It’s hard to take in even 24 hours of the news cycle without feeling a profound sense of loss. We see loss of life, loss of justice, loss of dignity, and loss of hope all around us. The briefest scan of our own lives and circle of relationship confirms that this loss is not just “out there” and faced by others, but is relentlessly present in our own personal midst. Tragedy, sickness, trauma, and death itself befall those close to us. It sometimes feels as though we stagger from one grief to the next.
This sense of loss was something the disciples of Jesus felt intensely in the hours leading to his betrayal and arrest. On what would turn out to be their final evening together, Jesus dropped the bombshell that he would be leaving them, and that they would not be able to go with him. It was crushing news. They had lived, eaten, and traveled with him for three years. Some had even left family and work to become disciples. They had staked everything on him.
So this was far more than how we might feel at the news that, say, a beloved CEO is leaving the company. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promises (John 14:18). This wasn’t the sadness of saying goodbye to a colleague; it was more akin to losing a parent. That was the level of abandonment they feared and felt. That was the depth of separation beginning to engulf them. No wonder their hearts were so troubled.
Our Troubled Hearts
Our hearts are often troubled, too. We aren’t in the exact same situation as the disciples; we haven’t been hanging around with Jesus for three years only to face the prospect of him leaving. But we do have to reckon with Jesus’s physical absence. There are times when we feel somewhat abandoned spiritually here on earth. Even if we don’t doubt that God is there, we wonder if he is actually here. And there are times when the difficulties of this life feel more than we can bear without God being right alongside us.
So we need to hear these precious words of Jesus: “I will not leave you as orphans.”
There are times when the difficulties of this life feel more than we can bear without God being right alongside us.
He’s not saying he won’t leave us. He will. He is saying he won’t abandon us. We will be physically without him. But we won’t be on our own.
The reason for this is what he previously said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit. The Son’s departure will be followed by the Spirit’s arrival. Pentecost wasn’t just a watershed moment of empowerment; it was a form of consolation. Pentecost shows us we aren’t abandoned on earth as spiritual orphans.
Spirit of Christ
The first thing Jesus stresses is how personal this Spirit is. Jesus refers to the Spirit as “he” and “him,” not “it.” This is no impersonal spiritual commodity, as other passages in the New Testament make abundantly clear. So while it’s true to say the Spirit is given to empower us, we are not to overlook that this power is himself personal.
But the key point is the kind of person Jesus is promising––he describes the Spirit as “another Helper” (v. 16). In other words, the Spirit is another kind of what Jesus has already been to his disciples. He is coming, in a way, to take the place of Jesus, to succeed him. He’s really a Jesus–y Spirit. Paul refers to him as “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9).
Pentecost wasn’t just a watershed moment of empowerment; it was a form of consolation. Pentecost shows us we aren’t abandoned on earth as spiritual orphans.
So the Spirit is not like a substitute teacher, someone who shows up but with a completely different approach, style, set of priorities, and hangups. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. This accounts for what Jesus says next: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The gift of the Spirit is the means by which Christ himself comes to be with us, even while physically apart from us.
Which leads to the second thing Jesus stresses.
Christ’s Presence through His Spirit
The Spirit is how we enjoy Jesus’s presence. Jesus underlines just how present this Spirit will be in our lives: “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (v. 17).
The Spirit will be “with you.” We will never experience a single moment of the Christian life truly alone. As Jesus said on another occasion, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). This is how. By his Spirit, he is with us.
We will never experience a single moment of the Christian life truly alone.
This, in itself, is amazing. But Jesus says even more. We will not just have the Spirit close by, like a faithful security detail—we will have him in us. By this Spirit, God himself comes to dwell within: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (v. 23). Every Christian is the dwelling place of God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19).
God’s Temple and Our Consolation
A couple years ago I had an opportunity to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This is part of the surviving temple structure that had been built by Herod the Great and that would have been contemporaneous with Christ. It’s one of the holiest places for Jews to pray today. They come to mourn the loss of the temple and all it represents, and to pray for its restoration (hence the older nickname, “The Wailing Wall”). I stood there and saw many Jews praying fervently, and with evident grief.
Standing nearby I considered that Jesus offers, apparently unknown to these praying Jews, not just to have a temple (precious though that would be), but to be one. A Christian believer today, purely by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, is more of a temple than that site in Jerusalem had ever been.
A Christian believer today, purely by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, is more of a temple than that site in Jerusalem had ever been.
The Bible never denies the reality of deep loss and trauma in this world. Nor does it promise us immunity from such loss the moment we become Christians. Instead it promises us something in the midst of this loss––something more precious than anything else in this world, and which itself can never be lost––the presence and love of God within us, by the Holy Spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit stands between us and spiritual orphanhood. We have not been abandoned. The Spirit of Jesus himself has been given to us, and placed forever in us.