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).
In his teaching on the Holy Spirit, Jesus began by telling them that judgment would begin within the church. Although the world will judge the church, Jesus said that the ruler of this world had already been judged. Satan may persecute us now on earth, but he can’t prosecute us in heaven! Whatever horrible suffering we might experience on earth does not compare, Paul says, to the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). Because of the work of Christ—because he took his place at the right hand at the Father, because he took that throne, and because Satan has been cast out—all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth.
In John 16:1–4, Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” That is, your own parents, your own siblings, your own children will consider it an act of piety to turn you over to the police, so there’s going to be an apostasy within the church itself. That’s already what John the Baptist had proclaimed—a pruning, a period of division within Israel. The Holy Spirit will be the prophet of all prophets; the Holy Spirit will come with that word of prosecution to his people—the word that cuts, that divides. But the Spirit who convicts through the law will also convince sinners of the gospel. By faith the heavenly Paraclete, the heavenly attorney, will save his people.
Jesus says he will send another paraklÄ“tos. What a wonderful word that is. Unfortunately, “helper” is just about as lame as you can imagine for this description. Part of our demotion of the Holy Spirit is due to our translation of the Greek here. Jesus says, “I will send you allos paraklÄ“tos,” another paraclete. I think, however, that when we’re talking about Jesus as paraklÄ“tosas in 1 John 2:1—“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”—we should think of Jesus, but when we think of the Holy Spirit as paraklÄ“tos, we should translate it as “comforter.” The ESV translates this word as “helper,” but that misses Jesus’ point. Jesus is not saying, “I’m sending someone of lesser importance.” Otherwise, why would he say, “It’s good that I go. But if I go, I will send you another paraclete”? That is, “He is equal to me but different from me. I didn’t hover over the waters in the beginning, impregnating them. I didn’t hover over the waters of the Red Sea, parting them so that my people could pass through. I didn’t hover over the waters of my mother in my own incarnation. But this paraklÄ“tos did, and he is the one who will unite you to me.”
Jesus is the one with whom we need to be united, but the Holy Spirit is the only one who can unite us to him! There are certain things the Father does, certain things the Spirit does, and certain things the Son does. While they don’t do different works, they do different things in every work. The Father is the origin, the Son is the mediator, and the Spirit is the perfecter. And that’s why these are the last days. The Spirit will be poured out in the last days, because the Holy Spirit is the perfecter; he’s the one who finishes the job. In other words, Jesus is saying—astounding as it is—“You don’t need me on earth right now.”
Like the disciples, we don’t understand what he’s talking about. How can we not need him on earth right now? Some think it would have been wonderful if Jesus could have stayed on earth after his resurrection. If he hadn’t ascended, then he would still be here today enjoying long, long life. You could even shake hands with him! But Jesus said, “It is good that I go.” Why? Why is it good that he left? Because if he didn’t, the Paraclete would not have come.
Here’s the thing: Jesus was an evangelist. If you look at the history of evangelism and missions and then look at Jesus, however, you may not think he was too spectacular in this area. But that wasn’t his primary mission. His primary mission was to be the gospel, not to be the missionary of the gospel. His primary mission was to be the Lamb of God that we proclaim. His primary mission was to proclaim good news to the poor—the day of liberation, through his death, burial, and resurrection, and through his ascension to the right hand of the Father. We need one attorney in heaven pleading our case before the Father, with Satan cast out of the courtroom. Jesus says that we need him in heaven; we need another attorney on earth who will actually lead the campaign! If you misunderstand the nature of the kingdom and what the conquest really is, then you won’t appreciate why we need the Holy Spirit on earth right now and not Jesus.
What we see at Pentecost proves exactly what Jesus is saying here. In Acts 2, we’re told that the people were “cut to the quick.” Hundreds, then thousands, and multiplied tens of thousands of people started believing because Jesus was indeed successful in his mission. He completed his mission to be the gospel, and now the Holy Spirit was being poured out to unite those dead in trespasses and sins to him. Now they would have ears to hear, eyes to see that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The distinction here is not between Jesus as advocate and the Spirit as comforter or helper, but between a heavenly attorney and an earthly attorney. We need Jesus to be our attorney in heaven, exercising his case before the Father for us, but we need the Holy Spirit as our attorney on earth, bringing us to conviction and faith in Jesus the Messiah so that we will be covered in his righteousness. That verdict of the future—“Justified!”—can be heard even in the present.
Adapted from Michael Horton “It Is to Your Advantage That I Go Away,” Modern Reformation, July/August 2019. Used by permission.