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As they approached the Kidron ravine, Jesus’ disciples finally began to understand what Jesus was saying, although it is apparent that they thought they knew more than they actually did. John 16:23, 24 says,
23 In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
First, Jesus contrasts “in that day” with “now,” that is, the present time. The phrase “in that day” refers to the previous verse when Jesus said, “I will see you again.” The present time, “now,” was the time of grief and scattering, or, in the longer term, the time of leaving the disciples.
There was also coming a shift in their prayer life. If they needed something during the time that they walked with Jesus, they only needed to ask Him, and He then asked the Father. It appears that the disciples did not yet have a direct relationship with the Father, but only with Jesus.
But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, a shift was taking place. The Holy Spirit represented Christ Himself (as His Agent), and when the Holy Spirit came to indwell them on the day of Pentecost, they themselves became agents of Christ and could speak directly to the Father in His name. His name was His nature. The Holy Spirit’s responsibility was to impart the nature of Christ within us, thereby making us legally Christ, that is, anointed ones who were members of the Body of Christ.
This was to give Spirit-filled believers direct access to the Father, so they would no longer have to have Jesus as their go-between.
Note also that this shift in relationship from the Son to the Father makes clear the fact that the two Beings are distinct. If the Son had also been the Father, it would make little sense to talk about this shift in prayer from Son to Father.
There is a time to speak figuratively and another time to speak plainly. Up to this point the disciples had difficulty understanding Jesus, because He spoke figuratively. But this too was about to shift. So John 16:25 says,
25 These things I have spoken to you in figurative language [paroimia]; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language but will tell you plainly of the Father.
Paroimia is defined as “any dark saying which shadows forth some didactic truth.” It is a proverb, allegory, or metaphor. Jesus said that this had been His manner of speech with the disciples up to that point, so it is little wonder that they did not really understanding where He was going, why He was leaving, or for how long.
So also is it with all of us. As our relationship changes, the revelation can be clearer. This is the principle behind the shift from slave to friend (John 15:15). A slave has limited knowledge; a friend is a confidant. Jesus does not confide in everyone. He shares His heart with friends. Hearts are tender and should be handled with care.
A Shift in Relationship
John 16:26, 27 continues,
26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf, 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
Jesus does not say that He will refuse to present our requests to the Father in that day. Yet He shows clearly that He wanted the disciples to go directly to the Father with their requests. In other words, it was no longer necessary for the Father to remain at a distance, using the Son as an intermediary in this matter of prayer. The reason given is that “the Father Himself loves you.”
Many religions maintain a distance between God and men, because they have, at best, only a dim concept of the Father’s love for His children. So the Greeks worshiped “the unknown God” (Acts 17:23), worshiping “in ignorance.” Paul then tells them that they are God’s “children” (Acts 17:28, 29). God wants to relate to them, not as a Ruler but as a Father.
Yet even children do not know all that their heavenly Father is doing. Children must come to some level of maturity before their Father can share His heart with them. Minors are no different from slaves, Paul says in Galatians 4:1.
Jesus’ disciples had matured during the three years of Jesus’ personal ministry. So the time had nearly arrived when their relationship with Christ and the Father would change.
The Disciples Understand
In John 16:28 Jesus says plainly,
28 “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”
By linking His “leaving the world” with His coming “into the world,” Jesus no longer spoke figuratively, and the disciples then understood better where He was going. They were aware of His virgin birth and knew that this had everything to do with the fact that He was not of this world. He had said in John 8:23, “you are from below, I am from above; you are of this world; I am not of this world.”
The contrast was mainly bound up in the fact that others had earthly fathers, while Jesus had a heavenly Father. So when Jesus told the disciples that He was “leaving the world again and going to the Father,” it was plain that He was going back to His place of origin—heaven. They could hardly know for certain the manner of His departure, but at least they knew where He was going. John gives us only a brief account of all the things Jesus told them, but He must have explained to them enough to understand that He was returning to His Father in heaven.
John 16:29, 30 continues,
29 His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. 30 Now we know that You know all things [pas] and have no need for anyone to question [erotao, “ask, entreat, or question”] You; by this we believe that You came from God.”
What exactly were the disciples acknowledging? In verse 29 it says that they saw a shift in revelation, where Jesus went from figurative language to plain language. But what had they discovered?
First, “You know all things.” They did not suddenly discover that He was omniscient and literally knew everything there was to know. He had divested Himself of such knowledge when He came to earth as a baby. In fact, some things were not revealed to Him even after His resurrection (Acts 1:7). But throughout His ministry, Jesus’s revelation was progressive, and so moment by moment He did what the Father said to do. This implies continuous revelation as well as the need for prayer.
Soon Jesus would come to the Garden, where He sought for a way to escape crucifixion (Matthew 26:39, 42). His uncertainty was reflected in His prayer, though He was willing to submit to the will of the Father, regardless of what it was.
So what did the disciples mean when they stated, “You know all things”? It is connected to the previous statement about speaking plainly in regard to leaving them. In essence, they were saying, “We really didn’t know what You were going to do, but You know exactly what You are about to do.” Hence, “You know all things.”
The second part of the sentence seems unrelated to the first part. The fact that Jesus knew what He was about to do seems unrelated to “and have no need for anyone to ask You.” Why would Jesus have no need to be questioned or asked? After all, if He knows something that we do not know, would that not be reason enough to ask Him?
Actually, this is just the second revelation in the disciples’ list, and it refers to what Jesus had said earlier about praying or asking the Father directly. So we might paraphrase this to read:
“We know that You have all the answers, but there is no further need for us to ask You, because we can now go to the Father directly and ask Him. By this new prayer method, having asked the Father, we believe that You came from God.”
The disciples had always believed that Jesus had come from God, but there was a layer of faith that they had not experienced up to that point. And even then, their faith was not perfect.
The Failure of Faith
John 16:31, 32 says,
31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”
The disciples probably thought that their faith had reached new heights, but Jesus knew that their faith was still not strong enough to stand with Him in his hour of trial. They would run away to avoid being arrested by the soldiers. Only John would remain for the trial, and he was able to give Peter a pass to enter the courtyard as well. But Peter was soon recognized and three times denied knowing Jesus. Only John was left to witness Jesus on the cross and to care for the women who watched with Him.
Yet Jesus knew that the Father was always with Him, even when Jesus quoted the full text of Psalm 22, which was entitled, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46. In those days the titles of books and psalms were usually taken from the opening phrase or sentence. Those who do not know this are under the impression that Jesus merely quoted Psalm 22:1 in His anguished cry; but in reality, He probably quoted the entire psalm as its prophecy unfolded during His time on the cross.
At any rate, David’s anguish in Psalm 22:1 prophesied of Jesus as well. Men have explained this by saying that when Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world, the Father had to turn away and “forsake” His Son as part of the penalty for sin. There is probably much truth in this.
All intercessors know the awful feeling of abandonment when they are called to enter into Christ’s experience on their own level. That memory is seared in my mind as well, though it occurred almost four decades ago. I did not understand it at the time, but later I learned that it was one of the Principles of Intercession and that God often requires intercessors to experience the anguish of apparent abandonment.
By tasting what He experienced, we come to understand Him in a greater way, and thereby become His friends. The vivid memories, once painful wounds later seen as scars, are now marks of joy and peace, for all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).
The Victory of Faith
John 16:33 concludes,
33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.
Not only did Jesus overcome the world, but we too may overcome the world by faith. 1 John 5:4 says,
4 For whatever is born [or begotten] of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
The verse is better read, “that which is begotten of God overcomes the world.” It is a reference to the new creation man which has been begotten by our heavenly Father. It is the Christ-man within us, the son of God, having a heavenly Father and an earthly “mother” (our flesh). By faith we receive the seed of God, which begets “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Though our old man was overcome by the world, our new man overcomes all things.