Notes on John 16:23-28

John 16:23‑28  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The Lord proceeds to set forth yet more fully the blessing and privilege which should flow from His going to heaven and so bringing out the Father's love to them.
“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing: verily, verily, I say to you,1 whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, he will give you in my name.2 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (Vers 28, 24.)
It is well known that the Greek words we are well nigh obliged to translate “ask” in verse 28 are not the same, the first (ἐρωτάω) being expressive rather of familiar entreaty, the second (αἰτέω) of lowly petition. Hence, while our Lord often in this Gospel employs the former in His asking the Father on behalf of the disciples, never does He use the latter. However low He may go down in grace, He is ever the conscious Son of God, a man but none the less a divine person; whilst Martha shows her slight appreciation of His glory by supposing that He might fitly and successfully appeal to God after a suppliant sort. (John 11:2222But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. (John 11:22).)
But it seems too strong to say that every competent judge admits that “ye shall ask” of the first half of the verse has nothing to do with “ye shall ask” of the second; or that in the first Christ is referring back to the desire of the disciples in verse 19 to question Him. So Euthymius, as well as the Vulgate, and a crowd of moderns from Beza to Trench, including many German and British theologians. But though the word ἐρωτάω occurs often in the New Testament, and even in this chapter in the ordinary classical sense of “question” (interrogo), it is used quite as often or more so for “praying” or “beseeching,” &c. (rogo), as in the LXX., and thus like our English “ask,” which means “to request” no less than “to question” or “inquire.” Inquiring of God in Old Testament phrase approaches in fact nearer to prayer for any one or thing than to a question. I think then that varying the English word was not the true solution, though obvious enough on the surface, and that the earlier Greek commentators were nearer the truth, save Origen who like later errorists perverted the passage to deny the propriety of praying to our Lord, thus flatly contradicting the early disciples (Acts 1:2424And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, (Acts 1:24)), Stephen (Acts 7:5959And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 7:59)), and the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:88For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8).) In matters which concern His service and His church it is even more proper according to scripture to pray to Him than to the Father, to whom we instinctively turn for all that concerns the family of God.
The Lord is really signifying the great change from recourse to Him as their Messiah on earth for every difficulty, not for questions only but for all they might want day by day, to that access unto the Father into which He would introduce them as the accepted Man and glorified Savior on high. Till redemption is known, and the soul by grace is set in righteousness, even believers are afraid of God and hide as it were behind Christ. They draw near in spirit, as the disciples did actually, to Him who in love came down from heaven to bless and reconcile them to God. But they do not really know what it is to come boldly unto the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace. They are not in the distinct consciousness of children before their Father, enjoying liberty in Christ by the Spirit of adoption.
This then appears to me what the Lord gives the disciples to know should follow His resurrection and departure “in that day,” a day already come, the day of grace, not of glory, save so far as we enter in by virtue of Him who is gone above and sent the Spirit thence to be in us. He had already and fully told them what the Spirit of truth would do in guiding them into all the truth (vers. 12-15); here He substitutes access to the Father for everything in prayer, instead of personal requests to Himself as their Master ever ready to help on earth. It is not a question then of a declaration of being so taught of the Spirit as to have nothing further to inquire, but of no longer having One at hand to whom they had been in the habit of appealing for each difficulty as it rose. The departing Son of God would draw out confidence of heart in the Father.
Hence the solemnity of making known their new resource. “Verily, verily, I say to you, whatsoever [or, if] ye shall ask the Father [in my name], he will give you [in my name].” The text differs in the manuscripts and other authorities; but the best of them place “in my name” after the assurance that the Father will give, not after the saints asking the Father as in the common text, which however is best supported by the ancient versions. There can be no doubt, as we shall see presently, that the saints are encouraged and entitled in the value of the revelation of Christ to prefer their requests to the Father; but, if the more ancient reading hold in verse 28, we have the collateral truth that He gives in virtue of that name whatsoever they shall ask Him. How blessed and cheering to the saints! What pleasure to the Father and honor to the Son! The rejection of the Messiah only turns to His greater glory and better blessings for His own.
And this is followed up in verse 24: “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” The importance of this can hardly be exaggerated: I do not mean as bearing merely on the use of the blessed prayer given long before to the disciples, but on the broader question of their approaching new relationship and standing by redemption and the gift of the Spirit. On the face of the words however it is plain that to use that prayer is not to ask the Father in Christ's name. The disciples were no doubt in the habit of using it day by day; yet up to the present they had asked nothing in His name. Now so to ask the Father in the Son's name is alone Christian prayer in the true and full sense. Those therefore who insist on going back to the prayer of the disciples fail to enter into the new place on which the Lord here sets all that are His. It may be reverently meant; but is it the faith which really enters into God's mind and honors the Master? I trow not. As a prayer to be used when the disciples knew not how to pray, it was perfection; as a model, it abides ever full of depths of instruction. But the Lord, now at the end of His career here below, lets them know the shortcoming in ground and object of their previous petitions, and tells them what should be their character in future,
It would have been out of season and presumptuous for the disciples in the past to have drawn near to the Father as the Son did, who, in His wisdom and goodness, gave them a prayer really suited to their then state when the atoning work was not yet done and the Holy Ghost accordingly not given. But now, as we have already seen so often in this context, consequent on Christ's glorifying God on earth by death and going up on high, the Holy Ghost would come to be in and with them; and this is the great result Godward, as we have already seen much saintward: they should ask in Christ's name, and they are called to ask and receive, that their joy might be full. Life in Christ would go forth in suited desires, to which the Holy Ghost would impart power as well as intelligence; and assuredly, with such a ground and motive before Him as the Son of man who had devoted Himself at all cost to His glory, the Father would fail in nothing on His part. Their joy would indeed be at the full.
“These things have I spoken to you in parables: an hour cometh when I shall speak no longer to you in parables, but openly report to you about the Father. In that day ye shall ask (αἰτήσεσθε) in my name, and I say not to you that I will pray (ἐρωτήσω) the Father for you; for the Father Himself dearly loveth you because ye have dearly loved me and have believed that I came out from God. I came out from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world and proceed unto the Father.” (Vers. 25-28.)
It is owing, I presume, to the large and various meaning of the Hebrew îÈùÑÈì that we have in Greek παροιμίαas well as παραβολή used correspondingly not only in the LXX. but in the New Testament, the synoptic Gospels always use the latter, John only the former as in chapter 10 and here. Perhaps “allegory” might be more appropriate, or even a “dark saying” in our chapter where parable or allegory can scarcely apply. A close examination of the usage will prove that both Greek words are employed with considerable latitude in the four Gospels, as elsewhere,
Here the Lord was conscious that what He uttered fell like enigmas on the ears of the disciples. His plain declaration or report about the Father would clear up all in due time. What did not His resurrection? and His appearances and converse from the first to the last of His forty days' intercourse, as well as His ascension? Take alone the message through Mary of Magdala on the first day of the week. Did He not plainly declare about the Father, His and theirs? But above all when He testified by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, did not the truth shine out more than ever? He made known to them His. Father's name then; He was to make it known when gone above (John 17:2626And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26)), and did so only more effectively from thence.
This also turned (as was intended) to their increasing sense of the value of Christ's own name. “In that day ye shall ask (αἰτ) in my name.” (Ver. 26.) Asking in His name is not merely for Christ's sake as a motive, but in the value of Himself and His acceptance. His worth goes in its, fullness to the account of those who thus plead; and how precious and all-prevailing it is in the. Father's eyes! How glorifying to both the Father and the Son! How humbling and no less strengthening to the saints themselves! It is the title of every Christian now; none ever enjoyed it before. Never was there a soul blessed on earth apart from Him and His work foreseen; but this is known nearness and acceptance applied even to our petitions in virtue of Himself fully revealed when His work was done in infinite efficacy.
“And I say not that I will ask (ἐρωτ.) the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you dearly, because ye have loved me dearly, and have believed that I came out from God."3 (Vers. 26, 27.) This is another of those sentences over which not men and scholars but saints also stumble, because many a believer even is not enjoying the truth of it; and what John's Gospel and Epistles treat of must be entered into really to be understood. This verse 26 not more denies Christ's intercession for us, than verse 23 forbids the servant praying to His Lord about His work or His house. It is not an absolute statement, nor is there the smallest need to apply the technical device of Praeteritio, as it is called, so as to convey not a negation, about a strong affirmation. Thus it would mean “I need not assure you that I will pray the Father for you.” But it is simply an ellipse, which the words following explain: I do not say that I will ask the Father for you, as if He did not love you; for the Father Himself (proprio motu) does love you dearly, &c. This too accounts for the words of special affection, φιλεὶ and πεφιλ, which follow. It was grace, the Father's drawing, which brought them to hear the voice of the Son and believe in Him; yet does the Lord speak of the Father's dearly loving them and of their having dearly loved Him, to whom they clung truly, however feebly. They had believed that He came out from God. They truly believed that He was the Christ of God, and were born of Him.
But this was far short of the full truth which He proceeds to reveal: “I came out from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world and proceed onto the Father.” (Ver. 28.) Here they were altogether short. They realized as yet little or nothing of His full, divine, and eternal glory as the Son of the Father. God the Father was fully revealed no doubt in the Son; but the presence and power of the Spirit, personally sent down, was needed to give them communion with Him thus made known. It is this which, when the conscience is purged, brings into happy liberty; and here is what so many saints are still ignorant of, in the state of their souls pretty ranch where the disciples then were; for though they see the glory of the Son, they fail to see in Him and His work their title to rest in the Father's love.