As we resume our study of John 16, we note the Lord announced he had much more to tell the eleven, but they were in no state to take more at the time (John 16:12). This comment gives insight into the minds of his listeners who were increasingly at a loss to understand what the Lord was saying to them.
Guided into all truth
As ever, the Lord gave them reassurance, renewing the promise of the gift of the holy spirit. The spirit of truth would guide them into all truth. Here we have another endorsement of the testimony of the apostles. The Lord engaged in a striking personification of the spirit, declaring it will be their guide. The communications would not proceed from the spirit itself, but, by implication, from the Father.
The demonstration of the truth to be revealed would be that things yet future would be disclosed. It is therefore appropriate to take this aspect of the apostolic witness into account, an exercise which is rewarding when we examine the book of Acts and the epistles. The same test should be applied to their teaching as to that of the Lord himself, and the same importance given to it.
Spirit to glorify Jesus
The spirit of truth the apostles were to receive would glorify the Lord: “for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you” (v. 14). We take note here of a close link between the Lord and the holy spirit. In a passage previously quoted, Peter speaks of his Lord receiving the holy spirit from his Father and pouring it out on Peter and the others (Acts 2:33). We pick up once more that the spirit is to glorify Jesus. It is thus no coincidence that Peter, following the miracle of restoring a man lame from birth in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6), goes on to testify to the crowd who witnessed the miracle, “the God of our fathers hath glorified his servant, Jesus” (v. 13). The echo of the Lord’s words in John 16 is surely too clear to be missed.
It was thus that Peter, who had indignantly rejected the notion of the Lord’s sacrificial death, came to see its place in the Father’s purpose. We also recall the passage in Peter’s first letter when he refers to the prophecies which testified “beforehand the suffering of Christ and the glories that should follow them” (I Pet.1:11). The interweaving of thought between the words of the Lord Jesus and Acts with its teaching of his appointed successors is at once delicate and convincing.
Oneness of Father and Son
John 16:15 confirms the message of the preceding verse: “All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine.” The fellowship between the Sovereign of the universe and the Son who is His heir is absolute (cf. Heb. 1:2). The explanation is designed to clarify the thought in the previous verse: “therefore said I, that he taketh of mine and shall declare it unto you.”
His coming departure
The Lord then reverted to the fact that the apostles were to see him no more (v. 16), a declaration he knew would fill them with sorrow. But, as ever, he has a message of comfort: “and again a little while, and ye shall see me.” His hearers are baffled, and the fact that their reaction is recorded is yet another evidence we are reading about a real situation. Certain of the apostles gave expression to their bewilderment: “What is this that he said unto us, A little while, and ye behold me not: and again a little while, and ye shall see me: and behold I go to the Father.” What especially confuses them is the mention of a period of separation that will be brief, for they will then soon be reunited. They are at a total loss to understand what he is trying to reveal to them (v. 18).
Import of Psalms 110 & 16
It is evident that at this stage there is a pause in the exchanges between the Lord and the eleven, for what reason we cannot be sure, but he may have given them some time to register the truths he was communicating to them. The evidence is overwhelming that at this late stage in the ministry, the Lord is the only one who knew he was going to the Father, by which we are to understand the resurrection to be followed by his being taken up into heaven, to the Father’s right hand.
That he understood Psalm 110, especially the meaning of verse 1, is shown by the fact he quoted it to his interrogators (see Matt.22:41-45). This psalm was, and is, very important for the understanding of the Lord’s mission, and the evidence is overwhelming that he alone, before his death, possessed the key to its understanding. Its words enabled him to look beyond the fearful prospect of the cross to the joy of being received to his Father’s right hand.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter invoked the prophecy of the Lord’s resurrection contained in Psalm 16 (see Acts 2:25-28). In his quotation of the psalm, Peter declared: “Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance” (or ‘in thy presence’). This anticipated the Lord being taken up into heaven.1 The apostle, who had been an eye witness of the Lord’s ascent, goes on (in vv. 33-35) to quote Psalm 110. It was thus that events themselves, and the insight into the Old Testament communicated to the apostles after the Lord’s resurrection, enabled Peter and his fellows to grasp the meaning of prophecies which, during the ministry, the Lord alone had understood.
Christ uses the analogy of childbirth
Returning to John 16, we note the Lord sympathetically perceives the bewilderment of the apostles about the coming separation (v. 19), and explains: “Verily, verily, I say unto you” (v. 20) that they would indeed grieve but the world would rejoice. However, there would be one essential difference: their sorrow would be temporary, and give way to joy. So we take note of another of the recurring themes in these chapters of John.
The Lord then proceeds to explain how this would happen. He draws on the analogy of childbirth. For a mother, the experience of birth pangs can be agonizing, exhausting, sometimes even fatal. But, when all goes well, the mother’s joy, especially with a first child, can know no bounds: “she remembereth no more the anguish, for the joy that a man is born into the world” (v. 21).
The first application of this figure of childbirth must be to the Lord himself: it was through him that a new people was to be created. We are taken back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53, where we read about the suffering and death of one who “as a lamb is led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). In verse 11 of the prophet, we take note of the occurrence of the significant term “travail” (the word so closely associated with childbirth) for the Lord God was to look upon the “travail” of His suffering servant and be satisfied. From the previous verse, we learn death was not to signal the end for the one who had made his soul an offering for sin: the pleasure of the Lord was to prosper through him; his days were to be prolonged, and he was to see his seed (Isa. 53:10). These were to be the children ofZion.
In Isaiah 66, we learn more about the new generation which would constitute the seed: “Who hath heard such a thing? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isa. 66:8). These are none other than the children of the resurrection, as the prophet demonstrates at some length in Isaiah 25:6-9. Especially noteworthy is verse 8: “He hath swallowed up death for ever.” This is confirmed in Psalm 133:3, which tells us: “there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (see also Psa. 87:5-6). All this will be the ultimate consequence of the travail of soul suffered by the Lord Jesus. Appropriately, he was the firstfruits of those who sleep, the one who died but is alive for evermore (Rev. 1:5,18).
Further reassurance he will be raised
Following upon this figure of childbirth, the Lord Jesus returned to the thought already expressed in John 16:20. He understood perfectly the despair and the anguish his disciples were to suffer, when all their hopes would apparently come to nothing for he would be taken from them to be crucified and buried. This would by no means be the end, however: “but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh from you” (v. 22).
We need to remember that this reassurance was but a confirmation of what the Lord had earlier said during the ministry. We remember the occasion at Caesarea Philippi when the Lord, in the clearest possible terms, announced he was to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things and be killed, but the third day he would rise again (Matt. 16:21). This passage does not stand alone.2 But all this, as we are well aware, fell on deaf ears, for the apostles’ hopes rested on a living Messiah. As for the joy of the apostles when they were eventually convinced their Lord was not dead, but alive for evermore, the best witness to this was Peter, whose testimony on the day of Pentecost we have so often had occasion to reference.
To appreciate what the risen Lord meant to Peter, we need only reflect briefly on what happened to the apostle. The one who denied his Lord was seen privately by the risen Christ (see Luke 24:34). No details of this interview are disclosed, but the Lord assuredly spoke words of forgiveness and restoration to his shattered follower. Then there was the dramatic occasion by the lakeside when the Lord thrice interrogated his apostle and gave him the opportunity in the presence of fellow apostles to reaffirm his love for his Lord (John 21:15-17).
It was the totality of these experiences, together with others shared with his fellow apostles, which transformed the one who had denied his Lord into the fearless champion of faith in the crucified and risen Lord. As for the joy he and the others knew, he is so sure about this he is persuaded that even those who have not seen the risen Lord can yet share in a “joy unspeakable” (I Peter 1:8).
Here, surely, is a message for us in these latter days. We have not seen our risen Lord, but Peter’s words can enable us to share the joy he and the other apostles experienced during the 40 days which followed the Lord’s resurrection, and in the period of their witnessing (see, for example, Acts 4:31-33). The further words of comfort the Lord gave his anxious followers we hope to consider in our next study.
Tom Barling, Teignmouth, England
1 We have already noted the importance of the Lord’s understanding of Psalm 110, with its prophecy that he would sit at his Father’s right hand. In Luke9:51, which records the Lord’s resolve to take the road to Jerusalem in the full knowledge of what was awaiting him there, Luke speaks of the Lord being “received up.” This is the term which describes the Lord’s ascent to heaven; the verb which corresponds to the noun in Luke 9:51 occurs in Acts 1:2,22 and Mark 16:19, and is clearly used of the Lord being taken up to his Father’s right hand. The word which is used of the Lord’s crucifixion in John 3:14;8:28 and 12:32-33 speaks of his “being lifted up” (on the cross). It is important to observe this distinction. Luke 9:51 does indeed show the Lord was conscious as he made his way to Jerusalem that, beyond the cross and the resurrection, was the joy of ascending to the Father’s right hand.
2 Matthew especially records how the Lord foretold his death, and specifically indicates the mode of that death: by crucifixion (see Matt.20:18-19; 26:2). Although Mark and Luke do not likewise reveal this, the Lord foretold the manner of his death during the ministry. There is confirmation in Luke 24:7, where the angel reminds the women that Jesus had announced beforehand his death by crucifixion.