The second point with respect to which the Holy Spirit will convict the world is that of righteousness,
Here again we have the same indefinite form of expression that we encounter in the other two members. However it is here especially evident that the relation must be expressed by “concerning”, or “in respect to” for it is evident that the world is not convicted of its own righteousness but that it is compelled to concede to righteousness in some respect, which must now further appear from the course of the Savior’s statement.
But what righteousness is this, or whose? We must here assume a change of acting or existing subject, since in the former the world was the acting subject of the sin, whereas that same subject cannot be the acting subject in the case of the righteousness.
We shall therefore try to determine and define this righteousness from especially the “because” clause that is attached to it. That clause says, “because I go to the Father, and “ye see me no more”.
Now just as the Savior stands prominent in the ground for the conviction over the world’s sin, so He stands here in the ground of the conviction concerning righteousness. It is a righteousness that is especially demonstrated and proved by His going to the Father
Remembering now that we do not yet especially in John’s Gospel have the idea of righteousness used in the legal sense, as it is in the epistles of the apostle Paul, we are naturally lead to take it here in a more broad ethical sense, which looks at the actions or life’s attitude of some one. In this connection then at tin righteousness of Christ as He is viewed by God with respect to His purpose and work. And then He is viewed as the great servant of the Lord, who came into the world at the command of the Father, who undertook the task of representing the cause of God’s covenant here, who proclaimed the will of God, revealed it in word and deed, suffered to fulfill the needs of his brethren which the Father had given Him to redeem and bring into a reconciled state. And in this all he never gave any occasion of offense to any of the enemies of the cause of God. He would indeed say, “The Father hath not left me alone, for I do always those things that please Him”. And with respect to His conduct among men He could say, “Who of you convicteth Me of sin?”
Thus His righteousness here means that His entire mission has been fully and perfectly carried, that He has no delinquency with His sender in respect, whether in state or condition, and therefore is justly entitled to be removed from this earth with its accursed condition and to be transported into the paradise of God as a fitting abode for the faithful servant.
From this point of approach we may now also, because of the very indefiniteness of the expression, add that it includes the righteousness of the Father in rewarding His Son even though His cause was according to any human judgment a complete failure and a false pretense that ended in utter frustration and disgrace. The righteous Father does not forsake the righteous. And in the third place it applies to those who identified themselves with that righteous servant and His cause. Also their trust has been approved and their identification of themselves with the servant of the Lord and His cause, implies His acceptance of them and their participation in His justification.
Now in respect to this righteousness conviction will be wrought in the heart of the heart of the unbelieving world.
In distinction from the previously mentioned factor of sin, there is now a considerable advance. The fact of sin was established. But the question of the outcome of that sin was still not considered, whether it would ever be visited and eradicated was left unexpressed. Only the fact of its existence was definitely and convincingly demonstrated.
Now in contrast with all this sinfulness there is the emphatic statement and proof that Christ was righteous. And He is not only a righteous man, but a man sent of the Father on a mission, whereby He was to break that sin power under the auspices of the God of righteousness. And of this sender under whose auspices He undertook the mission, He receives the visible approval of the resurrection and exaltation to heavenly glory.
The undeniable fact of this exaltation is emphasized by the statement, “Ye see Me no more”. This is not a loose form of saying that the world does not see the Savior anymore, but sets his departure against the background of the fact that His intimate followers now see a sudden change in His position. He as the righteous one is thereby set definitely apart from all the other relatively righteous ones. To the Jews He had once said, “I go my way and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins,” and “when ye have lifted up the Son of Man then shall ye know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself, but as My Father hath taught Me I speak these things” (). But in a similar sense this applies to the disciples, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me, and as I said to the Jews, Whither I go ye cannot come, so now I say to you.” ).
He stands alone as the righteous one distinct from the world, but also, and that the more remarkable, also from His own righteous ones. He goes alone to receive the reward of perfect righteousness.
Now this fact is used to convince the world that the Savior was the righteous one and that God has a representative of righteousness in this world. The cause of the Son of God has His divine approval and shall surely triumph. No one will be able to deny this in his own conscience. Let us notice that of this righteousness the visible proof is held forth here, more than the righteousness itself, which, of course, is based on the cross. This visible vindication no one can deny. In the entire history, Jesus holds the entire stage. The Baptist is only a forerunner who drops from the stage as nothing but a servant or bridegroom’s attendant; the disciples and apostles direct all their light to illuminate Him as the one central figure. The resurrection and ascension of the servant of Jehovah stand as a mountain peak in the midst of history. He and His cause is justified before the eyes of all men.
Also here we must not let appearances deceive us. Men may deny it. Men may live as if they never heard or took notice of these tremendous things. Men may so fill their lives with the things of self and the world that the mountain peak of God in the flesh is obscured by one dust-speck of self-interest obstructing the vision. But hereby the power of rational judgment and evaluation is not put to naught. The fact of the justification of Christ remains.
Now also this conviction is wrought through the apostolic testimony and the preaching of the Church. Therefore let us beware that we do not proclaim a Gospel of man, of morality, of earthly peace. But let us say with the apostles: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made to be both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom ye have crucified.
We come now to the third point in respect to which the Holy Spirit as the advocate of the cause of Christ will bring conviction. And we immediately stand here again before the question, what world or from what aspect the world is there considered as the object of the conviction. And we may state here with increased confidence that we have a clear indication of that object in especially this member of the threefold expression, which can according to the connection mean nothing less than a condemnatory decision. For the passage says that He will convict the world of judgment, which strongly indicated that it is the evil lost world that is convicted.
The suggestion does, indeed, occur that this is a judgment in the sense of a neutral decision which is pronounced with respect to each and every man and is favorable or unfavorable, depending upon the relation of each man to the Savior. And this suggestion is sometimes supported by the consideration that the form of the word used to express the judgment is a neutral form, like our word “judging”, and the Holland “oordeelen”, expressing nothing about the nature of the judgment as to whether it be favorable or not.
However we must observe on the one hand that the absence of the perfective or intensive preposition in the world does not at all indicate that it is neutral, no more than the Dutch “oordeelen” or “geoordeeld” in this passage are neutral in contrast with “veroordecld” with its intensive preposition. This is evident already from the fact that the same word is used in speaking of the sentence upon Satan without any intensive or perfective preposition, which nevertheless plainly means the condemnation of Satan as is clear by a comparison with the words of the Savior in . . . .which, of course, indicates his legal eviction.: “Now is the judgment of this world; now is the prince of this world cast out”,
We also have an example of the use of the simple verb-form for a condemnatory judgment in, which also both the English and the Dutch translators understood as condemnatory. So many other places in the New Testament. See .
And a third indication that it is condemnatory sentence over an evil world appears from the fact that it is exactly Satan who is here mentioned as the one whose fate serves as a ground. Were this series not a climax ending in an adverse judgment we might rightly expect some order such as the following: of sin, of righteousness, and of glory; or, of sin, of righteousness and of equity. But on the contrary the viewpoint is plainly that of the thorough triumph over and destruction of the opposition against the cause of the Son of God as His people represent it in the world. It is of this utter frustration that Satan is the first fruit and fitting sample.
Now of this evil world it is said that it is convinced of judgment. And we shall now more specifically have to see what this judgment is. In the first place it appears that the emphasis is not on the condemnation as such but on the sureness of judgment, of the crisis, of the settlement. The issue is between the sin of the world and the righteous Son and servant of God in this world. And the issue will surely be brought to light. There is here a question between sin and righteousness and since God is the righteous judge there must come a decision and then of course in the favor of right. Of this judgment, that is, of its sureness, the Holy Spirit working through the apostolic preaching convinces the world.
Again the question may arise, how is that conviction or assurance worked. And it must be admitted that commentaries do not usually give an answer to this question. For, to be sure, the simple statement is enough to establish the fact, yet the mind naturally asks for a concrete illustration if one is possible.
But following the text we must conceive of the men of the world as carrying in their hearts the conviction that, just as surely as they are sinners and they know it, and as surely as Christ is the righteous party in His whole conflict with sin and sinners in God’s world, so they are convinced in their hearts of God’s righteous decision between these two, and that this decision of God implies a thorough and final settlement of the case in condemnation.
Men, so the text tells us, are convinced of this judgment. It will help us now further to understand the implication of this when we see the ground of this conviction, namely, that the prince of this world is judged.
And, even though, the church suffers tribulation in this world, she can be of good cheer, whereas the world is always overcome. For Christ is glorified and the Spirit is in the world to establish His triumph, not only in the obedient church, but also in those who to the end would oppose Him.