a threefold account: I. From the stroke of excommunication, by which they were spoiled of their goods and estates, Hebrews 10:34. II. From the sentence of the Sanhedrim, dooming them either to be scourged or slain. III. From these assassins; for by this name (a name too well known in Europe) we will call them. We pronounce assassin and assassination; Gul. Tyrius calls them assysins, whom it may be worth the while to consult about the original of that name.

8. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

[He will reprove the world of sin, &c.] The Holy Spirit had absented himself from that nation now for the space of four hundred years, or thereabout: and therefore, when he should be given and poured out in a way and in measures so very wonderful, he could not but evince it to the world that "Jesus was the true Messiah," the Son of God, who had so miraculously poured out the Holy Spirit amongst them; and consequently could not but reprove and redargue the world of sin, because they believed not in him.

10. Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;

[Of righteousness, &c.] That this righteousness here mentioned is to be understood of the righteousness of Christ, hardly any but will readily enough grant: but the question is, what sort of righteousness of his is here meant? whether his personal and inherent, or his communicated and justifying righteousness? We may say that both may be meant here.

I. Because he went to the Father, it abundantly argued him a just and righteous person, held under no guilt at all, however condemned by men as a malefactor.

II. Because he poured out the Spirit, it argued the merit of his righteousness; for otherwise he could not, in that manner, have given the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, that what is chiefly meant here is that righteousness of his by which we are justified, this may persuade us, that so many and so great things are spoken concerning it in the Holy Scriptures. Isaiah 56:1, "My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed": Daniel 9:29, "To bring in everlasting righteousness": Jeremiah 23:6, "This is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." And in the Epistles of the apostles, especially those of St. Paul, this righteousness is frequently and highly celebrated, seeming, indeed, the main and principal subject of the doctrines of the gospel.

In the stead of many others, let this serve for all; Romans 1:17, "For therein" [viz. in the gospel] "is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith": which words may be a good comment upon the foregoing clause.

I. The law teacheth faith; that is, that we believe in God. But the gospel directs us to proceed 'from faith to faith,' viz. from faith in God to faith in Christ: for true and saving faith is not a mere naked recumbency immediately upon God, which faith the Jews were wont to profess, but faith in God by the mediation of faith in Christ.

II. In the law the righteousness of God was revealed condemning, but in the gospel it was revealed justifying the sinner. And this is the great mystery of the gospel, that sinners are justified not only through the grace and mere compassion and mercy of God, but through divine justice and righteousness too, that is, through the righteousness of Christ, who is Jehovah, "the Lord our Righteousness."

And the Spirit of truth when he came did reprove and instruct the world concerning these two great articles of faith, wherein the Jews had so mischievously deceived themselves; that is, concerning true saving faith, faith in Christ; and also concerning the manner or formal cause of justification, viz. the righteousness of Christ.

But then, how can we form the argument? "I go unto the Father; therefore the world shall be convinced of my justifying righteousness."

I. Let us consider that the expression, "I go unto the Father," hath something more in it than "I go to heaven." So that by this kind of phrase our Saviour seems to hint, "That work being now finished, for the doing of which my Father sent me into the world, I am now returning to him again." Now the work which Christ had to do for the Father was various: the manifestation of the Father; preaching the gospel; vanquishing the enemies of God, sin, death, and the devil: but the main and chief of all, and upon which all the rest did depend, was, that he might perform a perfect obedience or obediential righteousness to God.

God had created man, that he might obey his Maker: which when he did not do, but being led away by the devil grew disobedient, where was the Creator's glory? The devil triumphs that the whole human race in Adam had kicked against God, proved a rebel, and warred under the banners of Satan. It was necessary, therefore, that Christ, clothing himself in the human nature, should come into the world and vindicate the glory of God, by performing an entire obedience due from mankind and worthy of his Maker. He did what weighed down for all the disobedience of all mankind, I may say, of the devil's too; for his obedience was infinite. He fulfilled a righteousness by which sinners might be justified, which answered that justice that would have condemned them; for the righteousness was infinite. This was the great business he had to do in this world, to pay such an obedience, and to fulfil such a righteousness; and this righteousness is the principal and noble theme and subject of the evangelical doctrine, Romans 1:17: of this the world must primarily and of necessity be convinced and instructed to the glory of him that justifieth, and the declaration of the true doctrine of justification. And this righteousness of his was abundantly evidenced by his going to the Father, because he could not have been received there, if he had not fully accomplished that work for which he had been sent.

II. It is added, not without reason, "and ye see me no more"; i.e. "Although you are my nearest and dearest friends, yet you shall no more enjoy my presence on earth; by which may be evinced, that you shall partake of my merits; especially when the world shall see you enriched so gloriously with the gifts of my Spirit."

11. Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

[Of judgment, because the prince, &c.] It is well known that the prince of this world was judged when our Saviour overcame him by the obedience of his death, Hebrews 2:14: and the first instance of that judgment and victory was when he arose from the dead: the next was when he loosed the Gentiles out of the chains and bondage of Satan by the gospel, and bound him himself, Revelation 20:1,2: which place will be a very good comment upon this passage.

And both do plainly enough evince that Christ will be capable of judging the whole world, viz. all those that believe not on him, when he hath already judged the prince of this world. This may call to mind the Jewish opinion concerning the judgment that should be exercised under the Messiah, that he should not judge Israel at all, but the Gentiles only; nay, that the Jews were themselves rather to judge the Gentiles, than that they were to be judged. But he that hath judged the prince of this world, the author of all unbelief, will also judge every unbeliever too.

12. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.

[Ye cannot bear them now.] Those things which he had to say, and they could not bear yet, were the institution of the Christian sabbath, and the abolishing of the Jewish (the reason and foundation of which, viz. his resurrection, they yet understood not); the rejection of the Jewish nation, when they expected 'that the kingdom should be restored to Israel,' Acts 1:6; the entire change of the whole Mosaic dispensation, and the bringing in of all nations in common within the pale of the church: these and such like things as these belonging to the kingdom of God, Acts 1:3, they could not yet bear. For though he had plainly enough discoursed to them the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24, yet it is a question, whether they apprehended either that their whole nation must be utterly cast off, or that the rites of Moses should be antiquated, although he had hinted something of this nature to them more than once.

13. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.

[Whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.] And verse 14, he shall receive of mine. He speaks according to the dialect and custom of the nation, and so to the capacity of his auditors: If they have heard, they teach: it is spoken of a judge in the lower Sanhedrim consulting a higher court, first, that of the triumvir: and if they hear, they teach; if not, then he goes to the supreme court of all.

The latter clause, he shall receive of mine, seems taken from Isaiah 11:2. And it should seem he inclined rather to this sense, because he does not say, he shall receive of mine and give; but he shall receive and shew it unto you: by which the Jew would understand he shall receive of my doctrine, or from my instructions. For the Holy Spirit is sent as an instructor from the Son, as the Son is sent as a Redeemer from the Father.

16. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.

[And ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.] "A little while, and ye shall not see me, because I go to the Father; and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father"; i.e. "Ye shall not see me personally, but virtually." It is true, they did not see him when he lay in the grave; and they did see him when he rose again: but I question whether these words ought to be taken in this sense, because it would sound somewhat harshly here what is added, "Ye shall see me, because I go to the Father." I would therefore rather understand it of his ascending into heaven; after which they saw him, indeed, no more personally, but they did see him in the influences and gift of his Holy Spirit. And so what follows agrees well enough with this sense of the words, verse 23; "In that day ye shall ask me nothing" [as ye were now about to inquire of me, verse 19]: "ask the Father in my name; and he shall reveal to you whatever you shall ask of him."

24. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

[Hitherto have ye asked noting in my name.] Understand this clause of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and then all things will be easy. All the faithful did pray in the name of the Messiah; and these disciples, acknowledging Jesus to be the Messiah, did pray in the name of Jesus the Messiah. But hitherto they had asked nothing extraordinary in his name: not the power of working miracles; not the revelation of mysteries and of future things; not the spirit of prophecy, &c.: for it was not necessary for them, as yet, to ask these things in his name whilst he was present with them, who could dispense it to them according to their instant necessities; but for the future, when himself should be gone from them, whatsoever they should ask the Father in his name, he would give it them. That prayer of the apostle's, Acts 4:29,30, is a good comment upon these words: "Ask such things as these in my name; and whatsoever you ask you shall receive, that your joy may be full, when you shall find by experience that I am still present with you when gone from you."

Those things which both here and elsewhere in the discourses of our Saviour might give occasion for scholastical discussion, I leave wholly to the schools, omitting many passages about which a great deal might be said, because they have been already the labours of other pens. It was my design and undertaking only to note some things which were not obvious, and which others had not yet taken notice of; and not forgetting the title of this little work, I have the more sparingly run out into scholastic or theological disputes.