16 “A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.” 17 Then said some of His disciples among themselves, “What is this that He saith unto us, ‘A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me,’ and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 They said therefore, “What is this that He saith, ‘A little while’? We cannot tell what He saith.” 19 Now Jesus knew that they were desirous of asking Him, and said unto them, “Do ye inquire among yourselves of what I said, ‘A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me’? 20 Verily, verily, I say unto you that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. 21 A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for the joy that a man is born into the world. 22 And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” John 16:16-22
On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples these words in John 16:16: “A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.”
Even though Jesus had often explained that He would be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, scourged, crucified, and that He would rise again on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19), His disciples did not understand what He meant when He said, “A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father” (v. 16; cf. v. 17-19).
Jesus explained briefly in verses 20-22: “Verily, verily, I say unto you that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for the joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”
What Jesus meant became clear to them only after it came to pass, when Jesus appeared to them on that first Easter evening and said, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19).
That “little while” began on that very night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. It continued as Jesus was tried, condemned, crucified and laid in the tomb. Jesus had been taken from His disciples and crucified. He was dead and enclosed in a tomb! All appeared to be hopeless and their faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior was crushed.
And they had great sorrow because Jesus, in whom they had trusted and whom they had followed for three years was now dead. And they, His own disciples, had betrayed Him, denied Him and fled from Him in fear for their own lives! And now Jesus was taken from them and gone — their faith and hopes were dashed!
As Jesus said, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.” The disciples of Jesus were filled with sorrow but the world rejoiced at the death of Jesus.
No longer would the enemies of Jesus have to hear Him pointing out their sinfulness, their hypocrisy, and their need to repent and to look to God for mercy and forgiveness. No longer would they have to hear Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God and their Messiah and Savior and the only way of salvation!
But the disciples’ sorrow and the world’s rejoicing were short-lived! The disciples’ sorrow was turned into joy when they saw Jesus alive from the dead on the third day? And their rejoicing grew, even more, when Jesus opened up their hearts and minds to understand the Scriptures and they came to understand what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection — that He had made full atonement for the sins of all and was risen again in victory, that all who repent and look to Jesus for pardon and forgiveness could have God’s pardon and peace and the certain hope of being raised up again unto everlasting life (cf. Luke 24:44ff.; Rom. 4:23ff.; 1 John 2:1f.; 1 Cor.15:20ff; 1 Pet. 1:3ff.).
Like a woman in pain as she gives birth forgets that pain and rejoices when her child is born, so the pain and anguish — the sorrow — suffered by Jesus’ disciples was nothing in comparison to their joy when He appeared to them alive again, having won salvation for all!
But, imagine the shock when the chief priests and elders of the Jews heard the soldiers’ report of an angel, the stone rolled back, and an empty tomb (cf. Matt. 28:2-4,11-15)! Their rejoicing was turned into fear because Jesus had risen from the dead as He said, proving He truly is the Son of God and that His words and teaching are true!
These words of Jesus about the “little while” have yet another application that applies to all of us. On the 40th day after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven and was exalted to His position of power and glory at the right hand of God the Father.
We cannot see Him now but He is present with us and rules over all that He might establish His everlasting kingdom (cf. Matt. 28:16-20; Eph. 1:18-23). He sends His ministers to call people to repent and believe the Gospel of forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in the crucified and risen Savior! He sends out His Holy Spirit, who works through the Word to convict people of their sins and to give and assure to them the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting Jesus won for them on the cross, by simply trusting in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for their salvation (cf. Eph. 1:3ff.; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).
But, as we live out the remainder of our lives here in this world, our lives are full of sorrow and pain. Not only are we ridiculed by the world for our faith in Christ Jesus, but some are also persecuted and suffer for their faith. Large numbers are still killed today because of their testimony regarding Jesus and His teaching — especially in Islamic countries.
Sometimes we may lose sight of Jesus and all He accomplished for us. We may forget that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), and will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
But our sorrows and all our suffering will be turned to joy when we see Jesus coming again in the clouds of glory. The world will then weep and lament, but we will lift up our heads in joy (cf. Rev. 1:7; Luke 21:28).
St. Paul assures us in Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Now, we may weep and sorrow as we suffer in this world and are under constant attack by the devil and his evil angels, by the unbelieving world, and even from our old sinful flesh which causes us to doubt and despair and which seeks to lure us back into sin.
That is why the Scriptures warn us in 1 Peter 2:11: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”
And the world (all who remain impenitent and without faith in Christ Jesus for mercy) rejoices. The world rejoices to see the true church diminish in numbers and influence. The world rejoices when the true message of the Bible is silenced or contradicted because, then, people don’t have to hear of their sinfulness and of their need to repent and look to Jesus for salvation. People rejoice because they can continue on in their sinful ways without being reminded of their guilt and the coming judgment of God upon them.
To paraphrase the words of John 3:19, people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil and they do not wish to have their sinful ways exposed by the light of God’s Word.
Though the world rejoices now as Christianity and the true preaching of God’s Word appears to wane in the face of constant attack, this rejoicing will be short-lived because, in “a little while,” Jesus will return in judgment. In the words of Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.”
But, though we, like Peter after He denied Jesus, may weep and sorrow in this world because of our own sins and failures, though we may be troubled because of the world’s hatred and persecution, though we may sorrow as our loved ones die and we too face temporal death, our sorrow will be turned to joy when Christ Jesus returns to receive us into His everlasting kingdom of glory.
The Bible assures us this in the words of Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them; and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.’”
Or, in the words of Revelation 7:13-17: “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, ‘Who are these that are arrayed in white robes, and from whence have they come?’ And I said unto him, ‘Sir, thou knowest.’ And he said to me, ‘These are they that came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’”
For a little while, we may grieve and sorrow – though we still have hope because we know Jesus rose from the dead and will return to raise us up and give us the everlasting joys of heaven. But, in a little while, when Jesus comes again, we shall rejoice with joy inexpressible!
As the psalmist writes in Psalm 16:11: “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
We thank You, dear Lord Jesus, for the comfort of knowing that our sorrows are only for a little while, that in a little while You will appear again in the clouds of glory to receive us and all who have trusted in Your name to the everlasting joys of heaven. Grant us Your Holy Spirit and the faith to believe and take hold of the Gospel promises of forgiveness and life eternal for the sake of your blood, shed on the cross for the sins of the world. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from 21st Century King James Version (KJ21), copyright © 1994 by Deuel Enterprises, Inc.]