“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.”
“‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'; and, 'because I am going to the Father'?’
So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about.’”
This is what Jesus has just been saying in chapter sixteen. One can understand then, why our Lord says at the beginning of our text: “I have said these things to you in figures of speech.” Jesus has been saying things that are not straightforward and clear to the disciples. He is talking about events that go beyond their present ability to understand them.
Yet now in our text he says, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” Jesus points to an approaching time when he will speak to them about the Father in ways that they will understand. And then our Lord acknowledges the reception that the disciples have from the Father because of the way they have received Jesus. He says, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
The disciples in this time before Jesus’ death and resurrection had loved Jesus and believed that he had come from God. They may not have understood everything, but they had that part down. And because of this the Father loved them.
Next Jesus says, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” Our Lord once again refers to his approaching ascension. In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about his saving work as a whole. It is one sweeping movement down through the cross into the grave, and then back upwards in resurrection and ascension. It is something that the disciples will only be able to understand after his resurrection and in witnessing his ascension.
Have you ever been in a conversation where you really didn’t understand what was being said, but you didn’t want to let on that this was the case? Putting the best construction on things, that is what happens next. But more likely, the disciples probably are so clueless that they actually believe themselves as they say: “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
Yet our Lord knew full well how shallow their comprehension was at this point. So Jesus said dismissively, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
At the Garden of Gethsemane they would abandon Jesus and be scattered. And while it is easy to condemn the disciples and look down upon them for this failure, our performance is often not all that different. When moments arise to confess Jesus Christ in word and deed, we do nothing and remain silent. Or worse than doing nothing, we go along with the ways of the world as we reject and disobey God’s will.
Jesus announces the failure that awaits the disciples later that evening. But then he speaks one last statement, before he completely shifts the focus. Our text takes us to the end of chapter sixteen. In the first verse of chapter seventeen we are told, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The entirety of chapter seventeen is prayer that Jesus addresses to the Father.
This means the very last statement of Jesus that is addressed to the disciples is this: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Our Lord announces that in him we have peace. Earlier Jesus had said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Jesus gives peace. He does not deny that there is tribulation for those who believe in him. After all, the difference between Jesus and the world is the difference between light and darkness. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
To believe in Jesus is to call the world what it is. Jesus said: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
Those who believe in Jesus and walk in light – those whose behavior is shaped and guided by Jesus – will receive the world’s hatred. Walking in the ways of Jesus will bring tribulation. And beyond this, there is the tribulation of a fallen world where sin brings sickness, pain and death. Our Lord does not promise a free pass from such things. He says, “in the world you will have tribulation.”
Yet then he adds this: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus says we cannot allow the tribulation to overwhelm us. It cannot become our focus. Instead, we must take heart. We must listen to the encouragement that he gives. And the encouragement is this: “I have overcome the world.”
Jesus has overcome the world. He did it by giving his flesh – the flesh of the God-man – on the cross. During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
John says in his first letter, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” By his sacrifice on the cross our Lord has won forgiveness for us. By his resurrection on the third day he has defeated death. By his Spirit he has given us new life as we were born again in the water of Holy Baptism. For this reason, the devil and the world no longer hold us in their control.
Can they cause tribulation? Yes. But even these become things that God now uses for our good. He crucifies the old Adam in us. He turns us away from ourselves and forces us to look to him in faith. We belong to God as his children, and so we can trust that even in the midst of tribulations – even in the midst of a pandemic - he is still at work in our lives.
In his first epistle, John put it this way: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” You are born of God. Your faith is his gift. And it is this faith in the Son of God that overcomes the world, because he has overcome the world for you. As the crucified, risen and ascended Lord he has conquered sin and death. Through faith in Jesus Christ that victory is now yours. And his resurrection victory will be yours on the Last Day, because Jesus has said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."