“In a little while you will not see Me. And then after a little while you will see Me, because I am going to the Father.” Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this He is telling us: ‘In a little while you will not see Me; and then after a little while you will see Me,’ and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” Then they said, “What is this He is telling us: ‘In a little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Then Jesus knew that they wanted to ask Him. So He said to them, “Do you inquire among yourselves concerning what I said: ‘In a little while you will not see Me; and then after a little while you will see Me’? Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has pain, because her hour has come. But as soon as she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow. But I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:16-22
On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples these words in John 16:16: “In a little while you will not see Me. And then after a little while you will see Me, because I am going to the Father.”
Even though Jesus had often explained that He would be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, scourged, crucified, and that He would rise again on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19), His disciples did not understand what He meant when He said, “In a little while you will not see Me. And then after a little while you will see Me, because I am going to the Father.” (v. 16; cf. v. 17-19).
Jesus explained briefly in verses 20-22: “Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has pain, because her hour has come. But as soon as she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow. But I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
What Jesus meant became clear to them only after it came to pass, when Jesus appeared to them on that first Easter evening and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
That “little while” began on that very night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. It continued as Jesus was tried, condemned, crucified and laid in the tomb. Jesus had been taken from His disciples and crucified. He was dead and enclosed in a tomb! All appeared to be hopeless and their faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior was crushed.
And they had great sorrow because Jesus, in whom they had trusted and whom they had followed for three years was now dead. And they, His own disciples, had betrayed Him, denied Him and fled from Him in fear for their own lives! And now Jesus was taken from them and gone — their faith and hopes were dashed!
As Jesus said, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” The disciples of Jesus sorrowed but the world rejoiced at the death of Jesus.
No longer would the enemies of Jesus have to hear Him pointing out their sinfulness, their hypocrisy, and their need to repent and to look to God for mercy and forgiveness. No longer would they have to hear Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God and their Messiah and Savior and the only way of salvation!
But the disciples’ sorrow and the world’s rejoicing were short-lived! The disciples’ sorrow was turned into joy when they saw Jesus alive from the dead on the third day? And their rejoicing grew, even more, when Jesus opened up their hearts and minds to understand the Scriptures and they came to understand what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection — that He had made full atonement for the sins of all and was risen again in victory, that all who repent and look to Jesus for pardon and forgiveness could have God’s pardon and peace and the certain hope of being raised up again unto everlasting life (cf. Luke 24:44ff.; Rom. 4:23ff.; 1 John 2:1f.; 1 Cor.15:20ff; 1 Pet. 1:3ff.).
Like a woman in pain as she gives birth forgets that pain and rejoices when her child is born, so the pain and anguish — the sorrow — suffered by Jesus’ disciples was nothing in comparison to their joy when He appeared to them alive again, having won salvation for all!
But, imagine the shock when the chief priests and elders of the Jews heard the soldiers’ report of an angel, the stone rolled back, and an empty tomb (cf. Matt. 28:2-4,11-15)! Their rejoicing was turned into fear because Jesus had risen from the dead as He said, proving He truly is the Son of God and that His words and teaching are true!
These words of Jesus about the “little while” have yet another application that applies to all of us. On the 40th day after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven and was exalted to His position of power and glory at the right hand of God the Father.
We cannot see Him now but He is present with us and rules over all that He might establish His everlasting kingdom (cf. Matt. 28:16-20; Eph. 1:18-23). He sends His ministers to call people to repent and believe the Gospel of forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in the crucified and risen Savior! He sends out His Holy Spirit, who works through the Word to convict people of their sins and to give and assure to them the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting Jesus won for them on the cross, by simply trusting in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for their salvation (cf. Eph. 1:3ff.; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).
But, as we live out the remainder of our lives here in this world, our lives are full of sorrow and pain. Not only are we ridiculed by the world for our faith in Christ Jesus, but some are also persecuted and suffer for their faith. Large numbers are still killed today because of their testimony regarding Jesus and His teaching — especially in Islamic countries.
Sometimes we may lose sight of Jesus and all He accomplished for us. We may forget that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), and will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
But our sorrows and all our suffering will be turned to joy when we see Jesus coming again in the clouds of glory. The world will weep and lament, but we will lift up our heads in joy (cf. Rev. 1:7; Luke 21:28).
St. Paul assures us in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.”
Now, we may weep and sorrow as we suffer in this world and are under constant attack by the devil and his evil angels, by the unbelieving world and even from our old sinful flesh which causes us to doubt and despair and which seeks to lure us back into sin.
That is why the Scriptures warn us in 1 Peter 2:11: “Dearly beloved, I implore you as aliens and refugees, abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.”
And the world (all who remain impenitent and without faith in Christ Jesus for mercy) rejoices. The world rejoices to see the true church diminish in numbers and influence. The world rejoices when the true message of the Bible is silenced or contradicted because, then, people don’t have to hear of their sinfulness and of their need to repent and look to Jesus for salvation. People rejoice because they can continue on in their sinful ways without being reminded of their guilt and the coming judgment of God upon them.
To paraphrase the words of John 3:19, people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil and they do not wish to have their sinful ways exposed by the light of God’s Word.
Though the world rejoices now as Christianity and the true preaching of God’s Word appears to wane in the face of constant attack, this rejoicing will be shortlived because, in “a little while,” Jesus will return in judgment. In the words of Revelation 1:7, “He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.”
But, though we, like Peter after He denied Jesus, may weep and sorrow in this world because of our own sins and failures, though we may be troubled because of the world’s hatred and persecution, though we may sorrow as our loved ones die and we too face temporal death, our sorrow will be turned to joy when Christ Jesus returns to receive us into His everlasting kingdom of glory.
The Bible assures us this in the words of Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven, saying, ‘Look! The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them. They shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death.” Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away.’”
Or, in the words of Revelation 7:13-17: “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘Who are these clothed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ He said to me, ‘These are those who came out of great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. “They shall neither hunger any more, nor shall they thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them,” nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and “He will lead them to springs of living water.” “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’”
For a little while, we may grieve and sorrow — though we still have hope because we know Jesus rose from the dead and will return to raise us up and give us the everlasting joys of heaven. But, in a little while, when Jesus comes again, we shall rejoice with joy inexpressible!
As the psalmist writes in Psalm 16:11: “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
We thank You, dear Lord Jesus, for the comfort of knowing that our sorrows are only for a little while, that in a little while You will appear again in the clouds of glory to receive us and all who have trusted in Your name to the everlasting joys of heaven. Grant us Your Holy Spirit and the faith to believe and take hold of the Gospel promises of forgiveness and life eternal for the sake of your blood, shed upon the cross for the sins of the world. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]