“Take Courage: I Have Conquered the World”
John Chapter 16
In this chapter, Jesus continues his farewell discourse. “The farewell discourses are not general meditations on the religious life but are intended to strengthen a persecuted Christian community.”[i] He also cautions them of their own future hour when the world will reject them, because they believed in Jesus. Jesus is saying these things to the disciples in order that they might not stumble or “to guard you against the breakdown of your faith… that you may not fall away.”[ii] There is also the stark warning of being put out of synagogues, leading to their ultimate death. “Unlike the synoptic gospels where Jesus’ adversaries are charged with hypocrisy, John regards the hostility of those who persecuted Jesus and his disciples as sincere.”[iii] Many will think that they offer worship to God by killing the disciples. However, Jesus tells them to remember these words so that they would be prepared when it happens. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning” – Jesus was with the disciples, so he felt he did not need to warn them about the future. Now that it is time to depart, the emphasis shifts to what they need to hear.
The disciples did not ask Jesus where he was going. However, Jesus knew their hearts and knew that they were filled with sorrow because of what he shared with them. He reminds them that he is leaving them with an Advocate – the Holy Spirit, who will prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. Of sin, because they did not believe in Jesus, of righteousness (or justice – God’s vindication of Jesus) because he is going back to the Father, and of judgment (satan who stands behind the world’s rejection of God is condemned). “The primal sin is not breaking a commandment, but failure to trust in God. Faith is the authentic response of human beings to our Creator, and lack of faith is the underlying sin from which all individual sin originates.”[iv] In addition:
“The work of the Holy Spirit in the world can be characterized as “a threefold forensic function as God’s advocate/prosecuting attorney in the cosmic courtroom drama played out in the Johannine narrative.”[v] The Johannine community found its whole existence to be a trial, had learned in its own experience that the Spirit of God was not only with them in the courtroom, but was a constant guide and help, and that the Holy Spirit was God prosecuting attorney against an unbelieving world.”[vi]
Hence, we hear, in some contemporary Christian traditions, “He will be your lawyer in the courtroom.”
There are many things that Jesus wanted to share with the disciples. However, he felt that they could not bear to hear what he needed to share in those moments. The Spirit of Truth will guide them (and us) into all truth, speaking what the Spirit hears from Jesus, and sharing with the disciples things to come. The Spirit of Truth will glorify Jesus because the Spirit will declare what is from Jesus. Because all that Jesus has belonged to the Father, he clarifies that the Spirit of Truth will take from him and give it to the disciples.
Jesus made another declaration that confused the disciples. “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” The disciples did not know what Jesus meant by this statement. Jesus compared the sorrow that they will experience as a woman in childbirth. Once the labor pains are over, and upon seeing the newborn child, the woman forgets all the pain from labor. Jesus assures them that he will see them again, and that their “hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” He reiterates from previous chapters that they could ask for what they want in his name. Up until that time, the disciples had not asked Jesus for anything. But now he tells them again to ask, and they would receive, so that their joy may be complete.
Jesus spoke to them plainly, not in figures of speech. He explained the significance of going to the Father, that the Father loves them, coming into the world, and going back to the Father. These verses helped to clarify his meaning and intent for the future. Because they understood, they believed that Jesus came from God. “The disciples make no reference to Jesus going to God, i.e., the crucifixion-exaltation, and so are still to some extent in the dark.”[vii] Jesus questioned their beliefs by suggesting that an hour would come when they would be scattered, each one to his own home. But Jesus’ loneliness was not predicated on the disciples being scattered, because the Father would still be with him. He wanted them to take courage, because, as Jesus stated, “I have conquered the world.” In the eyes of the world, Jesus may have been perceived as a loser. The Jewish Council, Roman Empire, Pharisees, and Sadducees thought they had won. “But Jesus’ death was also his victory; giving one’s life in service to God is not defeat but victory.”
[i] Boring and Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 342.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 343.