“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?’ ” John 16:19
Did your parents ever tell you about your birth experience? What it was like for them? My mother informed me when I was an adult that she was in labor during her pregnancy with me for twenty-four hours and then the contractions suddenly stopped. To try to get the contractions to resume, the nurse gave her caster oil (which tastes awful) to start the labor again, but it did not work. Eventually they gave her a drug to start the contractions again, and it caused much discomfort because it was administered too fast. Since my birth was a week before Christmas, many hospital workers were gone on vacation, including my mother’s doctor. My mother said she was given an old army nurse whose bedside manner was less than to be desired. To make matters worse, my Mom said my Dad, who was a dairy farmer at that time, joked about having babies as easy as cows having calves. Such comments can be dangerous to a husband’s health!
When it was time for me to be delivered, the delivery room doctor discovered that my foot was caught in my mother’s womb, preventing me from entering the birth canal. So he had to give my mother ether before going in to pull my foot down and deliver me feet first. They had to pack my mother’s insides with gauze afterwards because she was bleeding heavily. Because of the bleeding, she had to stay in the hospital five days. Mom was in labor a total of about twenty-eight hours with me. She was very glad when I was born. She said, “The Lord erases the delivery room woes until the next time. You forget the anguish because the joy of a newborn baby overshadows the pain.”
Jesus will use the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach us to endure pain so that He can transform it into joy. After all, Christians will experience pain and suffering this side of heaven. The disciples experienced sadness after Jesus announced His departure (John 16:5-6).
For believers today, our sadness may involve the many losses we experience because of COVID-19. These losses may include the death of a loved one, the loss of our own health, the loss of a job or financial security, the loss of social connections, or even the loss of a sense of control. Our sadness may be related to a broken relationship or a rebellious child. We will face circumstances in life that are painful, but Jesus offers us lasting joy amidst those painful times.
In John 16:16-24, Jesus is going to prepare His disciples for the overwhelming sorrow they are going to experience in the next few hours when they watch Him be arrested, mocked, scourged, and crucified on a cross. From Jesus’ interactions with His disciples, we will discover how He can transform our grief into gladness. How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness?
The first way is for us to ASK CHRIST TO HELP US PROPERLY UNDERSTAND HIS WORD AS IT RELATES TO OUR SITUATION (John 16:16-19). In the context, Jesus had just spoken to His disciples about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit during His absence (John 16:7-11). Christ would depart to go to His Father in heaven after His death and resurrection, and then send the Holy Spirit to them to guide them into all truth and glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14).
Then Jesus said to them, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” (John 16:16). The phrase “a little while” refers to the time interval between Jesus’ death and burial (“you will not see Me”), and His resurrection (“you will see Me”). Christ was trying to console them that He would not be gone long after His death. Three days later He would appear to them alive after His crucifixion. This last phrase, “you will see Me,” also seems to include the sending of the Holy Spirit since Jesus said, “because I go to the Father” (cf. John 14:28-29; 16:7). Jesus’ resurrection must take place first before He could go to the Father. The disciples would also see Jesus spiritually when He returned to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and reveal Christ to them (cf. John 14:18-21; 15:26; 16:7, 13-14).
“Then some of His disciples said among themselves, ‘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 go to the Father’?” (John 16:17). The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant. They were confused about the time interval and seeing Jesus again because He goes to the Father.
“They said therefore, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.’ ” (John 16:18). The words “They said,” translate a verb (elegon) that is in the imperfect tense, meaning, “They kept saying….” The disciples had a lengthy dialogue with each other about what Jesus meant by “a little while.” 1 The disciples confess their complete ignorance to one another, but they do not confess it to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to ask Jesus what He meant since they had recently inquired four other times (cf. John 13:36-37; 14:5, 8, 22).
“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” (John 16:19). The Lord Jesus, being God, already “knew that they desired to ask Him” about what He meant even though they had not voiced it to Him, so He takes the initiative. He does not seek to embarrass them further.
Christ could have scolded His disciples for not understanding what He was saying. After all, He had repeatedly told them earlier that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die (Matthew 16:21; 17:12; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:12, 22; 17:25; 22:15), yet they still did not grasp this. It was difficult for them to conceive of a Messiah who would suffer and die (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53) instead of rule over Israel’s enemies in His kingdom (Psalm 2:6-9; 68:18; 110:1; Zechariah 14:1-15). Likewise, we do not understand the totality of God’s plans recorded in the Bible. We need Jesus to help us understand the Scriptures when we are confused about something.
During my elementary and high school years, I learned the most from teachers who did not embarrass students for asking questions or misunderstanding their teaching. Their approachability encouraged me to seek a better understanding of the material they were presenting to us in class. I wanted to learn what they were teaching us because I sensed that they cared more about us than their materials. A good teacher understands that their students need them more than they need their information in class.
Jesus is a “gentle” and humble Teacher (Matthew 11:29) Who welcomes questions from His students. He cares more about His followers than any human teacher ever could. Knowing how much Jesus cares for us and loves us, motivates us to go to Him with our questions and confusion (cf. I Peter 2:2-3).
We can be a lot like the disciples who talked to one another about their confusion instead of going directly to Jesus about what He said. When we fail to understand God’s Word, how easy it is for us to go to others first, instead of to the Lord? We may go first to a pastor, a teacher, or to commentaries and other books before we turn to the Lord for understanding. If we are going to let Christ transform our grief into gladness, we must acknowledge our pain and confusion to Him. We cannot hide our private conversations and thoughts from Jesus, because He already knows them since He is God. As we open our hearts to Him, Christ can give us insight from His Word through His Holy Spirit to help us process our grief and confusion.
For example, in the summer of 2018 when I was seeking direction from the Lord and His answer did not come to me right away, I thought there must be some sin in my life that kept me from hearing from God. But the Lord then revealed to me why His answer was delayed.
We were visiting a church in Omaha, Nebraska, one Sunday, and the pastor was talking about spiritual warfare. In Daniel 10, when the prophet Daniel had been praying and fasting to God for three weeks, an angel of God finally came to Daniel with God’s answer (Daniel 10:1-10). The angel explained that God received Daniel’s prayer the moment he began to pray and fast (Daniel 10:11-12). But the reason why God’s answer did not come to Daniel from the angel until three weeks later was because of the battle taking place in the spiritual realm between the angels of God and the fallen angels of Satan (Daniel 10:13-14). God comforted my heart when I gained this insight from the book of Daniel. It helped me process the ache in my heart and wait on the Lord for His leading.
It is important for us not to be be upset when we don’t understand what Jesus is doing in our lives. After all, Jesus’s first disciples were confused, and they had Jesus right there with them! Instead of avoiding Christ, choose to pursue Him in the midst of your grief and confusion. 2
The Bible tells us in Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” We can share the deep pain in our hearts with the Lord Jesus because He “is a refuge for us.” Our secrets are safe with Him. Christ will not shame us or share our burdens with others. He will walk with us through the pain so He can transform our grief into gladness once again.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, how often I am so much like the disciples who talked with one another about their burdens and confusion instead of turning to You for insight. How prone I can be to wander from You when I need Your counsel. Thank You for pursuing me even when I do not pursue You. I am so appreciative that my private struggles and burdens are safe with You. Please bring to my awareness any deceptions in my heart that keep me from handing the burdens of my grief and pain over to You. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.
1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 329.
2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.