16:16-24 "In a little while you will not see me any more; and again in a little while you will see me." Some of his disciples said to each other: "What is the meaning of this that he is saying to us--'In a little while you will not see me, and again in a little while you will see me'? And what does he mean when he says: 'I am going to my Father'? What does he mean when he talks about 'A little'? We do not know what he means." Jesus knew that they wished to ask him their questions, and he said to them: "You are discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said: 'In a little while you will not see me, and again in a little while you will see me.' This is the truth I tell you--you will weep and you will lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be grieved, but your grief will turn into joy. When a woman bears a child she has grief, because her hour has come. But, when the child is born, she does not remember her pain because of her joy that a man is born into the world. So you too for the present have grief. But I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will not have any questions to ask me. This is the truth I tell you--the Father will give you in my name whatever you will ask him. Up till now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may stand complete."
Here Jesus is looking beyond the present to the new age which is to come. When he does, he uses a conception deeply rooted in Jewish thought. The Jews believed that all time was divided into two ages--the present age and the age to come. The present age was wholly bad and wholly under condemnation; the age to come was the golden age of God. In between the two ages, preceding the coming of the Messiah, who would bring in the new age, there lay the Day of the Lord; and the Day of the Lord was to be a terrible day, when the world would be shattered into fragments before the golden age would dawn. The Jews were in the habit of calling that terrible between-time "the birth travail of the days of the Messiah."
The Old Testament and the literature written between the Testaments are both full of pictures of this terrible between-time. "Behold the Day of the Lord comes, cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it" ( Isaiah 13:9 ). "Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness" ( Joel 2:1-2 ). "And honour shall be turned into shame, and strength humiliated into contempt, and probity destroyed, and beauty shall become ugliness" (2Baruch 27). "The Day of the Lord will come as a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" ( 2 Peter 3:10 ). Such was the picture of the birthpangs of the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus knew the scriptures and these pictures were in his mind and memory. And now he was saying to his disciples: "I am leaving you; but I am coming back; the day will come when my reign will begin and my kingdom will come; but before that you will have to go through terrible things, with pain like birthpangs upon you. But, if you faithfully endure, the blessings will be very precious." Then he went on to outline the life of the Christian who endures.
(i) Sorrow will turn to joy. There may be a time when it looks as if to be a Christian brings nothing but sorrow, and to be of the world brings nothing but joy. But the day will come when the roles are reversed. The world's careless joy will turn to sorrow; and the Christian's apparent sorrow will turn to joy. The Christian must always remember, when his faith costs him dear, that this is not the end of things and that sorrow will give way to joy.
(ii) There will be two precious things about this Christian joy. (a) It will never be taken away. It will be independent of the chances and changes of the world. It is the simple fact that in every generation people who were suffering terribly have spoken of sweet times with Christ. The joy the world gives is at the mercy of the world. The joy which Christ gives is independent of anything the world can do. (b) It will be complete. In life's greatest joy there is always something lacking. It may be that somehow there lingers some regret; that there is a cloud no bigger than a man's hand to mar it; that the memory that it cannot last is always at the back of our minds. In Christian joy, the joy of the presence of Christ, there is no tinge of imperfection. It is perfect and complete.
(iii) In Christian joy the pain which went before is forgotten. The mother forgets the pain in the wonder of the child. The martyr forgets the agony in the glory of heaven. As Browning wrote of the martyr's tablet on the wall:
"I was some time in being burned.
At last a hand came through
The flames and drew
My soul to Christ whom now I see;
Sergius a brother writes for me
This testimony on the wall.
For me--I have forgot it all."
If a man's fidelity costs him much, he will forget the cost in the joy of being for ever with Christ.
(iv) There will be fullness of knowledge. "In that day," said Jesus, "you will not need to ask me any questions any more." In this life there are always some unanswered questions and some unsolved problems. In the last analysis we must always walk by faith and not by sight; we must always be accepting what we cannot understand. It is only fragments of the truth that we can grasp and glimpses of God that we may see; but in the age to come with Christ there will be fullness of knowledge.
As Browning had it in Abt Vogler:
"The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
What was good shall be good, with, for evil, so much good
On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round.
All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good shall exist;
Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, nor power
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist
When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once we shall hear it by-and-by."
When we are fully with Christ the time of questions will be gone and the time of answers will have come.
(iv) There will be a new relationship with God. When we really and truly know God we are able to go to him and ask him for anything. We know that the door is open; we know that, his name is Father; we know that his heart is love. We are like children who never doubt that their father delights to see them or that they can talk to him as they wish. In that relationship Jesus says we may ask for anything. But let us think of it in human terms--the only terms we have. When a child loves and trusts his father, he knows quite well that sometimes his father will say no because his wisdom and his love know best. We can become so intimate with God that we may take everything to him, but always we must end by saying: "Thy will be done."
(v) That new relationship is made possible by Jesus; it exists in his name. It is because of him that our joy is indestructible and perfect, that our knowledge is complete, that the new way to the heart of God is open to us. All that we have, came to us through Jesus Christ. It is in his name that we ask and receive, that we approach and are welcomed.