In pursuit of the question of what John 16:12-14 means I proposed that 'the truth' which the disciples cannot now bear but which the Spirit will guide them into concerns the love of God and the God who is Love. I concluded the previous post:
"In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.
No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?"
One of the trickier parts of the John's Gospel to understand is the reaction of some of the disciples to Jesus' teaching on the bread of life. 'When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (6:60). What is tricky to understand is what gives offence. Is it Jesus words about eating his fleshing and drinking his blood? (6:53) Or, is it the differentiation Jesus makes between the manna in the wilderness which sustained God's people and the living bread come down from heaven? (6:48-51) Or, is it the implication that for Jesus' flesh and blood to be heavenly food, he will have to die? Either way, Jesus makes an extraordinary and wonderful promise concerning eternal life. Yet some are not attracted by it. They find it 'difficult'. They cannot 'bear' what Jesus has to say.
Or we might delve into John 8. In the midst of a tense argument there is somewhat surprising information that 'many believed in him' (8:30). To these believers Jesus says,
'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' (8:31-32)
Except these new believers then appear to walk back on their belief. They react badly to what Jesus has just said, denying they have ever been slaves (8:33) and resorting to counter-argument to Jesus (8:34-59). They cannot bear what Jesus has to say.
In each of the two examples above, Jesus offers a way into a deeper experience of the love of God: eat and drink me, continue in my word, thus receive eternal life and freedom. But this is too difficult for some. Why?
The answer, ultimately, lies in a moment in John's Gospel when what is said intersects precisely with Synoptic Gospels' teaching on discipleship.
'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.' (John 12:23-26a; cf Matt 10:39; Mark 8:3; Luke 9:24; 14:26).
True disciples die to themselves.They crucify their selfish, sinful, ego-centric way of life. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) they die with Christ on the cross and rise to eternal life. This is demanding, uncompromising, and difficult.
The love of God draw us to God, who is revealed not to have love as an attractive attribute but to be Love itself (or, better, Love himself). But this love is not about us as though God is saying 'Have some love. Your life will then be complete.' That is the way advertisers sell new TVs, holidays in the tropics and beauty enhancing products. God is a little different!
God's love is about God. His love for us is not a gift to us to enhance our lives. His love for us is a gift to himself because it draws us into himself who (it turns out in the fullness of the revelation of God) is Father Son and Holy Spirit, One in love. Eternal life is inclusion in the Godhead of love through Christ.
This drawing into God involves death to self. 'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' This is the hardest truth, the reason why the disciples who found Jesus' teaching difficult turned away.
What then does Jesus mean when he says, 'I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now'? These things are about the character of discipleship in relation to the love of God. The gospel is a message which is simultaneously a No and a Yes. A No to self and a Yes to God. It will always be opposed and often rejected, and the disciples with it. A hard road lies ahead for those sent by Jesus as the Father has sent him (John 20:21). The Spirit of truth's revelation of those things which 'you cannot bear now' includes 'the things that are to come' (16:12). The future of discipleship is suffering. Jesus mercifully spares his disciples the details as they struggle to absorb the impact of their master's own impending departure as the grain of wheat which falls to the ground.
In this way the revelation of 'all the truth' which Jesus promises through the Spirit is not a revelation of new truths (as many take it, so we now have new truths about slavery, about women, and, today, about homosexuality) but a revelation of the full extent of the truth already revealed by Jesus.
Indeed John's Gospel itself is a fulfilment of this promise. But let's stop there for today and come back to that matter another day.