Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
Imagine this scene with me. The disciples had new life breathed into them. Their darkest hour had happened some forty days earlier, the night when Peter abandoned Jesus and the rest of the disciples scattered for cover. Then three days of despair followed before the break of day on Sunday morning, and there He was—new. Alive.
Then came forty days of fellowship. Of intimacy. Of learning. Of seeing the true and deeper meaning behind all of Jesus’ words and actions. And now they were traveling back to Galilee, the place that held so many memories for them. There was Jesus, on top of the mountain, waiting for them. They had no qualms or questions about His identity anymore, and they fell on their faces and worshiped Him as Lord. That’s when He spoke.
He spoke about His authority, and in light of that authority, Jesus gave this band of rejuvenated followers their marching orders. They were to take the message of the gospel far and wide, teaching everyone who had ears to hear the glorious news of hope. And He closed His commission with these words of reassurance: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
Now that’s encouragement, for they remembered what life was like without Jesus. Those three days of questioning. Of fear. Of self-hatred. But those days were gone; He would be with them always.
Except for the fact that when He got done speaking, He left (Mark 16:19). So what are we to make of that?
In this moment when the disciples could have stared with open mouths up into heaven, wondering how Jesus’ departure squared with His promise to be with them always, they did nothing of the sort. According to Mark, as recorded in his Gospel, after the ascension of Jesus into heaven “they went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20). Evidently, they were not shocked or surprised at His departure; if they were, it certainly didn’t deter them from getting on with the business of the Great Commission.
Maybe that’s because the disciples weren’t surprised. And perhaps there was even a tinge of excitement mingled with the sadness as they watched Jesus ascend into the heavens above. Looking back at John 14, Jesus told them this day would come: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ answer to the needs of the children of God. He’s the One who will be in them, walking with them through life. And in this passage, Jesus chose the Greek word paraclete to describe Him. It’s translated here as “Counselor.”
John 14 isn’t the first time the Holy Spirit showed up in Scripture. In Genesis 1:2, we see the Spirit hovering over the surface of the waters, and He popped up now and again throughout the rest of the Old Testament. There He was with Bezalel, filling and enabling him to work with his hands to construct the sanctuary of God (Exodus 35:31). And there He was descending upon Saul so that he began to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:23). There He was periodically throughout the Book of Judges, giving God’s people the strength to defeat enemies with things like jaw bones. But starting in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit showed up like never before.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit didn’t come upon an individual but the entire believing community. From that day forward, as Jesus promised, He wasn’t a divine Visitor but a permanent resident, dwelling permanently inside those who believe in Jesus. It’s this permanent residency Jesus was talking about, and that also helps us get at the meaning of paraclete.
The root word, paraclete, is a combination of two words: para, which means “by the side,” and kaleo meaning “to call.” The paraclete, then, is one who has been called to the side of another. “The side,” though, isn’t a description of proximity but of relationship. The Holy Spirit doesn’t walk side by side with us literally; He’s literally inside of us as Christ-followers. He’s by our side in the sense that He’s on our side.
That means when we think about the Holy Spirit as Counselor, we aren’t necessarily meant to take that to mean someone who gives us advice. The Holy Spirit doesn’t give advice, for advice is based on opinion and can either be accepted or rejected. He’s not the Spirit of suggestion; He’s the Spirit of Truth. So you can be sure that when the Holy Spirit speaks, He’s not giving us information we are meant to take into account in our decision; He’s telling us the truth, and our job is to obey.
Think of the word Counselor in a legal context. Sometimes today lawyers are still referred to as counselors in court. This word was used by Greek writers to describe a legal advisor, one who would come forward on behalf of and as the representative of another. If we apply that logic to Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit, we see the Counselor is a divine Helper, our Advocate. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the greatest help for followers of Jesus.
It’s one thing if someone wants very much to help you but doesn’t really have the resources to do so. In that case, the help is really not much more than a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. Not so with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, far from a benign presence, is Jesus’ personal Representative on earth. He speaks (Acts 1:16), teaches (John 14:26), witnesses (John 15:26), searches (1 Corinthians 2:11), and even intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). In fact, we owe every bit of our spiritual development and power to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Given His vital importance, we might well wonder why the Holy Spirit is often the neglected member of the Trinity. Our reluctance and lack of experience with the Holy Spirit is visible in the simple fact that most of us refer to Him as “it” when we talk.
But the Holy Spirit isn’t an “it.” He’s a “He.” And as long as we try to keep Him at an arm’s distance, we will live lives of spiritual lethargy and bondage. The Holy Spirit is God’s great gift to the believing community. He’s at all times working in us for our good and God’s glory. The only question is how aware of His presence we want to be.
The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, and His presence in our lives means that we never, ever, ever have to pray for God to be “with us.” He’s already with us. But it’s even more than that. God is for us. For our good. For our development as followers of Christ. For our continued growth in godliness. And thank God for that.
Michael Kelley is a husband, dad, author, and speaker. He serves as the Director of Groups at Lifeway Christian Resources, and in all those arenas, is trying to help people have a holistic view of what it means to be formed in Jesus. Michael is the author of Growing Down and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, which tells the story of his 10-year-old son’s battle with leukemia.