John 16:16-33 (spring AD 30, Thursday evening of Passion Week
Jesus comforted his disciples in the Upper Room during the Last Supper, promising them an eternal future with him and reaffirming his identity as God (John 14:1-14).
Then they all left for the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus reiterated the promise of sending Holy Spirit to be their advocate and teacher. In this passage he returns very closely to the theme of 14:1-14: the grief that will soon come, and the joy to follow it.
There’s a curious section in verses 25-29 when Jesus said “a time is coming” when he would stop using figurative language. The disciples immediately say, ‘ah, you’ve stopped using figurative language! NOW we understand that you know everything and God sent you’…missing the point that Jesus was referring to AFTER the resurrection, that his current use of language was – though figurative – just as plain as it always was, and they STILL didn’t understand that he was God.
“Do you now believe?” Jesus asked, making plain that they didn’t before and questioning whether they now did…because they didn’t. Not fully.
And yet, as verse 33 points out, Jesus knew that they would understand, they would believe, and when the truth – after the resurrection – became obvious, they would go through anything, and suffer everything – rather than deny what they had learned to be true. Through it all though, they would “have peace” (v.33), knowing that Jesus was with them.
Note that right now two things are equally true: Jesus has already “overcome the world” (v.33), and we “will have trouble” (v.33). Our promise from God is not that all our problems have gone away, but that he is with us, will take us to be with him, and through whatever sufferings we have now, the best – the perfect – is yet to come.
Jesus physical absence from us is not a flaw in God’s plan, it’s part of his process in redeeming his people. As the disciples abandoned Jesus, so we may be abandoned by anyone or everyone, and yet even in that worst case scenario we would not be alone. God the Father will always be with you, as he was with Jesus. Our aloneness need never be loneliness, if we prize our relationship with God above all else. And our many griefs will end in joy.