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Why Jesus left.

“I’m going away now to the one who sent me.
None of you have asked me, ‘Where are you going?’
Instead, because I told you this,
your hearts are full of grief.
But I tell you all the truth:
I go away for your benefit.
If I don’t go away,
the Assistant won’t come to you.
Once I cross over,
I will send him to you all.
Once he comes,
he will correct the culture about sin, rightness, and judgment.
About sin:
People don’t trust in me.
About rightness:
I’m going away to the Father, and you’ll all no longer see me.
And about judgment:
The ruler of this culture has been judged.”

—Jesus,

Okay, I’ll get this inconsistency out of the way. Jesus said, “None of you have asked me, ‘Where are you going?’” But a few chapters back, Simon Peter did ask him, “Lord, where are you going?” and Jesus hadn’t answered him with where, but simply, “You can’t go with me now.” And little after that, Thomas had said, “We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” —not a direct question about where Jesus was going, but it’s one way to fish for an answer.

Well, those who hate the idea of biblical inconsistencies, have invented all sorts of explanations of what Jesus really meant by this. I believe John was splicing together separate sayings of Jesus into the Passion Discourse; Jesus hadn’t actually said all these things at the one time.

The earlier questions were asked in the upper room, back when they ate the Passover seder. This part was hours later, at the place they moved to after Judas Iscariot went to get the police. By this point it had been hours since the students had first asked, “Where are you going?” They weren’t asking it anymore. They had accepted the idea Jesus was leaving. They were bummed about it.

But there’s a good reason for Jesus to leave: “If I don’t go away, the Assistant won’t come to you.”

What, Jesus and the Spirit can’t be here simultaneously?

Some Christians have come up with odd theological reasons why Jesus had to leave before the Holy Spirit would come. Some believe in modalism—that instead of a Trinity, God operates in three “modes”: Sometimes he’s the Father, sometimes Jesus, sometimes the Spirit. That’s wacky, but they seriously think Jesus had to go away because he couldn’t be in Spirit-mode and Jesus-mode at the same time. You know, like why Batman and Bruce Wayne can’t be in the same room: They’re the same guy.

Others teach the Spirit couldn’t come, because we humans are rotten sinners and he couldn’t indwell them until their sins have been wiped out by Jesus’s self-sacrifice. Of course, that doesn’t explain all the prophets the Spirit had indwelt before, like John the Baptist. But they usually invent some unbiblical rigamarole about how John wasn’t really filled with the Spirit: The Spirit only “came upon” him from time to time. Or they figure John was a giant exception. (And again, this doesn’t explain John’s parents being filled with the Spirit as well. )

These explanations limit God’s power. But Jesus never says the Assistant can’t come to them. It’s never u dýnati érkhesthi nor uk iscýi ércesthi (both “He’s unable to come”). It’s simply uk eléfseti/“He won’t come.” Jesus and the Spirit were swapping jobs. Jesus was his students’ helper and comforter and teacher and master. Now it would be the Spirit’s job. Jesus was voluntarily stepping down and the Spirit was voluntarily stepping up.

And this is for our benefit. Unlike Jesus, who limited himself in order to become human and live among us, the Holy Spirit is entirely unlimited: He’s the Almighty. He can be everywhere. He can accomplish ten billion times, and more, what Jesus could. He can indwell every Christian on the planet—and everyone else, for that matter. He can empower everyone.

Jesus is limited God. He’s like training wheels. When his disciples had Jesus around, they knew when they tried and failed, as they often did (as everyone does), they could turn to Jesus: He’d intervene and do it himself. But now that Jesus had taught them everything he felt he needed to, they were ready to do these things themselves, without the obvious safety net of Jesus looking over their shoulders. (Not that he isn’t still looking. Like I said, without the obvious safety net.) They needed to take Jesus’s teachings and apply them in faith. They needed to stop following the Holy Spirit indirectly, through Jesus, and follow him directly. They needed to be filled with the Spirit.

So that’s why Jesus left. Not to abandon us. He never has and never will. But we have to step up, follow the Spirit, act with power. Could Simon Peter still give his Pentecost sermon if Jesus was around to give it instead? Yes. But would he have? Nah; he’d have deferred to Jesus, even if Jesus was standing right there telling him, “Go; you got this.” (And the people would have told Peter, “Shut up and let the Master talk.”) Everyone would have figured Jesus would do it best—’cause duh, of course Jesus would do it best. But Jesus’s definition of “best” is quite a lot different from ours.

Jesus’s best involves obedient, active, participatory Christians, empowered by the Spirit to do the jobs he’s given us. In order to nudge us in that direction, he removed his physical presence from the equation. He took his finite form to the Father, and he sent us his infinite Holy Spirit. Way better… once we have the faith to realize this.

As to what the Spirit corrects in the universe, I’ll get to that.