“And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (Jn 16:8-11).
As our Helper and advocate, we can view the Holy Spirit as our defense attorney who always has our back. But when He interacts with the unbelieving world, we see a new role for the Holy Spirit; prosecuting attorney. Here He is accusing, not defending. The Holy Spirit will convict, expose, refute, and convince the world of their wayward path.
Concerning sin: The Holy Spirit will expose the world’s error concerning sin. The world of the unbelieving (“because they do not believe in Me”) are committing the ultimate, and might we say unforgivable sin, of not believing in Jesus. The Holy Spirit will expose this for what it is. Not believing in Jesus is not a sign of open-mindedness or a wide-ranging intellect. No, unbelief is exactly what Jesus claims it to be; a sin. As F.F. Bruce writes, “The rejection, condemnation, and execution of Jesus expressed in violent clarity the world’s refusal to believe in Him; that unbelief is now exposed as sin.”
Concerning righteousness: The emphasis in John’s gospel on the oneness of the Son and the Father in love, authority, and honor flows right into this passage. The righteous Son is returning to His righteous Father. Christ’s resurrection and return to the Father demonstrates that Christ is the righteous sacrifice without spot or blemish.
Concerning judgment: And finally, the ruler of this world has been judged. The coming presence of the Spirit will confirm that this judgment has, in fact, taken place. Look back at Jesus’ prophesy in John chapter 12, ” ‘Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die” (Jn 12:31-33).
Christ is predicting, and it happened, that Satan the ruler of this world will be judged when Christ is lifted up. That is Satan will be judged and defeated at the cross. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit to the unbelieving world will be to confirm that the adversary, the ruler of the world, has been judged, defeated, and deposed.
The Holy Spirit will have an incredible role in the life of the believer; a role expounded upon throughout the rest of the New Testament. But the three-fold ministry of the Spirit here in these verses is directed at the unbelieving world. A world that will be judged for their sin of unbelief according to the most righteous of courts.