No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. (Jer. 31:34)
The fourteenth through the seventeenth chapters of John’s gospel (plus the last few verses of chapter thirteen) document the events of a short amount of time. The amount of time spanned is perhaps as little as a few minutes or as much as a handful of hours. The timeframe starts just after the Last Supper when Jesus released Judas Iscariot to betray Him (John 13:27). It ends just before Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane where He prayed His final prayers prior to His arrest (John 18:1).
Even if we did not have any more evidence than this (that four chapters of the Bible are devoted to the last few minutes of Jesus’ time with His disciples), we would strongly suspect these verses are very important. But when we look at their content, we are convinced. We see things that are written nowhere else. We see things that are among the most important things to us today. And we see that Jesus did not reveal these things to His disciples before then but saved them for the end on purpose. All these things make it perfectly clear that these verses are of particular importance.
In these final words, we see a few themes running throughout. One theme is the fact that Jesus was about to leave the earth and go back to heaven (John 16:28), that he would come back to earth in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:18), and that eventually the disciples would join Him in heaven (John 17:24). Another is the fact that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was telling them (John 16:16–18), that it was important for them to hear it anyway (John 16:1–4), and that they would understand Jesus’ words after they received the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). A final theme is the fact that knowing God is the greatest blessing of salvation (John 17:3), that while Jesus was on earth His disciples came to know God through Him (John 14:7), and that after His resurrection they would come to know God through the Holy Spirit (John 14:21).
These themes are not independent, but interdependent. Central to all of them is the concept that God takes up residence in the hearts of men in the person of the Holy Spirit. While this concept is not new to us because we each received the Holy Spirit the moment we put our trust in Christ, it was not common knowledge to the disciples prior to them receiving the Holy Spirit themselves. In fact, what Jesus was telling them about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was completely new.
In Old Testament times, God used various means to convey His messages to His people. He sometimes used inanimate objects, as when He used a burning bush (Ex. 3:4). He sometimes spoke to and through prophets and others by visions and dreams (Gen. 20:3; Num. 12:6; 2 Sam. 7:17; 2 Chron. 32:32; Isa. 1:1; Ezek. 1:1). Sometimes, He spoke directly to people by way of the Angel of the Lord, as when He told Abraham that one of his descendants would be the Savior of mankind (Gen. 22:15–18). Sometimes, God led the people personally, as when He went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). In Jesus’ day, God spoke to man by His Son (Heb. 1:1–2). But at no point in history did He ever take up permanent residence in the hearts of men and speak to them from inside their hearts.
But this is what Jesus told His disciples was about to happen. On prior occasions, Jesus alluded to the fact that the Holy Spirit would be inside people’s hearts (see John 7:37–39, for example), but He did not explain the concept in detail until the last few minutes of His life on earth. He withheld this information from His disciples on purpose. He told them:
But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.
And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.
But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, “Where are You going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:4–7)
Jesus did not need to tell them prior to His departure about the Holy Spirit coming to live in their hearts, because the Holy Spirit was already present with them in Jesus. With Jesus in their physical presence, the disciples experienced something that very few people in the history of mankind have ever experienced on earth. They walked and talked with God as with an ordinary man.
Though they did not always immediately understand what was happening to them at the time, the disciples eventually grasped the magnitude of their experience, and they appreciated it. So impactful was His presence upon John that he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And concerning the depth of the things Jesus taught them, John also wrote, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25).
As Jesus was preparing to depart the earth and go back to heaven, He wanted His disciples to know that His absence would not be permanent, but temporary. He promised that He would come back to them in the person of the Holy Spirit. From that point forward, He would be with them forever:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15–18)
Jesus told them that they would recognize the Spirit of truth when He came because they already knew Him. He said, “You know Him, for He dwells with you” (verse 17). They already knew the Holy Spirit because they already knew Jesus. They walked and talked with Him just as with an ordinary man. That’s why He said, “He [the Spirit of truth] dwells with you” (verse 17).
After His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus would no longer be with them physically. Then, He would come back to live in their hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit. That’s why He said, “[The Spirit of truth] will be in you” (verse 17). To punctuate the fact that the presence of His Spirit in their hearts after His resurrection would fully compensate for Him not being with them physically, He added, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18).
So, in other words, when Jesus said, “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:17–18), Jesus was saying plainly that He and the Holy Spirit are one. He was telling His disciples directly that the one who dwelt with them in physical form is the same one who would dwell in their hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit—and that person is Jesus Christ Himself.
The rationale Jesus gave for His disciples recognizing the Holy Spirit was exactly the same rationale He gave approximately one minute earlier when He told His disciples, “If you [plural] had known Me, you [plural] would have known My Father also; and from now on you [plural] know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:7).
But, when He said that, Phillip questioned Him further, and Jesus went on to say, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). And though the disciples may not have fully understood it at the time, the point Jesus was making is that if a person knows Jesus, then he also knows God the Father, because God the Father and God the Son are one (John 10:30).
When Jesus left earth and went back to heaven, the paradigm for knowing God shifted a bit. While He was on the earth, knowing God and knowing the Spirit was by means of knowing Jesus. But starting at Pentecost, when the Spirit of the living God first took up residence in the hearts of men, knowing God and knowing Jesus was by means of knowing the Holy Spirit. In some regards, this is only a superficial distinction, because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one (1 John 5:7). But on the other hand, it is not merely superficial because our experience with God and our interactions with Him are by direct and intimate personal contact with His Spirit. We know God the Father because we know His Spirit. We know God the Son because we know His Spirit.
Jesus made it clear that the one and only way for a man to know God after His resurrection would be through interaction with His Spirit. He had already previously said that all authority had been given to Him to make God known or to keep Him hidden: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). In His final words to the disciples He revealed the means by which He intended to execute His authority to “reveal” God to man. It started with a simple statement of fact:
A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. (John 14:19)
Immediately after Jesus said this, Judas (not Iscariot) recognized what Jesus was saying. But he could not imagine how Jesus would be able to show Himself to His disciples and simultaneously hide Himself from the rest of the world. So he asked Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22). It was to that question that Jesus gave this answer:
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…. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:23–26)
Jesus was telling His disciples that after His death, He and His Father would take up permanent residence in the hearts of men, and that They would reveal Themselves to them from inside their hearts. Those who would be privileged to have God in their hearts would experience the blessings of getting to know Him better over time. But those who would not have God in their hearts would remain ignorant of Him altogether.
With these words, Jesus revealed exactly how God intended to fulfill the promise He made to Jeremiah concerning the new covenant. Every one of the people of God would know Him, from the least of them to the greatest of them, because God would reveal Himself to them personally and show them His glory from the depths of their own hearts.
I want to emphasize one point before we move on. Jesus living in our hearts means that all three members of the trinity live in us. God the Father lives in us, God the Son lives in us, and God the Holy Spirit lives in us.
That each of them individually lives in us is well documented in Scripture. That God the Father lives in us is the subject of Ephesians 4:6, 2 Corinthians 6:16, and 1 John 4:12. That God the Son lives in us is the subject of Romans 8:10, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 3:17, and Colossians 1:27. That God the Holy Spirit lives in us is the subject of 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 1:14, and James 4:5.
There are also several places in Scripture that the members of the trinity are mentioned in combination as living in us. Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” lives in us. 1 Corinthians 3:16 and Ephesians 4:30 say the “Spirit of God” lives in us. 1 Thessalonians 4:8 says God has “given us His Holy Spirit.” Galatians 4:6 says, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son” to live in us. Romans 8:9 says the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ” live in us. And in John 14:23, Jesus said that after His resurrection, He and His Father would come to us and make our hearts their home.
The upshot of all these things, of course, is that it does not matter what name we use for God when we say He lives in our hearts. We might use God, the Father, Jesus, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ. But no matter what name we use, when we say, “God lives in our hearts,” we intend to include the entire trinity in our statement. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit live in our hearts.