Jesus now comes to the end of His discussions with His disciples. Through it all He has been preparing them for what was about to happen – the horrible ordeal through which He was about to pass. The disciples struggled to comprehend what Jesus was saying to them. At this point, however, time was running out. It was only a matter of hours, perhaps even minutes, before Jesus would be arrested and eventually meet His death on the cross. He moves to bring the discussion to a close.
In summing up what He has said so far Jesus brings up one additional factory that He had not quite mentioned before. “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16; NKJV). He had, of course, told them that He was about to depart from them, and there was at least a hint at some post-resurrection appearances. But here He puts a little more emphasis on it: “and again a little while, and you will see Me.” And then, a little later, He goes on to explain: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (v. 20). He then uses the analogy of a woman giving birth: “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (v. 21). And so it would be with the disciples: they would see Jesus hanging on the cross, and their hearts would be full of sorrow. But a little later, once they realized that He had been raised from the dead, they would be filled with joy, “and your joy no one will take from you” (v. 22).
Up until this point the disciples had been having a hard time fitting all of this together, but now the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together. Jesus states quite plainly, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (v. 28), and this drew from the disciples the response, “By this we believe that You came forth from God” (. 30).
It should be kept in mind that the apostle John had an apologetic purpose in writing all of this down. He was especially concerned about an early form of Gnosticism that had crept into the churches. This was based on the view that there was a sharp dichotomy between physical matter and spirit. Therefore, it was held by some, that there was a difference between the divine Christ and the human Jesus. The divine Christ supposedly descended upon the human Jesus at His baptism, but then was taken back up into heaven before Jesus died on the cross. Thus, so it was held, the divine Christ never suffered on the cross.
All of this was complete and utter nonsense, as far as John was concerned. He had known Jesus personally. He had heard Jesus teach and had watched Him perform miracles. He had watched Jesus die on the cross and later saw Him risen from the dead. And he knew that Jesus Himself had come from the Father and that He was returning again to Him. Jesus was the eternal Son of God who had come in the flesh, had suffered on the cross and returned to heaven again. The divine Christ and the human Jesus were one and the same Person.
There is something truly extraordinary, though, about the eternal Son of God dying on a Roman cross. And it was certainly not what many Jews of the time expected of the Messiah. And yet such was the deep love and compassion that God had for His lost and fallen creatures that He sent His only-begotten Son into this sin-cursed world to die on the cross for our sins. It is an amazing story indeed!
And there is a sober lesson here for us as well. We must still live in this sin-cursed world, and we must still fell its pain and suffering, its hardships and distress. As we shall see when we come to the last verses of the chapter, that can even include outright persecution from time to time. And that is exactly what Jesus Himself experienced on our behalf; and if we follow Him we will also experience it in some measure as well. The promise is not that we will never experience pain and suffering in this life, but that we will have eternal peace and joy in the life to come. We may be suffering outwardly, but we have the joy of the Holy Spirit inwardly, “and your joy no one will take from you.”
“When thru the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow will not overflow;
For I will be with thee, they troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
18th Century hymn.