I take the long way around my personal problems and my messes. I do my best to do everything right. I strive to follow all the right steps. I read all the right books and talk to all the right people. But somewhere in the midst of my hard work and frantic rush, I forget to cry out to Jesus and depend upon Him. If I would just stop and listen to Jesus, He would tell me, “Just go the right way and save yourself some precious time. Cling to My cross and rely upon My resurrection.” In John 16:16-33, Jesus talks to His disciples about the challenges that will await them after His departure.
In 16:16-19, John reveals that you’ll experience perplexity in the crises of life if you fail to appreciate the implications of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says, “‘A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.’ Some of His disciples then said to one another, ‘What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about. Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” You’re probably thinking: What a bizarre series of verses, right? I’m with you. This is a peculiar exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Verses 16, 17, and 19 contain an identical refrain (“a little while”) that concerns first, not seeing Jesus shortly, and second, seeing Jesus shortly. It sounds like an ancient game of peek-a-boo: “Now you see Me; now you don’t.” Naturally, the disciples have no idea what Jesus is saying so they converse among themselves. Their confusion is somewhat understandable. In 16:10, Jesus has said that He is going to the Father and they will not see Him any longer. Then He says that they will see Him, and it won’t be long. What does this all mean? Quite simply, Jesus is saying that His time on earth is drawing to a close. His disciples will only see Him for another few hours. But in three days, they will see Him again when He rises from the dead (cf. 20:17-23).
It’s a lot easier for us to see Jesus’ intended meaning since we have the full counsel of God’s Word. The disciples, on the other hand, are expecting a Messiah that will rule and reign, not die and depart. So they began discussing what Jesus means. The verb tense in 16:18 that is translated “they were saying” denotes that the disciples were continually speaking among themselves, so we get the picture that there is a considerable amount of discussion going on. Nevertheless, I appreciate their willingness to admit their ignorance instead of pretending to be spiritual know-it-alls. Sadly, they didn’t take their questions to Jesus. Instead, they tried to figure things out for themselves. So here they are talking amongst themselves when they should be listening to Jesus. Stop right now and say, “Note to self: Don’t try to figure out the Bible myself. Rather, ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for revelation. Don’t attempt to neatly categorize and systemize the Bible.” There are some biblical tensions. One of the reasons Jesus included these in Scripture is so that we would have to depend upon Him and ask Him for insight. Similarly, our church needs to be a safe place that welcomes questions from those seeking to understand the Bible. We must do what we can to help people feel comfortable enough to ask spiritual questions. In our day and age, most people (including many Christians) know very little about the Scriptures. We must help each other grow in our understanding of His Word.
In 16:20-24, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite your crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:20-22 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you7 will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”You’ve got to hand it to Jesus; He always tells His disciples the truth in advance. In these verses, the noun “sorrow” and the verb translated “be sorrowful” appear four times, while words with similar meanings (“weep,” “lament,” and “anguish”) appear three times. The noun “joy” and its verb “rejoice,” appear five times. Each time a word associated with sorrow is used, it is contrasted with joy. Jesus’ point: The greatest spiritual progress often follows the greatest sufferings. The greatest blessing that would ever come to these apostles—the gift of the Holy Spirit—would follow the greatest trauma they had ever experienced. It has been observed that Jesus does not tell His disciples that their sorrow will be replaced by joy, but rather that their sorrow will be turned into joy. There is a very significant difference. Many wish to have joy, but they want to have it without sorrow. If joy is sorrow which God has transformed into joy, then we must endure the sorrow to experience the joy.
I must confess, I got a kick out of Jesus’ illustration about childbearing in 16:21. I could never get away with using such an illustration! I’d be feathered and tarred and run out of town. But Jesus, the Son of God, can say whatever He likes. I do smile a bit, though, because Jesus spoke these words in the presence of eleven men. Even though He could have gotten away with these words, He didn’t speak them in the presence of any women. I would also add that it is likely that Jesus is using hyperbole when He refers to a woman who no longer remembers the pain of her labor. I suspect most women remember the pain for a relatively long time. Perhaps just reading these words causes you pain. You will never forget all that you went through. But the pain of childbirth is turned into joy as you behold your child. Likewise, our temporary trials will be turned into joy (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18).
In the last clause of 16:22 Jesus says, “. . . no one will take your joy away from you.” I love this! No matter what kind of earthly success you experience, it is temporary. You may be smart, successful, strong, popular, and good-looking, but these blessings can fade like a breath. The joy that Jesus offers is eternal. It is good for this life and the life to come. As the old adage says, “Happiness is the result of happenings, whereas joy is the result of Jesus.” Today, will you choose joy regardless of your circumstances?
In 16:23-24, Jesus transitions to the topic of prayer. He does so because He recognizes that prayer is essential when one encounters troubling times. Jesus says: “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”After Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the disciples’ questions will be answered. Furthermore, Jesus’ death and resurrection will open for them the way to prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name (cf. 14:13; 15:16). I’m not referring to what you hear on Christian television: “In Jesus name.” Nor am I speaking about how our children often conclude their prayers with a rapid-fire, slurred version of “InJesusNameAmen.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that Jesus’ will is accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It is to pray that His plan, program, and purpose are accomplished. When you pray according to His will, your prayers will be answered.
It is significant that the joy Christ promises is connected with prayer. Although prayer is designed for God’s glory, it’s also for our good. The purpose clause at the end of 16:24 reads: “so that your joy may be made full.” So, why is the church lacking in joy? Why are you lacking in joy? What is it that Jesus Christ has already done that you are trying to do? Jesus wants you and me to pray to Him. He wants us to cry out to Him. He wants you to come to the end of yourself. He wants us to cry out, “I can’t . . . you can . . . please help.”
In 16:25-33, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite life’s crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:25 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Explicit predictions about future events would have overtaxed the disciples’ weak faith at this point (cf. 16:12-13), so Jesus spoke to the disciples in figures of speech. He then immediately follows up his figure with two more verses on prayer: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father” (16:26-27).
With small variations, this promise is repeated six times in this discourse. The reason: Disciples are often guilty of being prayerless. In these verses, Jesus emphasizes God the Father’s great love for the disciples. Despite their unfaithfulness, God had a deep love for them because they love Jesus. Consequently, Jesus’ death will afford the disciples a deeper and more intimate relationship with His Father. They will now have the opportunity to pray to the Father 24-7. Jesus would no longer need to pray on their behalf in the role of an earthly priest, but He will intercede for them as a heavenly priest. What a privilege to experience direct communion with the God of the universe!
Yet, the sad truth is most Christians are more concerned with God’s blessings than they are with God’s presence. In other words, many Christians are seeking a God who provides secrets and solutions to better health, a better career, a better marriage and family, or more money. What about you? Do you see prayer as a “request-line” or as a “life-line?” Jesus wants you and me to be in love with Him. He wants us to deeply desire Him above all else. Today, will you respond to the Father’s love and begin to communicate with Him? He wants to hear from you. Maybe you are intimidated because you assume that you’ll have to pray two or three hours a day. Don’t worry about the duration of time. Simply take a baby step and make a commitment to begin talking to God. When my children want to talk with me, even if it’s just a sentence or two, I want to listen and hear from them. From what I’ve been told as children move into the teenage years, relish even a simple sentence of conversation. Did you know that God feels this way about you? He wants to converse with you. He wants you to pour out your heart to Him—your dreams, your hopes, your interests. While He already knows all of it, He still thoroughly enjoys fellowship with you. I know this is mind boggling, but it’s true. God loves you and desires intimacy with you through prayer.
The reason that God can have unconditional love for you and me is found in 16:28. Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” This verse is a summary of the whole visit of the Son to the world. It includes His mission, nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Everything that Jesus is and all that He has accomplished makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God and to be recipients of His love.
In 16:29-32, John records a surprising exchange. Jesus’ disciples say, “‘Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” The overconfidence of the disciples is startling! Apparently now, everything is crystal clear. The light switch has been flicked on. Yet, Jesus humbles them with a question with thinly veiled skepticism, amounting to a mild rebuke: “Do you now believe?” Jesus is speaking with a bit of irony and sarcasm. However, Jesus’ words do not imply that their faith in Him is non-existent; they have believed that He is the Messiah (cf. 2:11). He is merely saying that at the present time their faith is inadequate. After the resurrections occurs, the disciples will come to believe that He is both Lord and God (cf. 20:28). You and I continue in the Christian life the same way we began, by believing in Jesus. The more we learn of Christ, the more we have to believe. The more we place our trust in Jesus, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we can accomplish for His glory.
Jesus proceeds to allude to Zech 13:7. As predicted, all the disciples (except Peter and John, 18:15) abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even though He was abandoned by His disciples, Jesus wasn’t completely alone—the Father is with Him. And important principle emanates from Jesus’ words: People (even disciples) are fickle, but God is faithful. The truth is your spouse will disappoint you. Your children and grandchildren will disappoint you. Your coworkers and neighbors will disappoint you. Your pastors and elders will disappoint you. There will be times in your life when it seems like everyone has let you down and you’re all alone. Yet, Jesus wants you to know that God will never leave you nor forsake you (cf. Heb 13:5). I believe God often allows people to disappoint us so that we have no one to look to but Him. If people always meet our needs and never disappointed us, we would never choose to look to God. We could be satisfied in all of our horizontal relationships with other people. Ultimately, God wants us to be satisfied with Him alone. He yearns for our vertical relationship to be the most important pursuit in our lives. Will you prioritize God today because you’re grateful for His faithfulness, not because everyone has left you high and dry? He wants your love and gratitude.
Jesus’ final words in this passage are also His final words to His disciples on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Chapter 17 begins Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer to the Father. So Jesus has been building up to an important word in 16:33. He says: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The phrase “these things I have spoken to you” refers back to all that Jesus has said in the Upper Room Discourse. What Jesus has been building up to is a single word: PEACE. Jesus wants the disciples to experience His peace. He knows that they are anxious and frightened over His departure so He offers them peace. First though, He assures His disciples that they will have “tribulation.” This is one Bible promise very few “claim” today. The word “tribulation” (thilipsis) doesn’t point to some minor irritation, but to very real hardship. It is used, for example, of the treading of grapes. Perhaps you can relate to this. Do you ever feel like you are being squished and squashed? Do you ever feel like your insides are being sprayed all over the place? Today, are you feeling pressure to the breaking point? The world offers pressure; Christ offers peace. He is available to you today.
Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” Notice, He doesn’t say, “I will overcome the world.” Instead, he uses a perfect tense verb which refers to a past act with abiding results. The verb translated “overcome” is the Greek verb nikao. The noun form is nike, which means “victory.” I’d like to believe that the Nike Corporation chose their name based upon Jesus words in John 16:33, but this may be wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the reason that you and I can experience peace in this world is because Jesus has already overcome the world. In eternity past, the Trinity gathered and determined that God would be most glorified by providing a way for humankind to enter into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. True peace occurs when you and I cling to the cross and rely upon His resurrection.
Perhaps, you’re dealing with a daunting besetting sin that is laying waste to you. Have you stopped to reflect on the fact that Christ’s resurrection has resurrected you and has given you all the power you need to overcome your vice? Maybe you’re spiraling downward in depression over your marriage and family problems or your work circumstances. Did you know that Christ’s resurrection power can soften hearts and change circumstances? You may be feeling utterly hopeless because of your physical challenges. Yet, Christ’s resurrection promises you a new body with no more weakness, sickness, or death. The resurrection can raise you up in the midst of your trials and frustrations. Many times we’re looking for a “silver bullet” solution and Jesus is saying: “Won’t you please just return to the tried and true fundamentals of the faith. I want to give you hope, I want to minister to you in your time of need. But I want you to depend upon Me. Call out to Me today. Ask Me to come and meet your needs.” Times of trouble are times for trust.
I have read of an artist who wanted to paint a picture of peace. He chose, of all things, a storm beating against a rocky coast and depicted the waves, mountain high, crashing against the mighty rocks. He put a shipwreck in his picture, with a great ship driven up against the rocks and in the process of breaking up. In the water nearby there is the body of a drowned sailor. He has made it obvious that there is a wild storm beating against the coast and that this storm means danger and even death to people caught in it. But in the foreground there’s a mighty rock with a crack in it, and in the crack a dove has built her nest and is sitting in it, secure. Underneath, the artist has written the one word: “Peace.”
Jesus promises you peace because He has overcome the world. As you cling to His cross and rely upon His resurrection, you will experience His victory even in life’s most difficult circumstances.