"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come." (John 16:12-13)

As translated, this seems a curious statement made by Jesus to his close disciples following the 'last supper.' What does it mean?

The first sentence is pretty clear: Jesus has much more understanding about God and the spiritual world than his disciples are ready to hear. The word "bear" is translated from the Greek word βαστάζω (bastazō), which means "to take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one's self (something) to be carried," and "to sustain, i.e. uphold, support" according to the lexicon. Another word describing this in this context would therefore be to handle.

As in, "more than you can now handle."

As for the rest of Jesus' statement, let's break down the key parts of the translation:

"Spirit of Truth" is being translated from πνεῦμα (pneuma) and ἀλήθεια (alētheia). Jesus is obviously referring to the Holy Spirit here, as Jesus used these same words in a previous statement:
"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." (John 15:26)
Jesus also confirmed that this "Counselor," the "Spirit of Truth," is indeed the Holy Spirit (and "Spirit" is a better translation than "Ghost"):
"But the Counselor, 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)
And it is clear in John 16:12-13 that Jesus is once again saying that the Holy Spirit will be guiding his disciples after he has left them.

But what does Jesus mean by "He will not speak on His own" and "He will speak only what He hears"?

Actually, this is slightly mistranslated, and the mistranslation creates the confusion that the Holy Spirit somehow needs someone or something else to help Him speak.

The key Greek words here are:

οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει - translated to "He will not speak" - λαλήσει means "to utter a voice or emit a sound" and "to speak"

ἀφ’ἑαυτοῦ (heautou) - translated to "on His own" - ἀφ’means "from" or "by" and ἑαυτοῦ (heautou) means "himself, herself, itself, themselves."

ὅσος (hosos) - translated to "only what" - but means "as great as, as far as, how much, how many, whoever."

ἀκούω (akouō) - translated to "He hears" - but means "to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf" but also "to understand, perceive the sense of what is said." In this context, it relates to perception and understanding.

λαλέω (laleō) - translated to "He will speak" - means "to utter a voice or emit a sound" and "to speak"

With the understanding of the Greek we can therefore offer a more appropriate translation of this section:
"He will not so much speak Himself; He will speak through understanding"
This is a deep concept - one that may be difficult for the mind to comprehend. It is not as if the Holy Spirit is heard through a tiny voice from within. Here the the phrase "not so much" is used as an idiom translating not that He doesn't speak, but He doesn't speak in the manner assumed by the word "speak." We don't "hear" God speaking to us as a person might hear someone physically speaking through the ears.

In other words, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit of God - the Spirit of Truth - speaks to us through our understanding.

Let's use an example. Let's say that an inter-city school teacher wants to teach his kids how bright the stars can be at night without the city lights or smog. So the teacher sets up a field trip for the children to travel to the countryside on a clear night. They get to stare up at the stars themselves, and understand just how bright the stars are.

Now the teacher could have tried to tell the kids just how bright stars can be at night - but that would not really communicate what could be understood through the experience.

The Holy Spirit - the Counselor - that Jesus is discussing, speaks to us in the same way: Through our coming to understand something. For some things, it may require us to experience something. For other things, the understanding may come in the way of a realization. Still others may come when we are reading scripture or praying or otherwise.

The bottom line is that Jesus is not saying that God does not speak by Himself - or that He only will speak what He hears. This is an offensive thought. The Supreme Being is completely independent. He is in complete control. He can say what He wants when He wants to say it. If He wanted to say something with a thundering voice from the sky He could do it.

But the Supreme Being does not speak to us in this manner. The reason is because the Supreme Being is a thoughtful and gracious person. He does not intrude into our lives unless we ask Him to.

You see, those of us who dwell within these physical bodies in the physical world are here because we wanted to get away from God. We wanted to be independent of Him. We wanted our freedom to chase our own dreams on our own, without Him.

So He created a virtual physical world where we - spirit-persons - could take on temporary identities to chase our self-centered dreams for awhile. And He created this virtual dimension in such a way that we couldn't see Him with these physical eyes or hear Him with these physical ears. In other words, we could ignore His existence for awhile.

He gave us this freedom because this is what we wanted. After all, love requires freedom. The Supreme Being created each of us spirit-persons to exchange a loving relationship with Him. We were created to be one of His caregivers.

But in order for us to truly love Him, He also had to give us some independence - the ability to decide to love Him or not.

Those of us who chose not to love Him were sent here to the physical world to play out our independence from Him. We were given these temporary physical bodies within this temporary physical world.

It is "temporary" because each of us will leave these physical bodies at the time of the death. We are not these bodies. This is why we feel so odd when our bodies age so fast. This is why we struggle to survive in these bodies even though they will inevitably die.

Scientists confirm these bodies are temporary as they have found that the body is constantly recycling atoms and molecules. Within at least five years, the entire body has recycled itself and now contains a whole new collection of atoms and molecules. Yet we are still the same person. We are still each "me." This illustrates that we are not these physical bodies. We are spirit-individuals who are temporarily inhabiting our physical body.

We must understand we are here in this world, dwelling in these bodies that block us from contact with God because this is what we wanted. We wanted to be away from God. The Supreme Being simply obliged our desire. He granted us this desire.

But it is not as if He really left us alone. He is still by the side of each of us through His expansive feature - the Holy Spirit. The Supreme Being is not limited by time and space as we are in the physical world. He can be in multiple places at the same time. He can expand Himself without limit.

In this case, the Supreme Being's expansive feature of the Holy Spirit is with us where ever we go within these physical bodies. He helps us when needed and is always there for us should we decide to turn to Him.

Those of us who decide we want His guidance will receive it. But He will still never intrude upon our desires for independence. For most of us in the physical world who ask for His guidance, we are still hampered by many self-centered desires. Part of us may want to progress in our relationship with Him, but may not be ready to give up our independence. We may not be ready to give our lives to Him.

For those, the Holy Spirit will give guidance that will gradually increase our awareness of Him and our relationship with Him. This guidance will typically come in the form of our coming to understand certain things. We will come to understand more and more who we are, for example. We will come to realize we aren't this temporary physical body.

And we may come to understand that no matter how many people we surround ourselves with, we remain lonely. Without our loving relationship with Him, we are functionally alone. For some of us - perhaps those of us who are immersed in family relationships - we may not realize this until our family members begin to die or otherwise leave us. For a parent, the loneliness is felt when the children leave the house and start their own lives. For a child, the loneliness is understood when the parent dies. For a husband or wife, it may be understood when our spouse leaves us or dies.

These are all lessons that may or may not teach by themselves. But when the Holy Spirit is guiding us, He can help us understand the lesson. He can help us see that we need our permanent, eternal relationship with Him.

And once we have renewed our permanent relationship with the Supreme Being, we are also united with the rest of our eternal family - all of God's children - our brothers and sisters. When we come to the stage of re-establishing our loving, caregiving relationship with the Supreme Being we see all of His children as our family members, and that love for God automatically extends to a real love of His children. At that point, we will never be lonely, because we have reunited with our true family - founded upon our relationship with God.

This is the guidance that Jesus wants his disciples to embrace following his departure from the physical world. Jesus knows he will be leaving his physical body soon and returning to the spiritual world:
"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17)
The final thing Jesus says in the above verse (John 16:12-13) is "and He will tell you what is yet to come." What does this mean?

The key Greek words are ἀναγγέλλω (anaggellō) - translated to "tell you" - and ἔρχομαι (erchomai) - translated to "what is to come."

Yes, ἀναγγέλλω (anaggellō) means to "to announce, make known; to report." But ἀναγγέλλω (anaggellō) means, according to the lexicon, "to come from one place to another, and used both of persons arriving and of those returning" and "to appear, make one's appearance, come before the public."

This means that Jesus is not speaking of the Holy Spirit predicting the future or something. This is in fact often the interpretation of so many ecclesiastical teachers over the centuries who have spoken of the Saints of the Old Testament as merely being "prophets" - people who predict the future.

Rather, what Jesus is speaking of is the Holy Spirit appearing (ἀναγγέλλω (anaggellō)) more and more to Jesus' disciples. That God's guidance through the Holy Spirit will increase their awareness of God - and they will see God and be with God more and more.

Remember that the Supreme Being is with us all the time. It is our awareness of Him that is lacking. This is because He has taken our awareness of Him away through the facility of the physical body and the physical world - namely our identification with it.

But remember that this lack of awareness of God is something we wanted: We wished to be away from Him.

Should we want to renew our relationship with Him, He will see this within our hearts, and begin revealing Himself to us gradually - first through realization and understanding, and gradually more and more, our being able to experience His presence.

(The NIV is utilized for Biblical quotes here. For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of John without sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)