In John’s gospel, the long farewell discourse of Jesus to his disciples revealed many theological truths and future events that would happen to him and his disciples. Jesus gave them this advance intimation so they could prepare for the challenges ahead and keep up their hopes for the eternal reward. Jesus also gave them the privilege of asking anything of God the Father in his name. He assured them he would grant their requests, made in faith, for the Kingdom of God’s nourishment.
(John 16:16) “A little while and you will see me no more; and then a little while, and you will see me.” (17) Some of the disciples wondered, “What does he mean by ‘A little while and you will not see me, and then a little while, and you will see me’? And why does he say ‘I go to the Father’?” (18) And they said to one another, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not understand.” (19) Jesus knew that they wanted to question him; so he said to them, “You are puzzled because I told you that in a little while you will see me no more, and then a little while, and you will see me. (20) I am telling you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (21) A woman in childbirth is in distress because her time is at hand. But after the baby is born, she no longer remembers her suffering because of such great joy that a child is born into the world. (22) So it is with you; you feel sorrowful now, but I will see you again; and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you. (23) When that day comes you will not ask me anything. Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. (24) So far you have not asked anything in my name; so ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.
In his last discourse to his disciples, Jesus prepared them for the challenges that lay ahead. He knew that his passion and death were imminent and he was reconciled to it but his disciples weren’t. They were still lacking clarity and might get lost in the humiliating “failure” of the crucifixion. Jesus, whose promised crown had perforce to come through the cross, had to prepare them to understand this ‘contradiction.’
(Jn 16:16) “A little while and you will see me no more; and then a little while, and you will see me”
A little while and you will see me no more
Jesus knew that after his Last Supper, his enemies would arrest, question, sentence, torture, and crucify him. The disciples would flee from him, though Peter and John would accompany him for a while. Thus, they will separate after over three years of living together and intimate relationship. That separation would be temporary only.
And then a little while, and you will see me
Jesus promised the disciples that he would return to them after his death and resurrection. However, he did not specify how this would take place. All that the disciples could understand was that Jesus was going away from them somewhere and would return to them soon. Jesus had a clear picture of everything. We can take these reappearances of Jesus in three senses:
1. Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day and appear to his disciples who would experience the joy of his resurrection. He would continue seeing them for 40 days until his ascension to heaven.
2. Jesus would send his Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would experience Jesus in their lives and ministry as the head of the church.
3. It can be the second coming of Christ when the disciples and all the faithful will receive the promised reward. “Listen to my words: at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his throne in glory, you who have followed me will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28).
A little while
Jesus used “a little while” seven times within the brief passage to give hope to the disciples. Their hearts were filled with grief (Jn 16:6) because Jesus had shared the hardships that were to befall him and them. However, they must have a broader vision to understand that the rough ride is only temporary, and that glory and joy are bound to follow.
(17) Some of the disciples wondered, “What does he mean by ‘A little while and you will not see me, and then a little while, and you will see me’? And why does he say ‘I go to the Father’?”
Only Jesus had a clear picture of what would happen. Jesus’ statement confused the disciples. They were reluctant to ask him directly. If Jesus was referring to his death, they could not imagine how they would see him again. They did not comprehend Jesus’ resurrection. How could they ask of his death when he was only 33 years of age? Some discussed the issue among themselves.
Why does he say, ‘I go to the Father?’
Jesus had mentioned before that he would go to his Father. The disciples knew that when Jesus mentioned of his Father, he was referring to Yahweh. If Jesus would go to heaven, how could they see him again? In John 16:10 Jesus had said, “I am on the way to the Father, and you will not see me.” They could not make a connection between these utterances with their limited knowledge.
(18) And they said to one another, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not understand”
They repeated their lack of understanding on Jesus’ phrase, “little while.” When was the separation going to take place? How long would it be? They were trying to understand if any of them got what Jesus meant.
(19) Jesus knew that they wanted to question him; so he said to them, “You are puzzled because I told you that in a little while you will see me no more, and then a little while, and you will see me”
Jesus’ teachings were confusing to the disciples. They were reluctant to ask for clarification. So, they discussed the topic
among themselves. Jesus saw their reaction and understood that their confusion was on his usage of “a little while.” He was gracious to clarify their doubt.
(20) I am telling you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy
Amen, amen, I say to you
Though the Israelites used amen at the end of a prayer, blessing, curse, or a statement expressing the endorsement of what they said, Jesus used it once or twice to start a statement. This was an affirmation that what followed in his statement was a solemn or important truth compared to the usual statements.
You will weep and mourn
Several factors intensified the grief of the apostles. Their weakness to be awake with Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s triple denial of Jesus, the public and private questioning of Jesus, the physical and mental torture he faced, the crowd’s baying for Jesus’ blood, their choice of Barabbas over Jesus, his unjust condemnation, his humiliating trudge with the cross to Calvary, his painful crucifixion, his horrendous 6-hour agony and pitiable death. Their absence at his burial would add the gravity of their sorrow and make them weep and mourn. Out of fear of arrest, they were in hiding. However, they had been tracking the events through the lady disciples and the admirers of Jesus.
While the world rejoices
Jesus made a contrast of the deep grief of his disciples to the cheerfulness of his enemies. The Jewish leaders were successful in flipping the clamour of the people from, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” to “crucify him.” All who demanded his crucifixion rejoiced at his painful and ignominious end. The High Priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Herodians had been plotting and waiting for that to happen. So Jesus foretold their rejoicing at his crucifixion. That would add to the grief of his disciples.
You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy
Jesus predicted that the disciples’ grief would end. However, he did not clarify why or how. Though Jesus had predicted his resurrection from the dead before, the disciples did not remember that. They understand later when it takes place.
(21) A woman in childbirth is in distress because her time is at hand. But after the baby is born, she no longer remembers her suffering because of such great joy that a child is born into the world
The Bible often compares the pain of a woman in labour to the faithful’s suffering that would later gain them victory. “As a woman with child writhes and moans in her pain when her time is near, so were we in your presence, O LORD” (Isa 26:17). “Before being in labour, she gives birth; before birth pangs came upon her, she delivers a son” (Isa 66:7). The woman had been foreseeing both the hours of her anguish and its joyful outcome. Jesus also expected such hours of suffering and joy for him and his disciples. That example was giving hope to the disciples, though they could not grasp fully what would happen.
The mother rejoices also because she could contribute a child to the world. The child is hers and also that of the world. So also, the victory of Jesus and his disciples would be meritorious for the entire world.
The mother quickly forgets the distress of her labour when she sees the outcome of it – a newborn child! The victorious outcome erases the memory of the hardships endured to achieve it. Such was the experience of the disciples and their successors by the end of their lives. When we are working for Jesus and his church, we too might face tribulations. However, let us be sure of the victory to follow.
(22) So it is with you; you feel sorrowful now, but I will see you again; and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you
I will see you again; and your hearts will rejoice
Similar to the pangs of childbirth, Jesus’ suffering and that of the disciples were at hand. The suffering, death, and burial would cause extreme grief to the disciples. However, that would be temporary because Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day and return to them, resulting in their joy. Unlike the temporary happiness of the world, the heavenly joy of the disciples would be permanent.
Everything happened as Jesus prophesied. The disciples saw the Risen Lord on and off for forty days. Then he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of his Father. As promised, he sent the Holy Spirit to guide the disciples. Jesus continues to lead the Church as its head. Though he ascended into heaven, he is sacramentally present to the disciples. The Church is awaiting his second coming to reward his righteous disciples with eternal joy. That would be the end of the evil in this world.
No one will take your joy from you
Satan took away the joy of Adam and Eve in paradise by tempting them to act against God’s command. The devil and the demons continue taking away the joy of God’s people in this world by trapping them in sin. With the re-establishment of the Kingdom of God in its fullness at Christ’s second coming, the influence of Satan will end, and joy will return to its fullness. Satan will no longer be able to tempt the redeemed or take away their joy.
(23) When that day comes you will not ask me anything. Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you
When that day comes you will not ask me anything
During Jesus’ public ministry, the disciples had many questions. The teachings and actions of Jesus confused them. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the situation did not change much. However, when they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, all their doubts dissolved and they got the answers to their questions directly in their hearts. “When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not give his own message, but will speak only of what he hears, and he will declare to you the things to come. He will take what is mine and make it known to you; in doing this, he will glorify me” (Jn 16:13-14). Jesus exposed the indivisible unity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the second and third persons of the Most Holy Trinity. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus would reveal everything they need to know. We see that reflected in Peter’s teachings on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and Stephen’s witnessing before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7).
Amen, amen, I say to you
Here again, Jesus used the same phrase “Amen, amen, I say to you” to give weight to what follows.
Whatever you ask
The disciples must seek the Kingdom of God and ask the Father for strength to continue Jesus’ mission. That will keep them connected with God, as Jesus was. They do not have to ask for worldly things. “So, do not worry and say: What are we going to eat? What are we going to drink? Or what shall we wear? The Gentiles busy themselves with such things, but your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your heart first on the Kingdom of God and his justice and all these things will also be given to you” (Mt 6:31-33).
This reminds us of King Solomon’s prayer in a dream at Gibeon after he offered thousand burnt offerings to God. God gave Solomon the freedom to ask anything he wanted. Solomon asked only an understanding mind to govern the Lord’s people with the ability to distinguish between good and evil. His prayer pleased the Lord who gave him wisdom that “no one has had before you nor anyone after you shall ever have.” Besides, God also gave him many worldly gifts he left unasked, i.e. wealth, fame and long life (1 Kgs 3:4-15). So, our prayers should not be for material prosperity but the glory of God and the growth of the church through our ministry. Then God will provide for our needs.
Ask the Father in my name he will give you
We address our prayers to the Father in Jesus’ name. Jesus reveals here the Father and Son’s unity. It is the Father who grants the request of the disciple based on the exalted name of his Son. Jesus had assured his disciples that he will also answer their prayers when they request in his name. “And everything you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:13-14).
When we pray in Jesus’s name, we are acknowledging our faith in him as our mediator and recognizing our unworthiness to receive favours from God on merit. As sinners, we are like the prodigal son who was unworthy to claim the lost sonship. We regained it through the meritorious work of Jesus. “Whatever you do or say, do it in the name of Jesus the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). “He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and ransomed us through his blood” (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus assured his disciples that his merits make our requests acceptable to the Father when asked in his name. So, the Christian prayers conclude by saying, “We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.”
We are eligible to seek Jesus’ mediation only if we believe in him and obey his commands. Our prayers should be consistent with the will of God. “We are fully confident that whatever we ask according to his will, he will grant us” (1 Jn 5:14-15).
(24) So far you have not asked anything in my name; so ask and you will receive that your joy may be full
So far you have not asked anything in my name
Until the Last Supper, the disciples asked nothing from the Father in Jesus’ name. Once Jesus completes his mission through his passion, death, and resurrection, God would exalt his name. Then the disciples can pray in the powerful name of Jesus or on behalf of him. “He humbled himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and gave him the Name that outshines all other names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:8-10).
Ask and you will receive
Will God provide everything we ask in Jesus’ name? Jesus takes it for granted what a disciple should ask. The disciple is the Father’s child and Christ’s representative. He or she is seeking the Kingdom of God, as Jesus did. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Father never denies us when we ask for strength and grace to endure for His kingdom. Like a good parent, God will not give us anything that would be harmful to us or for his kingdom. With our limited knowledge, we do not know what would be beneficial. So, after presenting our desires, we surrender to the will of God.
That your joy may be full
When our petitions are framed in a manner that seeks to accomplish the will of God for our lives and His kingdom, God looks favourably upon them, thereby giving us full joy. What we gain by material benefits is temporary happiness, whereas heavenly joy is perpetual and complete. Jesus instructed his disciples securing this complete joy: “You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you all this that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:10-11).
1. Hardship in life, especially that arising from service to the church, is not permanent. The Lord will give a timely solution to our problems, as we see happening throughout the church’s history and also in many faithful Christians’ lives.
2. The agony we experience when we work for righteousness’ sake would be temporary and would seem insignificant, once we receive victory with the Lord’s help.
3. We should take failures in our ministry constructively. Jesus accepted failures, humiliation, torture, and martyrdom for us. However, victory was just waiting for him and his faithful servants. So also will be our case, when we follow Jesus and work according to his precepts.
4. Let us not be jealous of the prosperity or happiness of worldly people. Our goal should be far beyond temporal happiness. Let us remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There can be a reversal of rejoicing at the last judgement when the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead.
5. With their limited and mundane knowledge, the disciples could not understand all the truth that Jesus shared. They got clarity only when they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Let us also rely on the divine revelation through the Holy Bible and the teachings of the Church.
6. Christ’s disciples have the privilege to ask anything for the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ name. Jesus removed the barrier created by the original sin, restoring our relationship as children of God. So, we have the freedom to ask favours from the Father in Jesus’ name.