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JOHN 16:12-22 Below is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us: — 1. The need for the Spirit’s coming, verse 12. 2. The purpose of the Spirit’s coming, verse 13. 3. The end accomplished by the Spirit’s coming, verse 14. 4. The subordination of the Spirit, verse 15. 5. The effect of the Spirit’s coming, verse 16. 6. The disciples’ mystification, verses 17-19. 7. The Lord’s profound prediction, verses 20-22.
That which is central in this second section of John 16 is the Holy Spirit glorifying the Lord Jesus. The more closely our present passage be studied, the more will it be found that this is the keynote of it. At first sight there does not seem to be any unity about this portion of Scripture. In John 16:12, the Lord declares that He had yet many things to say unto the apostles, but they were unable to bear them. In John 16:13-15, Christ made direct reference to the Holy Spirit, and what He would do for and in believers. In John 16:16 the Savior uttered an allegorical proverb (see John 16:25), which mystified the disciples, causing them to ask one another what He meant by it. While in the last three verses He made mention of their sorrow and of the joy which would follow His departure.
Yet, varied as these subjects appear to be, closer study will show that they are intimately connected and logically grow out of what is found in the opening verses.
Nowhere else did our Lord give so full a word concerning the blessed person and work of the Holy Spirit. Seven things are here postulated of Him. He would act as “the Spirit of truth,” He would guide believers into all truth, He would not speak of Himself, He would speak what He heard; He would show believers things to come; He would glorify Christ; He would take of the things of Christ and show them unto His people. Why, then, it may be asked, have we not entitled this chapter, The Work of the Spirit with and in Christians? Because what is here predicated of Him is in special and direct relation to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit glorifying the Lord Jesus, glorifying Him by magnifying Him before believers. Not only is this expressly affirmed in John 16:14, but the character in which He acts throughout affords further proof.
In John 16:7 the Savior declared, “But I the truth say to you, It is profitable for you that I should go away: for if I go not away the Paraclete will not come” (Bagster’s Interlinear).
Now in John 16:13, He says, “But when he, the Spirit of the truth, [the Greek has the article] has come, he will guide you into all the truth.” It is, then, as the Spirit of Christ that He is here viewed. This is further emphasized in John 16:14: “He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” — words which are repeated in John 16:15. It is therefore plain that the central and distinguishing subject of our present section is Christ glorified by the Spirit . How this applies to the dosing verses will be indicated in the course of our exposition. “It has been repeatedly shown, and in this chapter most expressly, that the presence of the Spirit depended on the departure of Christ to heaven consequently fitting the saints for the new truths, work, character, and hopes of Christianity. The disciples were not ignorant of the promises that the Spirit should be given to inaugurate the reign of the Messiah. They knew the judgment under which the chosen people abide, ‘until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest,’ so vast outwardly, no less than inwardly, the change when God pats forth His power for the Kingdom of His Son. They know that He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; not only the sons and daughters, the old and young of Israel enjoying a blessing far beyond all temporal favors, but the servants and the handmaidens, in short, all flesh, and not the Jews alone sharing it.
But here it is the sound heard when the great High Priest goes in into the sanctuary before Jehovah ( Exodus 28:35), and not only when He comes out for the deliverance and joy of repentant Israel in the last days. It is the Spirit given when the Lord Jesus went on high, and by Him thus gone. For this they were wholly unprepared, as indeed it is one of the most essential characteristics, of God’s testimony between the rejection and the reception of the Jews; and the Spirit, when given, was to supply what the then state of the disciples could not bear” (Bible Treasury.)
Never can we be sufficiently thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Though our blessed Savior is in heaven, we have a Divine Person with us on earth: a person who quickens us ( John 5:21), who indwells us ( Corinthians 6:19), who loves us ( Romans 15:7), who leads us ( Romans 8:14), who gives us assurance of our sonship ( Romans 8:16), who helpeth our infirmities by making intercession for us ( Romans 8:26), and who has sealed us unto the day of redemption ( Ephesians 4:30). O that we may not grieve Him. O that we may recognize His indwelling presence and act accordingly. O that we may avail ourselves of His Divine fulness and power. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” ( John 16:12).
The contents of John 16:8 to 11 are parenthetical in their character, in that in John 16:1 to 7 Christ has been speaking of and to His disciples, digressing for a moment to complete what He said previously about “the world.” Now He turns to consider His own again, and they in connection with the sending of the Holy Spirit to them. The Lord had yet many things to say unto those who had followed Him in the day of His rejection, things which it was deeply important for them to know, but things which they were then in no condition to receive — “ye cannot bear them now.” The Greek word here for “bear” is used in a double sense in the New Testament, literally and figuratively. In John 10:31 it is rendered, “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him”: they laid hold of these stones. In Luke 10:4 it is translated, “Carry neither purse nor scrip.” In Matthew 20:12, the word is employed figuratively: “Thou hast made them equal with us which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” So in Revelation 2:2: “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil.” From these references it would appear that our Lord signified that the apostles were then incapable of laying hold of or retaining what He, otherwise, would have said to them; incapable because they could not endure such revelations. “I have yet many things to say unto you, hut ye cannot bear them now.”
The fact that the Eleven were in no condition to receive, unable to endure these further revelations from the Savior, demonstrated their need for the Holy Spirit to come and guide them into all the truth: suitable introduction, then, was that for this new section! Moreover, it hints strongly of the nature of the “many things” which Christ then had in mind. The apostles were prejudiced. Their hearts were set on the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. They could not tolerate the thought of Christ leaving them and returning to the Father. But the Lord Jesus could not at that time ascend the throne of David. Israel had rejected Him, and bitter would be the results for them, though most merciful would be the consequences for the Gentiles. Hence, we take it, that what our Lord here had in view was God’s rejection of Israel, and His turning unto the Gentiles: the abolishing of the old covenant, and the introduction of the new: the abrogation of the ceremonial law and the bringing in of another order of priesthood: instructions for the government of His churches: prophecies concerning the future. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
This is both blessed and searching. Blessed, bemuse it shows our Lord’s tender considerateness: He would not press upon them what they were in no condition to receive. Few things are more irritating than to hear without understanding. What an example for teachers now to follow! Much discernment and wisdom is needed if we are to minister the Word “in season,” a word suited to the spiritual condition of our hearers, and such wisdom can only be obtained by earnest waiting upon God. But there is also a searching and solemn force to this utterance of Christ’s. How many a communication would He not make to us, could we “bear” it! Paul had to have a thorn in the flesh sent him, lest he be exalted above measure through “the abundance of the revelations” which he received when he was caught up into Paradise; and in view of this, we are strongly inclined to believe that the “many things” which Christ had in mind also included revelations about Paradise and Heaven, the more so in view of John 16:5: “But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?” But “sorrow” had filled their hearts ( John 16:6), and this unfitted them for fuller disclosures about the Higher World. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth” ( 16:13).
Here is the answer to a question.which must have occurred to many in meditating upon the previous verse: Did these apostles ever after bewail a lost opportunity? No; graciously did the Lord provide against that. “Howbeit,” even so, though they could not bear these things then, when the Paraclete had come, He should guide them into all the truth! The One who would thus undertake for them is called “The Spirit of the truth.” In addition to affirming that He was the Spirit of “the truth” (of Christ), this title also emphasized His suitability for such a task, His competency as the Savior’s Witness. The Spirit was fully qualified because He is “the Spirit of the truth”: because of His perfect knowledge of the Truth, because of His infinite love for the Truth, and because of His absolute incapacity for falsehood. Scripture speaks of “the spirit of error” ( 1 John 4:6). There is a lying spirit who controls the blind, that leads the blind, and in consequence they “both fall into the ditch.”
Another thing suggested by this title of the third person of the Godhead is His relation to and connection with the written Word, which, like the incarnate Word is also called “the truth”: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” ( John 17:17). The inspiration of the Holy Scriptures is in an unique sense the work of the Holy Spirit: “holy [separated] men of God spake moved by the Holy Spirit” ( 2 Peter 1:21). So too the interpretation of Scripture is the special work of the Spirit: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save [by] the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God” ( 1 Corinthians 2:9-11).
Before he can see, man must have both sight and light. Eyes cannot see in the darkness, and light shows nothing to the blind. So with regard to the Truth: there must be the seeing eye and illuminating light. For an interpreter we need a trustworthy guide, an infallible teacher; and he is to be found not in the “Church,” the “voice of tradition,” the “intuitive faculty,” or in reason, but in the Spirit of God. He it is who quickens, illumines, interprets, and the only instrument which He uses is the written Word. Therefore is He called “the Spirit of the truth .” “He will guide you.” There are three classes of people who need to be “guided”: those who are blind, those who are too weak to walk alone, or those journeying through an unknown country. In each of these senses does the Holy Spirit guide God’s elect. By nature, we are spiritually blind, and He guided us into the way of “truth” ( 2 Peter 2:2). Then as “babes” in Christ, He has to teach us how to walk ( Romans 8:14). Then as travelers through this wilderness scene, as we journey to the Heavenly Country, He points out the “narrow way which leadeth unto life.” Note carefully, “He will guide you into all the truth,” not “bring you into”: there must be a yieldedness on our part, a corresponding obedience! If the Spirit “guides” our steps, the necessary implication is that we are walking with Him, that we are closely following His directions. This term also suggests an orderly, gradual and progressive advancing: we grow in “knowledge” as well as in “grace” ( 2 Peter 3:18). “He will guide you into all the truth,” not all truths, but “all the truth.”
God’s truth is one connected, harmonious, indivisible whole (compare our remarks on John 7:16). “All the truth” here means all revealed truth, which is recorded in the written Word. That we have in our hands “all the truth” is clearly implied by one of the dosing verses in the last book of the Bible: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this Book” ( Revelation 22:18). “For he shall not speak of himself.” This does not mean, as some suppose, that He should not speak about Himself. He has told us much about Himself in every section of the Scriptures. But He would not speak from Himself, independently of the Father and the Son. As the Son came not to act independently of the Father, but to serve His Father, so the Spirit is here to serve the Son. The reference is to His administrative position. “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just: because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” ( John 5:30). “I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world these things which I have heard of him” ( John 8:26). “These declarations respecting both the Son and Spirit must appear inconsistent with Their supreme Divinity, to every one who does not know the doctrine of the economical subordination of the Son and Spirit in the great plan of human redemption. Essentially the Spirit and the Son are equal to, for they are one with, the Father. Economically , the Father is greater than the Son and the Spirit, for He sends Them; the Son is greater than the Spirit, for He sends Him. Without apprehending this distinction, we cannot interpret the sacred Scriptures, nor form any clear notion of the way of salvation. The Spirit like the Son, would be faithful to Him who appointed Him. In speaking to the apostles, in conveying information to their minds, He would communicate just what He was sent to communicate, without excess, without defect, without variation” (Mr. Brown). “But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak” ( John 16:13).
This is parallel with John 15:15, “For all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.” What a searching word is this for every teacher! “If the Spirit may not speak of Himself, if He speaks only what He has heard of the Father and the Son — O, preacher! how canst thou draw thy preaching out of thyself, out of thy head, or even thy heart?” (Gossner). “And he will show you things to come” ( John 16:13).
Mark the progressive order in these several statements concerning the work of the Spirit. In John 14:26 the Lord declared that the Spirit would recall to the apostles the past: “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance , whatsoever I have said unto you.”
In John 15:26, we learn that the Spirit would testify of the present glory of Christ. But here, in John 16:13, it is promised that He would show them things concerning the future! There are many prophecies scattered throughout the Epistles — far more than most people imagine — which the Spirit has given. But the main reference, no doubt, in this word of Christ, was to the book of the Revelation, the opening sentence of which reads, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ , for He is its chief subject and object; yet it was given by the Holy Spirit, hence the seven times repeated, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches!” Thus whether it be things past, things present, or things to come, Christ is the grand Center of the Spirit’s testimony! “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” ( John 16:14).
This is the prime object before the Spirit: whether it be revealing the truth, speaking what He hears, or showing things to come, the glorification of Christ is the grand end in view. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ ( 2 Corinthians 4:6) is both the center and capstone of Divine truth. This is the vital test for every lying spirit which would obtrude itself into the place of the Spirit: rationalism, ritualism, fanaticism, philosophy, science falsely so-called, all dishonor Christ, but the Spirit always magnifies Him. It is a notable fact that (so far as the writer is aware) nowhere in the Epistles has the Holy Spirit told us anything about the Father which had not previously been revealed in and by the Lord Jesus; but He has told us many things about the Son , which Jesus uttered not in the days of His humiliation. “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” The blessed work of the Spirit in revealing to believers the precious things of God is strikingly brought out in 1 Corinthians 2: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” ( John 2:9).
This is a reference to Isaiah 64, and most Christians when quoting it stop at this point, but the very next verse goes on to say, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” “All things that the Father hath are mine” ( John 16:15).
Very blessed is this: the Lord Jesus would not speak of His own glory apart from that of the Father. It is very similar to His words in John 17:10: “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine.” “Thus there is opened for us a glimpse into the living blessed bond of love in receiving and giving in the eternal ground of the triune essence of the Godhead. The Father hath from eternity given to the Son to have life and all things in Himself, yet always He is the Son who revealeth the Father, only as the Fatherhood remains with the Father. But all things the Son bringeth and giveth to the Father again, honoreth and glorifieth Him in His being glorified in His people. And this through the Spirit, who with equal rights in this unity taketh from the sole fulness of the Father and the Son, all that He livingly offers in His announcement” (Stier). “Take of mine” should be “receive of mine” as in the previous verse, otherwise the force of “therefore” here would be lost — in the Greek the word is the same in both verses. “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” ( John 16:16).
In the previous verses Christ had touched upon lofty things, now He comes down to the level of His apostles’ needs. He condescends to stoop to their weakness, by addressing Himself to their anguished hearts. From the awful heights of the three persons of the Godhead, He descends to the sorrows and joys of His disciples. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” But what did the Savior mean? This cryptic utterance of His sorely puzzled those to whom it was first addressed, as is clear from the verses which follow. Christ Himself termed it a proverbial form of speech ( John 16:25), and this must be kept in mind as we seek its interpretation. Before inquiring into the meaning of our Lord’s words here, let us first ask as to His purpose in thus speaking so enigmatically.
The Lord had previously said to the disciples, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you” ( John 13:31,33).
But it is plain that they understood Him not: “Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou?” ( John 13:36). He had said, “I go to prepare a place for you... and whither I go ye know, and the way ye know” ( John 14:2,4).
He had said, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more.” ( John 14:19).
But they were unresponsive: “Now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?” ( John 16:4).
Now the Lord repeats in parabolic form what He had previously announced, in order to arouse them from their stupor of sorrow and to make a deeper impression upon their minds. That His end was gained is evident from the next verse. But we believe that He had a still deeper reason: He was also supplying them with material for comfort in future days of trial. Later, when they recalled these words, they would recognize that the first part of them had received fulfillment — a “little while” after He had spoken and they saw Him not; and this would cheer them with the sure hope that in another “little while” they would see Him again. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” In less than two hours, most likely, He was arrested in the Garden, and there the apostles lost sight of their Master — even Peter and John saw Him but for a very little while longer. But He not only disappeared from their bodily vision, but spiritually too they lost sight of Him. Their faith was eclipsed. The words of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus no doubt expressed the common sentiment among His followers at that time: “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” ( Luke 24:21).
The fact that they believed not ( Mark 16:11,13) when they first heard of His resurrection, revealed their state of heart. They were in the darkness of doubt, and therefore could not see Christ with the eye of faith. But their seeing Him not, physically and spiritually, was of short continuance. After “a little while” — only three days — He reappeared to them, and then He disappeared again for another “little while” from their bodily vision, though never more would they spiritually lose sight of their Lord and their God.
Now while the above is probably the primary reference in our Lord’s words, we have no doubt but that they contain a much deeper meaning, and an application to the whole company of Christians. “There is, as for Christ Himself, the breaking through death into life, so for the disciples a deeply penetrating, fundamental change from sorrow to joy . By no means merely their sorrow at His death, and their joy on His living again, after the analogy of the sorrow and joy of the children of men in their changing experience; but as the mediating expression of an essential internal process which the Holy Spirit completed in their case, but which is still going on to the end of all. Thus as the way of the disciples through sorrow to joy between the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord was already for them something preparatory and typical, it becomes to us a type of the way which all His future disciples have also to pass through that godly sorrow which distinguishes them fully from the world into the joy of faith and life in Christ Jesus” (Stier). “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me.” We believe that it is misleading to place a comma after the word “again,” because there are two distinct periods here in view, two “little while’s”: “a little while and ye shall not see me” referred, first, to the interval between His death and resurrection; “and again a little while and ye shall see me,” which first found its fulfillment after His resurrection, but in its deeper meaning signifies ye shall see Me in a more intimate and spiritual sense. Only ten days after His ascension, by the aid of the Spirit, they saw Him in a new, a deeper, a fuller way than ever before. But there is still a further meaning, with a wider application: “And again a little while”: compare with this Hebrews 10:37: “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry”! After this present interval of Christ’s session at God’s right hand, believers will “see him as he is” and be forever with Him. “Because I go to the Father.” This is assigned as the reason why the disciples should “see” Him after a “little while.” It must be remembered that He was going to the Father in a special character; namely, as the One who had gloriously finished the work which had been given Him to do. He was therefore going to the Father as One entitled to a rich reward. This reward would be bestowed upon Him personally, but also upon the people whom He had purchased for Himself. Hence, His going to the Father thus guaranteed the sending of the Holy Spirit to that people ( Acts 2:33) and it was by the Spirit they were enabled to “see” Him ( Hebrews 2:9).
Thus it was His glorification which afforded the means for Him to now reveal Himself unto us spiritually. Moreover, because He has gone to the Father in this character, He will yet come again and receive us unto Himself ( John 14:23) when we shall see Him, no longer through a glass darkly. His going to the Father thus manifested His title and fitness to introduce us to the Father’s House! “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?” ( John 16:17).
The Lord’s words sounded strangely in the ears of the disciples, and some of them began to discuss the seeming paradox. That they should see Him, and that they should not see Him! — it sounded like a contradiction in terms. And even His expression of going to the Father was by no means plain to them. They thought that the Messiah would remain on the earth ( John 12:34). There was no place in their theology for His leaving them and returning to the Father. And yet there ought to have been: see Psalm 68:18; <19B001> Psalm 110:1. They erred through not knowing the Scriptures; hence their bewilderment here. How forcibly this illustrates the fact that the difficulties we find in the words of Scripture are self-created — due to our preconceptions and prejudices. “They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? We cannot tell what he saith” ( John 16:18).
This refers, apparently, to the answer which others among the Eleven made to those of their number (mentioned in the previous verse) who were quietly discussing what the Lord had just said. The first group were completely bewildered; the second puzzled mainly by the “little while.”
They “desired” to ask Christ, as is clear from John 16:19; yet they refrained from doing so. And how slow, oftentimes, are we to seek for light! “Ye have not, because ye ask not” ( James 4:2)! God has designedly put many things in His Word in such a way that their meaning cannot be obtained by a rapid and careless reading. He has clone so in order to exercise us, and to drive us to our knees; to make us cry, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” ( <19B918> Psalm 119:18); and to pray, “That which I see not, teach thou me” ( Job 34:32). “Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me?” ( John 16:19). “It may seem strange that the desire did not at once find expression in direct inquiry; for surely they had been long enough with Him, and had known Him sufficiently well to induce the conviction that He was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ and always more ready to give, than they were to receive, instruction. The truth seems to be, that on this occasion they were both ashamed and afraid to seek the information which they were anxious to obtain — ashamed to acknowledge their ignorance on a subject on which their Master had so often addressed them; and afraid, it may be equally, that they should draw down on themselves a faithful, though kindly rebuke.
What is said of a former declaration, seems to have been true of that which now perplexed them, ‘they understood not the saying, and they were afraid to ask him’; Mark 9:32” (Mr. John Brown). “It is to be noted that the Lord did not reply directly to their intended question. He does not give them further information on the subject concerning which they were curious. The point which perplexed them was His promised speedy return. They had half made up their minds to lose Him. They had a kind of vague, undefined suspicion that their worst fears regarding Him were about to be realized: but if so, what could He mean by speaking of this quick return? If He must die, how can it be only for a little while?’ As yet they knew not the Scriptures what the rising from the dead should mean. Their minds were confused, and their hearts filled with sorrow. So the Lord dwells upon this point of time, though He does not directly answer the desired question. He prefers now rather to give them some general prospect of brighter days to come: their sorrow shall give place to joy: that should be short, this should be lasting; that for a time only, this forever.” (Mr.
The Lord knows what things we have need of before we ask: all things are open before Him, even our hearts! He would not leave His disciples in uncertainty: “Before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” ( Isaiah 65:24).
There is something very impressive in the way in which the Lord Jesus here repeats what He had said just before: evidently with the intention of fixing these words in their minds. Seven times in these four verses occurs this expression “a little while.” How the Spirit would impress upon us the brevity of our earthly pilgrimage! How the Lord here emphasizes the blessed truth that we should be daily, hourly, expecting His return! “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” ( John 16:20).
There is no change of subject here as some have strangely thought. Instead, the Lord mentions the effects of not seeing Him and seeing Him again. The double meaning of His words in John 16:16 must be borne in mind — their immediate reference to the apostles, and their wider application to all Christians. As they concerned the Eleven, Christ made it known that they would first mourn for Him as one dead, and not only would the decease of their unfailing Comforter result in deep lamentation, but the rejoicing of the world over its seeming victory and His defeat would intensify their sorrows. But after a short season their grief would be turned into rejoicing.
Strikingly was this prediction fulfilled. When Mary Magdalene came to the apostles to announce the Savior’s triumph over the grave, she found them mourning and weeping ( Mark 16:10). When Christ approached the two disciples walking to Emmaus, He asked “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another? as ye walk and are sad” ( Luke 24:17).
How often during those three days must they have remembered His words “Ye shall weep and lament.” And while the beloved disciples were sunk in sorrow, their enemies were rejoicing. Solemnly does this come out in the prophetic plaint of the Messiah: “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause” ( Psalm 35:19). But these words of Christ also have a direct application to all His people on earth: “Sorrow” is their portion too — how could it be otherwise as identified with the Man of sorrows during the time of His rejection! The awful enmity of men against God; the way in which the world still treats His beloved Son; the many false prophets who dishonor the Lord; the absence of the Savior Himself; and the sight of our fellow-creatures rushing heedlessly to destruction, these are enough to make Christians “weep and lament.” Add to these our own sad failures, and the failures of our brethren — often more apparent to us than our own — and we can at once perceive the force of the apostle’s words, “Even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” ( Romans 8:23). “But your sorrow shall be turned into joy” ( John 16:20).
The woman who saw the risen Savior as they returned from the sepulcher “with fear and great joy” ( Matthew 28:8) ran to announce the glad tidings to the disciples. When He Himself appeared to them we read, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” ( John 20:20). And when He ascended on high “they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” ( Luke 24:52).
But mark here the minute discrimination of our Lord’s language. It was not only that their sorrow should give place to joy, but be “turned into joy.”
Their sorrowing became joy! The very cause of their sorrow — the death of Christ — now became the ground and subject of their joy! Grief would not only be replaced by joy, but be transmuted into joy, even as the water was turned into wine! The Cross of Christ is glorified into an eternal consolation. And what was it, or rather Who was it that brought this about? None other than the Holy Spirit. He has so interpreted for us the death of the Savior that we now cry, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Galatians 6:14).
So our title for this chapter still holds good here: it is Christ glorified by the Spirit.
The final meaning of this profound and full word of Christ’s, “your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” will find its ultimate realization in all His people when He comes to receive us unto Himself. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And even here the exactitude of our Lord’s language is to be seen: our “sorrow” shall be “turned into joy”: our present groanings are but creating within us a larger capacity for joy in the grand hereafter: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” ( 2 Corinthians 4:17).
But how fearful the contrast in the case of unbelievers: “Woe unto you that laugh now: for ye shall mourn and weep” ( Luke 6:25)! “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 joy that a man is born into the world” ( John 16:21).
Plain and simple though this verse appears to be, yet we believe, there is a depth and fulness in it which has never been fully apprehended. First of all it is evident that we have a double parallelism: “a little while and ye shall not see me” ( John 16:16), “ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice, and ye shall be sorrowful” ( John 16:20), “a woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come” ( John 16:21), all refer to the same thing — the same period of time, the same experience.
So too “again a little while and ye shall see me” ( John 16:16), “your sorrow shall be turned into joy” ( John 16:20), and “as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” ( John 16:21), also correspond. What we have here in verse 21 repeats, but in figurative language, what Christ had said in the previous verses. The Lord now illustrates by a reference to the most familiar of all examples of joy issuing from sorrow. The force of the figure used to portray our sufferings intimates the necessity of them, their severity, their brief duration, and the fact that they are antecedent to and productive of joy. So much is clear on the surface. But in its deeper meaning the figure which the Savior here employed went beyond His literal language in the previous verse.
The symbolical domain of nature has much to teach us if we have eyes to see and hearts to receive. God has wisely and graciously ordered it that the pangs of the mother are compensated in her joy over the fruit of her anguish. And this is a symbolical prophecy, written in nature by the Creator’s finger, of the birth of the new man. That, too, is preceded by travail, both on the part of the Spirit and of the one He brings forth: but here travail gives place to joy. The same process is also repeated in the Christian life. The travail-pangs of “mortification” are the precursors of resurrection-joys. There must be, for us too, the cross before the crown.
There must be fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, before we share His glory ( Romans 8:17). Plain intimation of this is given in His words here: “her hour is come” — the same expression used by Him so often in conjunction with His own “travail” The Holy Spirit has also used this same figure of a travailing woman to set forth the relation in which this present life stands to the future life: see Romans 8:12,19,22,23.
Marvellously full is this word of Christ’s. Fulfilled not only in the experience of the apostles, fulfilled in our regeneration, it is still further fulfilled in our Christian life. “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 16:22).
There is little need for us to enter into a lengthy exposition of this verse. In it the Lord gathers up into a brief summary all that He had said from John 16:15 onwards. There is the same fulness of reference as before.
Directly, it applied, to the case of the apostles. For a short season they sorrowed over their Master’s death and absence. This gave place to rejoicing at His resurrection and ascension. But the permanency of their joy — “none taketh from you” — was secured by the coming of the Spirit. But our Lord’s words were also addressed to the entire body of His people, therefore, as has been said, “The way of the first disciples between the Passion and Pentecost is a type of the whole interval of the Lord’s Church between His departure to the Father and His final return” (Stier).
The following questions are to aid the student on the dosing portion of John 16: — 1. In what “day,” verse 23? 2. What is meant by “ask me nothing,” verse 23? 3. What is the meaning of the first part of verse 24? 4. When did Christ show them “plainly,” verse 25? 5. What is the meaning of verse 26? 6. Did the disciples really understand Christ now, verse 29? 7. In what sense did Christ “overcome the world,” verse 33?