These verses conclude the Upper Room Discourse and deal primarily with the concerns of the disciples. They were saddened that Jesus was leaving them, confused about some of His teachings and afraid of what might be coming. Amazingly, even though Jesus knew He was going to be crucified in a few hours, His concern was for the emotional state of the disciples. They were burdened with sadness now, but would soon be filled with lasting joy. Listen to their discussion.
First, the Savior will depart (16:16-22). The big idea that Jesus taught His disciples here is that God brings joy into our lives, not by substitution but by transformation. Jesus gave the disciples a veiled explanation of what was going to take place in the days ahead, and then gave them an illustration they would remember. A somewhat cryptic phrase is repeated three times (16, 17, 19): Jesus will go away for a while, then return for a while. The disciples will have sadness, then they will have joy. Jesus was going to die and be gone for three days but then after the resurrection they would see Him again and have everlasting joy! There is probably a secondary application as well. Jesus would be leaving this earth to be with the Father in Heaven and the Church would suffer “a little while” but the day will come when Jesus will return, then believers will rejoice with Him forevermore.
Let’s return to the big idea of these verses. God brings joy into our lives not by substitution but by transformation. The illustration of a woman giving birth clarifies this. The same baby that causes the pain also causes the joy. God doesn’t substitute something else to relieve the mother’s pain but uses what is there already and transforms it. Every parent knows what it is like to have an unhappy child because a toy broke, or a playmate returned home. If a mother gives a child a new toy every time one breaks, the child will grow up expecting every problem to be solved by substitution. The result will be a spoiled child who is unable to cope with reality. The way of substitution for solving problems is the path of immaturity. The way of transformation is the path of maturity and faith. We will never mature emotionally or spiritually if someone always replaces our broken toys. Jesus didn’t say the mother’s sorrow was replaced by joy but transformed into joy. Similarly, the cross that caused the disciples’ mourning would be the source of eternal joy. God takes impossible situations, adds His grace, and transforms trials into triumph and sorrow into joy. Joseph was sold into slavery which ultimately was transformed into the deliverance and joy of his family. David was hunted by King Saul, but became a man after God’s own heart and wrote many Psalms that have encouraged believers for millennia.
Secondly, we see that the disciples must pray (16:23-28). The big idea in this paragraph is “ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (24). Again, Jesus’ comments were cryptic. He described a future day when the disciples would no longer be able to ask Jesus for help (He wouldn’t be with them) but they would be able to pray to the Father. Up to this point the disciples had not been told to pray in Jesus’ name (24). But soon Christ would be in Heaven interceding as our great High Priest (Hebrews 7:25). To pray in Jesus name means to have access to the throne of God because we are His children through Christ’s sacrifice; we come not in our righteousness but in Christ’s. We can ask with confidence because the Father loves us (27a). There is great joy in praying and receiving answers to our prayers. George Muller had thousands of documented answers to prayer; he prayed in millions of dollars for the thousands of orphans he and his staff took care of. He said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”
Finally, we see that persecution will come (16:29-33). The disciples appreciated Jesus not using figures of speech (29) and they affirmed His deity as the Son of God (30). Jesus asked incredulously, almost sarcastically, “So now you believe?” He prepared them for the coming onslaught of hatred from the Jews and Romans which would scatter the disciples, starting with the cross (32). Tribulation is coming for those who live out their faith in this world, but amid the hatred and persecution, they can have peace. How is that possible? Jesus has overcome Satan, whose hatred of Christ is poured out on those who are His followers. We can be overcomers because Christ first overcame sin, death, and hell for us. Here is the bottom line, He transforms sorrow into joy as we lay hold of His promises and claim them by faith.