[June 26, 2011] Chapters 14—16, of the Gospel according to John, framed by chapters 13 and 17, is the interpretation of the cross and resurrection that follows. In chapter 14 we saw that by our Lord passing through death and resurrection, He would be able to release the Holy Spirit into His believers so that we can become the abodes of the Triune God. Chapter 15 showed us that as such abodes, we are organically related to each other in Christ and need to actively abide in Him.
Jesus then spoke of how this organism is set apart from the world and incites the world’s hatred, the world being that collective soulical gestalt that is out of touch with, blind to and in denial of all reality because it opposes and attempts to shut out the reality of God. In 15:26-27 and chapter 16, Jesus spoke of how the Holy Spirit in us would testify to the world concerning Jesus and thus expose it for what it is. The world is a captivating and enslaving delusion. The indwelling Holy Spirit (16:12-15), however, is the revealer of Christ and, as such, the revealer of reality.
We come now to the conclusion of Jesus’ speech to His disciples.
The Disciples Are Still Confused (John 16:16-19)
Jesus repeats what He has said before, “A little while and you no longer behold Me, and again a little while and you will see Me.” According to the Byzantine Greek text He says, “A little while and you do not behold Me, and again a little while and you will see Me because I am going to the Father.” The Byzantine text is clearer, in view of the context, which makes it the version that is more likely to have been amended. In any case, in 13:33 and 14:19 Jesus also spoke of the “little while” and of not seeing and seeing Him, and in 13:3; 14:28; 16:5, and 10 He spoke of going to the Father.
Unlike modern readers who have the benefit of hindsight, the disciples are unable to comprehend that Jesus has all along been talking about His imminent death and resurrection. Like modern readers they do not understand that His going to the Father would precede His coming to them in resurrection. When His obedience was completed on the cross, as the divine Son He would go to the Father in His humanity—on Easter Day. When He returned to them on Easter, His humanity would be not only resurrected but divinized, and communicable to them by the Holy Spirit. It would be as if He had been transformed into a new species.
The Newborn Child of the Resurrection (16:20-22)
As it begins to dawn on the disciples that Jesus is speaking of His departure as imminent, they begin to feel sorrowful (verse 22). Jesus addresses this, telling them that the sorrow they feel now will become weeping and lamentation when He actually leaves them. Not only that, but the world which hates Him (15:18) will rejoice.
These feelings of grief and loss, however, are just the pangs of birth, the trauma of giving birth to Someone new in the world. They are “the woman” in verse 21 whose hour has come to give birth. “Her hour” is the hour which Jesus has spoken of as “My hour,” the hour of His passion (2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27 and 13:1). The woman is the disciples, who like the woman in Revelation 12:1-6 represent the people of God. In Revelation 5:8, when the Lamb that had just been slain appears before Him who sits on the throne, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each having a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which bowls are the prayers of the saints.” The prayers of the saints correspond to the birthpangs of the people of God, who whether they knew it or not, were longing for the birth of the new creation. We see this in Luke’s gospel in the faithfulness of Elizabeth and Zachariah, of Anna (Hannah) and Simeon, and of Mary and Joseph. Now we see it in the disciples, including the women (19:25) whether or not they were present at the supper. “The woman” includes all who believed into Him.
This image of a woman in the pains of labor to give birth to Christ in us continues in the life of the church. Paul speaks of himself with respect to the Galatians: “My children, with whom I travail in birth until Christ is formed in you.” In Romans 8:22 Paul says that “the whole creation groans together and travails in pain together until now,” awaiting its transformation in Christ, and in verse 23 he says that this same groaning is reflected in ourselves “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan in ourselves, eagerly awaiting sonship, the redemption of our body.” The resurrection of Christ was a birth; Christ being formed in us through the Gospel and the life of the church is a birthing; and the glorification of Christ in our bodies and in the whole creation will be a birth—the birth of the new creation.
“The woman” is the people of God represented at this moment in the gospel by the disciples and all who believe into Christ. What is not said is that Jesus Himself is among them, also anticipating the cross and resurrection as His own rebirth. He will give birth to Himself (2:19; 10:17-18)—not only from the womb of God’s people but also from the womb of the earth (His tomb).
The creation gives birth to the new creation through the people of God on the earth, and they become the mother of the new creation through Jesus’ presence among them. As God He is the Creator. As human He is a Creature. As a Creature, He becomes the Firstborn of the whole creation by resurrection (Colossians 1:15, 18) because He is the beginning of the new creation being the Firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).
The central image of this chapter is that of the newborn Child in verse 21. In His resurrection Jesus would be like a newborn little Child—the beginning of the new creation. Not only would Jesus be “born” in resurrection (see Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5), but His disciples—all who believe into Him—would be born with Him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The only-begotten One becomes “the Firstborn among many siblings” (Romans 8:29; see Hebrews 2:10-12).
Chiastically, the central thought of the prologue (1:1-18) which introduces the gospel is those “who were born … of God.” Also, in terms of the chiastic structure of the whole gospel, chapter 2:23—3:21 corresponds to chapters 13—17, and the chief thought there is the need to be born anew to see and enter the Kingdom of God (3:3-8). We need to be born of water (repentance) and the Spirit, for only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. We are born of the Father by the birth of Jesus in resurrection, which gives us the Spirit who regenerates us. The Spirit indwelling us makes us the genetic children of God, not by creation as having a spirit (as in Acts 17:17), but by new birth. Thus, having been brought forth by the implanted word, we become in Christ and through the Spirit, by the saving of our souls, the “firstfruits of God’s creatures” (James 1:18, 21).
The Child born on Easter is the creation—the human body of Jesus—divinized. This becomes the Seed that will divinize the entire creation. That divinization begins in those who believe into Him. When we are redeemed through the blood of Jesus, our spirits are then regenerated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That begins the process of the saving of our souls. Christ abiding in us begins to transform us. It is constitutional and effectual, but still by participation in Him only, and by grace. One day we will know the resurrection of our bodies, when Christ in His manifestation “will transfigure the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of His glory, according to His operation by which He is able to subject all things [i.e., the whole creation] to Himself” (Philippians 3:21).
The woman is thus the disciples and Jesus Himself among them. Likewise, the Child is Jesus and also the born-again disciples in Him.
When we see Christ in resurrection, when He is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, our heart rejoices, “and no one takes your joy away from you.” This, of course, was true for the disciples who wept and lamented when they lost Him in death; who suffered when He suffered; who bore the burden of giving Him birth at that apex of time, of salvation history. In this (like Mary at the time of His incarnation) they epitomized all the people of God who preceded them. Their sorrow turned into joy. It is also true for us now who believe—when the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us—and when we labor that Christ may be formed in others. In spite of hardship and discouragement, there is this joy in us that no one can take away.
The Disciples’ New Relationship to the Father (16:23-28)
In that day, that is, after the resurrection, we will not need to go to the Father indirectly. For if Christ is in us and we are in Him, we can ask the Father the same as if the Son Himself were asking Him—for the Son Himself in us is asking the Father. “Ask and you shall receive.”
What can we ask for that “[our] joy may be made full”? In view of the joy that was just spoken of in verse 22, what would make our joy full is Christ Himself—our bearing fruit (that is, of new believers) and Christ being formed in the organic body of believers (the church). When Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive,” it is not a license to indulge our flesh, but an invitation to participate in the outworking of His purpose.
“These things I have spoken to you in parables.” The word is paroimia, figures of speech. The image of mother and child is the last of the figures of speech that He uses. The things that He has been saying have been difficult for the mind to grasp. The mind only grasps things through words, which even when used literally are themselves (of course) symbols. When Jesus goes to the cross, we are moving past the symbolism of language to reality. Things are about to happen that are no longer representational; they are no longer signs—though in the events themselves signs will continue to abound. The structure of reality itself is about to change. The disciples know Him inwardly, by His indwelling.
When this happens they will know the Father directly. His Father will be their Father (see 20:17). “For the Father Himself loves you.” The word for love is phileō. William Kelly translates it, “dearly loves,” and John Darby, “has affection for.” It is not the condescending love of agapē, but the love of friendship (the word for friend is philos). This does not entitle us to be buddies with God, as if He were not our Lord. Rather it means that in Christ, and as we abide in Christ, our relationship with the Father is the relationship of the Son to the Father and the Father to the Son. In their divine being, theirs is a relationship of mutual self-giving (though the Father is Father to the Son and the Son is Son to the Father).
The Father does not have this love for all human beings but only for those who love Christ, believing that He came forth from God (their love issues out of the revelation of Christ that they have received). We are born of God through Christ because of the Father’s agapē for us. The Father’s revelation of Christ to us through the Holy Spirit is the source of our affection (phileō) for Christ. This affection then becomes the ground for the Father’s affection (phileō) for us. The Father’s agapē creates a space between us that is much more intimate: that of phileō, affection.
“I Have Overcome the World” (16:29-33)
The disciples think they “get it” and that now they believe that He has come forth from God. It is an astonishing statement after all this time. Of course they believe! Yet Jesus asks them, “Do you now believe?” What kind of faith is this? for in the next few hours “you will be scattered each to his own place and will leave Me alone.”
They believe, yes, but the quality of their faith will change completely after the resurrection. As much as they think they “get it,” they do not. Not yet.
But “these things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace.” They are not yet in Him, but when He comes to them on Easter, they will be, and He will pronounce, “Peace to you.” Then He will breathe the Holy Spirit into them. He will no longer just be with them but He has come to be in them. Their task will now be to “abide” in Him that He may “abide” in them.
“In the world you have affliction”—and in the next few hours you will be in the midst of this as I am arrested and taken from you—“but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Jesus has already overcome the world within Himself. “The ruler of the world is coming, and in Me he has nothing” (14:30). When the ruler of the world comes, Jesus will not be struggling to defeat him. He will “go forth” to meet him and will go boldly to the cross to defeat Him. In the Gospel according to John Jesus is a warrior—like David—who approaches the cross without hesitation or fear but with complete confidence in God. All He sees, in fact, is the reality of God in the situation and the unfolding of God’s will. When He rises from the dead, the battle will be over. The ruler of the world will no longer be able to touch Him for He will have walked through death.
This is connected to the newborn Child. That which is in us which is born of God cannot be touched by the ruler of the world. It is impervious even to death and by it we will rise from the dead. “Take courage.” On that day, Jesus says, He will dwell in us, and He has “overcome the world.” “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4; see 5:4-5). This speaks of more than just courage in the face of persecution. The world is a system that deceives, captivates and enslaves in its rationalizations. Christ in us, by the Spirit He has given to us, has the potential to free us from the powers of the world. The Spirit in us is not only the presence of Christ who has overcome the world (and thus the strength we need), but the Spirit also reveals Christ to us and thus reveals reality. This revelation exposes the lie of the world, and by exposing it, unravels it so that it loses its power and grip on us. Christ in us is the revelation of Christ in our spirits that frees our minds from the grip of the world’s powers but also the presence of Christ as life that enables us to live in the reality revealed, free of the delusion of the world (which falsely asserts that it is real). The stranglehold of the false and artificial life of the soul gives way to the real life of the spirit, which thus lets the soul begin to breathe again.
Contrary to what some theologians say today, the world’s institutions cannot be saved, for they are part of the world. They are not the kingdom of God and we cannot “believe” in them, though we can work for their constant reform (that imperfect reflection of creation: God’s original creation and its fulfillment in Christ). People, however, can be saved and are being saved as the newborn Child of the new creation increases and grows among us. This life in the Spirit becomes the harbinger of the transfiguration of creation itself, its glorification in Christ.
This idea of overcoming the world and the ruler of the world is prominent in the writings of John (1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5; Revelation 2—3; 5:5; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7). In the Book of the Revelation the Lamb who has just been slain—who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David—“has overcome so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.” In chapter 12 a woman gives birth to a collective child who causes Satan to be cast out of heaven, something which has not happened yet. It is said, “they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their souls even unto death.” This overcoming is another way of speaking of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not simply the reign of God (for God rules over all), but the overcoming of the opposition to that reign. The Gospel according to John prepares us to read the epistles of John and the Book of the Revelation, even though the Book of the Revelation seems so vastly different. It is, but so many of the motifs in that book are already in the gospel—for example, the overcoming Lamb of God, who dwelling in us overcomes us and becomes the basis for our overcoming the world.
These are last words of this long speech to the disciples before Jesus turns to the Father. Chapters 14—16 have all been about His going to the cross: its meaning and purpose. Let us take these words to heart: “Take courage; I have overcome the world.”