Overcome the World
Jesus is saying that being at peace or being troubled, isn’t a matter of external circumstance. Peace, Jesus says, comes from him
It’s the final evening before his arrest, trial and execution, and Jesus gives his disciples an intense class on what lies ahead for them—without him being physically present. It’s the longest conversation recorded in the whole Bible. He concludes the class with these words: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) After that he prays for them (John 17), and then heads out to the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the world, without question, we do indeed have tribulation. For those in the developing world, it can be a matter of having enough food, or escaping the violence of gangs or warlords, or obtaining any kind of medical care. You might think that those in the developed world have it easy, and I guess we do, by comparison. But trouble comes to us as well, just in different forms. There is still injustice, we still get sick, we all still die. And as Jesus said, we still are troubled by have destructive anxieties.
The Greek word translated “tribulation” here means “pressure”. It is elsewhere translated affliction, anguish, burden, persecution, trouble. The pressures faced by the poor are very different than those affecting the rich. But Jesus’s point is that, as long as we’re “in the world”, there will be anxieties and no one is exempt.
In the first part of the verse quoted, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” Peace, also translated quietness, or rest.
Jesus is saying that being at peace or being troubled, isn’t a matter of external circumstance. Externally, there is no such thing as “not a care in the world”—whatever anyone may claim. If for no other reason than the unalterable fact that we are all going to die. Peace, Jesus says, comes from him. From the assurances he gives. From the connection to the Almighty God that he gives.
It’s believing this that allows Paul to say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) And, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
The cynical side of us might respond, “Easier said than done, Paul.” We still are left grieving. We still are left in poverty or illness or fear. Or, we still are left in the deceitful wilderness of care for all our possessions—which seems less like trouble than it is, being in fact deadly dangerous. (Matthew 19:21-24)
But Jesus says, “Sure, you’ll definitely have tribulation.” But then he expects us to take heart anyway. Because he has overcome the world. Fine for him, but how does that help me take heart in the face of all the trouble the world throws at us?
The class that evening offers the answers to the question. He says, “My peace I leave with you.” He expects that his peace will rub off on us! So either he’s lost touch with reality…or in fact his peace can rub off.
This is just one mindset that we can focus on reading these chapters, following the thread through what he says and how the disciples react. There are other threads, for sure. Have a read-through, asking, “How does this bear on me being able to overcome the world?” That will be enough, for this time.