There are two places in scripture where Jesus spoke to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit just before he made a radical departure.
The first was in the upper room after the Last Supper, as Jesus was about to go to the Garden of Gethsemane in preparation for his crucifixion. He said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV).
In chapter 14 of John’s gospel, we read that Jesus’ disciples were aware that something big was about to happen, but they were confused about what it was. Thomas and Philip asked Jesus questions like, “Where are you going?”, and “Who is the Father?” Judas - not Iscariot - even asked, “Why us, Lord?” (v. 5, 8, 22).
Jesus, knowing that these men who had walked constantly with him for the past three years, witnessing miracle after miracle and hearing his teachings, were not yet ready or able to grasp the magnitude of what was about to take place, said to them:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1 ESV).
He assured them that he would not leave them alone, as orphans (v. 18). He said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (v. 25a). Jesus made it clear that he was going away (v. 28), and he said, “And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (v. 29).
You and I know that Jesus was telling them (not for the first time – see Luke 24:7) that he would be crucified, die and rise again for the sins of the whole world. Even though Jesus spoke to his disciples plainly, they could not understand that what was about to occur would not only dramatically change them but turn the world upside down.
But God, as always, had a perfect plan.
Jesus declared that the Holy Spirit, our Helper, would teach us all things and bring back to our remembrance everything that Jesus had said (v. 26). He promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (v. 27). This peace that Jesus gives comes to us through his Holy Spirit, who is sent by the Father to comfort us, guide us and counsel us. The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is nothing for we who are made one with Christ to fear because he is always with us.
In fact, Jesus states this very plainly when he says “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (v. 20).
Have you ever wondered how Jesus and the Father can be “in us” or how we can be “in them”? Jesus said to his disciples, “You heard me say to you, I am going away, and I will come to you. If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (v. 28). And in John chapter 16 Jesus 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” (v. 7).
Wouldn’t you think, and I can imagine the disciples would have agreed, that it would be better for Jesus to have stayed on earth after the resurrection? How could it be better that he would go away? Think about what Jesus told Nicodemus, when he visited Jesus at night to question him about what it means to be born again, and Jesus answered:
“…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (3:5-6).
And he continued, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:7-8).
The spirit is different from the flesh in a lot of ways and one of the main ways is that the flesh – in this case the physical body – can only be in one place at a time, and two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. I cannot be shopping at the grocery store and driving my car at the same time and you and I cannot stand on the exact same spot at the same time. Physically, it’s impossible.
If Jesus had remained on earth, even in his resurrected body, his followers throughout eternity could see him, touch him, hear him speak and observe his every move but we could not have been one in him, one with the Father, or even one with each other. For that to happen, Jesus had to remove his resurrected body to heaven to be with the Father, so that he and the Father could send the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to abide with us – literally in us – forever. The Spirit can go where the body cannot go; namely, into the heart of every born-again believer.
Paul wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthian church that “…the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (2:10b ESV). And Proverbs 20:27 states that “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts” (ESV). The Holy Spirit’s presence can examine places in the human heart that no surgeon will ever see, because only the spirit can enter there.
The Holy Spirit is, literally, the Spirit of God: “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person…So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11 ESV).
It is because the Holy Spirit abides within us that we can be one with Jesus, with God the Father, and with each other as the Body of Christ: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14 ESV). Because the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, when we receive God’s Spirit by receiving Christ, God’s Spirit becomes joined with our spirit in eternal union.
That is why Jesus tells us that it is to our advantage that he went away, because even though while he is in heaven and we are on earth we cannot see him face to face, nevertheless, he has not left us as orphans, he has come to dwell within us, through his Holy Spirit. He has not left us alone.
Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV).
The disciples knew the Holy Spirit, because he dwelled with them, in the person of Christ. But because Jesus went away, it is better for all believers because that made it possible for God’s Holy Spirit to live in us and always be with us. That is how and why we and our Savior and the whole Body of Christ are one – for all eternity.
Immediately before being arrested by soldiers, Jesus prayed to our Father in heaven for his disciples, and for all of us, saying:
““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them [the Holy Spirit], that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23 ESV).
These are the words that Jesus prayed for us, knowing who we all are, where he was going on our behalf and that he would ultimately send us his peace and comfort through his Holy Spirit - so that we could be one forever in the love of God.