From the conversation of Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples, we discover that the Spirit of Jesus who God will send is also the Spirit of God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in the closest of relationships with one another. In particular Jesus speaks about the consequences of this relationship for his followers – including people like us.
Have you ever wished you had been present when Jesus was here on earth? Just imagine what it would have been like to have been one of the crowd, and to have been able to see and hear him. Or even better, just imagine what it would have been like to have been able to turn to him for help. For Jesus, speaking of God’s gift of the Spirit, said that God “will give you another helper” (14.16), or more accurately, “another helper just like me”. Interestingly Greek has two words for ‘another’, which although similar in meaning, had subtle differences of meaning. One word (heteros) means ‘another of a different kind’. The other word (allos), which is found here, means ‘another of the same kind’. It is this latter word which is found here. The Spirit is ‘another helper of the same kind’. Just as Jesus drew alongside men and women to help them, so too does the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not just the Spirit of God, he is also the Spirit of Jesus
The good news is that just as many years ago Jesus drew alongside men and women to help them, so too does the Spirit draw alongside us today to help us. In this respect the early Latin church father Tertullian used to describe the Holy Spirit as ‘the vicar of Christ’. To appreciate what Tertullian was saying, you have to know that the words ‘vicar’ and ‘curate’ have changed meanings: properly speaking, a curate is a person in charge of the ‘cure’ or ‘care’ of souls; while the vicar is his ‘deputy’, one who stands in for him. It is in this sense that Roman Catholics speak of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. In this sense too we may speak of the Holy Spirit as the ‘vicar’ of Christ, that is, Christ’s deputy!
Another way of looking at the Holy Spirit as being ‘another helper just like Jesus’, is to say that the Holy Spirit is ‘the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent’. In other words, what Jesus was to the twelve apostles, the Holy Spirit is to the church today. The Holy Spirit exercises the same ministry today as Jesus exercised. He offers the same help to us, as Jesus offered to his disciples of old. There is no need to look back and wish that we had been there with Jesus, for Jesus is here with us through his Spirit. Hence Jesus can say: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (14.18), for Jesus comes to us by his Spirit.
Jesus went on to imply that the coming present arrangement is better than the past. He said: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you” (16.7). The advantage is twofold. In the first place the Holy Spirit is not limited, as Jesus was, by space and time: Jesus could only be at one place and at one time, whereas the Holy Spirit universalises the presence of Jesus, in the sense that every Christian can enjoy his help, wherever and whenever (14.16). In the second place, the Holy Spirit is even closer to us than Jesus was with his disciples today: for while Jesus had been ‘with’ his disciples, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be ‘in’ them: “He abides with you, and he will be in you” (14.17). The Holy Spirit universalises the presence of Jesus in the hearts of his disciples. He will always be with us, and nobody can deprive us of him.
To what extent does the Spirit of truth lead us “into all the truth” (16.13) today? It is often pointed out that Jesus in the first instance was speaking to his disciples, i.e. to the by then eleven apostles, to those who had been with him throughout the past three years of his ministry. In a way which is not true of us, they were ‘eyewitnesses’ to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was to these original disciples and not to us that Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit… will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14.26). They could remember – because they had been there. The apostles have a unique place in understanding and communicating the truth about God. In a way which is not true of us today, they were inspired by God to understand the truth as it is in Jesus.
But we cannot limit the inspiration of the Spirit to twenty centuries ago. The Spirit was given not just to the original disciples, but to his later disciples too. The Spirit was given to help not just the first Christians, but Christians of every age. Yes, the Spirit led the apostles into all the truth; but so too did he lead the early church fathers at Nicaea, the great thinkers of the Reformation, theologians of more recent years – indeed he leads us too. The work of the Spirit is not limited to the past. He continues to work in the present as the Scriptures are read and expounded.
But there are two constraints to the present work of the Spirit. First, the truth that the Spirit leads us into is truth about Jesus. Secondly, the Spirit guides by throwing new light on the things that Jesus said and did: i.e. the new revelation has the continual check of the original revelation. There is no way in which the Spirit can create a wholly new revelation, portraying a totally different kind of Jesus. The Spirit simply fills out the revelation brought by Jesus. For Jesus alone is the truth.