By the summer of AD 66, the Christian church was facing an uncertain future. The ruler of Rome, a madman named Nero, had blamed the Great Fire of July 18-19, AD 64, on the Christians. The Christians were a convenient people to blame for they taught the end of the world would be by fire.
“Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. 14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:12).
The Christians desperately needed help. They needed someone to come to their defense, and they needed hope for the future. Anticipating that His disciples would have tribulation in the world, the Lord gave them a promise. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16).
The word “another” (Gk. allon, another of like kind), in John 14:16 is very important, for it reminds the church that the first Paraclete is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Luke 2:25 Jesus is referred to as “the consolation [Paraclete] of Israel.” In the Upper Room, on the night prior to His execution, as Jesus taught His disciples for the last time, He promised them another Paraclete, another Comforter. The Holy Spirit is the second Paraclete, or Comforter.
The word paraclete literally means, “to call alongside to help.” In the ancient world a paraclete was a lawyer who was called alongside to help someone in time of trouble. The paraclete became the defense attorney. He was a strong advocate on behalf of his client. While his presence might bring some comfort to his client, the primary duty of the paraclete was to strengthen the case of his client, and be strong on the client’s behalf. Spiritually, that is what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do. He would come to help the believer overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Perhaps you have heard of the German philosopher Frederick Neitche (Oct. 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900). Neitche died at the age of 55 having told the world that God is dead (The Gay Science). Neitche argued that God died of pity at the hands of Christians, for He was presented as a God of weakness, and not strength. Neitche believed in the Superman of history, the one who was a conqueror.
The Holy Spirit is such a conqueror that Neitche longed for. The word comforter, in Latin, is made up of the word, com, meaning, “with”, and, forte, meaning, “strength”. The Holy Spirit, as Comforter, comes with strength to defend the Christian when the believer is hated by the world. The Holy Spirit’s role is to strengthen God’s people in the midst of the conflict, and not merely to make them feel better after the battle.
The way the Holy Spirit enables the believer to withstand the world and to conquer, is through truth, and so we read of the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). It is the Holy Spirit who takes the truth of God’s Word, and the Truth concerning Jesus Christ, and causes Christians to be bold witnesses, and Valiant for Truth. The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the ministry of Christ to our lives. He does this by sanctifying us, by teaching us, and by making us bold in the day of battle. While the Holy Spirit comes to minister as a Comforter, His ministry is far greater than merely bringing consolation. The Holy Spirit came to defend the Christian before the world.
During the reign of Nero, the Christian community found strength for their tribulations through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and His defense of them before the world. In addition to the need for the Paraclete, the church also needed hope for the future. The book of Revelation offered that hope. In matchless grace, the church was given a glimpse of great tribulation that was to come to Israel, for these were “days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22).
At Calvary, the Jews had cried out that the blood of Jesus be on them and on their children (Matthew 27:25). Time passed. The children of the crucifying generation had been born and reached maturity. Now, God was going to avenge the death of His Son according to request. Blood was going to flow as “high as the horse’s bridle” (Rev. 14:20). But the church was not to despair. Those that would hurt the church, the devil, false religion, the state, would all be destroyed. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
In every generation, Christians do not need to fear the present, or the future, because the Holy Spirit has been given to us as our Defense Attorney, our Enabler, our Strength. The Holy Spirit will abide with us forever. He is more than just a Comforter, though that too is part of His ministry. He is the eternal Christ that indwells every believer. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). Jesus kept His promise.
“O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found,
Wherever human hearts and human woes abound;
Let ev’ry Christian tongue proclaim the joyful sound:
The Comforter has come!
The Comforter has come, the Comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from Heav’n, the Father’s promise giv’n;
O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found—
The Comforter has come!
The long, long night is past, the morning breaks at last,
And hushed the dreadful wail and fury of the blast,
As o’er the golden hills the day advances fast!
The Comforter has come!
Lo, the great King of kings, with healing in His wings,
To ev’ry captive soul a full deliverance brings;
And through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings;
The Comforter has come! O boundless love divine!
How shall this tongue of mine
To wond’ring mortals tell the matchless grace divine—
That I, a child of hell, should in His image shine!
The Comforter has come!”
Frank Bottome, 1890