John 16:23
Great Texts of the Bible
The Day of Knowledge and Power

And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name.—John 16:23.

1. Our Lord here sums up the prerogatives and privileges of His servants in the day that was about to dawn and to last till He came again. There is nothing absolutely new in the words; substantially the promises contained in them have appeared in former parts of these discourses under somewhat different aspects and connexions. Many such promises there are in the Bible: “Ask and ye shall receive”; “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive”; “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you”; “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Many such promises there are, but our Lord brings them together here, in this condensed repetition, in order that the scattered rays, being thus focused, may have more power to illuminate with certitude, and to warm into hope.

2. Now it is to be noticed that the two askings which are spoken of here are expressed by different words in the Greek. Our English word “ask” means two things, either “to question” or “to request”; to ask in the sense of interrogating, in order to get information and teaching, or in the sense of beseeching, in order to get gifts. In the former sense the word is employed in the first clause of our text, and in the second sense it is employed in the central portion of it. Christ does not distinguish between two epochs in Christian experience; in the earlier and more imperfect one, prayer being offered to Christ, in the later and perfected one, prayer being offered directly to the Father. There is not in this verse a contrast drawn between asking the Son, which shall cease, and asking the Father, which shall begin; but the first half of the verse closes the declaration of one blessing, namely, that hereafter they shall be so taught by the Spirit as to have nothing further to inquire; the second half of the verse begins the declaration of a new blessing, that whatsoever they shall seek from the Father, He will give it them in the Son’s name.

There are then two things here as the marks of the Christian life all through the ages: the cessation of the ignorant questions addressed to a present Christ, and the satisfaction of desires. These may be conveniently studied under the headings given by Godet:—

I.  Fulness of Knowledge.

  II.  Fulness of Power.


Fulness of Knowledge

“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.”

When our Lord went in and out among His disciples, He was their Prophet and Teacher in this way, that, if they wanted to know anything, the meaning of a place in Scripture, the right and wrong of what was being done, or the like—anything, in short, concerning their duty—they might go straight to Him and ask Him a question about it, as the Jews of old asked the prophets who were among them. And so in the Gospel history we find them continually doing this. Now what a great and unspeakable privilege this was, we all in some sort understand and feel at once. We know what a loss it is, when we are forced to part from some parent or friend, a frail mortal like ourselves, only a little better and wiser. How much more, when they had to part from Him who is perfect and infinite Goodness and Wisdom.

The state of things which was passing was the old familiar intercourse, the questions and the answers of the daily life. The relation of the Lord to His followers, as that of teacher and disciples, made the asking of questions the most natural thing in the world. As a matter of fact, we find in the Gospels that this is what the disciples were constantly doing. It might be a question of failure on their part: “Lord, why could not we cast it out?” It might be a moment of danger, as on the lake, when the disciples did not fall to prayer, but awoke their sleeping Lord: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” It might be some far-reaching question: “Lord, are there few that be saved?” It might be some suggested limitation of their loyalty: “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?” Especially in the last discourses recorded by St. John do we find such questions, implied or expressed. There was the question of St. Thomas, who wanted to tie our Lord down to definiteness of statement: “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?” There was the implied question of Philip, echoing the world-wide difficulty that besets the government of the world: “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” There was the question of the other Judas, with its shadow of the agelong perplexity, as to election and predestination: “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” And even as our Lord was speaking there was a question, as to the meaning of certain words of His, which was in the hearts, and almost on; the lips, of the whole body of the Apostles: “Jesus perceived that they were desirous to ask him, and he said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves concerning this, that I said, A little I while, and ye behold me not; and again a little while, and ye shall see me?” And then the Lord gave them for answer the assurance that though they should be sorrowful, their sorrow should be turned into joy. Thus were the disciples constantly in the habit, as was natural, of asking questions. Often the Lord’s answers seem to be purposely indirect and even evasive, but they always had reference to the particular difficulty that had been expressed. Now, the old privileged state of things, the easy, natural intercourse, was to cease. No longer would the disciples be able to turn to a present Master in time of perplexity or moment of danger. No longer would they hear the familiar accents speaking in answer to their questionings. It would be strange if the passing away of the old intercourse did not seem to the disciples to be all loss. For what condition of things could possibly seem to them better than the old?1 [Note: A. E. Coulthard, in The Record, 1908, p. 508.]

It is under these circumstances that Christ pronounces the words: “In that day ye shall ask me nothing.” Are we, then, to understand the words as words of discouragement to the already depressed disciples, or may we take them as words of the deepest comfort: “In that day ye shall ask me nothing, because everything will be revealed to you”?

1. “In that day.”—That day broke at the Resurrection and attained its settled light at Pentecost. Then “the hour came” from which things would be as they are here described. In the occasional intercourse of the forty days the disciples did ask something and hear something as of old, yet the former day of living and conversing together was over, and the new day had begun. Only there was granted an intervening period of twilight in which the Presence, shown at unexpected moments and vanishing from sight, and sometimes rather felt than seen, prepared them for that other kind of seeing and for that other kind of intercourse which were to ensue and to endure.

Christ would no longer be with the faithful as a personal earthly Teacher. He had been with the Apostles, but He could teach them only in proverbs. The spiritual meaning of His words lay hidden from them. They had brought to Him many a question which He had to set aside, because they were incapable of receiving the answer. When He was risen from the dead, He would open their understanding to understand the Scriptures. They should not look to Him then for details of accidental difficulty, but would recognize the illumination of Divine Sonship, the power of the Holy Ghost, speaking within their hearts. Then would the prophet’s word be fulfilled: “They shall be all taught of God.”

The day of the new dispensation is while Christ is with the Father. It begins to dawn when the heavens open to receive Him. It has no ending. It is the day which is as the light of seven days, the perfect illumination of grace. Christ is with the Father. The Father’s Wisdom is the Head of the Church. The Spirit of Wisdom is the Life of the Church. The supernatural consciousness is the light which fills the souls of the regenerate as “the children of the day.” It is a light which is at once moral, intellectual, spiritual. That day is a day of moral power, such as the world has never known before. Christ is Himself the Light of the conscience, shining within the heart, lifting up the faithful to delight in that which is worthy of man. No civilization previously had elevated mankind as the brightness of this light elevates. It elevates all of every class, for all are invited to walk in the light of the Lord. It is a day of intellectual light. Earlier ages witnessed the brute strength of human nature, leaving monuments behind which should endure for ages. The day of Christ would see man raised to a mastery of mind over matter. The secrets of nature would be unfolded. The elements of science were to be learnt as never before, under the discipline of the Christian Church. The spiritual light of the coming day would, however, be its true glory. God would be known in His personal Sovereignty, and in His relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Man would be conscious of himself as belonging to a higher order of existence than could find a home within this present world. The faithful would find their true joy in that God lifted up upon them the light of His countenance.1 [Note: R. M. Benson, The Final Passover, ii. (pt. ii.) 276.]

2. “Ye shall ask me nothing.”—Christ’s promise to His disciples in this place is that a time shall come to them when they shall no longer be questioners; when they shall have no necessity to be questioners; when they shall know all things, and not need any man to teach them. Christ was proclaiming progress and not retrogression when He said: “In that day ye shall ask me no more questions.”

It is better for a boy to puzzle out the meaning of a Latin book by his own brains and the help of a dictionary than lazily to use an interlinear translation. And, though we do not always feel it, and are often tempted to think how blessed it would be if we had an infallible Teacher visible here at our sides, it is a great deal better for us that we have not, and it is a step in advance that He has gone away. Many eager and honest Christian souls, hungering after certainty and rest, have cast themselves in these latter days into the arms of an infallible Church. I doubt whether any such questioning mind has found what it sought; and I am sure that it has taken a step downwards, in passing from the spiritual guidance realized by our own honest industry and earnest use of the materials supplied to us in Christ’s word, to any external authority which comes to us to save us the trouble of thinking, and to confirm to us truth which we have not made our own by search and effort.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

(1) In place of the former questioning, we have a completed revelation.—Great and wonderful and unspeakably precious as were and are the words of Jesus Christ, His deeds are far more so. The death of Christ has told us things that Christ before His death could not tell. The resurrection of Christ has cast light upon all the darkest places of man’s destiny which Christ, before His resurrection, could not by any words so illuminate. The ascension of Christ has opened doors for thought, for faith, for hope, which were fast closed, notwithstanding all His teachings, until He had burst them asunder and passed to His throne.

Breezes of spring, all earth to life awaking,—

Birds swiftly soaring through the sunny sky,—

The butterfly its lonely prison breaking,—

The seed upspringing, which had seemed to die,—

Types such as these a word of hope have spoken,

Have shed a gleam of light around the tomb;

But weary hearts longed for a surer token,

A clearer ray, to dissipate its gloom.

And this was granted! See the Lord ascending,

On crimson clouds of evening calmly borne,

With hands outstretched, and looks of love still bending

On His bereaved ones, who no longer mourn.

“I am the Resurrection,” hear Him saying;

“I am the Life; he who believes in Me

Shall never die,—the souls My call obeying,

Soon, where I am, for evermore shall be.”

Sing Hallelujah! light from Heaven appearing,

The mystery of life and death is plain;

Now to the grave we can descend unfearing,

In sure and certain hope to rise again!1 [Note: Jane Borthwick.]

(2) We have an inward Teacher.—We have a Divine Spirit who will come to us if we will, and teach us, blessing the exercise of our own faculties, and guiding us, not, indeed, into the uniform perception of the intellectual aspects of Christian truth, but into the apprehension and the loving possession, as a power in our lives, of all the truth that we need to mould our characters and to raise us to the likeness of Himself. Only, let us remember what such a method of teaching demands from us. It requires that we honestly use the revelation that is given us; it requires that we loyally, lovingly, trustfully, submit ourselves to the teaching of that Spirit who will dwell in us; it requires that we bring our lives up to the height of our present knowledge, and make everything that we know a factor in shaping what we do and what we are.

If we would know truth, we must not expect to advance by intellectual certainty, but by spiritual power. The truth must be a life. As we live true to His ascended Being, we find the power of that life. The Spirit of Truth is the Spirit of Life, so that, as we live by His inspirations, we are taught the fulness of His mysteries.1 [Note: R. M. Benson, The Final Passover, ii. (pt. ii.) 280.]

Up, and away!

Thy Saviour’s gone before,

Why dost thou stay,

Dull soul? Behold, the door

Is open, and His precepts bid thee rise,

Whose power hath vanquished all thine enemies.

In vain thou say’st

Thou art buried with thy Saviour,

If thou delay’st

To show by thy behaviour,

That thou art risen with Him. Till thou shine

Like Him, how canst thou say His light is thine?

Open thine eyes,

Sin-seized soul, and see

What cobweb ties

They are that trammel thee;

Not profit, pleasure, honours, as thou thinkest,

But loss, pain, shame, at which thou vainly winkest.

All that is good

Thy Saviour dearly bought

With His heart’s blood,

And it must then be sought,

Where He keeps residence, who rose this day;

Linger no longer then; up, and away!2 [Note: G. Herbert.]


Fulness of Power

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name.”

The second feature of the apostolic illumination mentioned by Jesus in the text is unlimited influence with God through prayer. The Apostles were to have at command the whole power of God; the power of miracles, to heal diseases; of prophecy, to foretell things to come bearing on the Church’s interest, which it was desirable that believers should know; of providence, to make all events subservient to their well-being, and that of the cause in which they laboured. Except the miraculous elements, which most Protestants agree in regarding as peculiar to the apostolic age, this magnificent promise of Jesus is made to all who aspire to Christian manhood, and is fulfilled to all who reach it.

1. The security of the promise.—It has been remarked, and with much truth, that whenever our Lord would declare some very important fact or doctrine, such as might be considered a fundamental truth of Christianity, or a law of His spiritual kingdom, He invariably prefaced His declaration with the emphatic words, “Verily, verily.” If, when we read the New Testament, we note the passages in which these reiterated words occur, we see that they are always in connexion with some important Christian truth. In point of fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we might condense the distinctive teaching of Christianity in the few verses which are prefaced with these particles of speech, and draw up from them a succinct summary of those essential verities of the Christian creed which we hold to be necessary to our salvation.1 [Note: Dean F. Pigon, Faith and Practice, 246.]

Shortly before His ascension to glory, when He would comfort His disciples in their sorrow at the prospect of His near departure, when He would encourage them to brave all the tribulation through which they must pass for His sake, Christ, in revealing to them the truth of His mighty intercession for them at the Throne of Grace, and for all prayerful Christians in all ages, emphasizes His declaration concerning prayer, and thus seems to give it a prominent place in the system of Christianity. He confirms His promise by an oath, that by these two immutable things which cannot be broken, His promise and His oath, we might have the strong consolation that our prayers penetrate through the clouds into the ears of the Lord of hosts. We are to pray, building our heart’s trust on the word and oath of the Lord, and not doubting that our prayers are heard. To doubt Christ’s words, spoken with so much solemnity, as the culminating word of admonition before He returned to the Father, is to plunge into a miserable unbelief from which nothing can extricate us.

There was that about Christ’s “Verily, verily I say unto you” which seemed to carry conviction and allay the spirit of controversy. The way in which the early Church used to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus” speaks volumes for the vividness of the impression which those words made on those who first heard them. We cannot now reproduce that impression or even imagine it with any great success; but if we wish to do full justice to the situation, we must allow for the result produced, and give to it the weight which it deserves.1 [Note: W. B. Selbie, Aspects of Christ, 163.]

2. The comprehensiveness of the promise.—Christ’s words are: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name.”

(1) God is not only able but willing to give all that is asked of Him. It is nothing for Him to give. He delights to give. It is the joy of the Divine life to be giving all the while.

The most delightsome day in the life of the Empress Josephine, as she wrote in one of her letters, was when, coming through the Alps with her husband, she was left for a little while to rest in a humble cottage. She saw that the eyes of the lonely woman there were stained with tears and asked her trouble. The woman said it was poverty. “How much,” asked Josephine, “would relieve it?” “Oh,” she said, “there is no relieving it; it would require four hundred francs to save our little vineyard and our goats.” Josephine counted out of her purse the four hundred francs into the woman’s lap, who gathered them together, and fell down and kissed her feet.2 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Verilies of Jesus, 141.]

(2) The promise to prayer is not limited to any special class of subjects. It includes all things, both temporal and eternal, material and spiritual. The objects of the outer creation are not unworthy to be the gifts of God, for they are the creatures of God. He created them for us. He created us and them for His only begotten Son. No created object has any end short of the glory of Christ. Consequently there is nothing that is beyond the circle of legitimate prayer. We are too apt to doubt whether we may pray for temporal mercies. The real reason is that we doubt whether all created things are really worthy of God as their Creator. He who created them with a purpose can use them for the highest of all purposes. The universe is one, but manifold. It has unity of purpose, from God in Christ. It has unity of purpose, for God in Christ. We must be careful to remember that we cannot take anything out of its place in creation. It will work for the glory of Christ; and if we will use it for Christ’s glory, we shall share in its blessing. If, however, we suppose that these meaner things are just created for our indulgence, and use them for the purposes of our sin, then we set them apart from the dispensation of God’s love, and must get them how and whence we can; and instead of finding a blessing if we do acquire them, we shall find that they have turned to be to us a curse. If only the necessities of earth drove us to live more conscientiously for the glory of God, we should find that the weariness of earth, instead of dragging us down, would urge us to efforts more worthy of heaven.

A prayer of the Athenians: “Rain, rain, O dear Zeus, down on the ploughed fields of the Athenians, and on the plains.” In truth we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion.1 [Note: Marcos Aurelius.]

Prayer can obtain everything; it can open the windows of heaven, and shut the gates of hell; it can put a holy constraint upon God, and detain an angel till he leave a blessing; it can open the treasures of rain, and soften the iron ribs of rocks, till they melt into tears and a flowing river: prayer can unclasp the girdles of the North, saying to a mountain of ice, “Be thou removed thence, and cast into the bottom of the sea”; it can arrest the sun in the midst of his course, and send the swift-winged winds upon our errand; and all those strange things, and secret decrees, and unrevealed transactions which are above the clouds and far beyond the regions of the stars, shall combine in ministry and advantages for the praying Man 1:1 [Note: Jeremy Taylor.]

3. The conditions of the promise.—There are no absolute conditions laid down in the text, but there are two conditions implied.

(1) It is by the next word in His promise that Christ brings us to the full meaning and the very heart of prayer. God will give those things which we really ask of Him as God: “Whatsoever things ye ask the Father.” If prayer be, as the Intercessor of our race always teaches, nothing but the going of the children to the Father to ask of Him what they need, it is an action of faith and self-sacrifice. “Our Father” must be the beginning of it. “Thy will be done” must be its centre. In the Divine relationship of the members of a family to one another we have the standing parable of prayer.

Could there be any character attributed to God in which we would rather approach Him? What attribute would so well imply His love and regard for our interests as His paternal relation to us? Earthly fathers give not their sons stones when they ask for bread, or a serpent instead of a fish; if, then, they “being evil know how to give good gifts unto their children, how much more shall our heavenly Father give good gifts to them that ask him?”

From Him all Fatherhood in heaven and earth gets its name. And fatherhood at its best, as we know it, is but a faint adumbration of what it means in its perfection in God of love and solicitude, will and power to help the children who are His own. And that is what men and women are, not mere intricate inventions, mechanical toys playing their little part in this great machine, the world, but God’s children with points of affinity in their nature with His own, and capable of fellowship with Him. And so to understand the relations of God to man and man to God, you have not to go to the models in the pattern shop, or to the factory with its operatives, or to the court-house with its laws, or even to the palace with its rooms of state and subjects in obeisance before their monarch. But go to the home, go to the nursery; see a father with his children, ay, better still, a mother with her prattling little ones with a thousand requests a day, and learn there what God is.2 [Note: R. J. Drummond, Faith’s Perplexities, 183.]

Our soul is so specially loved of Him that is highest, that it overpasseth the knowing of all creatures—that is to say, there is no creature that is made that may fully know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loveth us. And therefore we may with grace and His help stand in spiritual beholding, with everlasting marvel of this high, overpassing, inestimable love that Almighty God hath to us of His goodness. And therefore we may ask of our Lover with reverence all that we will.1 [Note: Julian the Anchoress.]

(2) Our petitions are answered “in the name of Christ.” The reading, “He will give it you in my name,” is preferable to the reading of the Authorized Version, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name.”

We could make no claim to the smallest gift of God if Christ had not died, if Christ had not risen again—died for our sins, risen again for our justification; if Christ had not ascended to the right hand of the Father; if He were not there even now, our Mediator, our Intercessor, our Advocate, our High Priest. We must recognize that in Christ, and only in Christ, God is perfectly well pleased; and in us only so far as we are found in Him; that all our acceptance with God, all our right to be heard by God, rests solely and exclusively on the work for sinners which Christ once accomplished on Calvary, and is evermore pleading in heaven.

But the fact that the Father gives in the name of Christ, by whom He made, sustains, and governs the world, and through whom all His redeeming love is manifested to His earthly children, presupposes that they present their requests through Him as their Mediator—that is, in His name. Our prayer goes up through the same channel through which God’s gifts come down. He who would receive from God in Christ’s name must pray Christ’s prayer, “Not my will, but thine be done.” And then, though many wishes may be unanswered, and many weak petitions unfulfilled, and many desires unsatisfied, the essential spirit of the prayer will be answered, and, His will being done in us and on us, our wishes will acquiesce in it and desire nothing besides. To him who can thus pray in Christ’s name in the deepest sense, and after Christ’s pattern, every door in God’s treasure-house flies open, and he may take as much of the treasure as he desires. The Master bends lovingly over such a soul, and with outstretched hand says, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

We all know with what confidence the clerk of a business house goes to a bank with a draft “in the name” of his firm. If he were to present it in his own name, that would be a very different affair. The demand made on behalf of the firm is instantly honoured. We can see that there is all the difference in this instance between acting in a private, and acting in a public capacity. To ask as belonging to a business corporation for the purposes of that corporation is one thing. To ask as a private individual, with merely personal ends in view, is quite another thing.1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 68.]

The Day of Knowledge and Power


Baring-Gould (S.), Village Preaching for a Year, 2nd Ser., i. 243.

Beanie (J. N.), The Eternal Life, 84.

Benson (R. M.), The Final Passover, ii. (pt. ii.) 276.

Bernard (T. D.), The Central Teaching of Jesus Christ, 303.

Burrell (D. J.), The Verilies of Jesus, 137.

Drummond (R. J.), Faith’s Perplexities, 175.

Gordon (A. J.), In Christ, 135.

Hall (A. C. A.), The Christian Doctrine of Prayer, 72.

Hall (J. V.), The Sinner’s Friend, 43.

Hull (E. L.), Sermons preached at King’s Lynn, 2nd Ser., 40.

Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, ii. 133.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., ix. 321, 340.

M‘Kinney (J.), The Tree of Life, 42.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John xv.–xxi., 140.

Martin (S.), Fifty Sermons, 207.

Murray (A.), The Ministry of Intercession, 129.

Murray (A.), With Christ, 186, 196.

Pigou (F.), Faith and Practice, 246.

Rogers (J. H.), The “Verily, Verilys” of Christ, 231.

Scott (M.), The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, 127.

Shore (T. T.), Some Difficulties of Belief, 25, 43.

Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 180.

Smith (D.), Christian Counsel, 132.

Trench (R. C.), Sermons preached for the most part in Ireland, 288.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xix., No. 1167.

Wilmot-Buxton (H. J.), Life of Duty, i. 244.

Christian World Pulpit, xii. 68 (Roberts).

Contemporary Pulpit, v. 291 (Hancock).

Record, 1908, p. 508 (E. N. Coulthard).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
John 16:8-11
Top of Page
Top of Page