John 16:1-4: These verses continue the theme of the end of the last chapter, that disciples will encounter resistance and persecution. They begin with a word of encouragement to keep on keeping on, and that is their main point. Being put out of the synagogue reflects the lived experience of some in John’s community.
John 16:5-15: The idea that there will be persecution, beginning with Jesus, would carry with it a note of sorrow. For John’s Jesus community, Jesus has been gone a long time now and some may have wondered about that. As those who actually knew Jesus become two or three generations removed, what will keep us going? There must have been a tone of sorrow with such questions, and here is the response. After Jesus is no longer with them, there will be another (but not completely other) whose presence will continue to witness to the truth of what happened in Jesus – a Holy Spirit, who will be a witness, an advocate, a helper. The Spirit will be the on-going presence of Jesus with the community of disciples. Perhaps because of the experience of some of the followers of Jesus in John’s community, the background for some of the images used for the Spirit is the courtroom. The Spirit will offer convicting arguments to the world itself, that it ignored what God was doing in Jesus. The Spirit will also continue to “guide” the disciples in truth, speaking in ways consistent with the teaching of Jesus. There is a long tradition in the Christian faith that we understand our faith, our Scriptures, Jesus himself only as the Spirit touches our lives. This happens as we practice our faith and as we share with each other in Christian community. The functions of the Holy Spirit are psychologically identifiable: wherever the truth prevails or is seeking to prevail, the Holy Spirit is there. There is a reality at work within us, even though we are often unaware of it, that seeks to bring us to the truth: the truth about our world, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and life’s purpose (Mystical Christianity, 289).
John 16:16-24: In the spirit of the gospel, Jesus speaks rather backhandedly about his death, about a time when he will be gone. It will be a time when the disciples will weep and mourn, but the promise is that their pain will turn to joy. Their experience will be like birth pangs. While these words fit the immediate context well, they are applicable more broadly to our lives. Sometimes we will struggle with difficult issues in our lives. Part of what we have known as our life may even have to change, to “die.” The hope is that positive change, though painful, is like a birth pang.
John 16:25-33: Jesus notes that he has taught in figures of speech, but will one day speak plainly. It does not seem to happen here, and given the nature of the world and of God, we cannot abandon figures of speech entirely. Jesus love for his disciples, he assures them, is also God’s love for them. He has come from God and is returning to God. Trusting that is the appropriate Christian response, it is what constitutes Christian faith. We trust that in Jesus, God has been up to something that makes all the difference for our lives. In the other gospels, it was most often stated in terms of Jesus bringing the kingdom of God near. In this gospel, Jesus brings the reality of God near. For those who believe/trust, there will be difficult times. They will be scattered, but not forever. Jesus wishes them peace and courage, noting that he will overcome “the world.” “Love defeats the power of death” (New Interpreters Study Bible).
John 17:1-25: This final prayer of Jesus is very different from the anguished prayer Jesus offers in the other gospels at this same juncture. Its context seems more the Jesus community of John than the disciples gathered together on the night he will be arrested. Nevertheless, the prayer reiterates many of the themes in John’s gospel, and also sets the stage for what will come in the following chapters.
Jesus hour has come, that is, the hour of his death when he will indeed offer on final act glorifying God (revealing the nature of God). “Eternal life” is defined not as life in the future but a life in which one knows the God Jesus has been revealing.
Just as Jesus glorified (revealed) God, so the community called together by Jesus reveals Jesus (v. 10). Jesus prays for their protection, for their joy, and for their sanctification. Jesus’ disciples are sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world.
Jesus prayer includes not just the disciples present, but all who will believe because of the work the disciples will begin. John is writing for his own Jesus community. The prayer is that there will be a oneness among the community of disciples. The relationship between God and Jesus is to be the relationship between Jesus, God, the Jesus community and within that community. All this gets a little confusing, but the heart of this part of the prayer seems to come at its end: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Not a bad prayer for the church today.