There are several things about Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter which prove that this
promise was not intended for all Christians in the same sense it was intended for the apostles. A
failure to understand this important fact has led to much confusion and false teaching regarding
the Holy Spirit. Notice the following considerations:
- The context of Jn. 14 indicates that this promise was for the apostles. In order to arrive
at a correct understanding of any Bible passage, it is vital that we consider the context. This is
the number one rule of correct biblical interpretation. In considering the context, we look inter
alia at who was speaking and to whom. In the preceding chapter, Jesus had instituted the Lord’s
Supper in the presence of his twelve apostles. This can be seen by a comparison of John’s account
with those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John’s reference to “supper” in 13:2 is expanded in Mt.
26, (cf. Mt. 26:17-30). Those present are identified in Matthew 26:20 as “the twelve,” and “the
twelve” are listed by name in Mt. 10:2-4. John’s record of our Lord’s farewell discourse in Jn.
14-16 is an eyewitness, inspired account of what Jesus said to his most intimate disciples
immediately before his death. There are certainly aspects of this discourse which apply to all
disciples of all time, but it is important to remember that in the first instance it was primarily
directed to his 12 apostles. The Comforter was to be given to them in a special sense, which Jesus
goes on to explain.
- Jesus promised that the Comforter would do something miraculous for the apostles.
Although the Holy Spirit would be given to all Christians, he would have a special role with the
apostles. To his apostles Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with
you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall
teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you,” (Jn. 14:25-26).
Note that the Holy Spirit would “bring to [their] remembrance” what Jesus had taught them. Why
was this necessary? So that they could write it down for all time. They would be inspired to do
so by the Holy Spirit, (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). The Comforter would reveal to the apostles
God’s will in words—”not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth;
combining spiritual things with spiritual words,” (1 Cor. 2:13).
- The promise of the Comforter was given to the apostles because the apostles had been
with Jesus personally. Notice how Jesus explains this: “But when the Comforter is come, whom
I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father,
he shall bear witness of me: and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with me from the
beginning,” (Jn. 15:26-27). Who would bear witness? The apostles. Why would they be
competent to be witnesses? Because they had been with Jesus from the beginning. This was one
of the qualifications of an inspired apostle, (see Acts 1:21-22). Christians today do not meet this
qualification. Hence, the promise of inspiration by the Holy Spirit was not given to Christians
generally, but to the apostles.
- The promise of the Comforter involves miraculous guidance, which is no longer
necessary or available to Christians today. To his apostles Jesus said: “Howbeit when he, the
Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself;
but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things
that are to come,” (Jn. 16:13). Such miraculous guidance was needed until the New Testament
was fully revealed and recorded. But the miracles were partial and temporary. They would cease
when the gospel was revealed in its entirety. As Paul would later put it, “when that which is
perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away,” (1 Cor. 13:10).
All Christians today have the Holy Spirit – but he is not operating directly, miraculously, apart
from the word of God. The revelation which the Spirit made is wholly sufficient, “seeing that his
divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the
knowledge of him that called us,” (2 Pet. 1:3; and cf. 2 Tim. 3:17).
– by Robert C. Veil, Jr.