“17 Sanctifythem by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” John 17:17-18
The night before Jesus was hung on a cross, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. We are learning from this prayer, how to pray like Christ prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…
– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)
– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…
~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).
~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).
The third way to pray for those we disciple is to pray for THEIR PURIFICATION THROUGH GOD’S WORD (John 17:16-19). Jesus prayed, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16). Jesus repeats that the disciples “are not of this world” in their position just as He was “not of the world.” They were to become less and less influenced by the world. How?
Next Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The word “sanctify” (hagiázō), literally means to “set apart” 1 from the world or “to make holy.”2 This is not referring to perfection. It is referring to spiritual growth or maturity – becoming more like Christ. How? We are to be “set apart” from the world’s influence and its values “by” the Father’s “truth” which is His “word,” the Bible. We cannot grow spiritually apart from God’s Word. So the way we grow in holiness is by renewing our minds in accordance with the truth of God’s Word (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Disciples of Jesus must abide in His word if they are to know the truth of His word and be set free from the lies that enslave them to sin (cf. John 8:31-36). We must feed upon God’s word to experience the victory Jesus has already won for us (John 16:33).
At a meeting, a Native American Indian said a black wolf lived in his heart, but when Christ became his Savior, a white wolf came to live in his heart, and the two wolves were then fighting all the time (see diagram 1). After the meeting, someone approached him and asked, “Which wolf wins, the white one or the black one?” The Indian replied, “The one I feed the most.”If we feed upon God’s Word and do it, we are going to experience more victory over the world and Satan in our Christian lives. But if we feed upon the lies of Satan, we will experience more defeat in our Christian lives and be conformed to the world. I like what D.L. Moody wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible. “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.” That’s the truth. If I let this book become more and more a part of my life it will keep me away from sin. Or sin can keep me away from reading His word.
Tony Evans writes, “This process happens through internalizing the eternal truth of God’s Word. Think of the Word like food. You can chew it all day, but unless you swallow it, you receive no health benefits from it. You internalize God’s Word, not by merely hearing or reading it, but by trusting and obeying it. Then its work of spiritual transformation is activated in your life (see 2 Cor 3:17-18).”3
Sanctification or spiritual growth takes place as we learn and as we love and as we live God’s Word. It is a balance of those three things – learning it, loving it and living it. We learn it with our mind. But that’s not enough. We probably know a lot of people who have learned the Bible with their minds and can even quote verses, but they are not growing because they don’t love it. They don’t love it with their hearts. And they are not living it with their will. They are not deciding to do the things it says. It is like a three-legged stool (see diagram 2) – learning it, loving it, living it. You can’t leave out any of those things. We may know some people who are trying to live God’s word without loving the One who wrote it. When we do that, the Bible is just a law. There is no relationship with God. When we start to learn His word and what it says, we start to love it with our hearts, and live it with our wills. when we have all three legs of that stool together, we’ve got a solid foundation for growth (cf. Matthew 7:24-25).
Next Jesus prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Now Jesus is setting His disciples apart through prayer to do the same work He had done. Instead of taking the disciples “out of the world” (John 17:15), Jesus was sending them “into the world.” Christ had trained them to continue what He had come to do – reveal the Father (cf. John 1:18). Notice that sanctification or spiritual growth (John 17:17) and sending (John 17:18) go together. Christ wants the world to see what He is like through disciples who are growing spiritually. If believers are not going into the world to make Christ known, they are not growing spiritually because sanctification (John 17:17) leads to reaching out to a lost world (John 17:18). If we are becoming more like Christ, we will develop the same love for the unsaved that Jesus has for them.
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus called His first disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing for men (evangelism), then we are not following Christ. Notice, however, that it is our responsibility to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.
Then Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (John 17:19). How did Jesus, the sinless Son of God “sanctify” Himself? Keep in mind that the word “sanctify” can mean “to set apart.” Jesus set Himself apart from the world to do the will of His Father which involved His sacrificial death on the cross “for their sakes” (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10, 14). In dying for His disciples (and all of us), He did for them what they could never do for themselves. He also died so His disciples “may be sanctified by the truth.” Christ’s death permanently set believers apart from their sin and guilt (cf. Hebrews 10:10, 14) and it also broke sin’s control over them (cf. Romans 6:5-11).
How important it is for us to understand that our spiritual growth and development is being nurtured by Christ’s prayers for us. We are also to pray for one another’s spiritual growth. Pray for God’s Word to shape us and mold us into Christlike people. Pray for one another’s commitment to holiness and godliness.
The water spider is an amazing little creature (see diagram 3).Called the frogman of the spider world, it lives in rivers and streams. How does this fascinating species survive in its watery environment? It spins a tough basket-like web of silk, a kind of diving bell, and anchors it under water to plants or other objects. Then it captures a surface air bubble, which it pulls down and ejects into its underwater house, filling it with air. This combination of web building and bubble trapping allows the water spider to live in an environment that normally would destroy it.
As Christians, we also live in an environment which could destroy us. The world’s values, attitudes, and practices threaten to drown us unless we are able to protect ourselves from them. How are we to survive spiritually in this hostile world? We are to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another. Prayer for one another can insulate our minds and help to keep us safe and secure in the Lord. As the water spider lives in the water but is not of the water, so we are to live in the world but not of the world.
Are you building a safe bubble by praying with and for other believers? Do you have a prayer partner? Sometimes our pride keeps us from asking for prayer from others. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that we need to be in a community of people who pray. We cannot grow spiritually in isolation from one another nor apart from God and His Word. We need both to influence the world for Christ.
Prayer: Father God, we live in a world where Satan uses politics, the media, the educational system, the economy, the laws of the land, and our unsaved family and friends to draw us away from You and make us less sensitive to Your Word. But You have called us to become less and less influenced by the world’s values through the transforming truth of Your Word, the Bible. Please activate Your Word in our lives as we learn, love, andlive Your Word. Renew our minds so that our thoughts align more with Yours. And as we grow closer to You, Lord Jesus, Your love for the lost people of this world will become ours. Increase our love for those for Whom You have died. Thank You, Jesus, for sending us into the world just as the Father sent You into the world. Please teach us all we need to know to effectively share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You. Help us to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another to keep us safe and secure in You, Lord Jesus, as we live in this hostile world. We desperately need You, Your Word, and one another to accomplish Your mission of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Thank you, my Lord and my God, for giving us all we need to honor and glorify You in this process. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 307.
2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 8.
3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15
We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…
– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)
– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…
~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).
Today we also discover that praying for those we disciples includes PRAYING FOR THEIR PROTECTION FROM THE WORLD AND THE EVIL ONE (John 17:9-15). Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven, “9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10).Jesus did not “pray for the world” the night before His death, He prayed for the disciples whom the Father gave Him because they belong to the Father (“they are Yours”) and to Jesus (“Yours are Mine”), and Jesus will be departing from them soon. This is another affirmation of Jesus’ equality with the Father. The disciples belong to both the Father and the Son. Only God in human flesh could make such a claim of reciprocal ownership with God the Father! 1
It is not that Jesus did not care about the world – He does! But the night before His crucifixion, He needed to focus on His disciples because their needs were great. When Jesus says, “I am glorified in them,” He is referring to the disciples who now believe that Jesus is from the Father (cf. John 17:8). Every time a person comes to faith in Christ as the One sent by the Father, Jesus is glorified in them!
Christ would no longer be with His disciples when He would ascend to heaven, so He prayed: “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11).Christ prays to His “Holy Father” to “keep” them “through” or “in” His Father’s “name.” The word “name” refers to the character of God. 2 Jesus is asking the Father to keep the disciples loyal to His Father’s character while they are “in the world.”
Sometimes Christians miss what Jesus just said. He does not say His disciples should live out of the world or as far away from the world as possible. He says, “these are in the world.” Some people think that to live a holy life you must live as far away from the world as possible. So you have a whole movement of people called monks who live far away from people in monasteries. You have churches that think they must live as far away from non-Christians as possible to live holy lives. But that is not what Jesus is praying here.
Christ is praying that His disciples would live distinctly holy lives “in the world,” not distant lives from the world. Because if we are the light of the world, and we are (Matthew 5:16), how is the world going to see it unless we live among them? If we are the salt of the earth, and we are (Matthew 5:13), how is the world going to taste it unless we live among them? So when Jesus prayed for us, He doesn’t pray for us to be taken out of the world. He prays that we would be kept loyal to the Father’s character while we live in this world.
This is the only time in the gospel of John that God is addressed as “holy Father.” The use of this title of God prepares the way for Jesus’ prayer to “sanctify” His disciples through the Father’s “truth” (cf. John 17:17-19). The purpose of praying for the Father to keep them loyal to His character was so they “may be one as We are one.” Christ wants us to live in unity with one another like He and the Father do, so the world can see what God is like. But Satan and the world want to divide the body of Christ, so our witness is less effective in the world.
Next Jesus prays, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12). Two different words are used for the word “kept” in this verse. The first word for “kept” is the same word used in verse 11 (etēroun) and has the idea of “to keep, hold, or preserve.”3 Christ said He had kept or preserved their loyalty to the Father’s name or character.
The second word for “kept” (ephylaxa) means “to guard, protect” 4 and focuses on Christ keeping them secure from being spiritually “lost” or perishing after they believed in Him (John 10:28-29). Not one believer has ever been lost by Christ nor ever will be lost by Him (John 6:35-40). Judas, “the son of perdition” (NIV – “one doomed to destruction”), never believed in Jesus in the first place (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11). Judas’ unbelief does not mean Jesus failed, but that Judas fulfilled Scripture in Psalm 41:9 which spoke of David’s friend betraying him. Judas “destroyed” himself by refusing to believe in Christ and thus fulfilled Scripture and God’s purpose.
“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13). Christ had kept the disciples loyal to God’s character while “in the world,” but now He was returning to the Father (“now I come to You”) and so He prays “these things I speak” in My prayer about keeping My disciples loyal to God’s character and guarding them from perishing is so “they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” If the disciples remained faithful to God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, they would have a “full measure” of the joy that He had (and will have – Hebrews 12:2) in obeying His Father (cf. 15:10-11; 16:20-22, 24).
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14). What did Jesus give the disciples that caused the world to hate them? The Father’s word about His Son and eternal life. The disciples were “not of the world” in their position because of their faith in Christ just as Jesus was “not of the world.” What makes the world hate believers is the truth of God’s Word. One way to get the world to love us is to let go of what makes them hate us – God’s Word and its truth.
Comedian, Bill Cosby, used to do a comedy routine about the time he was an American football running back. He was this 120-pound scrawny little kid playing against these 300-pound linemen on the other side. The quarterback said, “Cosby, you’re going to get the ball,” and they handed him the ball and these 300-pound defensive linemen are charging at him and they look like they are going to kill him. But then all of a sudden, Cosby realizes that they didn’t really want him. They wanted the ball. So he gave the other team the ball.
It us easy for us to do that as believers. We realize that the world doesn’t really hate us personally, it hates the truth that we live by and for. So we let go of the truth. But then there is no light and no salt. Jesus says, “I have given you something that’s very powerful and very dangerous. Be aware of it. I have given you God’s Word. And because it is truth that cannot be denied, it makes people love you, but it also makes people hate you. Your friends may hate you. Your family or neighbors may hate you. You need to be aware of this,” Jesus says. So Christ was very honest with His disciples (and us) about this.
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). If the disciples were taken “out of the world” they would have no witness to the world. Hence, Jesus prayed that the Father “should keep them from the evil one” while they are in the world. The word “keep” is the same word used in verses 11 and 12a, and it refers to them being kept safe from Satan and the world which he rules through deception, so that they remain faithful to the Father.
Too many Christians either withdraw from a worldly environment or they live like the world wants them to live to protect themselves. Christ wants neither response from His followers. Jesus wants us to remain faithful to God while living in a hostile world, looking to the Lord to protect us. We are to live for Christ “in this world – in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, marketplaces, and civic arenas. Yet, we are not to adopt the world’s perspective or let it dictate our values. We must operate on earth from a heavenly perspective, God’s perspective. God’s Word is to determine our understanding of right and wrong. Though we are in the world, we must not be of it.”5
Prayer: Father God, we pray that our lives and the lives of those we disciple would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your protection and security, not in fear. Deliver us from fear if we are facing it. Father, we pray You would keep us and the people we disciple loyal to Your character while we are in this world so the full measure of Jesus’ joy will be in us. Thank You for giving us Your Word which can cause people to either love us or hate us. Regardless of how people respond to us, help us to hold fast to Your truth so that our lives will be transformed into Your likeness and more people can come to know Jesus as the Giver of everlasting life. Holy Father, please protect us from the evil one in this world whose deceit and rebellion take many different forms. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 545).
2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 459; J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 305.
3. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 814-815.
4. Ibid., pg. 868.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.
“For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” John 17:8
We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. First, we learned like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5). Today we also discover LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR THOSE WE DISCIPLE (John 17:6-19). Jesus turns His attention in prayer to His Eleven believing disciples. There are three main things Jesus prayed for these Eleven men. We will look at the first request He presented on their behalf today
What do we pray for those we disciple? Or should I ask, “Are we discipling anyone at this time?” If not, ask the Lord to show you whom He wants you to begin a discipleship relationship with. He is delighted to answer that prayer.
If you are discipling someone, Christ wants you to pray the same thing He prayed for His disciples. Jesus first tells His Father the things He has done for His disciples. He does not ask for what He needs or wants first. Instead, He tells the Father what He has already done in relation to His disciples and then He asks the Father for what He wants for them.
That is a challenge for all of us, isn’t it?! Sometimes, God has a few things He wants us to do for others before we pray to Him about them. Christ says to His Father, “Here are some things I have already done with the disciples. But I cannot do it all on My own. Here are some things I am asking You to do Holy Father. I know that You must be at work in their lives, so here is what I am asking of You.”
Jesus prayed, “6 I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17:6-8). Christ is praying, “I revealed You to them, Father” (John 17:6a). The word “manifested” (ephanerōsa)means “to make clear, visible, known.”1 Christ revealed His Father’s “name” or attributes and reputation to His disciples through His own words and actions. This is to be the goal of every disciple-maker, to reveal what God is like to those we disciple through our own words and actions.
Next Jesus says, “I taught them to keep Your word” (John 17:6b). He says, “they have kept Your word.” Christ is not referring to sinlessness or perfect obedience here. In the context, keeping His word refers to believing in Christ’s saving message (cf. John 17:8). The most important act of obedience is believing in Christ Whom the Father has sent (cf. John 3:36; 5:24; I John 3:23a). 2
The word “kept” (tetērēkanis) is in the perfect tense which means they believed His saving message in the past and continue to believe it in the present. When we think of all the failures and disappointments from the disciples, this is a very gracious assessment by Jesus of their lives. Christ did not focus on their shortcomings, He focused on their salvation. The main thing to Jesus is that they believed in Him for salvation and continue to believe in Him! What could be more important than that!
Likewise, we must be very gracious with those we disciple. The most important thing in their lives is that they believe in Jesus for everlasting life! Nothing is more important than that! It is also important to be realistic in our expectations of them. Do not expect them to be where you are in a few weeks when it has taken you many years to get there. That is not realistic.
Then Christ prays, “I showed them that all things that I have, come from You” (John 17:7). Christ’s mission (John 12:44; 13:3), authority (John 5:27), and message (John 7:16: 8:28; 12:49) all came from His Father. Do the people we disciple know God is at work in our lives? Is it obvious to them that our mission, authority, and message are from the Lord?
“I gave them the words that You gave Me, and they received them, and believe that You sent Me” (John 17:8). Praying for our disciples includes praying for THEIR RECEPTIVITY TO GOD’S WORD (John 17:6-8), especially as it relates to the gospel, so they can believe in Christ and be saved forever! It is also important to pray for their receptivity to God’s Word after they are saved, so they can hear from God and know Him more intimately as they learn to obey His Word. This assumes that we are also receptive to God’s Word and can give them what He taught us.
Prayer: Father God, thank You for preserving Jesus’ prayer so we can learn how to pray for those we disciple. If we are not discipling anyone right now, please show us whom You want us to reach out to so we can begin such a relationship with them. Right now, we pray You would prepare their hearts to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than their salvation! Gracious Father, please use us to show those we disciple what You are like through our own words and actions. May they see You at work in our lives in such a way that they will want to know You more intimately. Lord Jesus, thank You for being so gracious to Your disciples even though they had so many weaknesses and shortcomings which were especially evident that night before Your crucifixion. Please help us to show the same kind of grace and gentleness to those we disciple and mentor. Instead of focusing on their shortcomings, please grant us the grace to focus on their salvation! Increase our hunger for Your Word, Lord. Help us all to finish our Christian lives well for Your glory. Thank You, my Lord and my God. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.
1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 303.
2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 458.
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.’ ” John 17:1
In 1952, a brilliant guest lecturer was asked, “What is there left in all the world that has not been done for a doctoral dissertation?” The lecturer replied, “Find out about prayer.” The lecturer happened to be Albert Einstein.
It has been said that, “Prayer is conversation with God that arises out of communion with God.”The closer we grow to the Lord, the more intimate our prayer life will be with Him.
Do you believe in prayer? Honestly, do you believe God hears us when we talk to Him? Can He be trusted with our deepest longings and most troubling fears? I would like to think that the majority of people in the world today may consider praying to a Supreme Being more than ever before during this global pandemic. But there are probably some people who want nothing to do with a Higher Power because of the suffering that is taking place in the world today.
Jesus Christ frequently turned to His heavenly Father in prayer (cf. Luke 5:16; 22:39). After warning His disciples of tribulation and comforting them with the promise of His victory (John 16:25-33), Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. It is the longest in length and it is also the longest in span of time. It includes the time of Jesus’ day and reaches all the way to our lives today.
John 17 is like the holy of holies of the book of John. Remember the holy of holies in the temple where once a year the high priest could go in and make the sacrifice for the people and pray for the people (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7)? It was such a holy place because it was God’s presence. John 17 is a chapter like that. Dr. David Anderson understands the outline of John’s gospel to be parallel to the temple (see diagram 1). 1
The first twelve chapters are about evangelism whereby John presents seven miraculous signs so non-Christians might believe in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). When we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift from evangelism to intimacy or fellowship with God. This truth is not for unbelievers.
Anderson writes, “That is why in John 13:1-30, Judas must be sent out of the room as one of the two steps to prepare Jesus’ disciples for the intimate truth He wishes to share. The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believers. Judas had no place in this setting because he was not a believer. Unbelievers had to come into the temple/ tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truth Jesus wished to share in the Upper Room was for the ears of believers only. But even these believers needed to be cleansed of their daily sins in order to be in fellowship with the Lord. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they would not be able to comprehend the truth He wished to share.”2
“It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and the believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believe through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than intercede in prayer. He actually became our mercy seat (Rom 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Hissacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Then leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21) to complete the mission.” 3
So John 17 is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for us. As we study this chapter of John, I hope we will embrace the fact that we are with Jesus entering into God’s presence. It is an incredible privilege. Just like the high priest used to enter into the temple where God’s presence was, Jesus Himself entered into God’s presence and prayed for us. The sense of this prayer is we are in a very holy place where we listen to Jesus pray.
This prayer is commonly known as the High-Priestly prayer of Christ or the Prayer of Intercession. Intercession refers to praying to God on behalf of others. This prayer is a picture of Jesus’ current ministry of intercession in heaven as our High Priest (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus prays this prayer in front of His Eleven disciples to summarize His relationship with the Father and the relationship He wants them to have with Him and the Father. Repeatedly Jesus had connected His going to the Father with their new life of prayer (John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). The power of prayer in Jesus’ name would be connected to His intercession for us in heaven. This prayer will teach us what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It will also show us Jesus’ love and concern for His disciples, including you and me.
From John 17, we will answer the question, how can we pray more like Jesus prays? After Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), He prepared for the cross by turning to His Father in prayer. Notice that He taught His disciples first, and then He prayed for them to internalize what He had just taught them. We would be wise to do the same. Peoples’ lives will not be transformed through the preaching of God’s Word alone. We must pray for those people to apply what they have heard from God’s Word.
We see in this prayer that Christ first prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), then His followers (John 17:6-19), and finally for future believers (John 17:20-26). His prayer is like circles that grow wider and wider (see diagram 2). He starts with Himself, then He widens the circle beyond Himself to pray for His Eleven believing disciples. Then He widens the circle a lot more by praying for all future believers that His disciples (and others) would reach. So He begins with His own need, then prays for the needs of the disciples, then He prays for the world that they would reach.
As Jesus prays this prayer, we will learn what is really important to Him – desperately important. Here Jesus is. He is about to die. He knows that these disciples are going to have tremendous needs in their lives. He loves them, so He prays for them. How can we pray more like Jesus prays?
LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR GOD TO BE GLORIFIED WHEN WE FACE TRIALS (John 17:1-5). We might think this is selfish to begin by praying for Himself, but when we look at the content of this part of His prayer, we will realize this is not selfish because Christ’s motivation was to glorify His Father. Jesus prays for two things in this first part of His prayer: His resurrection (John 17:1-3) and His glorification (John 17:4-5).
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1a). The word for “eyes” (ophthalmous) is where our English word ophthalmologist is derived from. 4 Christ does not bow His head or close His eyes as we are accustomed to doing in our western culture. There is more than one posture to take when we pray. You can pray while you are walking or driving( just make sure to keep your eyes open). You can pray when you are standing or kneeling with your hands raised, or you can pray sitting or laying down. There is no one way you have to pray. If you are in the habit of taking only one posture when you pray, you may want to change that up from time to time. It could revolutionize your prayer life.
Christ prayed aloud so His disciples could hear what He prayed to His Father. Likewise, as we disciple new believers in Jesus, it is important to pray aloud with them because God can use that to teach them how and what to pray. I am not exactly sure where Jesus prayed this prayer. It may have been in the Upper Room (cf. John 18:1) or on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31).
We are told that Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven.” He was not discouraged or downcast as He approached the cross, He was hopeful and expectant as He looked up to His Father in prayer. He had just announced that He had “overcome the world” (John 16:33), and now He engages in a prayer of victory!
The first thing Jesus prays is, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” (John 17:1b). Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come…” By addressing God as “Father,” He expresses His childlike relationship to His Father and His submission to Him. His long-anticipated “hour has come” for His death, resurrection, and ascension to His Father in heaven (cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27-28, 31-33; 13:1, 31).
Jesus is not being selfish here when He prays for the Father to “Glorify Your Son,” because it serves a higher purpose – “that Your Son also may glorify You.” The word “glorify” (doxason) is derived from the word “glory” (doxa) which “refers to the estimation or opinion in which one is held. Here Jesus prays regarding His own reputation and attributes. His words ‘Glorify Your Son’ petition the Father to bring into full display Jesus’ divine character and attributes through His impending death and resurrection.”5 Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension would also “glorify” the Father by enhancing His reputation and attributes through Jesus, since Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father (John 12:44-45; 14:9-11) and was sent by Him (John 4:34; 7:16; 8:18; 14:24; 17:8, 18).
We see in this verse how much “the Father and Son love one another and desire to make much of one another before a watching world. Those who come to God through Jesus Christ are called to participate in this intra-Trinitarian love, bringing glory to God through our faith in and obedience to the Son.” 6
Jesus’ words remind us that suffering precedes glory (Matthew 16:21-27; 20:19; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-10; 12:2). 7 Through His suffering and death, Jesus brought glory to Himself and to His Father. Likewise, when we suffer for Christ’s sake, we bring glory to Him and He promises that God will give glory and honor to us in the form of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (John 12:26; cf. Matthew 16:21-27; Romans 8:17; I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Peter 1:3-11; 2:11-25; 4:12-5:4; Revelation 2:10, 25-29; 22:12).
We may ask, “How did the Father glorify Jesus?” Jesus prayed, “As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (John 17:2). The Father glorified Christ by giving “Him authority over all flesh” so Jesus would “give eternal life” to those the Father had “given Him.” Only God can give life that never ends to people which means Jesus must be God! Notice Christ has authority to give eternal life to “all flesh”! There is no such thing in the Bible of only a select group of people that are savable. All people are savable because Christ is drawing all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32), He desires all people to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), and He died for all people (cf. I Timothy 2:3-6; I John 2:2).
Five times in this prayer, Christ refers to believers as those whom the Father had given Him (John 17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24). Does this refer to the elect from the foundation of the world? Does it mean a person cannot believe in Christ if the Father has not given him or her to Jesus? No, this is a reference to the Father giving Old Testament believers in the Dispensation of Law over to Jesus at the beginning of the dispensation of Grace (see John 6:37 for discussion). 8 The Eleven disciples were believing Jews who belonged to the Father, but now the Father transfers them into the Son’s hands for His use and safe keeping at the beginning of the Church Age (cf. John 17:6-12). Now they belonged to Jesus. 9
Someone may ask, “What is eternal life?” Jesus explains. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).“Eternal life” is knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom” the Father “sent.” The word “know” (ginōskō) refers to an intimate knowledge of God, not just an awareness of certain facts. 9 Notice that the primary focus is on one’s relationship with God (“life”),not the duration (“eternal”).This is not just a future promise, it is a present reality for all believers in Jesus. Eternal life is knowing the true God personally in one’s experience forever. Eternal life is not static or unchanging. It can be experienced at deeper and deeper levels as we grow closer to the Father and His Son.
In fact, when we examine the uses of “eternal life” in the New Testament, we discover that when eternal life is referred to as a present acquisition, it is received as a free gift by believing in Jesus (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:13; Revelation 22:17), but when eternal is referred to as a future acquisition, it is received as a reward for sacrificial service to Christ (cf. Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; John 12:25-26; Galatians 6:8).
Some have argued that John 17:3 shows Jesus is not God because Jesus distinguished God the Father as “the only true God” from “Jesus Christ whom” the Father sent. But Jesus did NOT say, “I am not God” in this verse. You will not find that anywhere in the Bible. Jesus was not denying He was the “only true God,” but was praising the Father as such. The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was.
But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another? Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father in heaven. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the True God. In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” like idols. Jesus had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.
This understanding is substantiated by the same writer of John 17:3 when he writes in his epistle, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.
Also the Greek word for “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “theonly” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).
To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God. The burden of proof rests upon those who deny Jesus is God. John calls them “antichrists” in his first epistle who reject that “the Christ,” the Messiah-God,has come in human “flesh” (I John 2:18, 21-22; 4:1-3). They willingly reject the historical record of the Bible which clearly and consistently proclaims that Jesus is fully God (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; 44:6; John 1:1, 14-18, 34, 49, 5:6-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 9:35-38; 10:30-39; 11:27; 14:7-9; 17:5; 20:28, 31; Acts 16:31, 34; 20:28; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Philippians 2:6, 9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; I Timothy 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 4:2-3; 5:20; Revelation 1:17; 22:13; et al.) and fully Man (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6-7; 7:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:14; 2:12; 4:6; 7:3, 5; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; 21:12; Philippians 2:7-8; I Timothy 2:5; I John 4:2-3; et al.)!!!
Our privilege is to know God personally now and forever through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). If this is true, and it is, then the one thing that will last beyond this life and the one thing that deserves our utmost attention is our daily life and fellowship with God. Many of us have known the Lord for a long time, but has our knowledge of the Lord grown deeper as a result of spending time with Him and obeying Him (cf. John 14:21, 23)? What are we doing today to know God more intimately?
Next Jesus prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4). As Jesus faces the cross, He has no sense of failure, but rather fullness of attainment. He had “glorified” His Father “on the earth” and “finished the work which” the Father had given Him to do – revealing the Father by His words and works (cf. John 1:18).
“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Christ does not pray for new glory. He prays, “Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” The words, “the glory which I had with You before the world was,” affirm the eternality of Jesus Christ and His preexistence as God before He became a human being on earth. Notice that Jesus clearly affirmed his pre-existence. “Before the incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, before the creation week even began, God the Son eternally existed in the glorious presence of God the Father. And to this glory He would soon return.”10
These words also affirm Jesus’ equality with the Father, because in the Old Testament, God said He would not share His glory with anyone: “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8; cf. 48:11). Since the Father and the Son share their glory, they must both be God.
Christ’s human flesh had veiled this glory He shared with the Father in eternity pastduring His earthly life (Philippians 2:6-8), and now He prays that that same glory may be restored in His Father’s presence. As Jesus had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4), now He prayed to be restored to His heavenly glory with His Father (John 17:5).
Like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials. Christ faced His sufferings and death with the desire to glorify His Father in heaven. He submitted to His Father’s timetable and agenda. This takes humility. Jesus went through terrible pain and suffering to honor His Father. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to submit to God’s timetable for us? If not, pray for that willingness. When we are struggling and in pain, it is easy to obsess on ourselves and it is especially difficult to focus on others and on what God wants. Through prayer, we can obtain the power to focus on God’s will for us and glorify Him even though we may be in pain. The best way to face calvary (suffering), is to spend time Gethsemane (prayer).
Keep in mind that Jesus is praying for us now in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is praying for us to glorify our Father in heaven as we face difficulties. Sometimes when we face difficult situations, we do not know how to pray, so the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays according to God’s will on our behalf. “26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). So we have both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit praying for us, especially when we face trials in life. What an encouragement this is for us as we seek to glorify the Father during these challenging times!
Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, thank You so much for Jesus’ prayer in front of His eleven believing disciples. We are given an incredible glimpse into the intimate relationship Jesus had with You during His earthly ministry. And just as He prayed for You to be glorified when He faced His hour of suffering and death, help us to yield ourselves to You in prayer so You are glorified when we face difficult times. And like Christ Who submitted to Your timetable and agenda, may we humbly submit to Your timetable and will for our lives. Please make us willing when we are unwilling to do this. We can so easily focus on ourselves when we are hurting or in pain, instead of focusing on others and what You want to do in our lives. But praying to You gives us hope because as we talk to You, You can give us the power to focus on Your will for our lives and glorify You in the midst of our struggles. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also praying for us in addition to You. Knowing this greatly encourages our hearts. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2005), pp. 16-17.
3. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 300.
6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1813.
7. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.
8. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Growing up in the 1960s, sports were a major part of my life. I remember watching the introduction of the TV show called “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Every week, the host of the show, Jim McKay, would say, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” To represent “the agony of defeat,” a film clip of Vinko Bogataj was played of him crashing off a ski-jumping ramp. For decades viewers watched this terrible crash. Thankfully, Bogataj was not seriously injured. But his wipeout representing the “agony of defeat” was immortalized by this show.
Can you imagine having your failure replayed for decades before millions of viewers!?! None of us want our names to be connected with “the agony of defeat.” We would much rather be associated with “the thrill of victory.” With this in mind, we are going to look at the fifth and final way to face challenges with courage. So far we have learned from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, that we can face challenges with courage when we…
– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).
– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).
– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).
– Rest in the Father who will never abandon us (John 16:31-32)
The final way to face challenges with courage is to RELY ON CHRIST WHO HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD (John 16:33). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). When Jesus says, “these things I have spoken to you,” He is probably referring to the many promises He has given to His disciples in the Upper Room discourse which included preparing a place for them in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3), answered prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:7), the sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:5-15, 26), fruit-bearing (John 15:1-17), and unending joy (John 16:16-24). Christ ends His discourse on a note of peace and victory.
There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:
1. “in Me” vs. “in the world” – Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”)and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation” (thlipsin). This word refers to “pressure or distress brought about by outward circumstances.”1
2. “you may have” vs. “you will have” – in the spiritual realm the disciples “may have” peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 2 they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 3 that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples (and we) will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 4
3. “peace” vs. “tribulation” – If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.” 5
The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (John 15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation” (thlipsin) “is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.”6
Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation,” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (John 15:18-16:4). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.
After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.
The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to have courage.”7 Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” The word “overcome” (nenikēka) means “to overcome, conquer, be victorious”8 and it is in the perfect tense. So Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!
It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world,” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord!
To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win with Him as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly. Have you heard this before? It is true, but it is not quite as simple as it sounds. One does not become an overcomer by simply saying with confidence, “I am an overcomer!”
The verb “to overcome” (nikáō) is used by John only here in the gospel of John, but he uses it six times in I John (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) and sixteen times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 17:14; 21:7).
John’s use of the word “overcome” in I John is used of all Christians who are “overcomers” through their single act of faith in Christ at the moment of salvation which overcomes the world’s system’s hostility toward saving faith (I John 5:1, 4-5; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). However, the statements in I John about overcomers are not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers.
In Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”
The Book of Revelation deals with persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15) and not a single act of faith for salvation from Hell. For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:8) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14a). Revelation is talking about Christians being “overcomers” through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives, so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).
In John 16:33, we see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. Christ has already won the victory over the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.
In the Philippines when I would watch NBA basketball, I enjoyed the Dallas Maverick’s team. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings while living in the Philippines when they were televised live in the States. So I would watch the replay of their games in the evening. Before I did that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks won before sitting down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.
The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges. At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! Therefore, we can fight “from” the victory Jesus has already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, regardless of how the world beats us down, we have reason to live with courage because You are the Sovereign King over the world. You have defeated sin, death, and Satan through Your death and resurrection! Because of this, our eternity is secure in You if we have believed in You for Your gift of eternal life. We can now fight “from” the victory You have already won, instead of fighting “for” victory as though it all depended on us. Lord Jesus, You have the power to overcome our circumstances here on earth. Knowing this truth and staying connected to You in an intimate relationship will greatly change our perspective as we face challenging times on earth. Thank You for giving us peace and courage in the midst of life’s storms. You are an amazing Lord and God! In Your victorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 362.
“Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32
During the global pandemic, many people are feeling alone and abandoned. Due to COVID restrictions, we are not able to connect as easily with one another. Worse yet, some of us may feel abandoned by God during this difficult time.
We are learning from the Lord Jesus how we can face challenges with courage. We have discovered that we can face challenges with courage when we…
– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).
– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).
– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).
Today Jesus teaches us that we can face challenges with courage when we REST IN THE FATHER WHO WILL NEVER ABANDON US(John 16:31-32). We see that the disciples’ understanding and belief were still immature. After they affirmed their belief that Jesus “came forth from God” (John 16:30), “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’ ” (John 16:31). Jesus’ question expects a negative response. Christ was questioning what they would do in the near future when they would face difficulties and danger? “Will you believe in Me then?” Jesus asks. Christ knew them better than they knew themselves.
Jesus then explains, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32). Christ knew their faith would be tested before the night was over. When Jesus was arrested these men would “be scattered” and stricken with fear (cf. Matthew 26:56), going in every direction, much like the people in Madrid, Spain, when the bulls are released and scatter throngs of people. When Jesus needed His disciples the most, they abandoned Him after confirming their faith in Him.
What Jesus is saying to these men is, “ ‘You don’t believe as strongly as you think you do. Now, while all is quiet and safe, this is easy for you to say. But very soon you’re going to forget your fragile faith and run for your lives.’
“Have you ever made a vow to God during a church service only to back away from it later—perhaps as quickly as when you left the church parking lot? It’s easy to boast about our faith; it’s harder to live it, as Peter would soon discover (18:15-18, 25-27). This is one of the reasons why God causes us to experience challenges. Through them, we come to see how brittle our faith is and how mighty our Savior is, and thus our faith is made a little stronger.”1
Although the disciples would abandon Him, Christ assures them, “yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” Jesus may have felt lonely at that time, but He knew He was not alone.
A young woman’s brief note spoke volumes. “I am a handicapped person in a wheelchair,” she wrote. “I am very lonely even though I know I’m never alone. God is always there. I don’t have alot of people I can talk to.”
Loneliness has been termed the most desolate word in the English language. It is no respecter of age, race, economic status, or intelligence. Albert Einstein said, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”
God made us for intimacy and companionship with others. Even before sin entered the world, God declared that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). That is why many people often feel so empty inside.
Christ most likely felt lonely when the disciples abandoned Him at the time of His arrest, but His Father’s presence more than compensated for this, however. Christ said, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” We can lessen our feelings of loneliness by reaching out to others. But even more important, we must reach out to the Lord who will never abandon us.
Yes, people may stop loving us and even abandon us, but God will never stop loving us (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:38-39) and He will never forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5). Christ probably felt disappointed with His disciples for not supporting Him. But we are no different than the disciples. We also fail the Lord. But God never fails us. Psalm 118:8-9 say, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Why is it better to trust in the Lord than to trust in people? Because He is always there for us. I cannot be with you twenty-four hours a day nor can you be with me every hour of every day. Only God can be there for us all the time.
Evangelist D. L. Moody loved to tell the story of a preacher he knew in Scotland who would go once a week to a children’s hospital to try to comfort sick little ones. On one trip, he met a boy of six who was facing the amputation of his leg. The preacher asked if the boy had anyone to stay with him as he waited for the surgery. The boy explained that his father was dead, and his mother was too ill to leave their home. Feeling sorry for him, the preacher talked about how caring and loving the hospital staff were, trying to find some way to offer him comfort. Then the little boy said, “Jesus will be with me.”2
We never have to face challenges alone because God is always with us. There may be days when we do not “feel” His presence as we would like, but there will never be days when He is not there. Rest in the arms of His presence and He will give you the courage to face whatever challenges come your way.
Prayer: Father God, during these challenging times I am realizing that my feelings often lie to me. They tell me I am all alone and unloved. But Your Word tells me that You are always with me and that You will always love me even when others abandon me or stop loving me. Your grace toward me is truly amazing. Even when I abandon You or fail to love You back, You do not leave me nor stop loving me. Your constant presence in my life gives me the courage to face difficult situations. Thank You for being such a gracious and loving Father. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.
1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1812.
“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28
In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage.Thus far we have learned we can face challenges with courage when we…
– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).
– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).
We can also face challenges with courage when we RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS IS IN CONTROL (John 16:28-30). Christ said to His believing disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28). Jesus plainly declares His heavenly origin (“I came forth from the Father”), His humiliation (“and have come into the world”), and His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (“Again, I leave the world and go to the Father”). 1 He has come from heaven to earth and is going back again to heaven. Jesus’ departure will not change the fact of His incarnation and its continuing results. This is underscored with the use of the perfect tense verb (elēlytha) translated “have come,” which means that Christ came to earth as the God-Man in the past and He continues to this day to be the God-Man. 2
“His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!’ ” (John 16:29). Now the disciples thought Jesus had “plainly” answered their questions about where He was going. “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:30). Jesus’ knowledge of the future, especially regarding His return to heaven, convinced them that He knew “all things.” They had full confidence in Christ. When they said Jesus had “no need that anyone should question” Him they were referring to His supernatural insight into their hearts which enabled Him to answer their questions before they even asked Him. 3 His complete knowledge reconfirmed their faith in Him as having come “forth from God.”
Jesus’ infinite wisdom assures us that He has a complete grasp of the difficulties we face so we can rest assured that He will never fail us. Knowing He is in control of our future – that everything happens according to His plan – can increase our courage. The more you believe Christ is in control, the more courage you will have.
God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot change? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and God can melt that heart of stone. We can lose our courage because we have lost sight of how big our God is. God knows everything. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He invites us to trust Him even when we face major challenges. And as we do, He can supply us with the courage we need to rise above our feelings and circumstances to make Him known to a lost world.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You demonstrated Your omniscience by alerting Your disciples to Your return to the Father. Your supernatural knowledge of the future and the disciples’ questioning hearts reassured them of Your identity as God and that You are in control. Knowing that You are in control of our future and that everything happens according to Your plan and purpose, increases our confidence in You. The more we believe You are in control, the more courage we will have to face these challenging times. Lord, You know the people in our lives who seem so difficult to reach with the gospel. Their hearts seem so hardened. Thank You for reminding us that no problem or person is beyond Your life-changing touch. Please use us as You deem best to share Your life-giving gospel message with all who will listen. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.
1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 671.
2.J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 296.
“For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” John 16:27
In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage. Yesterday we discovered we can do this when we resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26). Today we learn we can also face challenges with courage when we RECEIVE THE FATHER’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR US (John 16:27).
Jesus explains why the disciples are to go directly to the Father in prayer after He goes to the Father following His resurrection and ascension. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:27). The disciples could go directly to the Father because of His special “love” (philéō) for them. This word for “love” refers to a warm, affectionate, friendly kind of love. 1 This special love for them was based on their relationship with Christ.
Jesus said that the Father’s love for them was, “because you have loved Me and havebelieved that I came forth from God.” The words “loved” (pephilēkate) and “believed” (pepisteukate) are in the perfect tense which means they loved Jesus warmly in the past and still love Him warmly in the present, and they believed Jesus was from the Father in the past and still believe He is from the Father now.
Christ is referring to discipleship or fellowship with God here, not salvation from hell. This special kind of love from the Father is based upon our obedience to Christ which follows belief in Him (cf. John 14:21, 23). We saw in John 14:21 that when a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them.
God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special or more intimate way (John 16:27; cf. 13:23; 14:21, 23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with God the Father and God the Son. It can also be said that unloving and unbelieving Christians will not experience this special kind of love from the Father.
Wilkin writes, “For a believer to abide experientially in the love of God, he must hold fast to the faith both doctrinally and morally (cf. 14:15; 15:14; cf. Jude 21).”2 We cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely on God the Father through prayer to remain faithful to the Christian faith (cf. John 16:23-26).
God often uses troubling times to deepen our experience of His love for us. This was what happened to missionaries, Charlie and Frauke Schaefer, who were serving the Lord in Germany. One morning, when Frauke was getting ready to leave for a conference and Charlie was out on a run, Charlie did not return home. Frauke became alarmed and went looking for him in likely places, but he was not to be found in any of them. After she called the police, she learned that Charlie had been taken to the hospital after collapsing during his run. There was bleeding of an unknown cause inside his skull.
“After Charlie’s collapse, Frauke felt distant from God and was evading His presence. Although communication between her and God was good, she had gnawing questions when she slowed down. Why did this happen when we were doing what we believed God wanted us to do? How could Charlie’s collapse fit into God’s plan. Why were we unable to lead the retreat that was so diligently prepared and prayed for? After a while, Frauke gained courage to direct these questions to God. An immediate response came through the peace of realizing God was assuring her, ‘I am with you and I know.’ God also seemed to be saying that deepening our love and trust in Him was more important than ministering to others at the moment.”3
Instead of doubting God’s love for us when we face challenges, we are to embrace the truth that God may allow personal suffering in our lives to take us where He knows we must go to experience the fullness of His love for us. 4 God does not just want to tell us that He loves us. He wants to show us that He loves us and this often takes place in the context of pain and suffering. Knowing we are warmly loved by the Father, can give us courage during those difficult times.
Prayer: Father God, thank You for not just telling me that You love me, but for permitting me to go through challenging times to deepen my experience of Your unfailing love for me. Much of my Christian life I have known intellectually that You love me, but in recent years You are showing me how much You love me as I go through various difficulties in life. The more I experience the warmth of Your love, Father, the more I can face opposition and painful trials with courage. Thank You for fighting the battles I could never fight or win on my own. Thank You for being my best Friend. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 271-272.
2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 542.
3. Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., Trauma & Resilience: A Handbook, (Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., 2012) pp. iv-v.
“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26
Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?”1
After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.”2
Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.
Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans.3 In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4
Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.
When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.
In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.
First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.
Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.”5
Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.
This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).
All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”
This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.
Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”
Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.
3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.
4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.
6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.
“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22
We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His eleven believing disciples how Christ can transform our grief into gladness. So far we have discovered He does this when we …
– Ask Christ to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).
– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).
– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).
– Allow our grief to direct us to the Father in prayer (John 16:23-24).
The final way Jesus transforms our grief into gladness is not based on a specific verse in this passage, but on the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus transforms our grief into gladness when we ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH THE PATTERN OF TRANSFORMED PAIN. This pattern finds its fullest expression in Jesus. He transformed the bad into the good.
Because of Jesus, we can never say about a person, “He or she must be suffering because of some sin he or she committed.” Jesus, who never sinned, also suffered. God never promised that typhoons or twisters will skip over our houses on the way to our non-Christian neighbors or that COVID-19 will flee from our Christian bodies and invade a non-Christian’s body. We are not exempt from tragedies in the world just as God was not exempt. Christ was willing to suffer in order to accomplish a higher goal. He trusted His Father to use His death for good. And God took the worst thing that could happen – the brutal execution of His only Son and turned it into the final victory over sin, death, and the Devil (I Corinthians 15:1-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). God turned the design of evil into the service of good, an act that holds in it a promise for all of us.
Because God transformed Jesus’ suffering into good, He can do the same for us. Jesus’ resurrection transformed the pain of His disciples into joy. No trial, illness, unemployment, broken relationships, death of a loved one, or grief extends beyond the range of Jesus’ transforming power. He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward Him.
Childbirth is ironical – an event that causes some of the greatest physical pain, but also opens the doorway to one of life’s greatest joys – new life! Someone once said, “The more grief inflicted upon you, the better fitted you are to appreciate joy. More often than not the so-called negatives are assets. There cannot be a front without a back, an up without a down, a cold without a hot, a love without a hate.”
When speaking of the effects of His own death on His disciples, Jesus compared it to a woman in labor. She travails until the moment of delivery, when suddenly anguish is transformed into ecstasy. Death is like birth – it causes great emotional pain, but in reality, it opens a doorway into the great joy of eternity because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Author Philip Yancey writes, “Imagine birth from the perspective of the fetus (unborn baby). Your world is dark, safe, secure. You are bathed in a warm, cushioning liquid. You do nothing for yourself. You are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you is meeting all your needs. Life consists of simple waiting – you’re not sure what to wait for, but any change seems faraway and scary. You encounter no sharp objects, no pain, no dangers. A fine, serene existence.
“One day you feel a tug. The walls seem to press in. Those soft padded walls are now pulsing, wildly, crushing you downward. Your body is bent double, your limbs twisted and wrenched. You’re falling, upside down. For the first time in your life, you feel pain. You’re in a sea of roiling matter. There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is squeezed flat, and you are pushed harder, harder into a dark tunnel. Oh, the pain. Noise. More pressure.
“You hurt all over. You hear a groaning sound and an awful, sudden fear rushes in on you. It is happening – your world is collapsing. You’re sure it’s the end. You see a piercing, blinding light. Cold, rough hands grasp at you, pull you from the tunnel and hold you upside down. A painful slap. Waaaahhhh!
“Congratulations, you have just been born.
“Death is like that. On this end of the birth canal, it seems a scary, dark tunnel we are being sucked forward by an irresistible force. None of us looks forward to it. We’re afraid. It’s full of pressure, pain, darkness… the unknown.
“But beyond the darkness and the pain lies a whole new world outside. When we awaken after death in that bright new world, our tears and hurts will be mere memories.”1
Perhaps you have lost a love one recently who believed in Jesus or was too young to believe in Him, and your heart is numb with grief. Christ’s resurrection guarantees you will be reunited one day in His presence (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Knowing this can comfort and sustain you during this dark and painful time. Jesus wants you to take heart because the day is coming when the darkness will be gone forever and your pain will be transformed into endless joy (Revelation 21-22).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You never promised that suffering would not be part of our lives. In fact, You promised just the opposite if we follow You. But it is not a hopeless kind of suffering. Your resurrection guarantees to all of us who believe in You a hope-filled beginning when we die and go to be with You. A perfect, sinless, world awaits us in Your presence when we take our last breath. Knowing this empowers us to endure the darkness and pain before us with the confidence that something much better and greater lies beyond our time here on earth. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that the hurts and tears we have now will be transformed into endless joy and laughter in the world to come where we will be reunited with You and those who have gone before us. Please help us to lean into You when troubled times come. Your presence can calm our hearts when we surrender to You. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.
1. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 258-259.