John 16:16–33: Your Sorrow Will Turn Into Joy, I Have Overcome the World
This is a continuation of a long section of teaching Jesus has been delivering to his disciples on the last night before he’s crucified.
He starts by saying something that, in retrospect, is very clear, yet at the time was very confusing to his disciples: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (verse 16). This sets off a couple of verses’ worth of the disciples asking each other what he means by that, so Jesus addresses it.
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
Again, in retrospect (i.e. this side of the cross) Jesus’ words are extremely clear, but we know that the disciples wouldn’t understand all of this until after his resurrection.
It’s worth thinking a little more about the last couple of verses, though:
"In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
"… In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
(verses 23–28, some text elided)
While Jesus was physically there with the disciples they could ask him for things. In a sense Jesus was their priest: He could mediate between them and God the Father. This was a situation the disciples would have been very used to: no Jew approached God directly, they approached God via the mechanisms He had set up on earth: priests and sacrifices and rituals. And this made sense to them because nobody could see God’s face and live—approaching Him directly was a great way to be destroyed by His very presence, so the idea of having mediators between God and His people just made sense.
But Jesus was telling his disciples that that was about to change: no longer would they need intermediaries—not even Jesus! They could go directly to God, in Jesus’ name, and give Him their requests. Of course, Jesus is still in the picture: the reason we don’t need a priest as an intermediary is that Jesus is our priest; the reason we don’t need to bring a sacrifice is that Jesus is our sacrifice. But nonetheless, we can now go to God, directly, and He hears us.
To the early Christians who had come from a Jewish background, this was incredible. Amazing. The only reason it’s not amazing to modern-day Christians is that we’ve gotten much, much too used to the idea, and forgotten how awesome our God really is. We forget what a privilege it is to go directly to God because we’ve known nothing else. This is one of many reasons that we should be studying the Scriptures—all of them, not just our favourite parts. We should be looking at the parts of the Bible that are hard to understand, and trying to figure them out, because very often it’s exactly these hard to understand passages that illustrate the power, might, and authority of the God we serve. (In fact, I would argue that sometimes the very reason we don’t understand these passages is that we don’t have such a high view of our God…)
The disciples are finally “getting it,” and feel that Jesus is speaking more plainly than he has in the past, and he continues to be clear with them:
His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (verses 29–33)
Again, this is Jesus’ last night with his disciples, before his crucifixion. So when he talks of them being scattered, he’s not talking about weeks or even days, he’s talking in a matter of hours.
But, as is so often the case with the passages I’m blogging from John, he ends on a positive note. “Take heart,” he says, “I have overcome the world.” The disciples are about to go through a period in which it seems like the world has won, but it hasn’t—Jesus has overcome the world. We, also, will go through periods where it seems like the world has won, but it still hasn’t—Jesus has overcome the world. In Him, we can have peace.