As Jesus neared the end of His earthly ministry, He began to prepare His disciples for His departure. Christ’s closest followers had been with Him for three years. Their lives were so intertwined with His that the idea of the Lord leaving them would have been deeply troubling. Knowing they would feel His absence like a child might experience the loss of his parents, Jesus promised the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
The Greek word orphanous means “fatherless children.” It derives from a root term meaning “to be alone, deprived.” In ancient biblical culture, orphans were among the most vulnerable people (along with widows and resident aliens). According to Israel’s social structure, the father or male head of the household was responsible for guarding and protecting the family members. Orphans were left with no one to care or provide for them, moving God to place them under His own divine protection (Deuteronomy 10:18; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 68:5; 146:9).
With the prospect of His going away, Jesus knew that His disciples were anxious about being alone and abandoned (John 14:1). The Lord had called the disciples to entrust their entire future to Him, and they had made the commitment. Now, Jesus wanted to reassure them that His leaving was not the absolute disaster they were envisioning.
First, the Lord explained that His departure would secure their heavenly destiny with the Father for all eternity (John 14:2–6). Jesus would depart by way of His death on the cross, the very act that would gain eternal life for all who believe in Him (John 1:12–13; 3:14–16; 11:25). Jesus was going on ahead to prepare a place for them (John 14:2–3). And the way to this future life in heaven was through Jesus Christ Himself (John 14:6; see also Acts 4:12).
The disciples must have wondered how on earth they would continue to serve the Lord and fulfill His mission in the world without Jesus present with them. To address this concern, Jesus made His first mention of the Holy Spirit: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:16–17, NLT).
The Holy Spirit was with the disciples already, but once Jesus departed, the Holy Spirit would dwell within them. The original Greek words for “with you” literally mean “beside you.” After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, the Spirit that had been beside them would be inside them.
When Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” He was promising to send the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would arrive at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–5). A little later, Jesus reaffirmed that His leaving was a good and necessary thing: “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 go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, ESV). After Jesus’ resurrection, we see that the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s triumph available to the people of God.
Jesus lives in us—those who are the children of God—through the person and power of the Holy Spirit. We are not orphans because the Holy Spirit within us identifies us as God’s children. Paul said to the believers in Rome, “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16, NLT).
Moreover, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is without end. The Helper, Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter (all names for the Holy Spirit) will be with us and in us forever. Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
As members of God’s family, we have this hope: our Father will not leave us as orphans! The Lord will never abandon us (Philippians 1:3–6; Hebrews 13:5). Nor will He leave us unprotected to face the struggles and evils in this world. He sends us a Helper to fill and equip us. God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us as the constant, reassuring presence of Jesus from the moment of our salvation, throughout our whole lives, and for all eternity.