Trading places

Jesus’ departure from Earth must have caused his disciples to wonder how they could continue their work without him. Jesus talked about a person that would take his place whom he referred to as the “Helper” or “Comforter” (John 15:26, 16:7). He told his disciples, “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. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27, ESV). Jesus went on to explain that it was necessary for him to leave in order for the Helper to take his place. He said, “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, ESV).

Jesus’ declaration that the Holy Spirit would come from the Father in his name (John 14:26) was meant to explain why there was a need for a third person to be involved in the execution of God’s plan of salvation. Even though Jesus substitutionary death on the cross was sufficient enough to pay the penalty for every person’s sins that would accept him as their savior, there was still a need for individual repentance and personal acceptance of God’s free gift of salvation. Therefore, Jesus told his disciples that the Helper a.k.a. Holy Spirit would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and went on to say, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13, ESV).

Jesus indicated the Holy Spirit would be with believers forever and said, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17, ESV). The intimacy Jesus shared with his followers was expected to be enhanced by the indwelling capability of the Spirit that would come into the world after his departure. Jesus said, “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, ESV). In other words, the Holy Spirit would act somewhat like a memory bank of the words Jesus spoke while he was on Earth. Whenever there was a question about Jesus’ directions concerning the work that needed to be done, the Holy Spirit would remind his disciples of the instructions they had received from him. In the same way that Jesus had lived among and communicated with his disciples, so the Holy Spirit would be directly involved in the work that they were doing.

Jesus’ description of the process whereby the Holy Spirit would enter into the world that he was departing was that of a woman giving birth to a child. He said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21, ESV). From that standpoint, Jesus made it sound like the Holy Spirit was his Son, in the same or similar way that he was the Son of God. Although the Bible makes it clear that all three persons of God were present at the creation of the world, we know that Jesus was not in the form of a physical man when Earth came into existence. Therefore, it seems likely that the Holy Spirit was also in a different form in the beginning. The Holy Spirit had to enter into the world just as Jesus did through some type of material process, but instead of a human birth, Jesus indicated the Holy Spirit would be born through his human death.

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